The Traveling Author ~ Packing Tips (Important for Writers)

Since I made the shift, Gentle Reader, from archeologist to author I have traveled more, not less. True, those travels have been for shorter lengths of time, but still this was an unexpected (if welcome) shift in my life. I thought that the thing I would miss most about archeology was traveling to exotic lands. More fool me. 

CP Percy Luggage Merch Travel Hatbox Glove Gail Carriger

I travel as an author about 12 times a year. Some of those are overnight jaunts, some are long weekends, and one or two last over a week. In addition, I travel to visit friends and family (generally longer drives and stays of three or four days). I didn’t realize how many packing foibles I had developed until the AB and I packed together for Comic Con. The AB is a well traveled beastie, but there were a few moments of shock on that adorable face as I twirled and stuffed, rolled and folded, tucked and pocketed. I whipped out checklists and specialized zipper baggies. I produced shoe holders and sock strategies. Items were shelled in sequences by weight, fragiles inside shoes and other odd occurrences.

I thought I might share some tips with you Gentle Reader, as I prepare for my penultimate jaunt of 2012.

I have a lot of luggage, and if you don’t travel as much as I do you probably don’t need it all, but here’s what I keep on hand.

1.) 3 piece standard soft-side cheap rolly set


Mine are grey pinstripe I purchased at Ross for c. $30 each. I suggest buying an actual matching set (thus they shell into one into the other for storage) and NOT BLACK (easier to spot on the conveyer belt). I don’t believe in shelling out for expensive luggage unless I’m after specific features ~ it’s bound to get destroyed in transit eventually. Also, while avoiding black I also avoid pale colors ~ they get dirty fast. I go for plastic-ish lining or simulated leather outer, to protect my stuff from moisture.


The small is my least used because I already own one of a similar size from my archeology days. Stefano is a black (I KNOW) Eagle Creek that converts into various different backpacks but is also a rolly. By far the most useful and adaptable piece of luggage I have ever owned. Not pretty, but if you only get one, this is the one I suggest.


Thus, the times when I do use the small grey are when I want to take two small cases because one is for events only and will, essentially, go into storage for half the trip. I did this when I went to New Zealand and Australia. It isn’t ideal, as it’s hard to pull two rollies at once. Ones that stack are better.


I use the medium for most events where I’m not going to carry-on only. It holds just the right amount of shoes along with one hatbox.

The large I use mostly for steampunk events, because I tend to have big boots, multiple hat boxes, and floofy skirts. Also, I don’t like to crush my gowns. However, I have to make certain not to pack it too heavy or I have an overweight fee.

2.) The perfect carry-on set
Years spent hunting and I finally settled on this burgundy basket weave set, again cheap from Ross. It’s not ideal, but it does the job admirably.

Rolly Tote
  • Both are semi waterproof.
  • The tote stacks on the rolly for running through airports.
  • Both have “handle sleeves” on the back so that when I meet up with my checked suitcase the carry-on rolly can stacked on it and the tote thrown over my shoulder.
  • I suggest tote/carry-on/both with outside pockets for toiletries and computer, if possible, for easy access at security. However, outer computer pockets can be dangerous when bag is banged. So . . . .
  • Bonus points for a shoulder strap on both, see later major tips.
  • Both should have a zipper top for security. No flaps.
  • I tend to pack one with all the things I’ll need during the flight and the other with all the things I can’t live without once I land. Thus the second can go safe up in overhead for the duration.
photo 4

Carry-on Rolly

  • The carry-on rolly design is a matter of preference. Mine is a wide, rather than tall, with tons of pockets both inside and out. I went with squat for stacking reasons, but it means I can’t roll it through plane isles ~ a bit annoying.
  • Some way to strap a jacket to the top is good.
  • I use outer pockets for weather-safe needs: umbrella, gloves, hat, scarf and the like. This also adds outer padding.


  • I require a tote big enough for my purse, reading material, and food plus any extra items like a head pillow.
  • I prefer a tote that has some shock resistance and structure to protect my computer, but I’ve sacrificed that because this one is so very big and floppy. Deceptively big. We like that.
  • One strap is better than two, grippy leather-like material is better than slippery.

Major tip:
When checking in or boarding I make certain to shell everything: pillow (don’t latch it on the outside of bag), purse in tote, and any other items like computer tucked away. Also, if it doesn’t fit in either bag, I wear my jacket and scarf no matter how hot. I want to look like everything is in place and I really only have two items. These days I can’t tell you haw many times I’ve seen people stopped while boarding to have items taken away.

Even more major tip:
I PICK UP AND CARRY my rolly as I stand in line to board the plane. I shoulder my tote firmly under the opposite arm. Psychologically, these items look smaller and lighter if I am carrying them. Ergo, they are much less likely to be taken away from me. I also keep a neutral face, if I look weighed down, authorities will be suspicious.

3.) Modular packing
In addition to all the pockets in various suitcases, I’m a believer in keeping everything else modular as well. I picked up this set of clear purple zipper tops, 13 different sizes, from Marshalls for $10. I find them endlessly useful.


If you have very valuable jewelry I suggest a proper jewelry roll, but mine is all costume so I just pop it in a baggie or two. To keep necklaces from tangling I’ll wrap them in tissue paper twists. Then I put the baggie in a sock, down the toe of a shoe, or in the center of my clothing roll for protection.


I also like to use the largest baggie for my itinerary and magazine and class notes to review on the plane. I find it works better than a folder, nothing falls out.


I have a hanging roll. I got it free with a magazine in England some 15 years ago and I will be CRUSHED when it finally dies. Most of my makeup lives in this at all times. It hangs in my bathroom at home, rolls up, travels, and then hangs in the hotel room once I land. The hanging feature is invaluable. Before flying I remove all liquids (like base) an put into my toiletry kit. Everything that remains is pressed powders, that way I don’t have to worry about taking it out at security. So far no TSA has every asked me to unroll it.


I have three kits: long haul, on-plane, and short haul.

  • The black long haul stands up on its own, great for hotels, and gets wrapped in a plastic bag inside my checked luggage, so it doesn’t have to be clear. The others are for carry-on.
  • The littlest one is for on-plane long flights when the long haul toiletry is already checked. It is comprised mainly of solid state products and sample products in tiny packages so it gets through security without having to be removed. But it’s clear just in case. Eye drops and and chapstick are a must.
  • The larger clear bag, for weekend short haul trips, does have to be taken out at security, so it lives in the outside pocket of my tote for ease of access.
photo 5

Emergency kit
Here’s a blog I did on what to take to conventions. This includes what I mean by “emergency kit.” This always goes in the carry-on.


4.) Author related items


I have a leather envelope bag for panels that is long enough to hold everything, but if I’m traveling carry-on I don’t often take it. It’s decorated with an bike brake for a steampunk look but gets suspicious looks at TSA. I had a employee put the strap on for me back in my leather working days.. I also tend to bring my own name tent. It’s just easier.


Fortunately for me, Orbit kindly sends me completed cover art proofs, without the pages, which I can use as standies at events. They are light, pack easily, travel well, and don’t get stollen. Although my Soulless one is currently missing.
The Creature


I have a cannibalized “creature” reading copy. Which is all the sections of my various books that I like to read out loud, glued into a Frankenstein’s monster book. Ugly, but useful and there’s the weight issue when traveling to consider. This is way better than carrying 8 books!
Computer kit


My computer accessories live in an old makeup bag which I find works great. Has pockets for cords and holds chargers, mini-mouse, and other needs including backup ear buds, flash drive, and the like.

5.) Clothing

Generally I don’t believe in adding weight except when strictly necessary but I do think shoes need to go into bags or pockets, unless they are heels I know I’ll only wear inside. This is to keep other things, including the bag itself, from getting dirty. My pin stripe set came with shoe bags so I use those, but a plastic bag works too. Shoes are one of my heaviest things so they go near the bottom/back of any case.

I have a blog over on Retro Rack all about how I go about choosing my outfits. That one is focused on a three week trip to Europe on book tour. And I have another on how to properly roll and pack vintage dresses.

RollingClothes1 RollingClothes2
RollingClothes3 RollingClothes4

I’ve had some questions on packing hats. If I can’t use and hat box for space reasons I shell the hats into the biggest and softest, fill them with stiffer items, like bras and such, and then use the wrap method with a smaller scarf as above.

Hats1 Hats2

Wrapping items in scarves has the added bonus of offering a token protection in case one’s burrito leaks. (see bellow)

When I’m doing a carry-on only trip the roll of garments goes in my big floppy tote, because it’s longer than my rolly can take. And then I fill the rolly with all the heavier bulky items like shoes, makeup, books etc…

The Tote Read to Fly


Includes my purse, a magazine, and the roll of clothing.

The Carry-on Rolly Read to Fly


Everything in its place and a place for everything. Room to transfer the toiletries in once I’ve cleared TSA. Water bottle will then take its place. This bag is still awaiting computer, computer kit, and food. But otherwise is ready to go.

Usually it takes me about an hour to pack. Time well spent, if you ask me. It’s taken me three times that to do this blog post!

What to wear to fly?

  • These days, I choose clothing that has no metal or thicknesses to it.
  • No belts (not even cloth ones), no shirts with embellishments, no large jewelry ~ these new machines alarm at thicknesses as well as metal, so I avoid it all. I often opt for a sports bra instead of one with underwire. I never know what excuse TSA will find to pat me down. I blame the rack.
  • I tend to travel in cotton stretch trousers that don’t wrinkle easily but still look formal
  • Close-toed slip-on flats with socks I don’t mind getting dirty (I’m not walking bare foot through security, yech).
  • A nice jersey shirt.
  • No jewelry.
  • A light jacket with pockets
  • Extra sweater, lightweight, cashmere, within reach but packed.
  • A scarf.
  • This outfit morphs if I have to wear something heavy or bulky, like boots, to limit my packing.

Last Thoughts

  • I always plan on getting stranded. It happens at least 1/4 of the time. So I take the most vital things for my event and life (extra glasses, itinerary, money, emergency toiletries, make up, medical needs, computer and charging cords, corsets, emergency kit, jewelry) in my carry-on. I also include one full event outfit and extra socks and undies. When traveling carry-on only this isn’t a problem.
  • I suggest printing out a piece of paper with name address and contact information, plus the words “reward if found” for every piece of luggage and thing of value.
  • Food for plane: Good protein is always hard for me to find as I don’t eat a lot of meat, so I like to hard boil eggs to take with. My best plane food is a veggie heavy burrito from (ah hem) Chipotle. I know, but hear me out. I can supervise them making the burrito and get them to do it as dry as possible. I can get lots of veg and beans, no dairy or avocado (goes bad easy), and the fresh salsa (drained as much as possible) and it actually keeps well in the fridge overnight and packs easy for the flight the next morning. It doesn’t matter if it gets squished. And I don’t know about you but one of those suckers feeds me three meals if necessary. Add some OJ in flight and it’s a nice balanced meal.
  • Drink for plane: I always buy water on the other side of security. It’s just too fiddly to negotiate a Sigg bottle. I try to be environmental and not drink bottled water at any other time. I also try to find something with electrolytes, because flying is dehydrating. I carry tea bags, as I can usually get hot water and creamer on the plane.
  • Which brings me to one last thing: flying is not the time for me to booze or sugar-up. Sugar lowers my resistance to all those rampant germs. Much as I love it, I save my candy pennies for after I land.

And so, as I leave for Tulsa I hope that you have found something useful in my abject obsessive packing.

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Posted by Gail Carriger


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  1. Last Knight said:

    As somebody who travels once or twice a year, at best, I find myself quite in awe at your packing skills, and the amount with which you travel. I tend to travel much lighter; but then, I'm male, and not generally destined for formal or semi-formal events that involve public speaking. It's a lot easier to travel lightly when you don't need to pack extra shoes or gowns. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing.

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