Packing While Small Fat
What I brought to Thailand, plus thoughts on travel with kids
One quick note because you have all flooded my DMs and email (and rightfully so): Yes, I have seen the new AAP guidelines promoting weight loss drugs and surgery for adolescents. Yes, I have Many Thoughts. I started working on this story the second I got back to work last week, but it’s not ready to share yet. So stay tuned. I’m on it.
And in the meantime/also by popular request: Today we’re going to talk about packing! Please be clear that I am not a travel or a fashion blogger. But I am just back from this 16 day trip to Thailand (we spent 5 days in Bangkok, 8 days in Koh Samui, and a million years on planes). And you all had questions! So we’re going to get into what I brought, what worked, and what didn’t. With a bonus travel-with-kids segment at the end for paid subscribers!
I’m going to link to some things that I liked, so quick reminder that those are never sponsored and I don’t use affiliate links (mostly because I can’t be asked to set those up, it sounds hard). This is all stuff I put on my own damn credit card, for better or worse. Something to know about me (I think everyone already knows this about me): I am a stress shopper. Blame it on the mall culture of my youth meets the immediate gratification of drop shipping, but I absolutely believe to my core that any even mildly stressful situation can probably be made better by buying a thing.
I have done some work on this issue and some day, I’ll unpack all of that (pun intended!) more fully with my therapist. But suffice to say, as I contemplated almost three weeks in Thailand, at Christmas, with young children in tow—I absolutely bought a lot of things. Some of which turned out to be unnecessary and some of which turned out to be very very useful. That’s the thing about stress shopping! (Sometimes) it can work!
It’s also true that packing as a small fat person presents its own set of complications. I did a lot of planning and shopping before this trip because I knew I would be in a country without a meaningful plus size clothing market, so if I forgot something crucial, I’d be making do without it. And yet I also couldn’t over-pack because airlines are ruthless about checked baggage fees and we were already bringing all of our kids’ Christmas presents with us since my 5-year-old made sure to notify Santa of our travel plans and was fully expecting him to do his thing on Christmas morning in Bangkok. (We did check five suitcases, to be clear. I’m married to someone who always wants to carry on, but it was impossible for this trip plus Roxane Gay has really evolved me on the check vs carry-on question.)
So I was striving for a kind of Just Enough Packing situation for this trip: Not super minimalist. Not so over-stuffed that I’d spend the whole trip keeping track of our shit. I knew I could do laundry. I’m sharing all of this for context so you can evaluate how helpful this packing list actually is for any trip you are pondering. If I wasn’t bringing an extra suitcase full of Christmas, I probably would have let myself pack more generously. For a weekend trip, I usually force myself to edit down to just a carryon. Your mileage will (literally) vary.
In aiming for Just Enough Packing, I consulted two resources. The first is the Mindful Closet Packing Planner by Dacy Gillespie, which helps you organize and wrap your brain around what you actually need for this particular trip. The second was this blog post from Sherry Petersik at YoungHouseLove. I should note that both Dacy and Sherry are Light Packers and again, packing light was not my express goal. (They also have thin privilege and that means their clothes that roll up tinier!) But reading their thoughts on packing did help me hone in on two useful guiding principles:
1. Stick to one color scheme for the whole trip.
2. Make sure that anything big you pack (shoes, a jacket, etc) is going to work with more than outfit.
Both of these rules mean you can pack less and actually have more options.
Okay, Okay Just Show Us What You Packed
(To be clear, I didn’t buy ALL of this new for the trip. I’m noting below if it was a trip-specific purchase and how that worked out or didn’t. Also, I’m not including sizes for everything, but for reference, I wear a 16-20 or 1X in most brands. Everything listed here was at least originally available up to 3X, though we all know that’s not inclusive enough and size offerings change on a dime.)
Eileen Fisher Crew Neck Hi-Lo Hem Top (dark pink)
Wore it on the plane and at no other time since Thailand is never cold.
My favorite leggings because they NEVER roll down. Wore for all our travel days. Would have worn for exercise, had I ever wanted to exercise.
Absolutely clutch for going under dresses and skirts to prevent thigh chafing, but I also wore them on their own a few times. (And if we had done more hiking or active things, would have worn even more.)
J. Crew Mid-Rise Denim Short (in the absurdly named Squash Wash)
Look, we’re still mad at J.Crew about the coat, but I’ve had these shorts two summers and they are great. As of this writing available up to a 37, but who knows. They DO stretch out and fall down after 2-3 wears, so I knew they could not be my only short option, but I did wear them a ton.
Athleta Cabot Linen 4” Short (in Chambray Blue)
I wear these in 18, and they (currently) go up to 26, and I would say do not sleep on those sale prices because they are very comfy and cute. The downside for travel is the linen wrinkles a ton, but steamy tropical weather helped on that front.
Target Universal Thread Smocked Waist Midi Skirt
I am VERY sorry I do not have a link to this because it seems to have evaporated from their website and that is an absolute shame because this is a great skirt. I wore it with a white t-shirt and sneakers to walk around Bangkok, and then lived in it with this black tank top (more on the top situation below) many other days.
Draper James Deanna Smocked Dress (in Canopy Stripe)
Apparently this girl loves a smock. I actually bought this dress as a contender for author photos but decided to wear the shirt dress version instead. I kept this one too, thinking it would be perfect for Thailand but – I actually only wore it once (on Christmas Eve) and I don’t know, it wasn’t AS amazing as I wanted it to be? One reason might be that the fashion vibe in Bangkok was more urban chic and this is def more barefoot-on-a-beach, and I felt like a tourist when I wore it around people who live there and were dressed less… romantically. I guess I thought if you live in a tropical climate, you are always barefoot on a beach? And then when we actually got to the beach, I forgot to wear it. Anyway. Cute dress but maybe not for me.
All the Universal Standard Tee Rex T-shirts (black, white, and several stripes)
OK, so I bought SIX of these for this trip, in a blaze of Black Friday sale energy. And I felt VERY PROUD of that because there is obviously endless mix and match potential when all of your shirts go with all of your shorts (and the skirt). But this vision didn’t quite come to pass. I absolutely love the striped ones; they are a nice thick fabric that holds its shape super well and fit with the right level of bagginess but not too saggy. The solid colors turned out to be a much lighter material and also sized more generously. Which I did not fully realize until I was in f*cking Thailand! I ended up not even wearing two of them, and feeling sort of annoyed anytime I wore the others.
Gap Modern Tank Tops (in navy and black)
Thank goodness I had packed two of these tank tops as well; one as pajamas, and one to wear on the plane under the pink sweatshirt. I ended up wearing both constantly after I got mad at my t-shirts. Of course Gap is sold out of all the larger sizes right now and they don’t come in an as many colors now that I want like six more.
Universal Standard Iconic Geneva Tank Dress (in lapis)
This was another pre-travel Black Friday impulse buy but this one worked! The Geneva is a great dress and works as a swimsuit coverup, pajamas, or to actually leave the house in. I did all of the above in it.
Anthropologie Maeve Theodora Midi Dress (in black)
Totally sold out, sad to say, as I’ve had it for years. But let me just say that a black tank dress is a great travel option because it looks good even when sweaty and filthy, works in any style context, and you will always feel vaguely like one of those cool Cup of Jo girls. (The Geneva dress above is basically the same dress so maybe just get that in black if you’re into this? Only difference is the hemline.)
I packed this Lands End one piece (sadly now only available in black, mine is fun colors), and this bikini top and bottom, plus an old/frankly too small now Athleta rashguard so I didn’t fry (as in first photo above).
Pool Birks, rose gold Birks, Veja cute-walking-around-a-city sneakers, and not pictured, my grey and gold Sauconys for getting through an airport with arch support. I’m still mad I packed two pairs of sneakers to be honest - but the cute sneaker and the comfy sneaker are just so rarely the same sneaker!
In conclusion: The color scheme thing worked out pretty nicely! I wasn’t militant about it, but it did help me make some tough decisions about other dresses and tops that I didn’t bring because I knew they had no mix and match potential. And it reduced decision fatigue on the trip because I knew that any combination of clothes pretty much worked. But I could have saved some room in my suitcase with a better shoe strategy (the epiphany I just had while writing this is that I could have replaced the pool Birks and the Vejas with one cute-yet-comfy-and-waterproof pair of Tevas…) and by leaving behind the dress I only wore once and the t-shirts I didn’t wear at all.
5 Other Useful Things I Bought
All of these will now be my forever travel staples. Plus what worked (and what really didn’t!) about this kind of intensive travel experience with children.