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Joan Didion’s classic packing list still carries good advice


The prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction and winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Joan Didion, spent much of her journalistic career on the road, and that meant packing for whatever situation might arise. When Emily Spivack at Smithsonian Magazine contemplated the problem of packing for her many adventures, she hearkened back to Didion’s packing list published in her book The White Album for inspiration.

Caitlin Flanagan in a piece for the Atlantic once called Didion “our Hunter Thompson,” referring to the women writers who took inspiration from her personal style, and we all know that means a woman who’s ready for anything.

To Pack and Wear:

2 skirts

2 jerseys or leotards

1 pullover sweater

2 pair shoes



nightgown, robe slippers



bag with: shampoo, toothbrush and paste, Basis soap, razor, deodorant, aspirin, prescriptions, Tampax, face cream, powder, baby oil

To Carry:

mohair throw


2 legal pads and pens


house key

This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.

Tweak a few things for modernity’s sake, and the lady’s got it covered.

Full story at Smithsonian Magazine.

Packing for anything.

Photo credit: Fotolia

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