Packing for an Overnight in my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot

This weekend, I set off for a quick overnight jaunt, and I’m pretty proud of my packing job: usually I think I’m traveling light if I manage to fit everything I need in a backpack, but this time, the only thing I brought was my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot. Measuring 12″x10″x5″ and holding 10 liters in volume, this bag has been my primary everyday purse for over a year now.

My dad and I were flying Spirit, which restricts you to a single personal item if you don’t want to pay baggage fees, and we were heading straight from the airport to my sister’s performance of Beauty and Bach with Avant Chamber Ballet, so packing light was a priority. My Co-Pilot turned out to be the perfect fit for my first-ever one-night plane trip, and this ended up being the lightest I’ve ever packed for any travel anywhere.

The main trick? In the decade and a half that I’ve owned laptops, I’ve never before traveled without my computer. This time, though, there truly was no point. We went straight from the airport to the show to a late dinner. By the time we finally checked into our hotel, it was past midnight, and I only managed to catch a few hours of sleep before we boarded our shuttle back to the airport for our early morning flight home. As I predicted, my phone and Kindle were ample to keep me entertained and connected.

Computer aside, I was also careful to eliminate other things I typically bring when I travel. Among the things I cut from my usual packing list: a change of clothes (apart from extra underwear); flip flops to wear in the hotel (although they would have fit); soap, shampoo, conditioner; cotton pads and facial toner; makeup; my travel pillow; an eye mask; ear plugs; and a more comprehensive first aid kit.

Here’s everything I did bring and how I packed it all:

In the first side pocket, I had my toiletry bag and a Clif Bar. The toiletry bag contained my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, face wash, moisturizers with and without SPF, deodorant, hand sanitizer, lavender and peppermint essential oil rollers, nail clippers, and a tiny baggie with two cotton swabs in it.

The front center pocket held a small reusable water bottle. I packed it empty and filled it in the airport once we passed the security checkpoint.

In the second side pocket, I packed a pouch containing the aforementioned extra underwear and an emergency menstrual pad, a spare battery to recharge my electronics, my Tangle Teezer, my ChicoBag Vita (which I used once we landed in Texas to carry the winter jackets we needed in New York), and my electronics bag. The electronics bag held a 2-port USB wall charger, a Micro-USB cable for my Kindle and spare battery, a Lightning cable for my phone, the pair of earbud headphones that came with my phone, and a small lens cleaning cloth.

In the main pocket of the Co-Pilot, I carried my phone, my Kindle, my passport, my boarding passes, a pouch for my glasses, and my Tom Bihn Sidekick. The Sidekick contained tissues, assorted wipes (stain removal, antibacterial, insect repellent, lens cleaning, oil absorbing), a couple of pens, my mini first aid kit (a container of assorted pills and a baggie of assorted bandages), a coin purse, my Filofax (which doubles as a wallet and a planner), my keys, my standard safety kit (a mini flashlight, a whistle, and a compass), and extra hair ties.

And that’s it! It felt almost criminally indulgent to walk through airports carrying so little weight: I kept thinking that I was forgetting something. But I had everything I needed for my overnight trip, and it all fit in my purse with room to spare. I could get used to traveling this minimally.


Monthly Walk Series: Grand Concourse, The Bronx

For our January monthly walk, we headed up to the Bronx to walk the 5-mile length of the Grand Concourse. Built in the 1890s, the Grand Concourse was New York’s answer to Paris’s Champs-Élysées, although having never been to France, I can’t personally compare the two.

I thought I had never been to the Grand Concourse either, but as it turns out, it’s actually my most-traversed stretch of the Bronx. I ran its length twice each in 2013 and 2014, when it served as the out-and-back course of NYRR‘s Bronx 10 Mile road race. During those races, the wide avenue was closed to car traffic. I gave my attention to the gradient of the land, the beat of bodies around me, the rhythm feeding into my ears through my headphones. My experience centered on the pace and the distance, the labor and rewards of movement, the constant grind of will against resistance. It was an entirely different landscape.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t even recognize the Grand Concourse when I returned there for our January walk. It felt so much like my first time there that I only realized it wasn’t when I looked up Bronx 10 Mile course maps while writing this blog post. No longer subsumed by the buzz of the race, the boulevard unfolded before me. As we headed north from the southern end of the Concourse, we passed a couple of small parks, Franz Sigel Park and Joyce Kilmer Park, quiet on a cold Sunday morning. Sandwiched between them was the Bronx County Courthouse, a striking block of a building adorned with neoclassical columns and flanked by clusters of statues.

bronx county courthouse

Soon after, we approached a majestic limestone mansion guarded by wrought iron gates and set back from the street by the Grand Concourse’s only front lawn. It was the day’s most intriguing story: the Andrew Freedman Home, built in the 1920s, served as a poorhouse for rich people who had lost their fortunes, enabling them to continue living in their accustomed affluence. It was hard to imagine a less worthwhile charity.

According to a 1997 profile in the New York Times, “Each resident received free rent, free board, even free servants. … Public rooms had overstuffed sofas, fireplaces, lush plants, bronzes, and paintings. In each guest room was a shower stall of white marble.” Perhaps fittingly, the trust eventually ran out of money, and in the 1980s, the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council purchased the building and used it to house the elderly poor. These days, it serves as an event space, complete with an artist residency program.

As morning turned to afternoon, and as we continued north, the streets grew busier and more commercial. Here and there, we saw the repurposed relics of a bygone era. Soon after we passed the distinctive facade of the former Paradise Theater, now home to the World Changers Church, we stopped for lunch at Fordham Restaurant, a busy diner with tasty grub, generous portion sizes, and ample options for our picky crowd.

poe cottage

From there, we were only minutes away from Poe Cottage, the small white cottage in what was then Fordham village where Edgar Allan Poe spent the final years of his life. Poe and his wife Virginia retreated there in 1846 in hopes that the country air would do some good for her tuberculosis. Alas, Virginia did not survive long, but her original deathbed remains in the house, on view for visitors.

Poe Cottage was also the site where Poe composed some of his most famous poems, including “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee,” a favorite of my teenage years. At $5/person, we found the tour we took engaging and well worth the price of admission, but an hour-long chat with the docent on the front steps of the cottage as we were leaving did throw off the rhythm of our walk a bit. We might have to leave museum visits off the itinerary in future months.

From Poe Cottage, it was just over a mile to the north end of the Grand Concourse, where it runs into Mosholu Parkway at the conveniently located Mosholu Parkway subway station. In this last stretch, the Concourse evolved away from busy commercial districts to more residential blocks. I enjoyed seeing colorful single-family homes tucked between big stone apartment buildings and the storied character the mix added to the neighborhood. Like the rest of the Grand Concourse, it had the dignified nonchalance of a place that has survived glory and decline and revitalization and knows that there’s more to come.

our route along the grand concourse