10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great – Part 1
Mom is an expert packer. It’s not just a boast; it’s a fact. When this news got out on Facebook, many people asked her for her tips and tricks. So, although her advice is not directly related to travel with your dog, here are her thoughts on packing light. I questioned her thoroughly and then put together a list of her top 10 suggestions. It’s a lot of information, so I’m sharing this with you, Dear Reader, over two posts.
1 . Destination: The Culture and Climate
It is important to really think about where you are going. It’s not just weather that will influence what you take with you (umbrella anyone?) but also culture. For example, some countries have customs or expectations about how much skin you can or can’t show.
For example, while both countries have very hot climates, Mom did not pack the same way for Doha (Middle East) as she did for the Cayman Islands (Caribbean). Doha has a far more conservative approach to clothing than The Islands. No spaghetti strap tops, strapless dresses, shorts or plunging necklines allowed in Doha. The Grand Cayman? Quite the opposite! And it isn’t just for the ladies. The same can be said for men. For example, although it’s acceptable to wear sleeveless tops or none at all at a resort, the same cannot be said for other hot countries.
Don’t make assumptions about cultural expectations and requirements; do your research and pack accordingly. Knowing what is or isn’t socially acceptable saves you from packing items you will never feel comfortable wearing or would not be safe to wear. Safe to wear? Yup. In some countries, wearing a designer item – clothing, purse or jewelery – is not recommended for reasons of personal safety.
All that said about culture, climate is still vital to consider. A quick Internet search and you’ll know what you can expect when you arrive. Almost anywhere you plan on visiting has been recording weather patterns for a long long time. Pack according to those expectations and resist falling prey to the “what if” syndrome.
And what happens if the weather is not what you expected?
When we visited Tuscany a few years back, we went in the month of October. We researched the normal temperatures for that time of year and learned they are almost summer like. So we packed accordingly. Well, Dear Reader, wouldn’t you know it: a week into our trip, the coldest fall they had seen in years graced us with its presence. So what did we do? We went shopping!
In the end, unless you are traveling to a location that likely does not offer anything for you (such as being very tall and traveling to Asia), shopping is always a solution. So don’t worry so much about the “what if” and embrace surprise shopping. The result can often be a joy! Mom got a gorgeous jacket in Florence that she still wears regularly and when people ask her where she got it, she has a fun story to tell! Dad got a new sweater and pants, and he still loves them and wears them here in Ottawa. So be less of a worry wart; just ensure you have a little emergency shopping fund.
2. Activities: The What
This is how you control a large portion of your “what if” syndrome. Stop and think about what you plan on doing, and be honest. If you plan to visit museums and churches, then bring clothing that you can layer to ensure you can cover your shoulders when in places of worship (out of respect) and inside air-conditioned museums. A light weight pashmina is great for this or a little bolero style cardigan for the ladies. A short sleeve shirt is great for men.
If, however, you’re heading off on a scuba diving trip, the odds are pretty good that bathing suits and dive gear are going to be your top priority and not a multitude of outfits for eating out at fancy restaurants. (You’ll be too tired!) If your plans are taking on a tour of California wine country, then you’ll want to look a little more elegant. Ladies, leave the flip flops and short-shorts at home, and gents, forget the “wife beater” t-shirts. If you’re going to be hiking in Nepal, leave the heals at home, ladies, and gentlemen, you will not need a suit or tie.
You get the idea? In a nutshell, don’t over-pack based on one day out of your trip that might, maybe, perhaps, possibly be different. You know what you plan on doing during your trip; be honest with yourself and pack accordingly. Follow Mom’s cardinal rule of packing: pack for what you will be doing 90% of the time!
3. One Carry On: A Single Bag
One bag? Carry-on size?! Yup, you can do it. Limit yourself to a carry-on bag that all airlines will accept. That’s a great self-imposed limit. For many, this is a radical concept but I promise, you will manage and you will be glad you did it after you enjoy the mobility and freedom this choice brings.
You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think you will. If you are not sure if you have successfully packed light, Mom suggests you give yourself a test before leaving on your vacation or trip. Pack up completely and practice being a tourist in your own hometown for an hour. Fully loaded, you should be able to enjoy some window-shopping. If you can’t, go home, remove some items and try again.
Keeping your belongings to one single carry-on bag is particularly important when adding a dog carrier to the mix. Make sure you can manage both your carry-on and dog carrier on your own without breaking a sweat.
Hint: Your purse or laptop bag should fit in your carry-on or dog carrier while checking-in and going through security at the airport. So, avoid anything with structure: foldable, soft fabrics are best. I have a new carrier that folds away into the carry-on once on location and takes up no space at all that way! After all, I don’t need my carrier once on location since I am happiest on, or with, the bipeds.
Remind yourself as you pack that:
- When you carry your own luggage, it’s less likely to get lost, broken, or stolen.
- Last-minute changes in flight plans become simpler if there’s no checked baggage to track down.
- A carry-on bag with you is less likely to get lost if flights get re-routed.
- A carry-on bag fits on your lap or under your seat on the bus, taxi, and airplane, so you don’t always have to be looking out for your bag or worrying about it.
- When you arrive at your destination, you are out the door and on your way with your carry-on bag while everyone else stares anxiously at the luggage carousel. This is particularly important if you might have to lose time going through a secondary when traveling with your dog.
Carry-on also saves you money. Many airlines charge a fee to check even one suitcase. These fees can add up if you check more than one bag. We know this first hand since we have to check our dive gear on diving trips, and we hate it. After all, if a Boeing 747 can carry the space shuttle then – excuse the language – we call bullshit on the excess baggage fee! Mom and Dad now combine dive gear and clothing in one bag each to help contain increasing costs.
Do be aware that many airlines have additional (and frequently changing) restrictions on the number, size, and weight of carry-on bags. Restrictions can also vary from airport to airport, even on the same airline. Check your airline’s website and read the fine print on your e-ticket for details.
In the end, remember that packing light isn’t just about the trip over and back; it’s also about your traveling lifestyle. Too much luggage:
- Marks you as a typical tourist and makes you a target;
- Obstructs serendipity;
- Makes changing locations a major operation;
- Sends a “helpless” signal to con artists; and
- Puts you in the path of porters, who are only a problem for those who need them.
With only one bag, you’re mobile and in control!
4. Capsule Wardrobes: Oh, The Clothes!
A capsule wardrobe is based on 13-20 items that can be mixed and matched to create a multitude of outfits that get brightened up and refreshed with accessorizing. Thinking in a capsule can save you oodles of space when packing.
Here is a list of basics for a 4 week trip. (If you’re travelling for 2 weeks, you might be able to reduce the list by half.)
- Two pairs of trousers – one light, one dark. You will wear one pair on the plane. Often, your dark pair is a pair of jeans.
- Alternatively, but not in addition, one pair of pants and one dress.
- Two skirts – also, one light and one dark. (Mom likes to have one long and one short. Dad brings two pairs of shorts.)
- Alternatively, but not in addition, one skirt and one pair of shorts.
- Two plain blouses, or for men, make that “shirts.”
- Two simple tops. (Hint: v-neck is the most flattering neckline for all face shapes, men and women.)
- A great jacket. (You will wear the jacket on the plane. Consider, for example, a tweed or leather for cold weather and a nice safari style linen jacket or light cardigan for summer.)
An essential consideration is to choose clothing that suits your shape. Pick items that never go out of style, so think classic cuts. Remember comfort as well; your time on the road is not the time to wear clothing you don’t love to be in.
Keeping it clean!
The bulk of your luggage is clothing. Minimize by bringing less clothing and washing more often. Every few nights, you’ll spend a few minutes doing a little wash. This doesn’t mean more washing; it just means doing it little by little as you go. We tend to rent apartments rather than stay at hotels which often means we have access to a washer. But even if you don’t, a quick rinse in the sink and most items are good to go the next day. Just make sure you will not need to iron any of the items after a wash!
Hint: Purchase a wash soap bar. A bar is easier to travel with than liquid soap, is easier to use and less wasteful. You can even buy some soap bars now that do double or triple duty, serving as shampoo and body soap in addition to laundry soap. Shop around to see if you can find one you love.
To recap, make sure that every single item you pack is something you can wash by hand in a sink and wear again the next day. Do not ever pack a dry clean only item. Not ever!
It’s also fun to buy clothes as you travel; they make great conversation pieces and souvenirs. So start with less and leave room for more! The bipeds always leave room to bring home at least one item each.
Hint: Best travel clothing item for the ladies? Look into the 21 ways dress. That is serious bang for the buck. Amazing space saver, great fun and versatility. Goes from day to night. Easy to wash and wear. No ironing required. Basically, it is the perfect travel dress!
The key word: Multifunctionality!
All your tops must go with all your bottoms. If you have a top that goes with just one bottom, then it’s the wrong choice. And you should be able to dress up or down any item you bring with you.
Mom’s advice is never pack complete, independent outfits. Pack so that all outfits are completely interchangeable. This can be fun! Mom actually tries everything on. She puts one top on and all the bottoms to see if they do in fact all work together. You may think this is silly but ask Dad and he will tell you it has stopped more than one fashion faux-pas.
Hint: A pair of white or tan shorts is a better choice over a pair of jean shorts. With a cute top, some fancy earrings and make-up, a pair of white shorts can look lovely for an evening out to dinner for the ladies. For men, keep the shorts longer rather than shorter. And for both genders, remember that denim will almost always limit your restaurant options to casual dining. This might be alright, but keep it in mind.
Finally, avoid too many patterns or stripes in your clothing. Noticeable designs limit the number of times you can wear something without it being obvious. It is better to add interest with jewelry and other patterned accessories. Mom once went to Europe in the winter for 10 days and took just one pair of black pants and one long black skirt. Yet no one noticed she only had two bottoms for the 10 days because she had fun with the tops and accessories! People tend to focus on your top half anyway, so if you’re going to take more of a clothing item, make it those.
5. Underwear: The Nitty Gritty
Bring enough underwear but don’t go overboard. The rule of thumb is to bring enough undies for a week, no matter how long you are traveling. This is all you will need.
Ladies, don’t pack a dress or top that requires you to bring a special kind of bra. Or invest in a 7-way bra if you must. (Mom has yet to find one she likes.) Choose skin tone underwear for traveling. A trip is not the time to bring your lace and frills; two bras and 5 panties is all a lady will need. For the gents, 5 pair of undershorts, boxers or tighty-whities (whatever your preference). Remember, you can hand wash and wear again.
And if it is … that kind of romantic get away, well … your birthday suit is likely a better choice anyway. *Blush!*
Gentleman, if you have white linen pants, make sure your underwear is appropriate and not showing. But really, linen? Really? Not a good travel option. Who wants to be ironing?
Hint: Ladies, look into tops that have built in bras or support. Victoria Secret has a lovely collection of these with 3 different levels of support depending on your … ahem … asset needs. Gents, some shorts have built in under support. Oh, and always use a pantie liner – yes, you too, men – to keep things fresh, especially on the road.
I think I will stop there for this week, Dear Reader! I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information at once. Next week we will look at how packing light is an artform. You have to want to develop that skill and be willing to challenge yourself and step outside your day-to-day habits to become an artist. But I guarantee it’s worth it!
So, I will see you next Saturday for:
- How to Pack: Packing Cubes, Rolling and Travel Size Containers
- Accessories: All That Little Stuff Adds Up
- The Big Question: Shoes, Shoes, Shoes
- Electronics: A Wiry Mess
- Your Canine: Don’t Make It a Dogs Breakfast!
In the meantime. if you have any tips or tricks of your own, hold on to them, alright? Share them in the comments section next week, okay? In the meantime, if you have questions on the tips we presented today, let me know!