A few weeks ago, when I started packing in earnest for our family’s year at the Institute for Advanced Study, I couldn’t find an academic sabbatical packing list (for either women or men). All I found were tips for short-term trips (like a month) or nomadic year-long family trips across warm continents. So this is my (somewhat feminine, at least in terms of the clothing list) effort. Such lists remove a whole piece of mental work, and goodness knows, there’s enough to think about!
If you have the good fortune of a year away from your usual life, then CONGRATULATIONS. I hope this helps.
Happy research. Happy writing. Happy packing.
Sabbatical Prep: Basic Tips and Principles
Stowing stuff before you leave
- Order one or a couple of those inexpensive clothes storage closets (with cover) for items you leave behind. It’s easier for both packing & unpacking and clothes don’t get mangled. Especially good for monstrous Midwestern houses with big, dry storage rooms.
- In the event that you don’t have a ginormous storage room and need to store things offsite, those pod containers that come to your house and then get carted away for the year also work beautifully. We used a pod when we went away to Malta for a year and rented out our Montreal house. We had to empty our library completely for the tenants, plus clear closets and drawers. In that case, I rolled the cost of storage into rent.
- Take the opportunity to reduce your clutter. Donate or freecycle any clothes you’ve (ahem) outgrown or just don’t wear. Cut up old t-shirts for rags. Take part in your neighborhood’s garage sale and share the proceeds with your kid when he sells old toys. Donate the leftover toys. Honestly, there is nothing like leaving your house for a year to make you take a good hard look at the excesses of North American life…
What to take and how to pack and transport it: first, the broad strokes
- When choosing which clothes to bring, I found that an organic solution emerged: a unified color scheme made my decisions easier. In the end, I packed mostly blue and black garments. This means everything will go with everything. Also, there’s less to think about when you’re dealing with reduced clothing options because you have better things to do…like write a book.
- Two words: COMPRESSION SACS. They even work on boots rated to -30C that I managed to mush down to a fraction of their usual size! The sacs allowed me to pack our warm jackets, ski pants, gloves, hats, and neck warmers into a very small space. And since we have our winter essentials, we’ll be able both to ski and walk our dog in the snow comfortably. WHERE TO GET COMPRESSION SACS? I bought some inexpensive sacs online. They are just rectangular plastic envelopes with a ziplock top and one-way valves at the bottom so you can squeeze the air out. You don’t need the hardcore camping ones; just the travel kind.
- Related to #2: resist the temptation to “just buy new ones” of everything. Good quality clothes are expensive, and it’s worth bringing staples that will protect you against the elements, like rain gear, waterproof footwear, warm hats, winter coats, gloves. I’ve learned my lesson, having wandered around with wet feet on one too many trips.
- Related to #3: it’s equally important to resist the impulse to TAKE everything. Living with less is also a pleasure.
- I suggest deciding on how many bags you plan to take and allowing that to determine what you can bring. We took 3 large suitcases, 3 carry-ons + work papers for 2 adults and one kid. Consider sending suitcases by UPS Ground, especially if you’re driving to your sabbatical destination, as we did. UPS shipping was surprisingly affordable and send bulky stuff ahead left room in the car for cat, dog, child, and cooler. You can also ship any musical instruments. We shipped a guitar and saxophone.
- Be sure to pack a blue-tooth speaker. You can stream radio and music from phones and laptops and get high quality sound. I packed this almost as an afterthought, but it’s already proven to be essential.
- Earphones and earbuds. Enough for all family members to share.
- Playing cards. We’ve been playing Gin as a family since we left home.
- If you’ve got ’em, then take some Turkish towels. These are compact and work at the pool or beach. They also double as travel blankets on cold airplanes. Plus, towels can be in short supply in rentals. I also tucked 3 dish towels into the car before leaving and I’m glad I did, since we arrived to find none in our new apartment!
- Be kind to the kid. Remember that his treasures matter too. Find room in the car for 2000+ Magic the Gathering cards, if need be. The kid barely has any clothes anyway, because he outgrows them so fast. Everyone needs to be allowed something special.
What I Brought: Here’s Where We Get Specific
- research materials: photocopies from archives, notebooks, a few books
- a “working copy” of my book for readings
- draft of an essay-in-progress (hard copy that I didn’t have time to transcribe)
- charging cords
- wire book holder for desk
- book light for bedtime reading
- pens & pencils
- wrist brace to treat/prevent carpel tunnel syndrome
- business/book cards
- computer sleeve
- camera (for work & play…)
- backpack for conference travel
- reading glasses
- immunization records (you can’t register your kid in school without them)
- your child’s last report card (also needed for school registration)
- birth certificates
- directions & welcome packet for the new place
- health insurance cards
- …plus whatever’s in your wallet (make sure your driver’s license won’t expire while you’re on sabbatical, and far away from home)
Kitchen & food
- pack your road-trip food in your usual tupperware or food storage containers (we brought 4 or 5 in our cooler and I’ll use these for packing my son’s school lunches)
- thermoses that double as water bottles (also for use during the long road trip)
- a cooler, ’cause that road food will kill you
- picnic plates and cutlery
- dish towels
- lunch box for the kid (we have a soft one which makes packing easy)
- fabric shopping totes (we used these to pack shoes, pet stuff, toiletries into the car and now use them shopping)
- a couple laundry balls
- laundry bags for washing delicates
- two large laundry bags for storing dirty clothes and transport to laundry room (across the street)
- cat carrier
- flea & tick meds
- Prozac for the problematic canine
- poo bags
- food bowls
- a couple toys for the pup; a couple of small balls to chase for kitty
- pet food (enough for the trip and a few days upon arrival)
- any skin care meds that the problematic canine might need
- brushes & shampoo for grooming
- litter box & scoop, double-bagged for travel
- “kitty quilts” (made by my husband’s aunt; yes, the cat actually sleeps on them…)
- immunization record for cross-border travel with dog
Things to do before you leave home
- set up online billing and bill payment
- change addresses with the bank, HR, magazine subscriptions, your mother’s nursing home, etc.
- get your mail forwarded to the new address
- talk to your home insurance company if you’ll have a tenant or house-sitter and make sure you’re covered under these circumstances
- suspend or reduce insurance on any vehicles you might be leaving behind
- change your voicemail message if you’re like us and still live as if it’s 1995
- hire someone to mow the lawn if you don’t want to ask the house-sitter or tenant to do so
- write up a set of emergency instructions with contacts for your house-sitter, i.e., what to do if a tree falls or the roof gets blown off
- register your kid in his new school
- go see the doctor and dentist and get up to date on tests and cleanings; NB: your kid will need a health form signed by the doctor to register for school
- put an auto-reply on your email accounts to buy some extra space and time for the book you’re writing
Clothes, etc. *
- 2 jersey dresses (one black, one blue)
- 6 long-sleeved jersey shirts (in varying shades of black, purple, teal & blue)
- 6 short-sleeved jersey shirts (ditto)
- 1 tunic (blue)
- 1 long cardigan (black, of course)
- 4 work-type jackets (in blue and black, of course) that can be dressed up or down, of different weights and styles (this may be excessive, but I allowed myself this folly since I love to layer and a jacket makes me feel immediately polished)
- 2 winter/fall sweaters (one dove grey one in merino; one navy in cashmere)
- 1 spring cardigan (black)
- 1 spring pullover sweater (a departure: red and white stripes!)
- 1 fleece jacket (grey)
- 1 stretchy athletic jacket (teal)
- 1 down jacket (turquoise for variation)
- 1 medium-weight fall/winter coat (black); with the down jacket underneath, it should see me through the snowy season
- 1 rain/ski shell (grey)
- shoes: tall leather boots (no heel), leather ankle boots (slight heel), comfy walking boots, warm winter boots, sneakers, sandals, ankle-height rain boots (good for muddy hikes as well as rainy days)
- 2 pairs of jeans (blue)
- 1 pair wide-legged cotton pants that go across seasons (black)
- 2 winter/fall skirts (one in a dark, very cool denim with distressed edge; one navy pencil skirt)
- 3 summer skirts (2 navy and one crazy mint green one for fun, in a fabric printed with images of food trucks)
- 2 light-weight summer pants (airy light blue ones and a pair of beaten up khaki hiking cropped ones)
- 3 pairs cotton pajamas
- light-weight dressing gown (silk; it folds down to nothing)
- 3 pairs of tights (black & grey)
- black beret & gloves
- sun hat & sunglasses
- 2 belts
- 3 pairs of earrings; 3 necklaces
- bras & underwear & socks
- 5 colorful scarves of varying weights (if you’re packing mostly grey, blue & black, then you need some color somewhere!)
- 1 leather purse (teal blue), tote-style to carry all the things…
- athletic gear: yoga pants, yoga mat, running shorts & shirts, runners, running hat, socks, sports bra, sports socks, ski googles, ski pants, ski socks, neck warmers, long johns
- 2 bathing suits & goggles
- toiletries (you know what you need…)
*Written out like this, it’s a lot…I admit. But I tried to pack comfortably for 4 seasons, for skiing, yoga, running, hiking & swimming, for conferences & book festivals, for long days in the library, dog walking, cocktail receptions, holidays and parties…
POST-SABBATICAL UPDATE. Or, The Verdict.
The year is now up so I can share how I did with what I brought…
Things I’m glad I packed: #1 Ankle-height rubber boots. I wore these in every season. They were invaluable for the rainy, muddy woods at the IAS. #2 Yoga mat. I did yoga once a week and it made me feel so much better after long writing days. #3 Umbrellas for the whole family and rain gear in general. Invaluable. #4 Ski gear. We went skiing over our son’s holidays and it was totally worth bringing, even for one week of fun.
Things I could have done without: #1 I only needed 1 bathing suit but brought 3! #2 I didn’t need the super warm winter boots. Lighter boots would’ve been far more useful. #3 I brought 2 dresses but, to be honest, I really only needed one.
Things I wish I’d brought: #1 Linens in general, since the apartment was short on sheets. I would have loved to have brought a comforter or soft blanket (or 2), more towels, and dish towels. #2 Espresso pot or machine. This one was tough. We made do with a drip coffee maker and then broke down and bought a moka pot. #3 Slow cooker. My neighbour brought hers and I was super jealous. #3 Bike rack and bikes for the whole family. We made do in various ways but bringing would’ve have been better.
Best packing list ever? Joan Didion’s.
TO PACK AND WEAR:
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe, slippers
bag with: shampoo
toothbrush and paste
Basis soap, razor
2 legal pads and pens
“This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.”
—Joan Didion, “The White Album”
[Photo: Thomas Hawk]