Packing a bag for a trip somewhere is a job I absolutely adore but I know many people for whom it is a chore they would much rather avoid. How to stay elegant but on the right side of the excess baggage limit is always a tricky one. As with most things, a little advance preparation will pay dividends.
Advance preparation (a day ahead or early as you like)
Start with research and a plan. How many days and what activities will be on the agenda? Check the weather forecast and it is also worth checking out style blog sites in that location for inspiration.
Make a list by category: daywear; evening wear; sports gear; underwear; accessories; essentials (chargers, wash kit, passport etc). Separate things that need to go in handluggage or accessible places (e.g. passport). I find it best to keep the list on my phone as I’ll keep coming back to it to change my mind periodically.
At the point of packing
When you ready to fill the case, go to your wardrobe and extract everything you think you might need and lay it out, organising it into potential outfit combinations. Look for the most versatile items, weed out those that don’t work so well and substitute them if necessary.
Re-assess the amount you have compared to length of trip – how many repeat wears could each item sustain? Again, discard those that deliver least value on this front unless they have a clear function – e.g. knowing you need a formal evening dress for a specific occasion.
When you are reasonably clear on what you will take, then turn to the underwear. Ensure that you take any specific items that your outfits will require (e.g. strapless bras, flesh-coloured items, slips, trainer socks).
Finally consider your accessories. How many pairs of shoes do you need? Take the minimum necessary to reduce weight and bulk in the bag. Do you need more than one handbag? Pairs of sunglasses? Large cotton scarves are great versatile items – they can protect skin from the sun, work as a turban or sarong poolside, add warmth on cooler days or evenings, even run through the belt loops of your trousers as a sash. Take one or two in colours to complement your other chosen items.
Hats can be tricky. I usually take two on a summer holiday: a panama that I wear en route each way and a large-brimmed sunhat that folds flat in my case. Some smaller hats can pack inside a suitcase, if carefully cushioned and stuffed with underwear but if you are travelling with couture millinery or other special-occasion head gear, do consider carrying it as hand luggage in a proper hatbox. If you have spent a lot of money on your hat you really don’t want to risk crushing it in a suitcase.
Filling the bag
Place the heaviest items in first – shoes, jeans, etc and fill space between them with crushable items (underwear, sports gear). If you are carrying delicate items like hats consider how and where it is best to position them. Then lay out your remaining items flat, one on top of another. If you want to be really professional add a layer of tissue paper between each one. If there is anything really precious or anything that might pull other fabrics (beads, sequins etc) then place these items inside dry cleaner’s bags for protection. Next you want to get the pile into the right shape to fit your bag. If it’s a large suitcase, they might go in flat or with some gentle folding or rolling at the edges. If you are using a hold-all, then roll the whole thing into a sausage shape around a central item that is crushable (a bag of underwear, swimsuits, socks, sports gear etc). Keep the roll as loose as possible consistent with fitting into the bag.
Pack separately the items you’ll need en route. As well as the obvious things (tickets, passport, money etc) consider useful items such as sunglasses, tissues, reading matter, pen and paper, painkillers, scarf, umbrella etc.
Finally a word about jewellery. Jewellery is an enormously useful accessory when travelling. It is small (well tasteful, anyway), light and highly versatile. Decide what you need as you are choosing your outfits and decide how you will use jewellery to switch them between formal and informal modes. Always protect your jewellery by placing each item in its own wrapping. If it doesn’t have its own drawstring bag, a handkerchief will do just as well. Then pack it in a jewellery roll or travel box. Always carry jewellery in hand luggage – even if it isn’t worth a fortune, it usually carries sentimental value that can be far greater.
When it comes to traveling, make sure your clothes are travel and airport-friendly. This means comfortable, slip-on shoes that are not too tight (feet swell in an aircraft); avoid metal belt-buckles if possible; dress in layers for comfort as temperatures rise and fall en route; add a scarf – always useful for warmth or sun protection; wear a jacket with large pockets so that you can stow passport and tickets easily and remove the whole thing to go through security. In my view, you can’t really go wrong in a pair of smart jeans, a light jersey like a mariniere, cotton scarf, loafers and a blazer, peacoat or other military-style jacket. Once you’ve topped that off with some chic hand luggage and sunglasses you are good to go – anywhere.