Thanksgiving is coming up in America, which is officially the start of the season for traveling home to visit family for the holidays. But how can you know exactly what to pack so you have the gear you need to stay sane when your family is driving you crazy and still have room left for those little extras like the clothes you are going to wear? The ultimate packing list will keep you warm, prepared for parties and gift giving, and armed for the irritations of travel!
I’ve talked about the actual ~traveling~ part of zooming around for the holidays here, but what you pack can really impact if you are exhausted or feeling restored when you get to your holiday destination. Read on to learn how I pack for the holidays!
Packing Clothes For Winter Holidays
I’m terrible at packing for cold weather myself. I know how to do layers for Fall and Spring, and I know all about sleeveless shirts and misters for keeping cool in the worst of Summer, but how does a person pack for Winter?
Most years Winter is a wimpy affair in D.C.-gray, dull, chilly, and not much else.
We almost never get snow here. (Thankfully, this year is an exception! We’ve already had our very first snow day of the year yesterday!!!)
So I have problems packing for truly cold weather. What layers do I need? How can I fit a million layers into one small carry on suitcase?
But I’ve studied up on the problem over the last few years, and I know I can help you stay warm this year without suffering through another underdressed or overlayered trip like I’ve done so many times in the past.
Layers Are Your Friend
Sometimes you get dressed too warmly. Which is great when you are outside! And then you get inside where everyone has the heat on full blast and you feel like you risk a heat stroke.
Layers are your friend! You can wear tons of layers outside, a medium amount of layers in that cold basement, and then go all the way down to just one shirt when you visit your grandma’s house where she always has the heat up to 90 degrees like it needs to be Summer inside.
Pack Fabrics That Stay Warm Even in Thinner Fabrics
Fabrics like silk and wool l can keep you warm and take up less space than bulkier materials.
Fabrics like denim, while cute, are freezing. Same goes for super breathable hemp. And by the way, any exercise gear that is engineered to keep you cool while working out is going to not be a great choice for cool weather- but I’m sure you could have guessed that on your own, you’re a smart cookie after all!
Be warned though- if your skin is picky about being able to “breathe”, you might feel warm when you wear a plastic acrylic nylon mix sweater, but you will also get clammy and ~moist~ (ick!) and that can end up making you feel even colder. That’s the reason I had to get rid of a cowl neck blue sweater I LOVED because it made me feel both too hot and cold at the same time because of the artificial materials. Since I’ve switched to all my clothes being at least 70% natural fibers, I’ve had a lower impact on the environment because of less plastic pollution when I do the laundry and when I put warm clothes on they stay warm all day instead of betraying me with waking cold sweats.
Embrace Your Base
If you don’t spend a lot of time in cold weather, you might not even know what a base layer is.
Basically, in cold weather you wear a lot of layers- and the base layer is the stuff that directly touches you skin.
So in warm weather your base layer would be underthings. In cold weather, your base layer usually involves thermals. These warm clothes (usually a long sleeved shirt, and warm tights) aren’t really meant to be warm by themselves. The point of your thermals are to wick moisture away from your skin so you don’t get cold from just the moisture that evaporates from your skin.
They can be warm too, of course. But in official cold weather speak, the warm stuff is going to be your mid layer. And then your outer layer is your windproof and waterproofing.
Be Prepared With Warm Pajamas
Okay okay, look, I know you probably don’t wear actual designated pajamas. You probably wear sweats and an old gym tee shirt to be. I know I am a very small minority of the population in that, even when I’m packing a carry on bag, I always must have actual factual pj’s.
Just be sure that you are prepared with sweats and stuff to keep warm. Especially if you are traveling from a warm home to a cold region, you might find that wherever you are sleeping that night is comfortable with a much lower temperature than you are, and you can’t rely on being provided with enough blankets to keep you warm when the locals might think the house is already warm enough.
Besides, if you really do pack actual pj’s, you will look very cute in holiday gift opening photos!
Packable Jackets Actually Are Kind of Worth It
Look, I’ve said time and time again on this site that I’m not super into artificial fabrics. But no one can deny that packable jackets take up a tiny amount of space in your suitcase!
If you aren’t comfortable with that, though, no worries- you can still wear several layers to the airport without being harassed too much by security (unless you are already harassed no matter what a lot by airport security, then I wouldn’t risk this particular approach). For most of us we can wear many layers through the security line at even American TSA checkpoints, though they do seem to find lumpiness suspicious so avoid wearing layers with pockets or putting sweaters with odd textures like 3-D applique butterflies or super chunky embroidery on an ugly Christmas sweater or that sort of thing because that could lead to lumps that could look suspicious to a security officer.
Or, if you want to wear those things- just make them the outermost layer, and make your inner and medium layers smooth!
Traveling Gear For The Holidays
You could go through a lot of headaches figuring out how to safely pack breakable presents on a checked bag in a way that it won’t break and won’t get unwrapped by TSA (assuming you are flying through the US, of course- I’m not sure if airport security in other countries unwrap as well).
Or you could avoid the headache by bringing presents that won’t get messed up.
Small items, like jewelry in a box tied with a ribbon, or ties, or gloves, and that sort of thing, are small enough to fit in your bag and easily wrapped in fabric or a box that allows security to inspect them and you to retie them when you get to your destination.
Something that’s super space saving in your luggage and unlikely to be a problem going through security, though, is to either give people gift cards in a little gift card pocket or New Year’s money in the red envelopes.
Personally I love the New Year’s money option- they can spend on rent or loans or put it in savings, as well as being able to buy at any store they like (unlike very limiting gift cards.) I have never received or given the envelopes with any of the proper traditions surrounding them, but if you’d like to you can learn more about the background of the tradition and restrict yourself to gifting only kiddos and singles with money.
Really Good Noise Cancelling Headphones
Cancel Babies and Jet Engines While Traveling Noise
If you are traveling, you may be going home to visit relatives with babies (or bickering adults who act like babies). Or, on the trip, you might have the flight of doom I once experienced where the entire. flight. was. screaming. babies. Not just that babies were screaming the entire during, no- every other passenger besides me was a baby or their parent. It was an entire chorus of screams. On a red eye flight where I was already tired.
I have always loved kids once they passed the one year mark. So, naturally, since babies break my eardrums and I’m not really fond of kids until they reach the magical twelve month mark which seems to be the point where they can physically have the choice to smile and hug others and be adorable when they are in a good mood (because apparently babies “don’t have the muscles for it yet”), I was in the middle of a chorus on babies. The kind flight attendants gave me many snacks and kept offering me the choice of the freebie wines, but I wish I had made the splurge for noise cancelling headphones.
You may be very sorry if you don’t.
Especially since of course, as grown adults, we won’t ever even once complain to the parents of a screaming infant, whether they are in first class or economy or anywhere else, because we know parents are even more exhausted than us and cannot control a baby at all because babies don’t work that way.
Cancel Family Bickering Noise
You’ll want them once you get to your destination anyways if you’ll need to drown out the sound of your family loudly arguing for the politics you are deeply against or being petty and ugly to each other. Hey, I get it- not everyone has a happy family that is enjoyable to be with all the time. I think almost no one does. So if you really need to escape but you flew so you can’t go any further than the living room, noise cancelling earbuds are your friends.
Cancel Hotel Noise
Also, they rock at blocking the noise of loud neighbors if you are staying in a hotel room.
Fill Up Your Phone
When packing, don’t forget to download the music, movies, and games you are going to want on hand while traveling to your phone or tablet. Especially if you want to get into the mood by downloading a holiday music playlist!
You Can Prepare To Enjoy Heading Home For The Holidays!
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