Bryan Caplan  

Why Pack for the Same Trip Twice?

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Travelers often repeatedly visit the same family members, the same friends.  Each visit normally requires two packing sessions: You pack the stuff you'll need, then repack the stuff you brought.  Each leg takes time and energy, and possibly - depending on the airline - $25 to $50 per bag in out-of-pocket cost.  Worse still, each packing session entails a risk of aggravating memory lapse.  One time, you forget a belt; another, your toothpaste.  Grrr.

There is a better way.  Unless your family or friends live in very confined quarters, politely ask to permanently store one trip's worth of supplies at each destination.  If your hosts appreciate you, they'll probably say yes.  From then on, you can visit them without traditional packing.  The out-of-pocket cost is modest.  And in any case, if you have the means to travel in the First World, out-of-pocket costs should be secondary to your time, effort, and aggravation costs.  Truth be told, you probably have several suitcases worth of clothes you rarely wear; why not pack them up and store them in several destinations you frequent?  One fixed cost can save you years of marginal costs.

Sure, if everyone did this, it might cease to be good advice.  You probably don't want to store twenty suitcases for your twenty closest friends - and your closest friends probably feel the same way.  But so what?  Hardly anyone follows my strategy now, and that's unlikely to change.  And even if my idea caught on, triage is the obvious response.  Store your stuff at the five places you visit most often, and reciprocate for your five most frequent guests.

Right now, I store a lot of stuff at my parents' house, and several useful items at Fabio Rojas' place.  But I plan to take this a lot further.  Next time I visit my parents, I'm leaving a week's stuff behind.  I'll encourage them to do the same at my house.  And when my kids have places of their own, I hope each will provide a few cubic feet for Grandpa Bryan.

Question: Why do so few people use my strategy?  The awkwardness of asking?  Hostility of the hosts' spouse?  Or just plain old-fashioned status quo bias?

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COMMENTS (26 to date)
Fabio Rojas writes:

Your GenCon pack is on my shelf...

Brett Gall writes:

People wear only things they like to wear, even when they are around their families/friends. However, there is scarcity of things people like to wear and leaving something you like to wear at Place X means you cannot wear it at Place Y. The issue is then that people would like to be able to wear the things they like to wear and maximize either choice, heterogeneity in clothing, whatever, at their current location. Therefore, they choose to keep the things they like to wear (which are the only things they wear) in their physical proximity.

So, strong preferences for certain types of clothing that can't be stored in both place X and place Y because there is only 1 unit of that clothing will lead people to reject your proposal. Hyperbolic discounting also would explain it - you have to plan in advance for this.

david condon writes:

I think you're overestimating how often people travel. For a household on a median income, flying the whole family somewhere is a luxury that can only happen every couple of years if they plan smartly. True, they can drive if their destination is reasonably close but not so close that they can reasonably drive back the same day. I'm not sure why you need to unpack the clothes at the destination. Just leave them in your suitcase until you're ready to wear them. This requires some foresight of planning what you'll wear last ahead of time, but doesn't seem that difficult. Your plan also adds a new difficulty of having to wash clothes at your destination rather than at your convenience.

Alex Godofsky writes:

This only works if you either 1) leave the clothes you wore on the trip at your destination, wearing the pre-seeded clothes back or 2) do a tiny load of laundry there.

gamma writes:

1. Clothing preferences change, aka fashion. This may not apply in all circumstances, but it can be a significant variable.
2. Seasons and events are variable. One trip is summer casual, the next requires winter coats. There are also funerals, weddings, reunions, picnics, help-me-paint-the-living-room evets, etc.
3. Some people, such as children, change size.
4. Depending on the household, your stash may not be secure. How many people have the run of the household, or are frequent visitors, and have flexible views of property rights? You may find out the hard way.

Of course, none of these may apply to you. But they are not outliers, either.

MikeP writes:

There are, by and large, two kinds of people -- those who buy clothes and those who keep clothes. Those who buy clothes will find the wardrobe they left at someone's house aged beyond repair after a year. Those who keep clothes, as Brett Gall suggests above, really have a two week wardrobe because that's their favorite two weeks of clothes. They will find the wardrobe they left at someone's house either too valuable to leave there or too substandard to wear.

Perhaps I just don't feel this pain because I don't visit the same other place that often. The most frequent fly-to-visit destination is visited perhaps once a year. And on those occasions I visit twice a year, once is during the summer and once is during the winter. Do I really want to leave two wardrobes there? Weather forecasts are pretty good in limiting what I will need at the destination, so I don't need to plan ahead in provisioning for any occasion, much less every occasion. I just pack what I need.

One more point: kids clothing in storage ages even faster than fashion.

MikeP writes:

If you're serious about optimizing travel packing, you ought to just take Rick Steves advice.

If you're willing to wear either unfashionable or undesirable clothes at your destination, you might as well prepare a carry-on size bag with both and take it with you wherever you go.

Tom West writes:

The idea of finding something in my household that was stored away 2 years ago is beyond impossible. Hence when a guest arrived, they'd have nothing except some camping gear, a backgammon set, a child's stroller and 2/3rds of my copy of "Narvik" that I lost 30 years ago, all found while I was searching for the poor traveler's clothes.

The day I can find something I stored a *week* ago is the day I *might* contemplate storing something for other people.

As is, visitors find my house eats their possessions if they aren't careful. Sort of the involuntary version of Bryan's strategy.

"Did you leave a cute 2-year old behind about 6 months ago?"
"Oh, *that's* were she went! We'd been wondering."
"Well, she's finally finished playing with all the toys in the basement. Care to pick her up?"

Tim Worstall writes:

I've been working away (in various different places) for many years now. SOP is to get somewhere, set up, then go buy a few weeks of clothes at the thrift store. Then travel with a laptop, phone and book to read on the plane. Haven't carried luggage in years. Forgotten what it's like to do so pretty much.

Then again, on my sorta budget, this does require being happy to dress at thrift stores.

Gorgasal writes:

Re Tim Worstall's comment:

You must really hate packing or carrying luggage. At least, your strategy won't save on time, energy and memory lapse, to go back to Bryan's points. Going to the thrift store is shopping, for God's sake, which at least for me is a giant time and energy sink, and where I'll invariably forget to get something.

I'd rather pack a bag.

Nick Rowe writes:

Yes! I finally figured this out last year. It was stupid carrying a pair of jeans back and forth across the Atlantic every year when I could just buy an extra pair for $20 and leave them in my Mother's house. This will cost me next to nothing in lifetime expenditure on jeans, since they wear out more slowly now I have an extra pair. Same with an extra pair of boots I bought used.

It did have one downside though. I spent ages looking for my brown sweater, till I remembered I had deliberately left it in England.

Lupis42 writes:

The places I visit frequently (family, for the most part) have strong seasonal variations in weather, and we frequently have specific packing to do for a trip anyway. Because we tend to travel by minivan, the marginal cost of an extra suitcase is very close to nil, so it's just the hassle of packing. The places we travel to by airplane tend to be much less regular, defeating the point of keeping things there.

John Thacker writes:

I do precisely this with both my mother's house and did this with my wife (then fiancee's) condo when we lived apart while she was going to school. I think the other people give some good reasons why it's not more popular, but for me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Jody writes:

I think the effectiveness of this strategy depends on how laundry is handled

Peter H writes:

I do this with my boyfriend who is in the Toronto area. I have encountered an unexpected hurdle though. When going through customs while having no baggage save a small backpack, they sometimes think I am a drug courier and make me get searched.

dangerman writes:

My wife and I tried this.

When we had several small children, we left kid-related supplies (diapers, wipes, car seats, extra kid clothes, a small amount of extra cloths for us) at my parents and at her's.

We told them it would make it *much* easier for us to visit with the children again.

Both sets of grandparents shipped everything back to us.

Jeff writes:

Kind of ignoring seasonality issues, aren't you? What's appropriate clothing for a weekend trip to Grandma's house outside of Pittsburgh varies greatly from, say, today, when it is under ten degrees there, from what would be suitable in July when it's over 90.

Patrick writes:

I think seasonality favors this approach more. Our inlaws (French) leave their stuff in our garage apartment in Houston. We do the same in their house in France. It makes much more sense to buy seasonal gear locally and leave it there than buy here and lug back and forth. The selection of winter clothes is much better there. We do it less to save time than to pack more goodies for the trip home that you can only get in France for us or Houston for them.

Don MacLean writes:

Just today, there was a piece in the WSJ about a group in London who call themselves the Eccentric Club.

Adam Casey writes:

My reason:

Most of the important items I take with me to my relatives' are unique. I can't leave a copy of my laptop, my books, or similar at theirs. So I must carry at least half a small case with me.

And if I'm doing that I may as well add in a spare teeshirt and a few changes of underwear to fill the rest of the case.

Kitty_T writes:

We've been trying to convince my mother-in-law to do exactly this for several years.

She's a snowbird, and insists our family should visit her either in Canada or Florida. Obviously it's more efficient for one retired person to travel than 4 who juggle work and school schedules, but she just couldn't possibly come visit us from Canada due to the risk of overstaying and accidentally acquiring US residency (she can't travel to/from Florida at different times because ... something about tennis schedules, I think), and she just couldn't possibly visit from Florida because she doesn't keep winter clothes there.

Her refusal even to consider the offer of a drawer at our place lead us to conclude that we have a revealed preferences issue rather than a logistical one, so we've pretty much given up.

Roger writes:

This is exactly the strategy I use.

I am retired, yet I travel about a hundred days a year, primarily to SoCal and Hawaii. I simply leave clothes and sundries (and surfing gear) in each location.

I am in no way fashion conscious. Virtually all my clothes last a decade or more, and I never buy anything in fashion, so it rarely goes out of fashion. An Oxford shirt, a golf shirt, a tee shirt, a pair of shorts or jeans, a light jacket, and a pair of good sandals or walking shoes are pretty much timeless. As are undergarments.

When I travel I then travel to my clothes and surf gear, and supplement it with a backpack, primarily containing my tablet and books.

I could not travel all the time if it was costly or cumbersome.

blink writes:

I agree this is a clear win for efficiency and a great strategy for parents looking to get additional visits.

In general, though, it entails some redistribution of welfare and is not a Pareto improvement. Also, by lowering the cost, this policy may increase the demand for visits. For the type of relationships where this plan might work, charging rent is probably out of the question, so there may now be "too many" visits, actually reducing efficiency.

Daublin writes:

It sounds like a lot of people do this.

I used to have basically two homes that I travelled between 5-6 times a year, and I kept duplicates of as many things as possible to cut down on what I carried back and forth. Part of the problem was that I'd forget things and have to buy duplicates on the other side anyway; so I started just leaving them.

One exception was clothes.

Mike writes:

What about the costs of having all those clothes and other items sitting around unused for most of the time? I like my jacket, but I don't want to buy a second one just to leave at my parents for when I visit (and I don't want to leave there an ugly old one that I never wear. I never wear it for a reason). Your strategy doubles my jacket costs for a very small gain.

If you travel frequently then you get pretty good at packing so that it doesn't take much time or energy and doesn't involve stress.
And as someone else noted above, you don't have to unpack at your destination.

Eric Hammer writes:

I find the best way to achieve this outcome is not to leave my cloths at my folk's place, but rather to ensure my body type roughly matches my father's, and then just wear his cloths if needs be. I don't own enough clothing to leave a portion two states away, but so long as don't gain too much weight I am good to go!

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