Why Packing to Go Home Is So Damn Hard (And How to Nail It)

Illustration by Tara Jacoby

Of all the trips we take — for work, for play, for the Instagram likes — the journeys home are the hardest to pack for. For those who’ve left their hometowns in search of greener pastures, the annual pilgrimage back can feel freighted with bittersweet feelings and strange expectations. What you bring along in your suitcase, then, can feel like part costume, part armor, part declaration of Who You’ve Become™. They’re clothes, sure, but they’re also supposed to somehow demonstrate both how far you’ve come in life and also to serve as a reminder that you’re the same person you’ve always been. It’s a tricky balance.

Whoa, that got deep! Apologies, we’re just trying to tell you how to best pack for a trip home, and look cool but also not like a try-hard. On to the advice!

Pack Things You Actually Wear

This sounds obvious but it’s not. I’m not sure what twisted human impulse makes us all believe that when we’re forced to pack a small fraction of our wardrobes in a suitcase, we suddenly think it’s the *perfect* time to try out that sweater we’ve owned for two years and worn exactly zero times. Fight the urge! According to the Wall Street Journal, we only wear twenty percent of the clothing we own on a regular basis, which, if you think about it, is an incredible self-own we all make every time we buy clothes.

Game the system and bring only the items you wear the most often, the things you feel the most “you” in. Remember those drop-crotch pants you bought because they were on super-sale but also because you were convinced they’d unlock a new look, and maybe even a new life? The pants you’ve never since worn because you put them on, look at yourself in the mirror and immediately slink away, crimson with shame? Don’t bring those. Bring the jeans you wear every damn day and have the threadbare patches where you carry your phone and wallet.

Avoid the Show-Off Item

It’s an undeniable part of human nature that we want to show-off. The feeling is magnified if you’re only able to make it home once or twice a year, and you want to show the peasants you went to high school with how cool you are now (even if that’s … debatable). Still, don’t be the guy who wears some insanely ostentatious thing. Instagram has made boasting about your personal style a very normalized act, but remember, home is special/treacherous in that it’s populated with people who you’ve known your whole life and, even more dangerously, who have no qualms cutting you down to size. They remember all your different style phases (teenage goth, prep, urban outdoorsman, etc.) and they have long memories—a frightening combination.

Just Be You*
When you go home, you’re returning to your people, your tribe. Take advantage of this and just relax. Dress like yourself. We can almost promise you that your mom doesn’t care whether or not you copped some piece from a limited-edition collab. It’s Thanksgiving, just wear something that makes you feel good and, more importantly, that’s comfortable enough for some marathon eating (we suggest an elastic waistband).

*But Be the Best Version of You

So, while wearing something crazy-flashy is not something we necessarily stand behind, we are all in favor of subtler forms of swagger. Take, for example, something like cashmere. For some reason, my mom thinks cashmere sweaters are unnecessarily fancy. Spoiler alert: They’re not. I haven’t alerted her to this fact and so I allow her to think I’m fancier than I am by always packing a few of these downy sweaters as so to keep up the charade.

Which is to say, bring something nice, not something showy, and don’t get the two confused. A navy crewneck sweater, a pair of well-made dress shoes, a crisp white button-up shirt or a pair of selvage jeans can be just as impressive as any logo-strewn thing you’re thinking of bringing along to catch eyes. And no one can accuse you of being an ass, even if you are.

Pack Less

If you’re flying, don’t pack more than can fit into a carry-on bag. In fact, as a general rule, you should never pack more than what can fit into a carry-on — have you seen who’s waiting around at baggage claim? Psychos, that’s who. Sure you could bring eight pairs of pants and 13 shirts and six pairs of shoes but why? Streamline and bring your favorite items in a palette of neutrals that is easily interchangeable (think navy, gray, white, and black). Don’t bring “outfits” bring versatile go-tos that are part of that twenty percent of your wardrobe that you actually wear, and trust that you’ll be able to make some solid outfits from there. And if you’re a chronic over-packer, going home allows you a little leeway seeing as you can probably do a load of laundry. If you’re really lucky, maybe your mom will do it for you. 🙂

Bring More Underwear Than You Think

I don’t know why this is true but always bring one more pair than you think you’ll need.

See A Star Is Born

This has nothing to do with packing or fashion but when your racist grandpa and gender nonconforming Gen Z cousin are going at it, you can help bring them together by saying that Lady Gaga was really good in A Star is Born. They will both agree, and you will have saved Thanksgiving.

Max Berlinger is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. His work has been seen in The New York Times, GQ, and Bloomberg. He’s currently wasting time on Twitter.