Susanna here, packing my things for tomorrow’s flight to the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland.
During these few days while I’ve been getting all my things in order—doing laundry, making lists, and sorting through potential outfits—I’ve been wondering how the women of the past prepared for their trips. So I turned to our old friend Miss Leslie, who you may remember gave such great advice on how to deal with lady authors.
And she didn’t disappoint. In Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies (1864), and her earlier Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-Book: A Manual of Domestic Economy (1850), I found many useful travel tips.
First, for the packing, “It is best,” Miss Leslie writes, “to have a bonnet box”.
As luck would have it, I do have a hat box that I’m taking down with me to Portland, to carry the regency turban hat I made to wear for the dancing on Saturday night. So I’m off to a great start, by Miss Leslie’s standards.
She gives detailed instructions for packing a trunk: First a towel, then a layer of “hard flat things” such as books and writing desks, then another towel, then a layer of linen, flannels, stockings and gloves, then another towel, then “your dresses, the muslin ones uppermost; filling in the corners with pocket handkerchiefs”, topped by “pelerines, collars, and caps”, the whole covered with one last thin towel. Which actually, again, sounds just like how I pack a suitcase, though in place of all the towels I use tissue paper.
And I wholeheartedly agree with her warning, “On no consideration, carry ink, even though locked up in a writing desk. You can always, at the place to which you are going, buy yourself six cents worth of ink in a small square bottle, which will also serve for an inkstand. It is well, however, to take with you a few sheets of good writing paper…”
I never carry ink with me, not even in a writing desk. Miss Leslie would approve.
She would be less approving of the fact I do not own a carpet bag. A carpet bag, Miss Leslie says, is one of those essential things a lady ought to carry when she travels, to hold “flannel, linen, stockings, night-clothes, shawl, shoes, &c., that she may be liable to want on her journey”.
She further gives useful instructions for making a travelling reticule, in which to carry the following necessities: “a comb, hair-brush, tooth-brush, smelling-bottle, a cake of soap, purse, needle-book, keys, &c…leaving the space in the middle of the bag for your handkerchief.”
And her advice on how to dress seems very sound: “Dress very plainly when travelling. Few ladies that are ladies wear finery in rail cars, and steam-boats—still less carriages—stage-roads being usually very dusty…The best travelling-dresses are of merino, or alpaca; plain mousseline de laine; grey or brown linen; or strong India silk…The sleeves wide, for if tight to the arm, they will stain with perspiration…Besides which, carry on your arm a large shawl for chilly mornings and evenings.”
All of which is sound advice to follow even in this day and age (if one can lay hands on some mousseline de laine).
“Above all,” she decrees, “do not travel in white kid gloves. Respectable women never do.”
Respectable women do, apparently, need to learn what to do when a spark from the train engine gets in one’s eye (blow your nose hard while drawing your lower lid down at the same time).
And as if bedbugs in hotels weren’t enough to worry about, Miss Leslie adds this little tidbit: “It is a good plan to have among your baggage a small mouse-trap, (carefully wrapped up, so that the roughness of the wires may not injure any other article,) and to bait it and set it on the floor of the room in which you sleep. This, by catching the mice, will prevent your being disturbed with their running about the room, and perhaps over your bed.”
I’m pretty sure the TSA would have some questions for me if I chose to pack a mouse-trap in my luggage, small or otherwise.
I’m also sure I’d fail this part of her advice: “Refrain from making acquaintance with any strangers, unless you are certain of their respectability. If a gentleman of whom you know nothing, endeavours to get into conversation with you, turn away, and make no reply.”
Meeting strangers is, after all, one of the best parts of travelling, and some of my most interesting conversations have been with gentlemen of whom I’ve known nothing.
Nor can I, in good conscience, promise that I will “Avoid saying anything to women in showy attire, with painted faces, and white kid gloves.”
Because to tell you honestly, I’m really very curious right now about those white kid gloves!
Do you have any useful tips or good advice to share with me on travelling, or packing for my travels? I would love to hear it.