Travel

Connie Wang Shares Her Perfected Travel Packing List in ‘Oh My Mother!’

By documenting their travels, the memoirist paints a picture of a mother-daughter bond defined by the freedom of not belonging.

Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist.
Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist.
Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist.

In the travel memoir Oh My Mother! A Memoir in Nine Adventures, out May 9, author Connie Wang attempts to understand her one-of-a-kind mother, Qing Li, by recounting many of the warm, difficult, funny, complicated, and wholly memorable trips they’ve taken together over the years. With each poignant essay, Wang tells the story of a woman who is at once stubborn and enchanting, and definitely never fails to surprise. The below excerpt details Wang’s foolproof packing list, which she regretfully fails to share with Qing before they embark on a whirlwind European adventure.The trip would take us through London, Paris, and Rome, a greatest‐hits tour that would finally bring Qing to all the European destinations she had read about in novels and seen in black‐and‐white pictures of women smoking cigarettes in fascinating clothes against decaying backdrops: Buckingham Palace, Notre‐Dame, the Colosseum… We’d go to places where we could get dressed up and see fine things in person. With only three days in each city, our consumption would be fast and furious, a smash‐and‐ grab affair that would hopefully leave us delirious and depleted, but in the happy sort of way.

We’d need to travel light but look acceptable for a sweeping range of foreign environments in which what you wore determined how little you would be bothered. We’d be on our feet all day, but walking shoes-worn with walking clothes-would be a missed opportunity for fashion moments. The weather, too, would be inconsistent: European springtime brought about chaos in which rain, frost, heat waves, and perfect weather were all equal possibilities.

This was exactly the kind of trip I excel at when it comes to what to pack. I had always been a daydream planner since those early road trips, agonizing over outfit combinations with an unyielding discipline to two masters: economy of space and maximal style. (In college, when I first encountered Joan Didion along with the rest of the women in my dorm, it was her packing list-not her descriptions of naivete and youth, of counterculture, of self‐respect-that got me hooked. Here was a woman who knew the power of the contents of a suitcase, who was not afraid to rewear the same piece many times, who planned for and looked forward to discomfort, who understood that a skirt and flat shoes were like an invisibility cloak. I remember thinking that I could not have dinner with her or hold a conversation with her, but I could certainly travel with her.)

I had my own qualifications. Every Fashion Week required full‐peacocking looks without obvious overlapping of items (but given the small rooms we stayed in, everything had to fit in one checked suitcase and one carry‐on), and I had gotten more efficient with every season, eventually reaching a point where I never brought a single thing I didn’t wear and never had to scramble to dash into an H&M to find something I had forgotten at home. Once, I spent a month on the road during a sabbatical from work, and I fit everything for a five‐country tour into one hard‐shell carry‐on.This is all to say that I am very good at packing, mostly because I adhere to the following commandments:

  • Nearly every top should match with nearly every bottom.
  • Expect to rewear every item constantly, but strive to make each outfit unique.
  • No matter what, never bring more than three pairs of shoes.
  • Leave at least a third of the suitcase empty for souvenirs.
  • Err on the side of conservatism-always have a way to cover your shoulders, upper thighs, arms, and head.
     

I had even, at one point, come up with a convoluted formula to calculate how many tops and bottoms and one‐pieces I would need based on the number of days the trip would require and the number of permutations the items made possible. I’ve shared versions of this packing list with friends and colleagues, who have always seemed more interested in the philosophy than in the actual practice. But on the off-chance that this will be helpful to a chronic over‐ or under‐packer, here is my personal packing list:

  • A small number of basic tops that are nice but not formal. Striped oxfords, your favorite T‐shirts, and a ribbed turtleneck all qualify.
  • A smaller number of charming bottoms that are un‐ fussy in fabric, like a dramatic pair of denim, a flounce wrap skirt in a wrinkle and stain‐resistant fabric, or a pair of flared corduroy trousers.
  • A thin outer layer (depending on the climate, I usu‐ ally go for a black cardigan or a lightweight Uniqlo Heattech puffer jacket that squishes down into the size of a fist).
  • A single uncrushable dress (Issey Miyake Pleats Please is a personal favorite).
  • Given chillier weather, two substantial outer layers: one long and one short, making sure that one of them is slightly fancier than the other. I like a mackintosh in a swishy, wipeable fabric and a barn coat; or an oversized teddy‐bear shearling and a leather jacket.
  • Two to three pairs of reliable broken‐in shoes, includ‐ ing party sneakers, thusly named because you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear them to a casual party (my go‐tos are Air Max 97s) and nice but neutral flats. Optional: a practical but audacious pair of heels to level up a semi‐nice outfit into a really nice one.
  • A small crossbody bag for daily essentials, a nice canvas tote for occasional schlepping, and a soft clutch to use as a pouch for electronics or toiletries (until you need it to be a clutch).
  • No more underwear than you think you need (you can always buy more from the drugstore, in a pinch), one bra, three pairs of socks, and one set of pajamas.
  • A swimsuit, a large scarf or shawl, a pair of sunglasses, and one flashy pair of earrings.
  • A soft outfit (matching sweats, a big sweater, and thick leggings) that you should wear on planes and trains, as soon as you return from a long day out, or for past‐ midnight lounging by the hotel bar (with heels and earrings, if the vibe necessitates it).
  • Makeup in stick form, skincare decanted into small jars and tubes, eyeglasses and 10 percent more pairs of contacts than you think you might need, and an old‐fashioned toothbrush and American tooth‐ paste.
  • Chargers (but no electronics other than a phone and an external battery for it).

Save for truly extraordinary circumstances (a black‐tie gala, a days‐long camping excursion, going to Mars), packing this way works for nearly all manner of countries and cultures. It gives you the best shot of being able to walk five miles to have aperitifs at a Michelin restaurant and tour the Colosseum right afterward. It allows for luggage space to bring home bulky treasures, but the approach is not so spartan that you have to wear the same outfit each time the sun goes down. It has served me well, and I only wished I had warned Qing about its virtues before we left for Europe.From OH MY MOTHER! by Connie Wang, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Super Rare Inc.

Connie Wang is a journalist, writer, and editor. Previously she led Refinery29’s editorial team as executive editor, where she explored how race and status inform our culture and politics. She has won three Front Page Awards and has written for outlets including the New York Times. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she was born in Jinan, China, raised in Minnesota, and lives in Los Angeles.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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