Gulp an elderflower cocktail and throw caution to the wind while you fling your favorite things into a bag. There ends my packing advice.
Just kidding. A few more cents below for what they’re worth.
When you keep a fairly paired down wardrobe, some of the hard work of packing is already done for you. In fact, taking a little look at steps 1-5 of Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe could be a helpful first step in thinking about packing a bag for a month (or a week) away. In case that’s too much reading, here are the main ideas:
Step 1: Choose a collection of colors that you love and stick to a streamlined color palette. At home or away, I have most success with a fairly limited selection of colors. Mine tends to be neutrals ranging from creams and whites to blues and grays. Keeping my whole bag more or less in the same color family means that everything I pack can be worn together.
Step 2: Stick to mostly trusty basics. You don’t need to pack only basics, but having a good base to work on keeps my bag light and makes getting dressed on the road easier. A trusty pair of jeans, a favorite sweater, a few tees, a solid dress or two. There’s not much more that I need than that.
Step 3: Consider limiting factors. Mostly: choose quality over quantity and timelessness over trendiness for wardrobe strategies in general and for packing specifically.
Step 4: Care for your clothes and to pay attention to fabric choices. Skip the stuff that needs too much special attention and choose clothes that can be easily hand washed or thrown into the laundry without too much special attention. I usually stick to natural fibers because they clean easily, they stink less when I wear them a few times between washings, and they hold up to being rolled in a suitcase.
Step 5: Choose underwear wisely. Even if I’m going away for longer, I try to pack just enough underwear for a week. All of my underwear tends to fall into the packable category, but in case you’ve got a wide range, I’d say sticking to natural fibers, solid colors, and comfort would be a good starting place. (Lord knows, if you’re hell bent on bringing your laciest lingerie, don’t let me be the one to stop you.)
Beyond those general steps, a few more thoughts about what I add to my bag and how I do it:
Choose a small bag.
Keeping the size of my bag itself manageable guarantees my best success in packing modestly for a long trip (or a short one trip). If I bring a larger bag, I’ll fill it—Cheryl Strayed-style—and be unable to move forward, weighed down as I am with the extra two pairs of shoes that fit int0 that extra pocket.
James and I ended up with Tom Bihn bags after deliberating between a few different ones before our last trip (as you might recall). I have the Aeronaut 30 and he has the Aeronaut 45. We took only these bags with us to LA and really loved them. We ended up needing to pack a separate bag for Faye’s clothes this time around since cramming a wetsuit and camera equipment and computers for working meant a slightly heavier load, but we’ve still tried to keep things fairly streamlined. Your best is all you can do.
Pack clothes enough for a week.
Chances are that regardless of the amount of time that you’re planning to be away for, you don’t need to pack for more than a week away.
Overpacking almost always comes from wanting be prepared. What if it’s cold? What if it’s sweltering? What if I’m invited to a ball? But I like to think about what I would really wear in a week at home and pack those things.
Packing light means throwing a little bit of caution to the wind. You gotta just go for it. Do your best but accept that you might need to use a scarf as a shawl; you might not have a waterproof jacket if it rains; and you might not have a ballgown should you get invited to the palace. Alas, alack.
Do I strategize a little bit. Definitely. Jeans? I wear the same ones almost every day anyway so I rarely pack more than one pair for trips. Tops? I find that loose-fitting clothes have slightly longer staying power between washes than tight ones. It doesn’t mean I won’t pack tight tees, but I’m just thoughtful about striking a balance. Sweaters? I bring one sweater that works over pants or a dress, and not the one that looks funky pulled over one or the other. You get it: choose your hardworking stuff, not your fussy stuff. (And don’t forget comfy pajamas.)
Bring your favorite stuff.
Bring what you actually like. I don’t care if you own the “world’s most practical pair of zip off pants,” if you don’t like wearing them, they’re just taking up room in your bag and putting you in a bad mood. Of course, I’d consider parting with things you don’t much like indefinitely, but in the meantime, I definitely wouldn’t make room for them in my suitcase. I bring the stuff that makes me feel my best. My favorite stuff isn’t necessarily what you’d find on a list of travel essentials, but if it’s something that I don’t mind wearing over and over again, that’s far more practical to pack than something I don’t like. (See also.)
Choose two pairs of shoes.
I have a shoe thing, too. Too many pairs; not enough places to wear them. Never is this more true than in packing. Shoes are heavy. I try never to bring more than two pairs. If I have a dress-up occasion I might need to bend the rules—no need to be uncomfortable for more time than need be—but otherwise no. Two pairs or bust. For summer that’s usually canvas sneaks and sandals.
Wear your bulkiest stuff.
This goes without saying, but I always try to wear my bulkiest or heaviest things. Sandals get packed, sneakers get worn. Sweater goes over my shoulders, extra tees go in the bag. It sometimes means getting a smidge overheated in the airport, but I’d rather by cozy on the plane and not have to lug extra weight in my bag.
Roll your clothes.
There’s just no other way to do it. Rolling your clothes makes them easy to see in your bag, it minimizes wrinkles, and it keeps things organized. I will not be convinced otherwise. The technique is simple and probably doesn’t need explanation, but I essentially make a neat rectangle out of whatever item I’m packing and then roll it up, the way I imagine I would make a jelly roll if I were a more ambitious baker. The neat little rolls get all lined up for easy access and simple packing. I’ve recently become a devotee of the Tom Bihn packing cubes which really make a huge difference in keeping everything organized in our packs. (Especially since we share with Faye.) I also always include a canvas drawstring or two for tucking in shoes, dirty undies, slippery swimwear that won’t stay put, etc.
Unload your toiletries.
I’ve mentioned before that I keep my limited number of toiletries in my dopp kit. If this is not your habit, then I strongly encourage sticking to the basics when you pack. I always pack a hard-working little face serum. Ideally this is the one little bottle of goodness you need to keep your skin glowing while you cavort around and the beauty of an oil is that it can pull double-duty as makeup remover and moisturizer for the ends of dry hair. (Put a little dab behind your ear and call it perfume.) I generally pack mascara and chapstick and a cheek rouge for a dab of color. Since Stowaway came on the scene and made makeup in manageable sizes, I sometimes also include an extra rouge or their bb cream in case I want to look more polished. If I’m going anywhere for a significant amount of time—say, a month— I plan to buy bulkier essentials like shampoo or toothpaste or contact solution (for James) once I’ve landed.
Make room for reusables.
Traveling can be a moment when efforts at sustainability can go out the window, but no matter how lightly I’m trying to pack, I still make efforts to bring along with me a few essentials that make lightening my so-called footprint a little bit easier. We’ll each take a water bottle, we’ll tuck two tiny reusable bags into the side pockets of our bags to use at markets, and a cloth napkin into Faye’s “undies’ bag.” We’ll put a little snack in a reusable tin that we’ll have with us throughout the trip, etc. If we weren’t flying and not wanting to check bags, I’d pack our foldable knife/fork/spoon sets, too.
My sister’s best tips for packing light with kiddos right this way.