The next great travel debate: How much underwear to pack

by Сашка

Travelers are using highly specific math, blind fear or chaotic vibes

With a two-week trip to Europe approaching, gynecologist Jen Gunter needed some underwear advice.

How much carry-on space did she want to devote to underwear? How much dirty laundry did she want to lug around? She was torn between three options: packing a pair per day; packing less and washing once; or packing the bare minimum and washing several times. So she decided to bring the topic to her more than 300,000 followers on Twitter.

It turns out people are passionate about the amount of underwear they pack.

“I asked the question in an open ended way … because I wanted to hear all the suggestions and ideas,” the doctor and author said in an email. Commenters shared concerns such as menstruation and incontinence, and the “pack and release” idea to only pack old underwear, so you could toss it during the trip.

The tweet has more than 1,000 replies. Gunter’s commenters swore by specific numbers — or just packing no underwear at all.

The questions inspired emotionally charged responses, much like the right time to arrive at the airport or whether it’s okay to recline on a plane. In the comments of viral TikToks, we see what is “exactly the correct number” to some may be considered “borderline criminal” to others.

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Perhaps the topic brings out so much passion because underwear is one of our most personal belongings, says Seth Miller, editor of airline-industry news site PaxEx.Aero.

“The style, the color, the material, all those things people feel pretty strongly about for comfort,” Miller said. If you run out during a trip, having to buy something different on the fly is disorienting, he said.

Before a trip, I consult with travel companions about what they’re packing, factoring in weather, restaurant dress codes and more, but never get into delicates. It’s never taken up much real estate in my brain as someone who’s happy to do laundry on the road. I’m a “grab some and see what happens” traveler. But the more heated debates I saw and videos I watched, the more I wondered whether there was a right answer. I posed the question to social media and got more responses than ever before.

The different types of packers

Gunter found there were two main camps: those who bring a pair for every day of their trip, and the minimalists who think five is plenty for a 14-day stretch.

I came to a similar conclusion after conducting an unscientific survey consulting with dozens of people. Even with our varied personal style and travel preferences, we’re more alike than we are different when it comes to packing strategies. We fall into three patterns, going by either highly specific math, blind fear or chaotic vibes. I heard from those who decide by calculations such as doubling underwear by the days of their trip or multiplying the number of days times 1.3; others who went with my loose handful approach; and panic packers who throw entire underwear drawers into their suitcases, fearing the worst.

When in doubt, do the math

If you can’t decide on your packing style, follow the lead of the left-brained travelers who go by math and previous experience.

“I do not feel emotional about this topic. … I have set and tried-and-true views,” said Ashley Parker, senior national political correspondent for The Washington Post who spent years on the road covering presidents. Her formula is among the most popular opinions I heard: Pack a pair for each day you’re gone, plus an extra pair or two. If it’s a seven-day trip, she’ll bring nine pairs.

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For Miller, the formula is N+2, where N is the number of days until he has access to clean laundry. A carry-on-only traveler, Miller used to pack less.

“One pair a day is theoretically enough, but things happen,” he said. In the era of flight delays and cancellations, he added that plus-two to his calculations. “Maybe at some point I’ll cut back a little bit.”

Phil Dengler, co-founder of the Vacationer, bases his underwear math on his trip length, plus estimated number of showers, and always brings an emergency pair. It’s a strategy that accounts for physical activity, climate and environmental factors, such as whether he’s going on a hike or hitting the beach. For a 10-day trip with limited activity, that’s 11 pairs. For a seven-day beach trip, when he may be taking multiple showers a day, that could mean 13 pairs: one per day, plus five for extra showers, and that emergency pair.

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Can you just re-wear a pair?

Although you can safely wear underwear more than once, Mark Gendreau, a physician and chief medical officer of BILH Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals in Massachusetts, says going more than two days can increase your risk for yeast or urinary tract infections. He recommends washing in the sink if hotel laundry or nearby laundromats aren’t an option. (But please, do not use the hotel coffee maker.)

“I have no issue with rewashing underwear in the sink,” said Gunter, the gynecologist. “I also don’t find it a hassle, but sometimes the waiting for things to dry can be a minor issue.”

In her Twitter call-out, Gunter learned about small travel-friendly washboards that upgrade your sink laundry. You can also buy travel laundry detergent that’s TSA compliant, as well as mini-dryers.

Matt Berna of Intrepid Travel, who calls himself a “one a day guy plus one pair,” packs with the intention of doing laundry in a sink along the way. He’s learned to do that washing with enough time for garments to get completely dry before shoving them back in your luggage.

The lowest-lift option comes from travel writer Jenn Rice: Don’t pack any to begin with. “I stopped wearing them two summers ago and never looked back.”

How many pairs of underwear do you pack for a trip? Tell us in the comments.

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