Travel Knitting: Take (all) the Yarn
No matter how many times I’ve tried (and failed) to coordinate my travel knitting, I still can’t get it right 100% of the time. I pack too much. I don’t pack enough. I’ve packed the right yarn but the wrong needles. I’ve made assumptions about yarn I’ll buy on the trip, only to find out there’s none… anywhere. I’ve told myself I’ll have oodles of time for knitting, only to have very little. Or it’s the exact opposite: so much more knitting time than I thought I’d have and not enough projects to fill the hours.
When it comes to travel knitting, it’s feast or famine.
A few years ago I attended a knitting retreat with members of my local guild. The itinerary included trips to several yarn shops, which – as you can imagine – lulled me into a false sense of security. I was in a rare spot between sweater-knits so I packed one back-up accessory project (ONE!), just to tide me over until I checked out the local yarneries and found something worthy of the weekend. After all, I typically pack WAY too much yarn; I’m a self-certified Fiber Emergency Preparedness Specialist, which means I always pack ALL the yarn. BUT it’s a catch-22 of the worst kind: if your luggage is already full of yarn, where are you supposed to put all the NEW yarn? My theory, which should have worked, was to arrive with room for all the yarn I was going to buy.
Yarn shop #1 was an eclectic mix of garage sale finds, glass shawl pins and really old Red Heart – like, the Red Heart from my childhood, cobwebs and all. It would be funny if it weren’t such a stunning bummer in the moment. The other was a charming shop filled with artisan handmade jewelry and fancy chocolates and boutique dresses and … sparkly eyelash yarn along one wall.
Clearly my definition of a yarn shop and their definition of a yarn shop were not the same.
There wasn’t a single skein I could justify spending money on, much less something project-worthy.
I’d be lying if I said I took this setback in stride. I didn’t. I kicked myself all the way back to the retreat center, placed an online order from my phone for something (anything!) so that there would at least be new yarn waiting for me when I got home, and I proceeded to knit the hell out of that one darn accessory (which, incidentally, I never liked and ended up giving away). I ran out of knitting before I ran out of weekend and vowed I’d never be caught dead without ample yarn again.
I wish I could tell you this was an isolated event. It wasn’t.
In my attempts to be practical, pack less, be “realistic” and just generally try not to look like the yarn-hoarding addict I am, I’ve found myself in a few desperate situations and I’ve decided – once and for all – that being over-prepared is much, much better than the alternative. Practicality be damned; I’m packing for all the possibilities from now on.
Sometimes I get it right, though, and this is what I know works:
- Lightweight yarn for the win. Fingering weight projects take up less space and provide MORE knitting time. This is the way to go if you’re short on space.
- Take extra needles. Just trust me.
- Take at least two projects. You never know when one might go astray (for whatever reason), so be sure to have an alternate. I like to take one sweater quantity and one single-skein project. On that same note, take enough yarn to finish the project. More than once I’ve managed to finish a big project while traveling, which I couldn’t have done if I hadn’t packed the last few skeins.
- Semi-mindless projects work best. Travel knitting tends to be distracted knitting, so take projects you can enjoy without having to babysit a complicated chart.
- Lighting is always a variable; don’t pack black or navy yarns unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll be somewhere with amazing light so you can see what you’re doing.
- Don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose. I’ve never (yet, knock on wood) had a bag lost or a knitting project stolen on a trip, but it could happen. Your needles could get confiscated by an exuberant airport security officer who decides to relieve you of your scary “potential weapon,” or your bag could get left somewhere, or your luggage could get lost, or… These are worst-case-scenarios, I know, but I intentionally don’t pack my most expensive needles or notions so that – on the slim chance something happens – the loss would be a little bit less devastating. My theory is that if I pack projects I can afford to lose, I won’t lose them.
- If you’re using a digital pattern, be sure to take a printed copy. Maybe take two copies. Don’t count on technology cooperating with you to use your phone or tablet to check the pattern as you go – this sometimes works, but not always. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Don’t accidentally spend so much time planning your knitting projects that you forget to pack undies. Then again, it’s easier to replace undies than find good yarn, so… take that for what it’s worth.
No matter how you slice it, getting it EXACTLY right is almost impossible, but you can get close. Not having enough yarn is worse than taking a bit too much, so tell yourself you’ll be knitting allthethings and pack accordingly.
Just in case.