Packing for Amsterdam: A Retrospective

Well, it’s 2018 now and I’m back home in San Francisco. I have a big backlog of posts that I’ll be working on in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for some fun new content. In the meantime, I wanted to start the year with a look back on my recent post discussing what I brought to Amsterdam. Since this trip was significantly longer than my normal ones (a total of 6 weeks in Europe and 2 weeks in Oregon for the holidays), I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at what I packed and see what worked well, what didn’t, and what improvements can be made for the next one.

In general, while I do consider myself to be fairly thoughtful and utilitarian when figuring out what to bring on trips it’s worth noting that I do love wearing nice clothing (duh) and because of that, not everything I bring is strictly necessary. I could absolutely get away with bringing less but I want to wear clothing that I love during my trips so I try my best to find a balance between efficiency and style. Also, the weather was quite cold while I was traveling so being ready for that played a big role in what I brought as well.

Before we get into my analysis, one more quick note: there are two important things that came with me but aren’t in the original photo above – a lightweight raincoat and an old pair of Supergas. Both played important roles in their respective areas of my travel wardrobe. With that said, here’s my analysis of how it went:

Shirts: I have found that when I’m living out of a suitcase, shirts are always the limiting reagent – in other words, I run out of clean shirts before I run out of anything else. I’ve found this to be true for just about any trip longer than a few days. Socks and underwear get cycled through quickly as well, but unlike shirts they’re very small and it’s easy to pack a bunch. On this trip, shirts basically set the pace of my laundry – whenever I ran out, I had to get my clothing washed. If I wanted to go longer between washes, the best way to achieve that would have been to bring more button up shirts. One more note – I brought three t-shirts, but definitely could have gotten away with one. Because the weather was cold, there weren’t many opportunities to wear them (aside from layered under a flannel or when getting ready for bed).

Tailored Clothing: These are the pieces that best fit into the “not strictly necessary but I really enjoy having them” category. I didn’t really need tailored clothing at any point, which isn’t that surprising. Nonetheless, I wore the blazer of my flannel suit on cool, dry days and my overcoat on cold dry days. With that said, the weather was generally rather damp where I was so the days dry enough to wear wool were somewhat limited. As for the full suit, I only wore it once: during Christmas mass with my family (and it wasn’t at all necessary even then). So as fun as tailored clothing is, if I was hurting for space it would likely be the first to go unless there was a demonstrated need for it (like an event).

Outerwear: This is another big category. My PWVC jacket and raincoat, combined with the tailored clothing mentioned above, made up the large majority of my items by weight and volume. If I wanted to cut down, this would be another good place to do it. I wore both my raincoat and waxed cotton jacket frequently, given the damp Dutch weather. The reason I ended up grabbing the raincoat is that the PWVC jacket doesn’t have a hood, so its water resistance is significantly less functional. Of course, the raincoat provided little to no warmth, which the PWVC definitely did. If I was shooting for higher efficiency, these two could be replaced with one waterproof piece that is also an insulating layer and has a hood.

Footwear: Another category that takes up a ton of space. I brought three pairs – the boots were on my feet when traveling, and the longwings and sneakers were packed. It was nice having three pairs, but I could have gotten away with two if needed – one pair of sneakers, and either one of the welted pairs. I don’t think I could do a trip of more than a day or two without any sneakers. Although I much prefer wearing welted footwear, I can’t ignore the knockaround appeal and comfort of sneakers. There will be times on any trip where a welted shoe will seem less than ideal – bad weather, mud, very long walks, and so forth. I think I could go for quite some time with one good pair of sneakers and one pair of versatile dress shoes.

Pants: No problems here. Since I never wore the trousers to my suit, I lived out of a pair of jeans and a pair of chinos. This wasn’t difficult at all. I probably could have gotten away with just one of those if it was necessary, but I’m always afraid of spilling something on myself and then having no backup pair. Plus, being able to rotate between the two kept them clean for much longer. In other words, two pairs for two months seems to work fine for me (and isn’t that tough on space or weight).

Sweaters: I wore my shetland quite frequently. It would have been nice to have something a bit softer to wear for comfort (and also to put less wear on this one), but this was enough to keep me warm without giving up extra space for a second piece of knitwear.

What I wished I had: I was a bit surprised to realize this, but there was one thing that I missed almost enough to buy while on the road (almost) – comfortable lounge clothing. It had never occurred to me to bring things like sweatpants or a sweatshirt/hoodie on a trip, since I’d never want to wear them outside. But since I was there for a long while during a cold part of the year, I often wished I could put on something comfortable in the morning rather than going right in to a cold pair of jeans. And while things like denim jeans and shetland sweaters are considered ‘comfortable, casual clothing’ in menswear terms, they’re not that inviting for lounging around the house in the morning. This was all amplified by the fact that I was working remotely from my Amsterdam apartment while on this trip, so there was a lot of time where I was in my cold apartment and didn’t really need to be wearing an OCBD under a shetland, but that’s just what I had.

Overall, I think my packing job served me well. I was able to pack reasonably light (just one smallish checked bag), always had appropriate clothing for the weather (often cold and rainy) and was able to look put-together for the duration of the trip. Had I wanted to, I think I could have optimized what I brought in a few different ways:

  • Size/weight: if I reduced my tailored clothing and outerwear (remove suit and one jacket) and footwear (remove one welted pair) I could have easily kept everything in a carryon. That would have been nice, I suppose.
  • Duration: if I wanted to be less burdened by laundry, I could have removed some of the things above and replaced that space with some dang shirts.
  • Comfort: Likewise, I could have made some space by reducing outerwear and footwear and brought some clothing that was more comfortable for working at home.

All told, I’d say it was successful and I learned quite a bit about how little I really need to get by. I’m hoping to take another lengthy trip like this later this year, so with any luck I’ll be able to put this new knowledge to good use soon!