Getting Ready to Go

150 150 Frances
  • 0

Dear Kristin,

So the tables have turned and you’re the one who’s hopped on a plane to travel far from home. As I write this, you’re on your way to Sweden to enjoy those long, long days and a little bit of business. (Do you think if I ever got a real job, they’d send me to Sweden? No one told me that was a possibility!)

You’re a much cooler cucumber than I am when it comes to air travel. But of course getting there isn’t the whole story. For me, taking a trip, especially one where I’ll be gone a week or more, starts before I walk out the door. It’s not just the planning and the packing (and the prolonged worry about getting my suitcase into an overhead bin); it’s also preparing for my homecoming.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone–at least among the women I know–in doing some serious housecleaning before I leave on vacation. The fact is, my house is never cleaner than when I’m about to leave it for an extended period of time. This is true whether I’m taking a family trip or traveling solo (though if it’s a family trip, the house is much more likely to stay clean while I’m gone). 

I prioritize my cleaning according to my path back into the house. We always enter the side door, which has a storm door, so all the smudges must be windexed away. The first room I’ll see upon re-entry is the mud room, an area that might get very little attention during the normal course of housecleaning, but is made to shine like a star if I’m going out of town. Next up is the living room, which gets the usual treatment plus an extra fluffing of pillows and refolding of quilts. The kitchen is next. Fridge and dishwashers are emptied, dishes washed, and all the shiny surfaces are made extra shiny with a dab of lemon oil.

It’s a bit ironic that my house is never cleaner than when I leave it for a long stretch. It never smells better or shines brighter. All that beauty and order, and no one is there to enjoy it!

Oh, but it’s so wonderful to walk into a clean house, everything just so, after a week spent at the beach or up in the mountains. In part, it’s because when I’m away, the house I imagine I’ll be returning to is my everyday house with its clutter and crumbs and unruly messes. By the time we’re on the road back home, I’m not convinced that the house was all that tidy when I left it the week before.

And then I open the door and am greeted by the scent of lemon oil and the sight of an orderly coat rack. The kitchen floor gleams, the bathroom fixtures sparkle. I am agog with the wonder of it all. It’s almost a second vacation to come back to a clean house–like life has given me a few more days of reprieve from the daily grind.

Back in the day, the pristine beauty of my post-vacay home didn’t last long (especially if we’d been at the beach, since we always managed to bring a beach’s worth of sand back with us). But now that we’re empty nesters? Why, it might take days for everyday entropy to set in. 

What did you do to smooth your re-entry from the Land of the Svea? And how is your trip going so far? I can’t wait to hear all about it!


Dear Frances,

Greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark! I’m starting this post from the airport while I wait for my flight to Stockholm. For one reason or another, I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last couple of years. Lots of work trips, atrip to take care of my dad when he had Covid, and of course, our bucket list trip to Italy last year. I can’t help but reflect on how much easier travel is in these empty next years.

Like you, I like to leave a clean house. Part of that is that I like to come home to a clean house, but for the last ten years or so, we usually have a housesitter to come and stay with the pets, so fear of being judged on my housekeeping skills motivates me more. This means the area under the kitchen sink and the kitchen cabinets get a thorough cleaning. I’m on the lookout for cobwebs and finally get around to washing windows and baseboards. Our housesitters leave our house in good order, and then when I get back, I get the benefit of my judgement-induced deep cleaning.

For me, the pre-trip stress is mostly about packing for the life I imagine while I’m there.

Somehow, in the same way that even though I cook every day, nothing I make seems worthy of serving guests–even though I get dressed every day, none of my clothes seem worthy of taking on a trip. All of the gaps in my wardrobe (and there are many), seem gaping once I start packing. For example, I invested in some nice blouses for work, but my dressier pants are questionable and I have absolutely no lightweight jacket or blazer to wear if we go out to eat in the evening. One of the evenings this week, dinner will be on a boat, cruising around the archipelago of Stockholm and I didn’t have an appropriate jacket! So, the afternoon before I left, I was making desperate, last-minute shopping trips to try to find a blazer to fit the bill. How do I not have this wardrobe staple at my age?

(Update: I made it to Sweden!) Now that I’ve been in Stockholm for a few days I can tell you that the blazer I bought worked great on the boat–but I was overdressed. Half the people were wearing jeans, hoodies, and sneakers. Sigh. I realize now that I could use a few more casual, but polished outfits. Right now I’m stressing about the awards dinner tonight. I packed the dress I wore for Ben’s graduation, but I don’t really have an appropriate coat (I brought a wrap, but I think that will be too dressy) and I brought my only remaining pair of heels. But now that I’m here, I don’t want to wear heels (really, ever again!) and I don’t have the right flats for the outfit. (Edited to add I went with the heels and wrap and it was fine!)

It’s not just clothes. I also got strangely fixated on getting a new phone case and replacing my chipped screen protector right before I left. Heaven forbid the Swedes see my less than perfect phone case! Before my trip to Massachusetts last month, I was fixated on finding a dressier, metal band for my Apple watch. I don’t even want to tell you how many I bought and returned!

What is this about? I think it has something to do with how I imagine my life to be. I want to be a polished, sophisticated traveler with a capsule wardrobe that will take me anywhere with ease. Instead, I overpack out of the anxiety that I won’t like how I look in what I’ve packed, so I keep piling in more options and end up with a bulging suitcase. I don’t buy investment pieces for my wardrobe, because I’m always hoping that I’ll lose weight and that will be money down the drain.

I think that travel brings out different stressors in different people. Now that we’ve talked about this, I’m realizing that this is very fixable and an area that I need to apply a little effort. I want to travel more in these empty nest years, and I’d like to be a better traveler! Or at least, a better, more confident packer.


  • Tricia

    Goodness, y’all do a LOT of cleaning pre-travel! I just empty the dishwasher, change sheets, and (try to) clean bathrooms before leaving. With just the two of us at home, things are generally tidy enough. I understand Kristen’s wardrobe woes and last-minute shopping. Especially in retirement, my nicer outfits are few and far between.

  • Audrey

    I go through a similar cleaning routine as it’s nice to come home to fresh sheets on the bed, as well as an empty dishwasher and hamper. I feel as though when we arrive back home, I’ll have plenty of laundry to do and don’t need to add any unnecessary extra cleaning or straightening up to the list. We also try to clean out the fridge which leads to a perfect time to wipe it out too.

    Packing for me as gotten much easier as the years go on. I no longer travel for business, so I usually will go with items that can be worn twice and a few choice accessories to change up “the look” that’s if we’re going someplace where accessories are even needed. We’re thinking of planning a cruise for a big birthday my husband has coming up and there won’t be the cocktail dresses or any of the formal wear that we once toted, but instead a “casual elegance”, i.e., dress pants and shiny tops for me and one tie with a sports coat and dress slacks for my husband to wear for formal nights (if those even exist anymore on board ship) and the rest of the time will be things that I’d wear to go out to lunch or dinner with friends. We’ve found that this works for us and takes a lot of the pre-trip anxiety away.

  • Tracie

    I like to leave my house clean and orderly too so that I can enjoy it when I return. I think my husband appreciates it when it’s done, yet the mad scramble before we leave isn’t so fun. And I always have last-minute shopping trips for clothes. I’m on vacation now, and we needed rain coats because we would be outdoors in the weather. My husband thanked me many times for making that last-minute purchase! We’ve been comfortable rain and shine. Happy trails!

  • Patty

    Loved this post. I do not clean my house before a trip. Dishes are clean and put away and there isn’t any dirty laundry sitting around but that is it. That said, I like the idea of returning to a nice lemon-smelling house but once all the bags are dragged in from the car and plopped on the floor by the door, I wouldn’t see the clean house (if I’d left it that way), I’d only see the pile of everyone’s stuff that needs to be dealt with! Kristen, enjoy your vacation time once the business stuff is behind you. Glad the shawl and heels worked.

    • Laurie

      After over-packing the first 2 years when going to Florida for a month or two in the winter (from Iowa), we’ve figured out that we will NEVER need dressy clothes for dinner out. Nice shorts and no stains is pretty standard where we go. And we’ve learned that except for a few people, we never see the same people more than twice, so they don’t know that I wear the same 3 shirts all month long.
      I do like having clean sheets on the bed and always make sure the dishes are clean and in the cupboard. All laundry should be done and possibly put away . The empty shelves in the refrigerator usually get wiped down before I go to the grocery store.
      When we camp in the summer, I don’t do any cleaning before we leave. Just laundry so we have our favorite shorts to take with us.

  • Robin Leftwich

    I also don’t clean a lot, just put away all the dishes and do laundry the day before. I do, however, pack way too much, not anything dressy but too many shirts and pants, My husband really overpacks, taking a lot of bulky stuff like sweatshirts and sweaters, so I usually take a lot less of my stuff! But most of our trips are to our mountain house, which is fully stocked with our clothes and belongings, so I just lock the front door, grab by glasses and a project for the car, and go!

  • Mary Jo

    We do a lot of traveling, mostly by van but sometimes by air.
    We almost never pack light. Our last two seven day trips entailed two big checked bags and for one a carrryon. That being said one trip involved us bringing all our snorkel gear and full wetsuits. We made sure we flew nonstop

    I have started carrying collapsible walking sticks and I almost always bring hiking boots.. We always walk/hike a lot. I use them even on cement. I don’t have much of a balance problem but they enable me to keep up with my husband, who is freakishly aerobically fit. Our trip last week to Omaha ended up being a week of watching twin two year olds with the stomach flu. We walked four local cemeteries within 1/2 mile of their house. About 6 miles a day. The walking sticks, hiking boots and my husband pushing a stroller with twins made our walking compatible. 2 year olds can be pretty happy even when they’re sick in a stroller, they sleep..

    I try to end up with one clean outfit but usually have packed a little too much. Sometimes what’s left is due to not encountering that outfits weather purpose. I have my favorite travel clothes that I know do well. I just started making my own clothes and decided to bring my me made clothes on the last trip. They worked pretty well.

    My favorite packing experience was when we got told to evacuate for fires. It was me, my two teenage sons, and an excitable French exchange son. They had full dirty laundry baskets. I had them put them in the van, along with the two big cages full of guinea pigs and rabbit. When we got to our refuge (friend’s house) we did laundry and everyone had a full supply of clothes. We were able to make a quick exit. My husband was conveniently in Wisconsin at the time.

    Packing for (1999) van trips, That’s another story. I try to make it so we only do laundry once every two weeks.

    A long time ago we decided to get a cleaning lady about 23 times a year, about every two weeks. We gave up some of our other budget items. For example we drive our cars to as close to 200,000 miles as they can safely get. It has been money well spent. ~$2300. When the kids were living with us it forced us to pick up the house before she came. Everyone’s room got picked up or they had to clean their room themselves. I made sure they had done enough bathroom, kitchen and floor cleaning before they left home at 18. I made sure they understood how lucky it is to have someone clean for us.

    Now she usually doesn’t do the kitchen or change the beds. I always do that right before we leave anyway. It’s nice to have a sparkling clean house when we come home.

  • Kristine B.

    I do not clean much before I leave for a trip and make sure all is in order. I like to clean and be able to enjoy and the cat hair from my two will accumulate when I am gone. Bringing mixable/matchable items for the wardrobe cuts down on the packing. Black and white combos are my favorite.

  • Susan from Ohio

    This post and the comments section has been an eye-opener. I secretly prided myself that I was more than likely the only woman who entered a cleaning frenzy before a trip. I smugly thought that I was the only person who relished returning to clean sheets, neatly tidied rooms smelling of lemon Pledge, all laundry neatly folded, ironed and put away, and an immaculate kitchen with cleaned out fridge and emptied dishwasher. The folks on this blog are clearly nothing short of a marvel.

    As for packing, the wonder-find that has transformed my pre-trip anxiety is compression packing cubes. If you haven’t invested in some, please, consider it before your next trip. By neatly rolling all of my items, my suitcase not only holds more necessities, but also organizes my luggage and makes unpacking a breeze. I’m able to stay orgainzed for an entire trip and no longer have the dreaded feeling that I’ve left something behind once checking out of lodging accommodations. The cubes get unzipped and put into drawers or if it’s a short trip with no need to unpack, the cubes stay tidy in my suitcase. Very worth the investment for the sheer pleasure they give.

Comments are closed.