The Ultimate Travel Bag: Unpacking Joan Didion’s Quintessential Packing List

Joan Didion's packing list might be the most cited list of its kind of all time — but does it hold up to the needs of the 21st century traveller?

Left: Up in the Air (2009). Right: Tumi Fall Look Book. Photos: Dreamworks, Tumi.

In 1979 Joan Didion released a now-infamous, Packing List in her book “The White Album”. The list epitomised everything the author was known for — it was elegant, concise, and offered an effortless sense of style. A concise and elegant packing list deserves a bag as effortlessly stylish, and we can’t help but feel that Ms. Didion would approve of Tumi’s sleek and stylish luggage designs.

However, whilst Tumi’s durable and state-of-the-art luggage excels at meeting the demands of modern-day travellers, Didion’s packing list proves to be a case of style over substance. (Not to mention, it leaves very little room for last-minute costume changes). So, we decided to update and annotate the packing list, letting you know which items on the packing list should be added to your Tumi bag, and which ones you can skip — sorry Joan.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

The clothes

These items straddle the line between minimalist chic and downright absurd. Whilst the lighter travellers of the world could probably get away with this, the more sartorially-minded and “fashun” among us wouldn’t be able to survive a day with only 2 skirts, let alone a whole trip. However, perhaps this should serve as a lesson to the more maximalist among us. In Didion’s own words, “Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard and stockings. I could pass on either side of the culture.” Translation: there’s no need to be so extra.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Bourbon and cigarettes

In the post-9/11 age of travel, a bottle of bourbon is a definite no-go, unless you’re going to check it as hold luggage. As enjoyable as a flight may be after a bottle of bourbon and a few cigs, nobody could have predicted the change in travel regulations, not even the first lady of modern literature. Perhaps replace it with a mini bottle, or just wait until you touch down to hit the sauce. 

The Tumi TLX Collection. Photo: Tumi

The suitcase

Whilst detailing the contents going into the bag, she never elaborated on which bag to take. Our suggestion would be the TLX collection from Tumi. The case is aimed at short-trip travellers, so is perfect for the budding Didion-wannabe with the dream of flying away at a moment’s notice. The TLX cases are super lightweight, and are as effortlessly stylish as Ms. Didion herself. Plus, with a super tasteful Matte Black version and a durable hard shell, the typewriter and mohair throw Joan recommended will have no chance of getting damaged.

Oldboy (2003)

A typewriter

To the millenial eye, the aforementioned typewriter is most definitely the most ludicrous suggestion on the list. Replace it with a phone, a laptop and maybe a Moleskine notebook for the hipsters out there. Oh, and phone chargers. Imagine being in a foreign country without your phone — whatever did Ms. Didion do?

More information about Tumi’s suitcases and travel cases can be found on their website. 

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