Running With The Pack

Last year prior to my first trip to Paris, I obsessed for months about what to wear and pack. Between mon mari, who is a chronic over-packer, and my own desire to have whatever just-in-case items available for this most stylish of destinations, we ended up shlepping an oversized duffel and another wheeled bag both of which we checked, in addition to a wheeled carry-on bag. I wore probably half of what I’d packed, and getting all of that luggage through customs (especially on the way home where we were trying to make–and ultimately missed–a connecting flight), made me vow that a) I’d pack much lighter next time and b) we’d invest in some luggage that was better designed.

Style Spy last week linked to an item in Hadley Freeman’s column on packing/overpacking. Hadley’s packing philosophy? More is better!

For a start, being able to survive for two weeks with nothing but a pair of trousers, two tops, one dress, a pair of flip-flops, a receptacle to purify your urine and a spool of twine (or whatever) all squashed into a handbag is nothing to boast about.

…And moreover, would you wear the same shirt (or anything else) four times in a week at home? Of course you wouldn’t. So why, in the name of all that is fragrant and sanitary, would you do so on holiday?

The development of my own packing modus operandi owes a great deal to the fear of having to wear dirty clothes. So I’ve erred in the past on the side of too much rather than too little. But the last two trips I’ve taken have helped me figure out which items are the essentials and which should be left at home. Strategies I’ve developed from my recent sojourns (and these apply mostly to visiting a single locale/climate per trip):

1. Pick one neutral for basics (pants, jackets, shoes, bag) and work around it. No surprise here, but black is my choice for all but tropical destinations.

2. Bring multiples of black and white t-shirts that are light enough to be used as layering pieces. (Banana Republic makes an excellent one.) A black t-shirt under a jacket can also look dressy enough for most venues with some jewelry or a scarf.

3. Bring scarves to accent and change the look of your neutral ensembles. (But you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)

4. Bring 2-3 bags maximum – one for day, a small one for evening, and (optional) a bigger, lighter bag to be used for a personal carry-on item (for airlines that allow in addition to a carry-on bag).

5. Carry cell phone and laptop chargers with you. Lost luggage + dead cell phone = Extremely Grumpy Traveler.

6. If you’ve followed #1, you should be able to get by with two or three pair of shoes (wear one, pack 2).

7. Rolling some clothes, packing clothes individually in dry cleaning bags, and underpacking will all help prevent wrinkling. I do usually pack a small travel steamer, just in case.

8. Bring a Tide spot removal pen, and some powdered handwashing soap to wash items in the sink. Bring a small sprayer full of Febreeze to get smoke or other scents out of otherwise clean-enough-to-wear-again clothes.

9. Bring no more than 1-2 pairs of denim jeans. They are bulky, heavy and you can usually get 3 wearings out from a single pair before they need washing.

For any trip longer than 2-3 days, I use a bag big enough that it has to be checked. Some airlines are starting to charge for checked bags. I know for some travellers it’s a matter of pride to be able to get two weeks’ worth of stuff in a carry-on bag, but I reside somewhere between that extreme and Hadley Freeman, whom I’m guessing travels with a team of sherpas.

What are your packing philosophies and tips?

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17 Comments

  1. May 26, 2008 / 3:29 pm

    Like your tips! I never take jeans- lots of black matte jersey. To add to your points:
    1. If staying in Paris 1 week or more consider renting an apt. b/c having washing machine means you can take very little.

    2. Hip length coat or light leather jacket is all you need from fall to early spring; cashmere wrap (great for plane) can sub for coat on warmer days.

    3. Since I chill easily I buy silk long underwear which doubles as pjs or lounge wear in the room.

    4. Drycleaning takes longer (one day turn, forget it!) and costs more so don’t depend on it.

    5. Unless you appear in front of same people every day as in business travel, forget variety, useless concept. Instead think ‘day rotation’ and ‘evening rotation’- about 3 for day, 2 for evening.

    Once did 3 weeks in London-Paris with one carryon bag, but had to buy large suitcase for the shopping!

  2. May 26, 2008 / 3:41 pm

    Duchesse – you have good tips as well. I’d love to rent an apartment in Paris, but my husband is a pampered traveller, and insists on staying in a hotel so that he doesn’t have to worry about making beds or breakfast.
    😉 I always carry a pashmina with me for the plane or in case of being seated in a draft in restaurants.

  3. laurieann
    May 26, 2008 / 5:47 pm

    My DH, DS (now 11; mid-life baby)and I have travelled for two weeks or more by air four times in the last five years. Not as much travel as I’d like, but as much as we are able to do. DH and I never rented a flat until DS was six years old but we would never go back to staying in hotels. Having a washer and dryer en-suite and not having to “dress” for breakfast makes all the difference in the world for us. BTW, I never actually cook meals in the kitchen, just prepared foods and specialty items for us. But we only usually eat two meals a day when traveling; breakfast and a large mid-day lunch out between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.; quality snack food in the evening.

    Duchesse has great packing tips here. I’m huge on long silk underwear doubling as pj’s. Never do dry cleaning either.

    I admit that I’m probably not a lot of help to you as our traveling circumstances are different but I’m all for just getting on a plane and not worrying too much about how I look.

    I so enjoy reading all of your posts as you prepare for your trip. Hope you don’t mind if I live vicariously through you for a while.

  4. May 26, 2008 / 6:45 pm

    When I was traveling back and forth on a regular basis I followed the 2 color rule, using black as a base for jeans, pants, jacket etc. One pair of walking shoes that I wore on the plane and one pair of sexy heels usually were enough. For accent I added couple of scarves, a good watch, bracelet, earrings.
    For me the key item was some kind of jacket because no matter where or when I traveled I always had some bad weather and rain.

  5. May 26, 2008 / 9:11 pm

    This is most useful, as I will be packing for a two-week trip to Scotland in June. I’m going with black as my basic, as well. I’m also packing a simple black dress, because I intend to attend church while I’m there. And who knows…I may wear it out one evening, too. 🙂

    One of the best packing tips I ever got was to pack one complete change of clothing (including socks and underwear) in large plastic ziplock bags and let one of the people you’re travelling with pack it in her suitcase. That way, if your luggage is lost, you will theoretically still have a change of clothes at your destination.

  6. May 26, 2008 / 10:02 pm

    tessa – having borrowed a piece good luggage from the in-laws the last couple of trips, I must say that it makes ALL the difference.

    laurieann – for our annual week-long ski trip, we stay in a timeshare condo with a washer/ dryer. Luxury! We only need to pack 1-2 changes of clothes each, and wash as much as we need.

    belle – Yes, the great thing about jackets is that they pull an outfit together. I’m also a big fan of the packable travel raincoat.

    phantomminuet – that’s a good idea. I usually try to pack at least a change of underwear, a tiny jar of face moisturizer and a toothbrush in my carry-on bag.

  7. Tessa
    May 26, 2008 / 4:21 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I am currently in same dilemma for a two week trip to Quebec, plus 4 or 5 days in Denver immediately following said two weeks. I’m probably going to buy new suitcases this week for the kiddies.
    ~Tessa

  8. Patricia
    May 27, 2008 / 7:39 am

    I read and enjoyed Materfamilias’ posts on packing for her trip to Paris, as I know you did, and I do admire her, but I have to say I usually err more on the side of Ms. Freeman! However, I’ve enjoyed the tips of you and your commenters too, so thanks for this post. The only new tip (if you can call it that) I have is I pack 2 small platic baggies with my toiletries and have my husband carry the second one! Patricia

  9. Toby Wollin
    May 27, 2008 / 12:07 pm

    Phantomminuet, I have two words for you for a trip to Scotland in June(esp. if you are on the West Coast): Rain Coat, as waterproof as you can find(water resistent nylon does not cut it in Scotland). Scotland is one of those places where the temperature can range around all over the place in the spring; I’ve gone from a heavy lined waterproof jacket in the morning(and a wool sweater)to carrying the jacket around and unbuttoning the sweater in the afternoon. As for me, I’m a big proponent of knits – tops, skirts and dresses. You will always be able to use a nice jacket(I wear it on the plane because I freeze otherwise), a scarf and a knit dress, especially if you will be going sight seeing in religious places(nothing too short). Also: TAKE A HAT.

  10. May 27, 2008 / 1:19 pm

    Pseu: make beds??? Moi?
    Breakfast; great boulangeries abound.

    I enjoy not eating in a public place in early am- or waiting for him to rise before we go to breakfast.

    A spacious, beautifully decorated apt (big fireplace, several baths) can be more luxurious than a hotel and since my DH snores in both French and English, essential for rest.

  11. May 27, 2008 / 1:38 pm

    Duchesse – I’m with you, but mon mari is intractable on this one.

  12. May 27, 2008 / 2:59 pm

    And plug convertors. I recently bought one made by Fujifilm (odd, I know!) which is very good and covers many conversions. Fuji Worldwide Travel Plug Adaptor and it cost me £15.99 at Heathrow so I am sure it is cheaper in the US.

    Tumi does a similar universal one but I am sure it is far more pricey.

    Dejapseu, I am saving this post to Delicious. It is a very handy one for an upcoming trip of mine for an Indian wedding. The average weight of a ‘dress’ is about 8-10 pounds which would be fun to pack (not).

  13. May 27, 2008 / 4:22 pm

    On Saturday I’ll be spending the morning with a client helping her to do her final pre-pack for a three-week trip to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Our challenge is that the climates are going to vary wildly, but happily the swimsuits won’t take up much room! We’ll be following most if not all of the things you just listed. I really do think choosing a color palette is the key to successfully packing for more than a day or two — in this instance we’ll be going with a black-gray-silver sort of thing that will allow for lots of mixing & matching and playing with accessories.

    Me? Ferocious overpacker, quelle surprise. I’d rather drag a suitcase the size of a Buick painfully through the airport than be stuck somewhere with boring clothes. That’s emotional baggage, and I find it much more difficult to wrestle.

  14. May 28, 2008 / 5:03 pm

    i’ve done the gamut — from overpacking to having to run out to buy something quickly because i didn’t bring sufficient clothing. but it’s always a crapshoot. when i went to spend the summer in oxford, england, i was prepared for cool, slightly rainy weather. since i was going to be there almost three months, i packed a huge suitcase, which included a long coat, lots of cool weather clothes, and one or two t-shirts and cotton trousers for hanging around my rooms (i am *not* a t-shirt or jeans person). it turned out to be the hottest summer in 177 years and i lived in those freakin’ t-shirts and cotton trousers and had to go to the nearest M&S to buy a few cotton shirts. thank goodness the college i was in had a laundrymat. on the other hand, i went with my theatre group to take a play on a tour of ireland one february and only brought one suitcase with me. i had to stop and buy a heavy sweater because no amount of layering warmed me up! for local trips to visit family i leave one or two outfits of clothing at their homes, and some essential toiletries, making it far simpler to pack lightly.

    the latest trip to paris? a checked bag with 3 pairs of black trousers, 3 jersey knit turtlenecks, two light cotton shirts, one short jacket, one long coat and three pairs of shoes. still too heavy, but more than adequate for the trip.

  15. May 28, 2008 / 7:15 pm

    @ Phantomminuet, you can pack your raincoat or just remember that Scotland invented the Macintosh, the most wonderful waterproof raincoat anybody can buy anywhere. Outdoor clothes in Scotland – incl from Barbour – are investment pieces worth owning.

    If you are going to Edinburgh first, there is a Barbour shop on Frederick St which will be a good stop if it interests you (I also wrote 2 popular posts on what to do in EDI which if you like you can check out).

    June _is_ the absolute best time to go to Scotland. I hope you will have a good time. I loved living there although London is great in its own way.

  16. May 31, 2008 / 12:15 am

    My biggest tip – Dress shields! Yes, they are sorta grandma-ish, but they save on washing and dry cleaning. Nordstroms has them.

  17. ed
    March 19, 2009 / 11:21 am

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