New Orleans is a treasure trove of history, culture, and music. Any time of year the weather will be warm, the party will be on, and the food will be spectacular. Take a travel backpack and don’t overpack.
The first twenty four hours I spent in New Orleans was one of the unforgettable travel days of my life. My long awaited Mardi Gras visit was topped off with an unexpected bonus: The Saint’s Super Bowl Parade. Rolling into the Big Easy on the same day that the Saints came marching in was serendipity of the highest order, and the parade, well, suffice it to say it was the Mardi Gras parade to end all Mardi Gras parades.
New Orleans calls me back. Of course Bourbon Street must be experienced and the French Quarter must be wandered, but there’s so much more to the city, in the back alleys and the hole in the wall establishments. One of the great music centers of the world, it’s as if the entire city moves to a Zydeco beat.
I’ve visited to eat, and for French Quarter Festival. I’ve lined up along the route of quiet little family style community Mardi Gras parades in Metatarie and caught fruit instead of beads thrown from floats. And of course no one has truly been to New Orleans if they haven’t learned to suck the head at a crawfish boil.
This spring, the whole of Team Tortuga assembled, from three countries and two continents, in the Big Easy. We came to work, play, and build the community forward in the ways that allow us to continue to innovate together and push the boundaries of our craft.
What we pack, as a team, is always fascinating to me. Every bag we make in the Outbreaker collection was represented. As were samples of a few things we haven’t released yet. Angela, Concierge and Marketing team member, won the minimalist award by packing in only a large packing cube. For most of a week. Yes, really.
When to Visit New Orleans
New Orleans is on the Mississippi delta of the gulf coast of Louisiana. The summer climate can be described in two words: Hot and wet. The rest of the year, however, is very pleasant with average temperatures in the 60-75F range, and lows not dropping below 40F, for the most part. Of course there will cold snaps in winter, and sudden thunderstorms are a staple, but there are many months of great weather to choose from.
Budget wise, the most affordable months are also the hottest: Mid summer. In terms of bucket list experiences, Mardi Gras is a big one for a lot of people. The most popular time to visit New Orleans is the long weekend before Fat Tuesday, which signals the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. That will be February 8-12 in 2018.
Plan months in advance if you want a hotel room in a central location and plan to pay a pretty penny for it; but hey, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, right?
Packing for New Orleans
Assuming you’re not Angela, and you plan to take more than a packing cube, here’s a list of the essentials for the Big Easy.
- 2 casual pants, skirts, or capris
- 3 casual t-shirts
- 1 long sleeve shirt for layering on cool evenings
- 1-2 dressier pants or skirts for evenings out
- 1-2 dressier shirts or blouses
- 1 pair walking shoes
- 1 pair dancing shoes (learn the Lindy Hop & Zydeco while you’re in town!)
- 1 light jacket or sweater (winters are cool and the AC in summer can sometimes be too cold)
- 1 rain jacket or travel umbrella
- 4 pair of socks
- 4 pair of underwear
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 water bottle
- 1 pair of earplugs, if you are trying to sleep during the endless party, you’ll thank me & they take the edge off an overly loud music venue
In the summer add:
- 1 bottle of sunscreen (or buy it there)
- 1 hat with a wide brim for the sun
- 1 pair of sunglasses
In the winter add:
- 1 light sweater
- 1 scarf
- Exchange the light jacket for a medium weight one
- 1 pair of light gloves
For festivals or Mardi Gras add:
What Angela Packed
Also known as “the goddess of go-light packing list,” here’s what Angela tucked into her one and only large original Tortuga packing cube and ultralight daypack (because she had just traveled for 5 weeks in her 35L Outbreaker & Duffle and her Outbreaker packing cubes were still occupied — She landed in New York from that trip 10 hours before leaving for New Orleans.)
- 1 crew cut socks (Smartwool — because you can wear merino socks for a week without them smelling)
- 3 thongs – Patagonia (officially the most comfortable, quick-drying thong she’s owned)
- 3 sports bras
- 1 pair of blue jeans
- 1 thin brown woven belt
- 1 black & white dress
- 3 tank tops
- 1 grey sweatshirt
- 2 Athletic shorts – sleep + under shorts
- Boots – Cobb Hill Bethany
- 1 Door pendant necklace
- Ugly yellow daypack (Angela says: I know off brand, but it packs SO TINY! And yes it definitely killed my shoulders. But I did it in the name of packing stupidly light!)
- TSA liquids bag — 1 quart Ziploc bag
- Index cards – 15 food intolerance list for restaurants
- GRAYL Ultralight — disclaimer, she held this in her other hand
- Cell phone & charger
- Bluetooth headphones & charger
- Laptop (11” MacBook Air) & charger
- Portable charger
Yep. She’s amazing.
Packing a Daypack in New Orleans
Okay, here’s the thing: You’re going to walk. A lot. Even if you just hang out in the French Quarter, the walk along the waterfront from the French Market down past the aquarium is just the beginning. Plan to spend hours getting lost on the side streets, wandering in and out of shops and galleries and loving it.
Outbreaker Daypack ($99)
Of course a number of our crew were sporting the Outbreaker daypack which we can’t help but love; it’s awesome, and we designed it ourselves! You can have one too, we’ll share! Our favorite features of this bag for New Orleans are the awesome waterproof fabric, and the padded shoulder straps. I lived in mine.
Here’s what should be in your daypack for New Orleans:
- Water bottle (if you’re drinking- it’s NOLA, you’re drinking- stay hydrated)
- Spare battery charger
- The card from your hotel desk (any driver can use that get you home when you’re tired or inebriated!)
What Not to Pack for New Orleans
Don’t go crazy. Travel light. Buy some stuff when you get there, like toiletries and sunscreen. Plan to do laundry at the hotel. And don’t pack these things, they can definitely be had on the ground when it’s time to get your party on:
- Sequined everything, from boy shorts to bra tops
- Feather boa
- Party masks
- Fishbowl margaritas (don’t be a cheapskate and pack your bowl from the last trip to refill!)
Team Tortuga Short List for New Orleans
So what did we do in New Orleans that we loved? Ate, mostly. And walked. And listened to music.
Jeremy is the foodie extraordinaire on the team and he takes it upon himself to plan some truly special meals for us when we gather. This time he out did himself. Our two favorite restaurants were Marjies Grill and Pêche Seafood Grill.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Marjie’s. Described as “Mekong meets the Mississippi Delta,” it’s unbelievably delicious. Sit at simple tables. Eat off of plastic plates, and be prepared to have your tastebuds blown. We knew we were going to love it when we saw the Joe Beef cookbook on the shelf. We went to Joe Beef in Montreal last year as a team and loved that too!
Pêche Seafood Grill has a great location in a walkable district and serves gorgeous fresh fish. We ordered family style, ate, and laughed well into the evening. Garrett and I agree that you should pair the rosé with whatever the fresh catch of the day is. We’re the rosé drinkers of the team.
Also: Eat shrimp and grits. Often.
I’ve taken a number of walking tours in New Orleans, from the cemeteries, to the haunted, and even one centered around the history of the sex industry in the Big Easy. The city has a reputation for a reason, that’s all I’m sayin’.
Far and away the best one, in my experience, is by Haunted History Tours. You’ll find their fliers all over town. I highly recommend that you request Ariadne as your tour guide. She’s personable, knowledgeable, and tells a great story.
Without a tour, you can still walk. When you get lost, or tired of walking, take a bus, streetcar or ferry. The RTA gomobile app is the best way to buy tickets right from your phone.
If you have a hard time finding live music in New Orleans, check your map, because you’re probably not in New Orleans. Sweet and sassy tunes bleed out onto the street from every street corner cafe and club, and half a dozen between each corner too. Beer garden stages provide a balance of fresh air and sunshine with the dark interiors of classic clubs. Do yourself a big favor and get off of Bourbon Street. That’s not where the locals are going, I assure you.
Check the dates of your trip against the annual calendar of festivals and you might just find that you luck into something really special. New Orleans likes to party!