For some people, packing for travel is a dreaded task, often postponed until a few minutes before it’s time to leave for the airport. Not for me. I love planning outfits around anticipated activities, and often start thinking about what to pack weeks before a planned trip.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve always chosen or packed wisely. On our first trip to Paris six years ago, we overpacked BIG time. We lugged a huge rolling duffel and two smaller (though not small) bags for two people for an eight-day trip. And most of what I did bring was never worn, or didn’t suit our activities or environment. Those cute ballet flats? Murder on my feet after just an hour of walking about on gravel paths and cobblestones. The chic black swing jacket purchased in anticipation of the trip was too bulky to wear under my outerwear, and not warm enough to wear on its own. I brought far too many dressy clothes and heavy, structured pieces that were a wrinkled mess once unpacked.
After that I was determined to learn to pack lighter and smarter and the last two trips we’ve taken, I’ve been able to pack for two weeks each time in a single carry-on rolling suitcase without ever feeling that I “didn’t have anything to wear.” There are many reasons to travel carry-on only, not the least of which is the specter of arriving at your destination when your luggage does not. Skipping the long wait at the baggage carousel is another, as is being able to navigate public transportation more easily. And with most airlines now charging for checked bags, the financial incentive is strong.
If you’re going skiing, scuba diving or on any vacation that requires special equipment, or if you will be traveling for an extended period of time in a variety of climates, relying on a single carry on bag may not be feasible. But for the kind of vacations we normally take that involve sightseeing, lots of walking, dining, museums, shopping and such, it’s totally do-able with a little planning.
And when you’re planning, start with shoes. If your vacation will involve walking at all, and most do, you will need shoes that are supportive and comfortable. But that doesn’t mean they must be clunky or frumpy. Brands like Ecco, Naot, Dansko, Tsubo and Sofft all offer great walking shoes with enough style to go from day to dinner. Which leads me to..
Leave the really high heels and dressy shoes at home. Unless you will be attending a wedding or a formal state dinner at the embassy, they will languish in your closet or bag. Even in the chicest European capitals, “smart casual” will take you just about anywhere.
Except for summer sandals, bring shoes that will keep your feet dry. Having to spend hours traipsing about with soggy feet will ruin the best of days. If you must bring your canvas sneakers, bring a second pair of shoes to wear on days they’re drying out from having stepped in a puddle or being caught in a sudden downpour.
Two or three pair of shoes – MAX. Including the one you wear on the plane. If you choose wisely, that’s all you’ll need, really. Shoes are the bulkiest of items to pack, and will eat up valuable suitcase space. And don’t let your shoes “fly for free,” stuff them with socks, jewelry or small items to save space.
Now that you’ve chosen your shoes, you can think about clothes. While some people like Audi at Fashion for Nerds have a flair for composing travel wardrobes with a lot of pattern and color, for most of us, sticking to one or two darker neutrals will help select a capsule of multi-purpose separates that will mix and match, and travel well. I usually limit myself to a dozen clothing items total, which has proven to be plenty. Use the Polyvore On The Floor method (top pic) to plan and lay out your dozen-item capsule, but also be sure to try on all potential combinations to insure that everything works with everything else.
Lightweight knits are your friends. They’re light to pack and will shed wrinkles easily once you reach your destination. Pile on layers or shed as fluctuating temperatures require. And a bit of stretch means you’ll be comfortable either strolling through a museum or in transit on a crowded bus or train for hours at a time. And many lightweight knit fabrics can be washed in a hotel sink, hung to dry overnight and ready to wear in the morning.
First and last day of our trip. Wore a version of the same thing most days in between.
Lose the hangup about wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row. Usually you won’t be with the same people day to day, and even if you are (as with a tour group) they won’t care. Use scarves and accessories to change up the look.
To jean or not to jean? Many committed one-bag travelers avoid them like the plague for weight, bulk and extended drying time. But if you live in demim at home and will be willing to wear them multiple times between washing, bring a pair. (Some wear their denim jeans on the flight or in transit to save baggage weight and space; whether this works for you depends on your comfort level.)
Stay “in character.” Don’t pack styles or colors of clothing that you wouldn’t be comfortable wearing at home. Truly, when you travel you want your mind to be free to enjoy the wonders around you, not distracted by feeling uncomfortable and foreign in your own clothes. And don’t get hung up about “not looking like a tourist.” Regardless of how you’re dressed, as soon as you pull out your camera and start snapping photos, your cover will be blown. Instead, focus on looking like a stylish tourist, and behaving like a courteous, respectful one. (Learning a few basic greetings in the language and customs of the places you’ll be visiting goes a long way.)
Next month, How To Pack It, and What To Pack It In.
_ _ _
Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-six, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, Une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.