"I just can't even right now! I have no idea - I think I have no underwear, 10 pairs of socks, 1 pair of jeans, 15 tops and a shoe. What am I doing?!!!"...
I've had a countless number of these phone calls with girlfriends, hopelessly trying to do the packing they've inevitably procrastinated until late the night before a flight. Of course, I try to offer as much as help as possible in the middle of a chaotic situation - "Send me pictures...Where will you be going?...How's the weather there?" - but when someone's just blanked on their closet inventory and has curled into the fetal position sobbing on her suitcase, I might as well be speaking Klingon. Sure enough, a couple of days into said packer-disaster's trip I get a text: "7 days to go, already ran out of clothes."
You may not be the most travel savvy person, but the reality is that packing can actually be quick and stress-free with just a little organization. Here's how to keep you from having a pre-travel breakdown, and stocked with enough selfie-worhty looks to last your entire trip:
Packing best practices
Let's be real - unless you're on a strictly business trip, it's impossible (or should be) to fit everything you need for more than 2 days into a carry-on. Instead of going through the stress of trying to shove everything into less than 2 cubic feet and lugging 40 lbs. to the gate, I suck it up and opt to pay the fee for checked luggage. But for longer trips, if you have a good bag you shouldn't need to check more than 1 suitcase (especially when you consider you could be paying upwards of $50 per bag, per flight).
Here's what you'll need to pack like a savvy traveler:
- 1 large suitcase
- 1 carry-on suitcase (preferably rollaway)
- 1 laptop case/folio
- Lots and lots of these things:
A habit I picked up from my mother, these zippered plastic bags will keep cloths neatly folded and organized, prevent pulling/tearing of fabric, and protect again spills.
1) it's all in the bag
Picking a bag that's lightweight is one of the most important factors; with airline weight limits as low as 35 lbs. per bag, you don't want your suitcase taking you out of the game before you even start.
I've been using a huge Roxy rolling duffel with hard bottom I bought on a whim 10 years ago. I've literally traveled halfway around the world with the thing (on more than one occasion) and it's still in good shape. The flat bottom half is perfect for clothes, while the soft duffel top lets me fit shoes and other irregularly-shaped items. Plus its blue hibiscus print totally stands out among a sea of rectangular black rollaways at the baggage claim. Not to mention I can leave it half empty when I'm traveling lighter and cinch it so all much stuff stays in place.
2) Back to Basics
Depending on the reason for your trip (business, travel, a special occasion) just pick out the pieces you know you'll need for sure. Doing a presentation? Grab the suit. Sightseeing? Jeans, leggings, tops. Beach? Bathing suits and coverups. BUT don't just randomly pick pieces - you should pull one full outfit for each day of travel. DON'T worry about packing yet, just start laying things out.
3) Dressing Up
Now, think about any extra plans you have on the agenda. Dinner? Dancing? A show? Even if you're not sure, pack to be prepared. Same as before, pull out one entire outfit for each "event". Try on anything that you haven't worn in a while to be sure it fits the way you remember it.
4) The Essentials
This part's easy - underwear, socks, workout gear.
Now that you have everything laid out, just take it all in for a minute. Look at how everything works together. Are there some pieces that could be interchangeable between different looks? Let's say you have a top and a skirt that you packed as separate outfits, but worn together could replace a dress or another outfit - go ahead and put the other one back in the closet. A piece that you really don't see yourself using? Back in the closet. Could you grab a jacket to wear over a couple of looks that would replace the pullovers you packed? Grab the jacket, say "bye" to the pullovers.
6) One for the Road
By now, you should have decided which clothes you are/aren't taking. Now, from the pieces you've laid out to take, create an outfit to wear on the road. If you're short on space/weight, try to take out larger/heavier pieces to wear on the road (like jeans, a jacket, etc.).
Now that you can clearly see which outfits you're taking, start accessorizing. Again, stick to items that can work with multiple outfits. You may love how that green satchel looks with your blue blazer, but if you can't wear it with anything else it's better left at home. Can't live without those chunky leather ankle-boots? Best to wear them on the road and throw the space-saving princess flats in the bag.
I always try to bring at least one small bag/wristlet for evenings or lighter carrying, and my largest bag I'll use on the road.
8) The Extras
Makeup - now you know what you're bringing so no need to pack every shade of eyeshadow and lipstick you own; a neutral eyeshadow palette will have you covered + 1/2 other shades of those special looks. Nix the blowdryer as most hotel have them available. Grab your toiletries and tech.
9) Get Packing!
At this point you should have laid out everything you're taking on your trip. Remember those zippered pouches from before? Go ahead and pack your clothes into them. Organize your clothes into each pouch by category (underwear, workwear, eveningwear, etc.).
- Pack the clothes into your suitcase first,
- If you must take more than a few toiletries, pour them into smaller travel-safe containers,
- Pack your toiletries, makeup, and accessories into the empty spaces between the clothes first, until full,
- Save heavier items like handbags and shoes for last - you have your carry-on for anything that doesn't fit in the suitcase,
- Pack any valuable items like jewelry in your carry-on,
- Put any makeup you'll want to touch up on the road into your carry-on,
- Pack all your tech equipment (laptop, tablet, chargers, cables) into your laptop bag,
- Opt for a carry-on with a zippered front pocket - you can slip your laptop bag in there so you won't have to carry it on your shoulder through the airport, but can easily remove it while going through security checkpoints/on the plane,
- Toss anything fragile (camera) and that you want easily accessible on the plane (book) in your handbag.
...and that's it! Packing can be overwhelming, but if you try just a few times to get organized this way it can be a breeze.