Reader Request: Packing Effectively

b. asked for …

Advice on how to dress/pack for travel, specifically business travel? Or are there some other bloggers out there who do this well?

I’ll answer the second question first: Audi of Fashion for Nerds is my personal idol when it comes to packing advice. Or, really, ANY advice about traveling. Start here:

Audi on packing clothing for travel
Part 1
Part 2

Audi on packing beauty products for travel
Part 1
Part 2

For further reading, Audi on making your travel dreams a reality
Part 1 – No More Excuses
Part 2 – Money Matters
Part 3 – Travel Tips for Families

My personal packing tips are nothing earth-shattering, but they do work so I’m happy to share ’em! They’re all top of mind for me anyway, as I prepare to depart for NYC …


If you’re going on a journey that will last more than three days, the best way to maximize your packing space is to chose a three-color scheme and pack only items that fit within it. For maximum versatility, you might consider two neutrals and an accent color – black, gray and turquoise or brown, tan, and red. Create several core outfits from your pieces, but include a few additional pieces that could be swapped in for variety. Sticking to a simple palette of mix-and-match pieces will give you what is, in essence, a capsule wardrobe for your trip.


Especially if you end up with a dark or neutral-heavy color scheme, including some truly stellar accessories can help enliven your travel looks. On our recent trip to Iceland, everything in my suitcase was black, gray, or white. But I included a gorgeous multicolored scarf that made every outfit look chic and funky, while simultaneously adding a dash of color. Make sure you include a pair of mind-blowing shoes, a glorious scarf, a killer belt, or an eye-catching necklace. Or all of the above. Accessories are small and wedge into suitcase corners easily, so don’t forget to include a few when you pack.


I absolutely refuse to lay down a single rule about packing for a wrinkle-free trip. There are simply too many options and too many individual traveler preferences.What I’ll say is this: Whether you pack only jersey knits, roll your items instead of folding them, insist on a garment bag, or pack a portable steamer, make sure that you’re aware of how your clothes may look after several hours in a suitcase. This is especially relevant to business travelers. If looking professional is a priority, being wrinkled is unacceptable. Pick a wrinkle management solution, and stick to it.


Most folks are aware of this trick, but it bears repeating. If your comfiest flat boots fit into your packing scheme but hog half the suitcase, wear them as you travel. Construct an outfit that incorporates your bulkiest item or items and wear it/them on the plane, train, bus, or in the car.


If you’re spending a long period of time in a climate or culture unfamiliar to you, consider packing some core basics and shopping for some accents on arrival. Don’t leave TOO much to chance, though! If you’re flying to New York for an important networking event, don’t assume you can track down the perfect dress in a few hours.  But for vacations and extended business trips, it can be fun and rewarding to pick up a few new items once you’ve reached your destination.

Image courtesy Dr John2005.

Originally posted 2011-02-08 06:19:48.

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28 Responses to “Reader Request: Packing Effectively”

  1. Nique

    Great tips. Thanks.
    I just read this tip on You Look Fab, and I thought it was simple and brilliant advice (something that makes so much sense, but I rarely do)–make sure you try your outfits on before packing them. It really stinks to put on a planned outfit when you are at your destination and have it not look or feel quite right. Then your options to change it or fix it are limited.

    • Gracey

      This is a great tip – I never try my planned outfits on even though it’s obviously a good idea. I’m going to have to start doing this.

      • Sal

        I’ve done this for years myself, and am kind of amazed that I didn’t include it in this post! I tried on AND photographed every outfit that’s going to New York with me. Helps tremendously.

    • Trystan (the CorpGoth)

      In addition to this excellent tip, I try to avoid bringing brand-new garments on a trip. If I haven’t worn something around for a whole day, I won’t know if it pulls, rides up, gapes, sits funny, etc. And, of course, only bring shoes that are well worn-in.

      It’s always tempting to buy new clothes for a trip (esp. a business trip where you want to make a good impression!), but if you haven’t really tested the garment, you may discover that it doesn’t wear well & find that out at an inopportune moment.

  2. c.

    I love the idea of shopping when you travel as I’ve done it a number of times. Just be very aware of the average size of men/women in the country or place you’re visiting. For example, I cannot buy anything for women in either Japan or Taiwan where I’ve been often enough for work travel. I have to stick to scarves, bracelets, hats. Their standard shoes top out at a US 7.5, my thigh is the size of their waist in a skirt. Yes, those averages are changing but the cut/style will be oriented towards differently proportioned bodies moreso than it is here in the US. We have a much much wider range of options.

  3. Gracey

    These are awesome tips, Sal. And although I think I’ve read Audi’s before, I want to read them again because I am just horrible at packing. It’s hard for me to plan outfits ahead of time because I usually change my mind about what I really want to wear. Very helpful, thank you!

  4. annabeth

    One key tip not addressed here: Take the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM number of shoes you can manage with. Shoes take up a lot of room in suitcases and add poundage, and yet it seems to me that tons of women (and plenty of men) assume they will need a separate pair of shoes for each outfit. I’m of the opinion that on the vast majority of trips, you should have at most three pairs of shoes with you, and that’s counting the ones on your feet as you board the plane. When you’re picking that color scheme, pick a couple of pairs that match that scheme — maybe one dressier, one very walking-friendly. That should cover it!

  5. Tara

    Developing a color scheme for the trip really does make a difference. I’m also a big fan of Eagle Creek’s packing system, particularly the clothing folders. They really do make it easier to fit more into a bag, and if your bag gets searched it doesn’t end up in a big mess.

  6. rb

    I agree with all of Sal’s tips and have some of my own. I travel for business a lot and I can get all my items into one carry-on size rolling bag and one tote/laptop bag for up to a week on the road.

    I agree with Sal about sticking to a color scheme. I currently have two:
    blacks and grays
    browns and creamy tones
    Color usually comes from blouses, jewelry or scarves.

    If you stick to a color scheme you don’t need to pack different shoes for each. I usually wear a lower heeled pair while traveling and pack one pair of higher heels. scootch these around the edges of my rolling bag, soles toward the outside. I also have flip flops or ballet flats in the outside pockets my suitcase for wearing around the hotel room or for if my feet give out on my trip home. The shoes I wear in the airport have to be able to slip on and off easily for security check.

    I actually have a laptop tote in each of my color schemes, as well as a pashminas that fit into either (pashminas are absolute necessities for air travel, for me, as well as being a nice accent piece or a way to make your work outfit more festive for dinner.)

    I never carry a traditional purse for business travel – I rely on the laptop tote and I keep a clutch purse in there with the essentials so I don’t have to lug my tote to dinners.

    Here’s what I do about wrinkles. I pack my wool suiting in dry clean bags on dry cleaners’ hangers (I keep a couple around for this purpose, even though I hate them.) These items go into my suitcase first, and I gently fold them in – two folds at most. The idea is to keep them as flat as possible. Then as soon as I hit my hotel room, I grab them and hang them up. I take all other folded items and put them in the drawers of the hotel room dresser, because there is no way they’re staying neatly folded in my suitcase over the course of a week. By morning, any creases on my suit items have usually worked themselves out, and if not, I hang what i’m wearing that day in the bathroom while I shower so that they get a little steam action. when I hop out of the shower, I sort of run my hands over the garment, pulling it into shape. Worst case scenario, there’s almost always an iron with steaming capabilities in the hotel room, but with wool suiting I almost never need it. Even in warm climates, I wear tropical weight wool year round. It is just the best for travel and even it it’s hot at your destination, any business office will be air conditioned to near freezing anyway.

    Toiletries – I have a quart ziploc packed with 3 ounce versions of my essentials at all times. I don’t bring shampoo or conditioner or soap or lotion. Hotels always provide these and I can live with their versions for a week. Worst case scenario I can visit a drugstore to buy something at my destination. I ask for sample sizes of whatever retinoid I’m currently using from my dermatologist and she’s always happy to provide them. The bag of toiletries goes in the outside zipper of my rolling bag so that I can easily whip it out at security. I write myself a note on the hotel notepad and stick it in my toiletry ziploc to remind myself next time what I forgot or am running low on.

    This all seems rather high maintenance, but I find it’s essential to me being relaxed about my business travel and able to focus on the business at hand, and hopefully have a little fun!

  7. Ruby

    This is such important advice. I always make the mistake of wanting to try out new items for trips. The only problem with this is that, while I’ve tried the garment in question on in order to determine fit, I’ve never worn it before, so I can sometimes run into “surprises” with respect to comfort (shoes) or how to style it. Which then leads to me buying things to go with it or which work while on vacation, whereas if I had tried to style it at home, I surely wouldn’t need to do. I can’t stress enough how bad my method is when it comes to job interviews! I’m now inspired to spend more time and care in packing.

  8. Sadie

    These are great tips, thanks! I live in New Zealand and travel internationally at least once a year – inevitably to somewhere with a different climate or season. I’m a big fan of “shop when you get there”, to the point that I travel with a half-empty suitcase that has another suitcase in it, and if I’m in the US, I take advantage of affordable shopping there to fill the rest of the suitcase up. Any room not taken up by clothes gets filled with books.

    I agree with previous posters who said Shoes Are Heavy, and with bringing toiletry essentials and even a change of outfit (just a fresh top and undies) on the plane. Luggage does get lost.

  9. Mrs.M in MI

    The tip that revolutionized the way I pack is this: wherever you are going, whatever you are doing, for however long, NEVER pack more than three pairs of shoes. It really forces you to edit your vacation wardrobe. (Or not. If you are just going somewhere overnight you can change shoes several times a day!)

    Packing lightly is something I’ve been thinking about lately, as I am hiking in the Swiss Alps this summer. Meaning, everything I need for 10 days has to be carried on my back the entire trip. While I climb mountains! I’ll be thinking about that conundrum all spring.

  10. Lola

    Hey, just dropping by to compliment you on your super nice blog. 🙂 I love the title and what you seem to be going for with it. Take care!

    -Lola (blogfrog member)

  11. Audi

    Thanks for the shout-out, Sal! One trick I’ve discovered recently is to mail stuff ahead if you’re staying with family or friends. For the extra $20 or $25 the airlines would charge for an extra bag, you can ship a whole lotta stuff; plus I’d rather pay UPS to deliver my things all the way to the front door of my destination than pay the airlines for me to schlep it myself. This is a particularly useful strategy if you’re carrying a lot of gifts or other things that won’t be making the return trip with you. I’ve also mailed things home to myself on the way back if I did a lot of shopping (ahem) while I was traveling.

  12. joann, sidewalk chic

    Great tips! For vacations, I tend to be a heavy packer because you just never know when the weather might change or you might end up staying longer than you expected. I roll almost all of my clothing, and stuff things into the 2-3 pairs of shows I bring (underwear, jewelry, etc).

    When I lived in NYC for a summer internship, I managed to bring all of my belongings in one suitcase and a duffel bag (pillow and sheets included), and ended up mailing any excess home at the end of the summer. By comparison, shipping boxes home was much better in relation to the costs and the hassle it would be to haul another huge bag to the airport.

  13. JG

    These tips are fantastic!! Thank you. I may have to print this out.

    When I try to minimize bag space, I think a lot about the versatility of my items. I don’t mind wearing a pair of pants more than once, and I have a few pairs of dark cords that work great for business casual, weekend casual, or even a fancy dinner out. I can eliminate extraneous items and also feel prepared for multiple eventualities by packing more pieces like that.

  14. Barb in Minn.

    In addition to packing a complementary color-scheme, avoid the just-in-case overpacking syndrome by packing items that can be layered. I can cover (or not) a wide range of temperatures with a Tshirt, button down, denim jacket, roomy leather coat.
    Scarves have become a must more so than jewelry. Add color, can hide stains should I spill lunch, lightweight ones don’t take up any room. Larger ones like Pashminas should be part of your airport attire.
    Socks and undies get stuffed into the toes of shoes.

    How many items can be eliminated from the suitcase by buying them when you get there? If the difference means using a carry-on instead of checking a bag, I can buy a whole lot of sunscreen, etc, for less than the baggage fees (remember you have to pay that fee twice).

    (Full disclosure: I can pack for more than a week in carry-ons. If I’m driving, a weekend trip requires the entire trunk.)

  15. b.

    Thanks, Sal–this is exactly the sort of advice I was hoping for. Appreciate it!

  16. Eleanorjane

    Hmm… I disagree a bit about the travelling light thing – I recently took a week’s worth of clothing for three weeks in England and Europe. In spite of washing our clothes every time we stayed with family (which was most of the time) we still ended up buying quite a few urgent t shirts, socks and underwear. Also, in spite of reading the weather predictions, we ended up without enough warm clothing. So, beware and don’t travel TOO light!

    I’m now facing having to put my life into 27 kg and take it to another country for a year or more. Once we’re earning, I can buy local clothes, but I’ll need enough to see me though a couple of months at least… It’s been challenging but also quite cleansing to look at all my stuff with a very critical eye.