[travel] How Many Pairs Of Socks? How Many Panties?

It doesn’t matter how many times I go anywhere. The size of the bag seems to make no difference. I always find myself, about an hour before I am due to depart, hanging around my smalls, trying to decide on the fundamentals of travel packing: How many socks, how many panties?

Go on, snigger.

Then tell me in all honesty that you’re totally confident with your sock-panty quantities.


If I’m going away for less than a week, I take a pair for every day that I’m away. It’s a bit difficult, as a girl, because there are so many different types of both – there are ankle socks, knee socks, hose, stockings, pop socks, those annoying socks that come between the ankle and the knee. The ones that shrink the first time you wear them.

If you consider colour, then that’s a whole different minefield again. Do you take opaque black stockings or bare leg tights? Will neon brighten up your legs or make you look like a slapper? Can Christmas socks ever be cool if it’s not Christmas? What about that pair of socks you really like, but are as itchy as chilli powder?

Here’s the way the boys do it: Just pack five pairs of plain black socks. Then pack pants according to the following formula (based on actual conversations with men):

n = number of weeks; p = number of pants.

p = 4n, where any number of days is rounded up to the first week (so always at least 4 pairs of pants). So if you were going somewhere for 2 weeks, p = 4 x 2 which is 8 pairs of pants.

I’m not convinced this is going to work for girls. Socks or pants. The thing is, if men wear jeans, they wear the same sock type and pant type as they sport if they’re donning formal trousers, bermuda shorts (unless they go commando to avoid sand deposits), dungarees… are there any other types of trousers that men under 50 even wear? I don’t know about them. Men’s clothing is mysteriously simple. I envy them. It doesn’t matter what else they pack, their socks and pants will go with everything, because they are designed to. Men choose their pants based on what feels most comfy/makes them feel sexy (sometimes), whereas women often have to pick their underwear based on whether people will see it under their dress. I remember when I was at school, doing Maths A-level, and the maths teacher used to wear a plain black cheap suit – but the trousers were so thin that you could see the triangular line of her panties indented through the fabric. AAARRRGH EMBARRASSMENT ALL ROUND! I have always had a horror of that, because there’s nothing more awkward than knowing that your maths teacher buys her panties from ASDA’s cheapest plain multipack. The kind your mum buys you when you’re eight. I can’t even begin to comprehend it. Thing was, I’m fairly sure she was blissfully unaware that she had this huge honking great panty line, and had no idea that people were seeing it – and judging her for it, and making all sorts of assumptions. Don’t be that person.

If girls could get away with that there would be no beauty blogs or fashion blogs, so while I envy men, I also feel sorry for them that they don’t have as much choice as us.

So you will need the following:

For every dress you have packed: One thong and one pair of tights. Don’t bother with stockings unless you know how to ask for a suspender belt in Swahili for when yours breaks. They’re not very well made these days (I’m not old enough to know if they ever were, but people tell me things used to be better in their day).

For every pair of trekking trousers: One pair of bikini briefs* or girlboxers and one pair of socks (the fabric can chafe in thongs).
For every pair of jeans: Thong or girlboxers, and one pair of socks.

For every pair of shorts: Thong or bikini briefs and one pair of socks.

For every sarong: A swimsuit or an actual bikini/tankini, and some flip-flops.
For every floor length skirt: Loose cotton girlboxers and one pair of socks.
For every miniskirt: Thong and bare legs unless you’re going somewhere cold, in which case cover legs with leggings, unless it’s too cold, in which case just leave the miniskirt/dress behind.
*Bikini briefs – not the same as bikini bottoms. A bikini brief is a high leg panty which is halfway between a thong and a girl boxer. It’s useful in hotter weather but the elastic can be just as chafing as thongs, but in a different place. Depends on where your chafe-immunity is, I guess.

You need underwear options so that you feel comfortable whatever the weather and during every activity you undertake, but you don’t need underwear that doesn’t fit properly, is worn or frayed, stained, faded, uncomfortable, or the elastic just doesn’t behave. When do we ever pack for our needs though? Last time I went on a long trip, I took about four different swimwear options (underwired tankinis, so the tops could double as non-swimming tops), but I only actually went swimming once, in an indoor hotel pool in Sindenfingel, and I also went to the beach once. I was delusionally expecting to spend more time at the beach, even though my overland route didn’t allow for any stopping points at any beaches because there weren’t any within range of the roads we were taking until the last day, on the way back through Belgium, when we saw a sign for a beach, and took a detour. It had been blazing sunshine until we started walking towards the beach, then suddenly it turned overcast, the way was filled with prickly plants, and there was a constant stream of sand being blown into my right ear. But I got to wear one of my swimming outfits. Although I didn’t go within fifty feet of the sea. It was far too cold.

My point is, I probably only needed two or three of those swimwear options. I certainly didn’t need four. But if there’s room in your bag or your campervan storage locker, why not have options? I think I had one item that I didn’t even wear on a three week trip with a capsule wardrobe.  Again, I thought there’d be more random stopping points, and was expecting to climb some mountains somewhere during our two alpine crossings, but this did not happen, so I didn’t need the 3/4 length walking trousers I’d packed. **UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE – THEY DID GET WORN – I HAVE PROOF!!**

In relation to the how many socks and knickers question, take as many as you like, as many as you feel comfortable wearing. Just remember, only take what you can carry if you are backpacking. And remember a carrier bag to put the dirties in.

I have been contemplating downsizing my underwear and sock collection in my actual home and am currently still trying to comprehend the formula for this which will create a sock and panty equilibrium that I can live with, as part of my pledge (to myself) to minimalize my life. The last thing I want is to get rid of all my undies then have to go straight to M&S to get sized up for some more because I got rid of too many.

I thought I would have a chance to minimalize my underwear and socks today, and have been looking forward to getting stuck into it all week, but between marking 40 mock exam papers for the school I work at, and my next-door-neighbours playing music so loud we could hear it clearly in our car as we left our house, I haven’t really had the time or space to get this done. Nothing kills my concentration faster than “boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom” for 6 hours.

I will update you on the permanent underwear quandary once it is solved. In the meantime, enjoy sorting through your panties and socks, and let me know via the comments if you’ve minimalised this area of your life either for holiday packing or 24/7 living, as I’d be very interested to know what works for you.

UPDATE: I have been shown a photo from our drive to Rome six months ago which shows I definitely did wear the three quarter length loose trousers (aww, my hair was so much darker then).  My packing was all used!! Huzzah! :

Those trousers definitely got worn - Schloss Hellbrun, nr. Salzburg, Austria.
Those trousers definitely got worn – Schloss Hellbrun, nr. Salzburg, Austria.

7 responses to “[travel] How Many Pairs Of Socks? How Many Panties?”

  1. Oh my God, this is too hard! When I travel (I should say when I used to travel) I take ONE all-purpose dressy outfit, and then try my best not to wear it at all. Otherwise it’s jeans, low-maintenance blouses, and one pair of comfy shoes with a load of socks that all look the same, and all my most comfortable underthings. I guess a lot of people couldn’t do this, either because they travel for business, or have social obligations that require them to dress differently, or maybe they’re not like me at all and they like to do stuff on vacation. I could never work out the math on a wardrobe like that. I am in awe of your suitcase packing genius.


    1. Wow! It sounds like you’ve got it sorted! I wrote it because I know a few people who struggle with packing for longer journeys (like, in excess of two weeks) and end up taking a bunch of stuff they never actually use, then next time they go exploring, they pack it again! Especially in a campervan where there’s enough space to fill with all sorts of junk but not enough space for this to actually be a good plan. I don’t tend to wear jeans because I find them uncomfortable for long-distance driving (I don’t fly – it’s hard to get a campervan on a plane) and walking, so I go for combat trousers for hiking if I have to wear trousers at all, and I’m a dress/skirt person more than trousers, so I tend to need things to go with loose comfortable clothing such as long skirts or dresses I can catch the sun in whilst climbing on things. I wish I could just throw some jeans on and be done with it, that sounds so straightforward! xx

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      1. Well, another thing to consider is that you’re doing much more interesting things when you travel! No doubt that calls for a greater variety of clothing. I’m not opposed to doing laundry on a trip, either. A trip to the laundromat is quicker and easier than all that packing, unpacking, and lugging bags around.

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      2. I’m not sure if this is going to post in the right place… You’re right, launderettes would be ideal. I didn’t see any on my trip across Europe but I’m sure we just missed them as we visited nearly every Aldi, Lidl and Spar that we came across. We didn’t really have downtime to do much staying put on that trip, it was very rushed due to my employer at the time being inflexible which was unfortunate. I think on my Morocco trip (hopefully April/May, depends when my work contract ends though) I want to take a washing up bowl so I can clean as I go. I’m hoping I have more time on that trip to enjoy the routine of stuff like that. I’ve been reading “Blue Highways” by Least Heat Moon as my bedtime novel and I really love the simplicity of the fact that he uses the inside of his campervan a lot better than I do and spends more time in it (although my camper is tiny and just has sleep space in the back. I need to finish converting it).

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  2. Wow, you go EVERYWHERE!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never been to the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia or Africa though so Morocco might be my first trip out of Europe (being British and all). EXCITEMENT…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m green with envy! Not of the travel… I don’t much like traveling. I’m envious of you being British.

        Liked by 1 person

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