The art of packing lightly but well makes travel more fun
“If you persevere, you will at some point reach a transcendent moment, in which your (one) bag will be small and light enough to carry without consequence, no longer of any meaningful concern. And—from that instant—your travel experiences will be forever changed, with an unfettered freedom that is beyond the comprehension of those who remain bound to their baggage.” — Doug Dyment, onebag.com
OK, the prose may be a bit purple in the description above. But if you, like me, have seen far too many people staggering through airports with what seems to be the entire contents of all their closets, you’ll agree with its intent. Packing for a vacation is a discipline—but an easily mastered one. And with most major airlines now “suggesting” even smaller carry-ons (bets, anyone, on how soon that suggestion becomes mandatory?), you’ve got a choice: Learn to pack smarter or pay the baggage fees for checked luggage. Which you then have to lug everywhere.
With that in mind, we contacted several local retailers to ask what advice they give vacationers bound on two types of destinations, which I’m calling “Tropical” (as in any beach, be it Myrtle, Maui or Mayreau), and “Sophisticate” (as in Europe, Asia or a major U.S. city).
First, let’s talk basic strategies:
As Dyment preaches, unless you’re going for a really, really long vacation or you have special occasions that require elaborate outfits, you can travel with one carry-on-size bag. I’ve been a travel writer for 25 years now, and I never travel with more than my favorite bag, plus my purse. If you do not currently have the ideal carry-on for you, it’s worth the investment. This is a purchase you need to actually make in person, though, to inspect its features.
Clothing color scheme.
The easiest thing, of course, is to stick to basic black and/or neutrals. No one remembers that you’ve worn a simple black pant three days in a row, especially if you’ve changed your shirt/blouse/accessories. Even if you love prints and bright colors, you can choose items that easily mix and match. The takeaway here: You do not need a completely different outfit (or more) for each day. Simplify.
Roll, roll, roll your stuff.
It’s pretty amazing how much more stuff you can get into a bag by rolling rather than folding. Knits are great for this, of course, but I’ve found that washed linens, cotton blends and of course denim also emerge unwrinkled. (Tip: If a couple of wrinkles do occur, hang things in the bathroom and let the shower steam unwrinkle them.)
No more than three pairs of shoes. Men, maybe two.
I can hear the shrieks from shoe-aholics, but ladies, take my word for it, the freedom from schlepping Dyment mentions is so much more important than having a shoe for every outfit. Again, black and neutral colors are your friends. But please, athletic shoes only if you plan to work out on vacation. This applies to guys as well.
Wear your biggest and heaviest stuff on the plane (car, train, etc.).
Even in summer you may need a lightweight coat or jacket. If, like me, you are a fan of ankle boots for their versatility, wear them. Yes, it’s a pain through airport security but it saves a ton of room in your (one) bag.
The Tropical Pack
You’re going to the beach for a week or so. Maybe the itinerary includes going out to dinner a few times, a little shopping, maybe even taking in a few cultural sights.
Sophia Bridger, owner of Healthy Glow Studio, naturally recommends stopping in for an airbrush tan before you go, rather than baking in the tropical sun. She carries a range of bathing suits—BCBG, Gottex, Eco Swim, among others—which of course you’ll need. Her personal picks for other basics: “The lightweight reversible dresses we carry from Volt….very versatile, and can easily go from day into evening. Definitely our Havianas flip flops or wedges. A fun cover-up. A packable hat by Gottex that shields you from UV rays. And one or two pairs of earrings from Sorrelli, an inexpensive line that looks expensive.” Men, don’t forget the sunscreen, she adds.
At Frankie & Julian’s, owner Suzanne Bishop is big on sarongs, which can become cover-ups, dresses, evening wraps, scarves, and even bags. She and her staff give demos in-store of how to wrap the multipurpose piece. She loves the Spun Scarves line for this. “Even for Hawaii, you need one nice dress,” she advises. The Julie Brown wrap dresses suit this need perfectly. “Maxi dresses are also a great choice for the warm weather and can be dressed up or down,” she says.
Betty True, owner of Backstreet Betty’s, has some handy tips: “Take more than one pair of sunglasses in case one is lost. Only pack nude-colored underwear, as that works with everything. Take a strapless bra or bandeau top. A large, packable tote bag is essential. And with jewelry, stick with your go-to basics. Freshwater pearls are perfect, or maybe turquoise, to dress outfits up.”
Note to the male sex: If your vacation is not strictly family time at the beach house, take some nice shorts, some simple, un-logoed T-shirts or polo shirts in basic colors, a lightweight, packable jacket, and one comfortable but well-designed pair of pants. Flip flops are fine for casual time, but a neutral-toned, dressier shoe will come in handy. And don’t forget the packable hat…rollable panamas never go out of style.
The Sophisticate Pack
Let’s make a pact to clean up the image of the “typical American” tourist trekking around the great cities of Europe completely unprepared for its cafes, cathedrals and cultural sites. Don’t get me wrong: Being comfortable is absolutely key to enjoying the sometimes arduous demands of touristing. But, it’s true, whether female or male, you can be comfortable and stylish with just a little planning.
Shoes are really the key here. You just have to have a broken-in-but-not-broken-down pair of classy walking shoes. Ladies, have you tried navigating cobblestones in 4-inch heels? Don’t tell me about the French…most Parisians are sailing through the streets in chic flats or, during the summer, sandals and espadrilles. Suzanne Bishop notes the virtues of the black ballet flat, which can take you almost anywhere.
She also suggests black leggings, a pair of black pants—and possibly your favorite pair of jeans, which won’t require washing and can be dressed up for some destinations. “A white, crisp button-down shirt goes many places,” she says. Overall, the black/neutral palette serves you very well, as pieces can be mixed and matched. “But if you love color, as many of my customers do, add that with scarves and accessories.” Or, she suggests, take the colors you love, but plan your mixes and matches in advance. (Re scarves: Remember that some sacred spaces require head coverings.)
Sophia Bridger again emphasizes for summer travel: “lightweight, able to be layered…and don’t forget the hat!”
“Carry on an all-weather jacket,” advises Betty True, mindful of the capricious European summer weather. (The small, collapsible black umbrella is also your good friend.) True also suggests using the plastic packing bags that can be compressed, if you’re going somewhere that might even require sweaters.
All our experts agree: Leave the expensive jewels at home. Decide on gold or silver, pack one small bag of earrings, necklaces and bracelets. After all, one of the best (and smallest) things to bring home with you are a couple of must-have jewelry pieces.
A cross-body bag in a neutral color will serve almost all purposes, but pack a rollable tote as well—just remember that everything needs zippers for security.
Guys, we are not forgetting you. Says Bishop, “A comfortable, sophisticated black shoe. A couple of button-down shirts and/or polos. A packable jacket that will get you into a good restaurant.” Add a nice pair of jeans, a dressier pant, a couple of plain T-shirts, one pair of shorts for the more casual days and of course, the packable hat, and you are literally good to go. Oh, and throw in a tie, unless you want to wear one of the restaurant’s house items. Never good.
Here’s a packing maxim for you: When in doubt, take it out. My personal goal is to come back from a trip having worn everything I packed more than once. If I unpack, and realize I never used that item, it likely won’t get packed the next time. Here’s to unencumbered but stylish travel this summer!