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“The American Express Card: Don’t Leave Home Without It” was a variation on the advertising slogan “Don’t Leave Home Without Them” promoting American Express Traveler’s Checks that the company launched in 1975.

There was a time my travel mantra should have been: “Underwear: Don’t Leave Home Without It” because I became notorious for arriving at a destination without packing underwear or socks, or leaving entire suitcases in the closet.

One Saturday morning sometime back in the 1980s my wife and I decided to throw some clothes in a suitcase and go on an overnight trip to the Town of Mendocino on the California coast about a three hour drive north from our home in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Town of Mendocino (Flickr Photo)

As I recall, “there was no room at the inns” in Mendocino, so we ended up staying in a very nice B&B in Fort Bragg, just ten miles farther up the coast highway, California Route 1. After unpacking I discovered that I hadn’t brought any underwear. Fortunately, a nearby local store was still open and I was able to purchase what I stupidly had forgotten to pack.

On some Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when my oldest sister-in-law and her family still lived in Buena Park near Knott’s Berry Farm and relatively close to Disneyland in Anaheim my wife and I would make the trek down I-5 to Southern California. Fortunately, the sister-in-law lived just blocks from a major shopping mall because on one such Christmas trip I once again forgot to pack underwear or socks.

One of my most embarrassing incidents leaving home without all of my clothing involved not underwear but a sport coat, slacks, dress shirt and tie, all neatly enclosed in a hanging bag that never made it from closet to car. This snafu wasn’t discovered until after my wife and I

Harrahs South Lake Tahoe (Flickr Photo)

had driven 200 miles east from our home in Oakland to South Lake Tahoe and prepared to change into “fancy duds” to attend a show at Harrah’s Casino by the then-famous (and now disgraced) actor and comedian Bill Cosby.

Harrah’s strict dress code required men to wear a suit or sports coat and tie. Those failing to adhere to that unbending rule had two choices: Leave without attending the dinner show or put on a coat and tie supplied by Harrah’s from a stash of mismatched, unstylish wardrobe items that had probably been purchased from a charity thrift shop and were designed to humiliate the wearer to such a degree that he would never, ever, ever forget to bring those items along on his next visit to Harrah’s.

I made an even bigger and more expensive “pack up the car for a weekend trip” gaffe some years later when my wife I were to spend two nights with my father-in-law in the mountains just north of Lake Tahoe. On the way east we stopped in Sacramento for a picnic lunch along the river and went to a local bank to get some cash from an ATM machine.

We arrived in Truckee, a hundred miles and a couple of hours of driving time later. After a gust of wind blew some dust into my eyes as I walked down the street, I opened the trunk of our car to retrieve the contact lens solution in my toiletry kit only to discover to my horror that the luggage that contained my wife’s pants and tops and my Levi’s and shirts, had been left at home.

The good news is that the clothing stores on Truckee’s main street were still open and we had just enough time to go on a shopping spree before hitting the road for the one hour drive to where we were to stay and dine that night with my wife’s father.

My days of leaving essential wardrobe items behind when departing on a trip persisted for many years, in part because the cars we owned subsequent to selling the 1968 VW “Beetle” which had been my wife’s “dowry” had spacious enough trunks to store luggage for a major military expedition, and because in the 1970s-1990s airlines typically allowed each passenger to check two large suitcases plus carry aboard yet more bags.

That “luggage largesse” meant that you could pack anything and everything that you could possibly need which, in turn, meant that it was difficult to remember and keep track of what you had packed and what you had taken with you when you walked out of the front door of your home.

It wasn’t until we planned our first trip to Europe in 1999 that we decided to adopt the “travel light” principle and limit ourselves to a single roll-aboard suitcase plus a small carry-on bag each. Six months before that trip we deliberately booked a seaplane flight from Seattle to Victoria, B.C., that would force us to travel with only that amount of luggage due to the limited stowage space aboard the plane. And that meant that, for the first time ever, we would not check luggage on the flights between San Francisco and Seattle even though the wide-body jetliner aboard which we would travel had room in the hold for as many bags as we wanted to schlep to the airport.

And because we continued (more or less) to take a single small suitcase per person on all future trips my days of leaving home without my underwear came to an end before the close of the 20th century.

Some years later we took a driving trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California. We stopped over in the desert town of Twentynine Palms east of Los Angeles and Palm Springs in order to spend time in nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park (Flickr Photo)

Over breakfast one morning our innkeeper told us that she used to close the inn during the hot summer months and spend the season up in a cooler mountain area. But because Europeans, and in particular, Germans, wanted to experience American deserts when the daytime temperatures were the highest, she ultimately hired someone to run the inn while she cooled her heels at higher elevations.

We weren’t surprised to hear about the influx of summer tourists from the Continent since during an earlier trip to Death Valley National Park two-hundred miles to the north of Twentynine Plans we had been told that because of desire on the part of Europeans to visit during the hotter-than-Hades summer the park concessionaire had decided to keep lodging at Furnace Creek open year-round instead of closing it after the spring-time tourists were gone .

But what did surprise us was learning that the Germans who stayed at Twentynine Palms would often arrive with only the clothes on their backs (and perhaps some extra pairs of underwear), go to the local St. Vinnie’s to buy summer duds on the cheap, and then leave those clothes neatly stacked in their room on departure so that the innkeeper could wash them and re-donate them to the thrift store.

Talk about traveling light.

One of the innkeeper’s friends joined us for breakfast. Originally from Germany herself, she said that when she traveled to Europe she always packed her oldest underwear. During the trip, she would discard her worn lingerie in order to make room in her suitcase for gifts to bring home for friends and family.

So today while I travel lighter than in the days when I left my underwear at home I do not discard my used undies along the path that my travels take me. “Pack it in, pack it out,” the basic tenet of hiking into the woods and mountains, is my “underwear moral.”

(In the July/August 2020 issue of Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, a reader asked “Hey Ms. Green! Where Do I Recycle Worn Underwear?” The answer: A company called Knickey will recycle it and give you a free set of undies with your next order.)

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