packing for a month away.

May 24, 2016

packing for a month away | reading my tea leaves


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.packing for a month away | reading my tea leaves

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.)packing for a month away | reading my tea leaves

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.)
packing for a month away | reading my tea leaves

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.

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31 Comments

  • Reply Andrea May 24, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Hello! Love reading your tips on packing. I actually got the Patagonia bag you suggested in the previous post and am looking forward to using it for the first time this coming weekend. I am in the market for a dopp kit, something simple and not too big. Any recommendations? Thanks 🙂

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 24, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      So many nice dopp kits out there. I got mine years ago from Archival Clothing, but I’m not sure they still make it!

    • Reply Alix May 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      My husband and I have the same Patagonia bags, and we use Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter line of zipper pouches. I use the medium-sized pouch from this set for my toiletries: https://www.rei.com/product/848205/eagle-creek-pack-it-specter-sac-set

      It’s translucent, so it works as a reusable “Ziploc” bag and is TSA-compliant. The recycled nylon material is super lightweight (similar to a parachute), so it can be rinsed and dries super fast in case of any spills during transit.

  • Reply Angela Storm May 24, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    100% agree about rolling clothes! My husband is in the military and he taught me to “ranger roll” everything from t-shirts to socks. Everything fits so much better and is less wrinkly upon unrolling. Have a safe, fun trip!

  • Reply susan tossman blue May 24, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Tom Bihn also has a packing cube that doubles as a lightweight backpack — really handy! we bought them for a long trip, but now use them a lot of day trips.

    • Reply Laurie May 24, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      I just ordered the Tom Bihn backpack/packing cube for a two-week trip to France. Glad to hear of someone else’s success with it! My husband and I have the Tri-star and Western Flyer.

      Shoes are my biggest concern right now. Thinking of wearing brogues and packing my Converse but that leaves me without sandals. However that gives me something to buy in France!

  • Reply laura May 24, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Sounds like you’ve got this down pat! I always underpack because I inevitably pick up a trinket or two while I’m away! When we were in Greece I tossed donated almost all my clothes in order to bring back a blanket and rug!

    And thank you ever so for the serum LOVE! xxxo!

  • Reply Eliza May 24, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Would you be willing to share a list of what you packed? I’m also going abroad for a month later this summer, and since your packing list from your camping trip last summer helped me a ton with my own camping trip, I trust that you know exactly what to take. If you don’t want to share it, though, I understand.

    • Reply Emma May 26, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      I would just like to second this request, if you’re comfortable sharing, Erin, since I also found your camping trip packing list very helpful!

      • Reply Erin Boyle May 26, 2016 at 4:22 pm

        Considered doing that; but I think it might be more useful as a “choose your own adventure.” Can’t imagine that everyone might want, for instance, the two pairs of overalls I put in my bag.

  • Reply SLG May 24, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Three cheers for flying without checked bags! I’ve successfully done carry-on only for a week in Cape Town, a week and a half in Rome, a week and a half in San Francisco, a week-ish in London, and countless shorter trips. Like you, I find that having a minimalist wardrobe makes packing even easier. Almost everything matches anyway, so I throw it in a bag and go. 🙂

    One thing I haven’t yet figured out is managing when I’ll need to wash clothes but my destination doesn’t have a dryer. My jeans always get baggy after 3-4 wears, so I rely on a dryer to shrink them back into shape. When I know I won’t have that, I take a second or third pair, and then I feel annoyed that I’m carrying heavy & dirty clothes around. Anyone know of great jeans that don’t stretch out and get baggy?

    • Reply Anna May 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

      You can usually find a laundry place with a dryer when travelling. But if you are not sure that you’ll find one at your destination, you can always pack a few clothespins and a few meters long thin rope, and sun dry your clothes after hand washing them. We this this while travelling for one month in Indonesia, and it worked really well. The thin rope takes almost no space at all, is very light, and can be used for other purposes 🙂

      • Reply Erin Boyle May 26, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        Agreed! Though I know that the baggy pants conundrum is real one when you’re used to a dryer that tightens things up again. I like to choose jeans with a bit of elastic in them to help combat the sag 😉

  • Reply Diane Williams May 24, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Bon Voyage!

    Keep in touch…

  • Reply Rie May 24, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    We love to travel and hate to check luggage! We don’t do this when staying in one place, as I know you are, but when we’ll be on the move, we dip into our *special* stack of clothing gathered throughout the year — the shirts with a rip or stain or hole that isn’t too obvious (photos!), grungy underwear – things that can’t be donated — and we discard them as we go, freeing up luggage space for something we’d like to bring home.

  • Reply Stephanie May 25, 2016 at 5:03 am

    I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s worst over packer – I panic so much about being without something that I probably don’t even touch two-thirds of the clothes I pack! This post was really eye-opening for me, and next time I go away on holiday I’m going to attempt to limit myself to a much smaller bag.

    Steph – http://www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

  • Reply brandy May 25, 2016 at 10:07 am

    this was very helpful! we are traveling to China this summer and needed the encouragement to keep it light.

  • Reply Sally May 25, 2016 at 10:46 am

    I’m 100% on board with those first sentences. 🙂

  • Reply Alexis May 25, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I am a freak and actually draw out my outfits so I can visualize what to pack and how I can mix/match items.
    These are great tips, and I do love the Tom Bihn bags!

  • Reply Hannah May 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    I’ll be in Paris June 17 – hoping you’ll post a bit about what you did and and advice on fun meanderings away from the hordes!

  • Reply Megan May 28, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I too like to ‘throw caution to the wind’ and pack extra light. Although we went away last weekend for a few days and my little one threw up on me twice only a few hours into our journey – and me with only one pair of jeans! Luckily I had a dress packed as well.. Those jeans got washed in the sink and dried in the sun and worn two more days before seeing the washing machine once we were home.
    I think I will always bring two pairs of jeans/shorts from now on!

  • Reply litterless May 31, 2016 at 11:13 am

    This is helpful! Headed to Ireland next week and going to try out your two shoes rule. Okay, well, three.

  • Reply Rebecca May 31, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I am wondering about the Supergas. I have narrow feet. I would guess you do as well? The Zappos reviews say the shoes run wide. Would you agree? Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 31, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Mine are really kind of middling. Definitely don’t feel like they run wide!

  • Reply Jen July 5, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Hi Erin,

    I’m curious as to why you decided on the Tom Bihn bags as opposed to the Patagonia. Those are the top contenders in my search for a bag. Would love to know your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

      We ended up going with the Tom Bihn because they had a few fewer bells and whistles (pockets!) which actually made them feel a little more versatile. They’re also really comfortable to wear and I liked the size options. It was honestly a toss-up. I don’t think you’d be disappointed in either choice!

      • Reply Jen July 5, 2016 at 11:22 am

        I see. Thank you for your response.

  • Reply Mary August 10, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Love your blog and your book Erin! Suggestion on makeup, both compact and organically wonderful! Changed my skin and makeup habits for the better…RMS Beauty.

  • Reply Angela January 11, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    After reading this post, I spent another few months doing all the research on my own, and settled on the same bag, the Aeronaut 30. I even drove to Seattle to check out the factory and pick it up! It’s been perfect for everything from a weekend at the coast to a 3 week trip through Argentina. I’ve used it as my one “personal item” when flying Spirit/Frontier Airlines on a week-long trip. The right travel bag really makes all the difference. Thanks for the great recommendation!

  • Reply Heidi March 23, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Thank you for all these recommendations! I’m in the midst of planning a trip and have been doing lots of research on carry-on size luggage, but I think your review of the Aeronaut line may have just sealed the deal. Do you have any recommendations for secondary bag(s) to be used while at your destination? I’m trying to find a lightweight bag that can accommodate (and protect) a DSLR and carry a few daily essentials.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 23, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Don’t really have a specific lightweight favorite, but I do love my Ona camera insert for protecting my DSLR!

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