What’s in Your Suitcase?


Don’t succumb to the temptation to take shoes to match every outfit!

How to Pack Light
A week or so before departure, lay your clothing choices out on the bed. Do you see a rainbow of colors, a flower garden of hues, all the shades of a sunset? Enough clothes of a month of changes? Then you’re overdoing it.

Here’s a valuable lesson I’ve learned after years of not having the right stuff: if you choose well, you can wear the exact same clothes for most of the year in most places. Going to a cold climate? Add a warm jacket, wooly socks and scarf. Hot? Lighter weight everything, fewer long-sleeved tops and more short sleeved and/or tanks plus capris. The trick is layering, color coordinating and rolling.

The fact that I can pack three weeks of clothing, toiletries, a journal and a book in one carry-on suitcase plus a backpack is my personal badge of honor. I LOVE the independence of being able to transport everything myself and the security I get from knowing exactly where my belongings are at all times. And my husband is happy I can handle my own luggage when we’ve we boarded trains in Europe, wheeled along cobblestone streets in Florence or climbed long flights of stairs in ancient Monterosso.

Almost everything is wrinkle-resistant or wrinkle-free, so avoid taking clothing that needs to be ironed. Who needs to travel with the chores you normally do at home? Plus, many inns and hotels overseas don’t supply irons and ironing boards.

I’ve experimented with stacking and rolling clothes, and rolling definitely saves space. If clothes wrinkle, steam them in the bathroom during your shower. Stuff your shoes all the way to the toes with socks and underwear. Most rolling suitcases have little valleys inside because of the frame – use that half-inch deep space and pack in and around it. Snake your scarf or belt along the inside walls of your suitcase (better yet, wear them on the flight). Put heavy things along the side adjacent to the bag’s hinges. Fill spaces between clothes with tightly rolled pajamas.

Toiletries, meds and first aid supplies are covered in other blog posts. Here are some tips from my good-for-three-weeks wardrobe:

I wear this on the airplane:
Jeans (because they take up a lot of room in the suitcase)
Long sleeved top layered over a tank top
Jacket (depending on expected weather)
Necklace, earrings, watch (nothing valuable)

In the suitcase:
2 pair of neutral colored, casual slacks (active wear pants from REI, Title 9, etc are great)
3 long sleeved knit tops, colors interchange with pants
2 tank tops (wear solo or layer under other tops)
1 short sleeved plain knit shirt (also goes with the bottoms)
1 synthetic-blend lightweight jacket (matches everything)
1 pair walkabout shoes
1 pair flats
1 pair flip flops
2 lightweight scarves (these can keep your warm and change your look)
1 pair pjs
2 bras
3 – 4 pair panties
3 pair regular or no-show socks (depends on your shoes)
1 pair black yoga pants (not too snug and voila, they even look dressy)
1 necklace (costume jewelry of no sentimental value)
2 pair of earrings (ditto)
1 hairdryer (with adaptors if needed)

Sweden in the winter? The tops are warmer and low-heeled boots instead of walking shoes, a warmer scarf and thicker socks, gloves and a pair of tights.

Maui, anytime? Modify with fewer long sleeved tops, more short sleeved or tank tops, a couple pair of shorts or capris and one pair of long pants, a bathing suit and cover-up. The lightweight jacket comes, too, because airplanes are notoriously chilly and I just might go to the top of Haleakala.

With obvious modifications, these lists will work for the guys, too. They are at a slight disadvantage because their clothes are usually bulkier and bigger than ours, but the same basic rules apply.

Shopping for Travel
A lot of my travel clothes are athletic wear because they mix and match so well, are quick-dry and can layer like crazy. Title 9, AthletaREI, and Fableta carry day-to-day wear as well as gym clothes. More great finds (including quick-dry underwear) and travel supplies at: Magellan’s, The Territory AheadEx Officio. For classic clothes that travel well, Land’s EndSoft Surroundings and J. Jill have great options.