Normally, I consider myself the Queen of Light Packing. Unlike Andy who travels like he’s Elizabeth Taylor or a 19th Century explorer with dozens of native bearers to carry his luggage. I can leave for two weeks with one half-filled suitcase, a carry-on and a backpack/purse/camera bag. But packing for my upcoming study abroad stint during July in Oaxaca is posing a challenge. Then an old high school friend, who is now a travel professional, threw down the gauntlet by forwarding this Packing Light video. I still think I can outpack this guy. But I will admit that the many diverse demands of packing for my month in Oaxaca are throwing me off my game. Let’s examine my method and you be the judge.

First of all, I’m on the same page with the Packing Light guy. My go-to luggage is what is technically a carry-on: a 21″ high soft-sided rolling suitcase. Most airlines restrict carry-ons to one bag that measures no more than 45″ when the length, width and height are added together. Check. This bag, from Victorinox the Swiss Army Knife people, is exactly 45″ — without being unzipped for the expanded version. Another test I set myself is to keep all bags no more than terrier-sized. As my spokes-terrier demonstrates above, all three of my pieces would be a very tight fit for your average terrier. Especially Lucy who is the Anna Nicole Smith of Smooth Fox Terriers.

Now I start to diverge from Mr. Packing Light. He’s got this incredibly intricate and, to my mind, unworkable folding method that would make it impossible to pull stuff out of your suitcase if you were on the move every day. Also, he seems focused on fitting as much as possible into the suitcase. My goal is always to try to pack the suitcase only half full — leaving loads of room for souvenirs. I didn’t think I’ll be able to achieve that Packing Nirvana for this trip. So I got more organized and laid out everything I would need, in categories, for this multi-faceted trip.

My first challenge was my school stuff, most of which is required for my intensive immersion course in Spanish.

my school stuff for Oaxaca

This stuff alone threatens to put me over the weight limit.

  • My Plazas textbook, my Spanish dictionary and my Spanish Verbs book are non-negotiable. They were strongly recommended by the college. In addition to the textbooks they’ll give me once I’m in Oaxaca. [Question to Self: What have I gotten myself into?]
  • Glasses. Loads of glasses. With my track record of losing one pair a week. I’m stocking up on those $2.50 jobbies at Wal*Greens. And I’ll probably end the month on my last pair.
  • The three Spark Chart cheat sheets weigh nothing. So why not? I’m going to need all the help I can get.
  • Guidebooks. My weakness. If I were smart, I’d rely only on the travel apps on my phone or the electronic versions on my Kindle. But one of the pleasures of traveling, to me, is carrying around a dog-eared guidebook that I can scribble notes in. Yes, you may question if I need four. Actually, two are duplicates and I was planning to give one away and share the others with my fellow students. Most of whom are actually real students and on extremely tight budgets.
  • Note the Virgin of Guadalupe prayer card on top of my textbook. Gotta have it. This is an intensive course. I’m calling in the Big Guns.
electronics for Mexico trip

I should amend my assertion. I would be Queen of Traveling Light if I weren't addicted to electronics.

  • Laptop. Gotta have it. Both for school and for blogging. And for Skyping back to Andy and the terriers. And because, I’m bloody addicted to Facebook. There I’ve said it. First step.
  • Nikon camera and charger. Plus little point-and-shoot for when I don’t want to lug the big camera around. And charger. [See addiction note above.]
  • Lens cleaning kit, “rain jacket” for large camera, supply of memory cards and card reader. [Note to self: find smaller version of the latter.]
  • iPhone. Addicted. Can’t do without. And yes, if I were really efficient, I’d bag the point-and-shoot and use the iPhone camera. But just because I’m addicted to technology doesn’t mean I’m competent. I never have been able to take a decent picture with the iPhone.
  • Kindle. Addicted. But I am questioning, with all this threatened coursework and homework, if I’ll have any time to read anything on the Kindle. Maybe I should bag it and just read my guidebooks.
exercise stuff I'm packing for Mexico

Now, exercise stuff. Hope springs eternal.

  • Running shoes. I always pack them. I seldom use them. But this time, I’m sure I will, if only when clambering all over Zapotec ruins. So as long as they are packed, might as well hope for the best.
  • Rodney Yee is my new DVD boyfriend. And I’m hoping he’ll keep me in some sort of shape, assuming I never do get around to Power Walking.
  • Travel yoga mat. Okay, it’s not as bulky as one of those regular yoga mats, but it’s still not that small. I’m hoping the act of lugging all this exercise stuff down to Oaxaca will shame me into using it.
  • Running tights and shirt. There’s a possibility I might do some horseback riding and these are lighter to pack than jeans. Also to wear doing Yoga. If I end up doing any Yoga. Which I’d better.
  • Eco-friendly water bottle. I’m being advised to tank up on the guesthouse’s filtered, purified water. They are asking that we keep reusing the plastic bottle they will provide us. This is my small nod to being an eco-conscious tourist.
  • iPod. Non-negotiable.
  • Running fanny pack. Eliminated. I’ll just have to Power Walk with my small backpack.
Dresses for Mexico

Dresses. Travel staple, especially for hot climates. Ladies, pay attention here.

I know you are supposed to pack separates. But I’m a veteran of traveling to high humidity, high heat places. Like Shanghai in summer and the jungle edges of Belize during the hot season. Believe me, a dress is much more comfortable. Also more socially acceptable in more conservative countries than shorts and a T-shirt.

And here’s a tip. If you can get away with not wearing a bra — so much better. These dresses are by Converse, of all people. They actually have full, but light lining in the bodice and forming a self slip below. These have been tested in 90% humidity and I can testify that you can wear them braless and sweat like a sugar cane worker and still maintain full modesty. Or you can hedge your bets with a sports bra.

And that’s my second tip. Wear sports bras. They are much more comfortable in humidity and much easier to wash out in a sink, if need be, and drip dry.

Overlaying the dresses is my beautiful pashmina of extremely light wool. It instantly dresses up anything I throw it over and is just as warm, but easier to pack than a coat. Even the black cotton Converse dress is fancy restaurant-ready with a pashmina over it.

But you really can’t get away without packing separates. Here is my tentative list, which will probably be pared down.

skirts to pack for Mexico

Two cotton, modest length skirts and two somewhat dressy T-shirts that can be mixed and matched.

pants and shirts for Mexico

Two pair of pants -- one silk, one rayon -- with two slightly dressier cotton shirts. There are also mix and match possibilities with the skirts and T-shirts.

Now, I get into the things I don’t want to pack, but know I probably should have on hand. Nothing says American tourist like shorts, but there are times where you really need them — like climbing around on Zapotec ruins. Mine are at least long and loose, somewhat like culottes. But, in conservative countries like Mexico, when your ruin clambering trip might be paired with a trip to a remote village, you’ll need the option of a skirt that will work for both occasions.

casual clothes for Mexico

This long rayon skirt has been tested on the pyramids of Tikal. I think I can face the Zapotecs in it.

Whew! I’m started to have more respect for Mr. Packing Light. This post may have to be broken into two parts. Especially after I start trying to put this stuff into my bags. Also, I’m realizing it might be a good idea to iron my clothes before I pack them.

Oscar on clothes

Plus the lure of freshly washed clothes laid out on the bed has proved irresistable for terriers. So everything now has a fine patina of dog hair.

Let’s just say this tutorial will be continued after additional testing.