There’s no better time to reflect on my packing than when I’m on the plane home and have a fresh experience with my travel wardrobe. I spent two weeks of my “adult spring break” in Zurich and Milan with a carry on. I love carry on travel for the ease of maneuvering my way through airports, train stations, subway steps, buses and on crowded, uneven streets. A small bag, packed with some carefully chosen items makes me feel smart and powerful.
Here are the notes I wrote on my 10-hour flight from Heathrow to Houston, followed by another flight to Tropica.
- With each trip I decide on a “uniform” for myself in a certain color family. This is a defined way for me to feel chic and good about myself without thinking about it every morning in the hotel. Everything I reach for goes with everything else thanks to Eileen Fisher. Sometimes the uniform is Japanese looking and oversize. Another time it’s more tailored. Sometimes I want to go casual, and others more formal. You can read about this in an earlier post, What I packed for two weeks.
- I realized I love living out of a suitcase. I love having only a few pieces to mix and match. I put on a skirt or slacks, and no matter what I have, everything goes with it. This makes me think I should downscale my wardrobe entirely and live like this at home. I think I look far better when I travel, than when I dress at home. Hmm…
- Leave room for surprise(s). In your mind and, in your suitcase. Even with a small carry on, I pack it on the empty side. You don’t have to cover every scenario. You can always buy what you need.
- Buying clothes abroad is one of the best discovery/people adventures. Mind you, I’m not one of these travelers who wants to “shop!” or spend time in stores. I’m in a stage of life where I don’t want things, I don’t want souvenirs and I don’t buy gifts for people whilst abroad. Besides, I have no room in my suitcase. But in Milan, after hours of wandering the streets, museums, cafes, taking two city tours….I was burned out on tourism. Whilst strolling around Brera, I discovered an interesting boutique, decided to enter and have a look around. I chatted with the manager and ended up trying on clothes for a good two hours, during which time she had the cafe next door send a waiter with a tray of espresso and water. I learned about her interesting life, Milan life, restaurant and tourism tips and bought a lovely Italian knit jacket in the process.
- I must remember to bring one slouchy, off day outfit. I didn’t and regret it. I’m thinking of my cool Nike leggings and a versatile organic cotton tunic which also works as a good piece for my wardrobe. I never like to add in an extra piece, but after days of (looking good whilst) touring, comes the day or evening when I need to crash with a book and room service.
- I used a long cardigan as a bathrobe over my flannel sleep pants. Looked amazingly cool. I like to look good at all moments!
- Two pairs of shoes max. One to wear, one to pack. One great jogging shoe — I thank the fashion industry for making jogging shoes look so great with streetwear. And a pair of black, super comfortable walking shoes that can go through a day and to the opera at night. Mephisto is the brand for me. Sidney is my latest. It looks like a cool downtown shoe, but is as comfortable as joggers.
- If you plan to buy a pair of shoes on the trip…and I always manage to find something wonderful don’t you? then only pack one pair. Or…bring a favorite pair of shoes on its final journey, that you will wear and discard, to make room for the new pair.
- Speaking of which…I took two favorite pieces of clothing on their last gasp knowing that I would discard them as I bought something new on the way. In carry-on packing every inch and ounce counts.
- Never pack formal clothes. For all occasions (save a royal wedding) black silk slacks with an impeccable cut (these take no room and weigh nothing), a black cashmere sweater, and a killer shawl — my Hermes cashmere shawl is this piece– will make me feel perfect. If it turns out that I do need something seriously formal, guess what? Buy it!
- Speaking of my Hermes shawl. Amortized over the ten years I’ve owned it, it has brought the most return on investment of any item of clothing I own. It wins most worn and most wow. It’s what I call a “definitive” piece. I wear it on planes to keep me warm. I wore it in the hospital to jazz up my hospital gown and lift my spirits. I wore it to La Scala Opera. It never fails.
- Don’t take a bulky sweater. For cold city travel (not skiing or hiking, etc.) bring a variety of thin merino wool or smart wool pieces to layer. On this trip I had a charcoal merino long tank, a delicate black merino cardigan, and a heavier charcoal long cardigan. I layered up, was never cold, nor bulky, and I could strip down as needed.
- Maximum for a two week trip: Three bottoms, which can be two pants and one skirt, or three pants. And I almost don’t wear the third item.
- Blue jeans. Sigh. I stopped traveling with jeans…and now I think I’ll start again. I like the idea of jeans for the hi-low look. The right jeans can be dressed up beautifully. And that’s the challenge: finding the right jeans. To that end, next time I’m in the U.S. I will dedicate a day to trying on jeans. Everything from inexpensive Gap jeans, to $400 designer jeans. I need to see what’s what. If I try on an expensive pair of jeans that looks amazing, I will analyze the cut and see if I can find it from another, less expensive brand.
- There is always one thing I didn’t wear once during the trip, or wore only a few times. Analyze this on the plane home, and why it didn’t work. Was it too hot for the item? Or too cold? It didn’t mix well enough? I took three scarves to accessorize my outfits because that’s a great way to change things up. Turned out, I wore the same scarf the entire trip. Scarves don’t take up space, but still. And yet, if I hadn’t taken three scarves, I would have regretted having the same one all the time. Can’t win.
Every time I take a trip, I fine tune my packing wardrobe. I’m pretty good by now, but I still make mistakes. Do you have any travel packing tips you can share with us? Favorite items you always travel with? An item you would never travel without? We’re all ears.