Last Updated on January 2, 2021 by Paroma
I am no jet-setter like George Clooney in Up in the Air, but these 13 years of living abroad have seen their fair share of traveling. Be it for business or for pleasure, a quick day trip or for a good two-three weeks, I have done it all. And, amidst all of these different kinds of traveling, I daresay, have become a bit of a pro when it comes to prepping for a travel. So here is a gist of some travel wisdom thrown your way, and hopefully these will help irrespective of where you are packing your bags for.
PACKING TIP #1 TRAVEL LIGHT
Really, this should be your only mantra! Repeat three times after me, and loudly please “ TRAVEL LIGHT IS TRAVEL RIGHT!” Seems pretty simple but trust people to do the exact opposite, bah humbug! Ladies, I hear ya! you want to look your best in every frame of your vacation photos, but honestly you don’t have to sacrifice style in any way if you don’t stuff your bag to the T with tons of clothes!
In other words, pack smart, not too much, starting off with essential travel items every traveler must have! You can totally read this guide on best packing cubes to buy to maximize luggage space. Remember that travel can be agonizing if it is full of you or worse, someone else lugging your heavy bag around, so be mindful of this when you are packing.
Pack as much as you can carry and I cannot stress enough on this, but pack wisely, pack light! Keep in mind that traveling abroad means often ending up buying souvenirs or gifts or other beautiful things that will need some luggage space! So not every square inch of that bag of yours needs to be filled with clothes.
Keep enough room for potential future purchases so that you don’t have to shell out an arm and a leg, not to mention baggage fee, for an extra bag to fit all of your haul in while returning. So again, pack light, pack right!
A 1-2 week vacation should ideally be covered with a nice, expandable carry-on, a big tote and a small purse. The tote can double up as your camera or travel drone bag or if you are one of those geeks who loves to travel with a proper camera equipment/backpack (read all about how to choose the best travel backpack here and the best backpacks for Europe here), then a carry-on+camera bag+tote will work too.
You can always check the cabin luggage (since rules say that you can only carry two items on board with you. Throw in your purse in your roomy tote and retrieve it later in the flight (ah me so smart!) and you are all set!
For trips longer than 2 weeks, a bigger piece of luggage is perhaps OK, but honestly try to trim the fat as much as possible and stick to the mantra of cabin baggage size luggage + two extra pieces (bags/totes/backpacks/small roller bag/what have you). Remember, your closet might be miles of walk in retail space filled with millions of wonders, but that does not have to be transported with you.
With a few simple tricks you can look amazing and you don’t have to give those biceps a work out on the mean cobbled streets of Florence and thus mar your vacation! The Longchamp brand of totes are excellent and sturdy and hold up pretty well no matter how badly abused for work or play, and are a total workhorse. They come in different sizes and colors, so yay to that!
I own one in black, but the shoulder straps are disappointingly leather. Angela and Roi and Matt and Nat offer excellent cruelty free options for totes (I have been eyeing them for some time) and are definitely worth checking out. I use a standard Tamrac camera bag which is good enough for my Canon DSLR, and two lenses (50 mm and 24-70/18-135 mm). Anything more gear heavy and you will need a backpack.
PACKING TIP #2 MIX AND MATCH
If you are a fashionista, you have a major love affair with your clothes. I get it sista! But honestly you don’t need to be a proverbial clothes horse to make your memories dazzling! Its all about dressing smartly and wisely, so here is what you should do for packing: a) include some neutrals (chambray shirts, layering pieces like light tees, camel-colored or navy pants etc) since they can be mixed and matched with different tops and bottoms, and can be added or subtracted pretty easily depending on how hot or cold it gets.
Crazy prints are a big no-no since they require very specific coordinated outfits, but one or two fun prints are OK as long as you carry some solid colors to complement them. For example, I carried a funky printed skirt that I loved to bits for my Spain/Portugal trip but I made sure to carry neutrals colored blouses (grey linen top and tee, universal white crisp shirt that is a must pack and goes with everything) and pants (navy and camel) to mix and match with my flaming orange skirt and another crazy flower print tee.
Look up the color wheel and carry clothes of complementary colors/ opposite colors (whatever rocks your color boat) to enhance mix and matching (major brain power at work) Dresses-specially the light and airy ones (I packed several of them and they occupied hardly any space), with some ingenuity, can double up as skirts or tops depending on how you style them and can add to the mix and match arsenal (see an awesome video here for ideas).
Carry dresses that can be rolled into your luggage, and that won’t wrinkle easily. Sometimes it a good idea to carry some fun pieces with polka dots or blouses with bow-ties to add some pizzaz to the same ol’ same ol’ outfit. Remember warmer weather-time to show off those sexy calves in dresses and shorts, some layering pieces, light sweaters and a trouser or too for colder nights, a light jacket, slip on shoes or sandals and you are set.
Colder to very cold weather-stay at home (seriously why shiver off somewhere else) or cool off your heels with warm clothing-heavier sweaters, scarves, gloves, warm cap/hat, ear warmers and of course a sturdy, warm jacket/coat with winter boots or shoes. Also, clothing depends on destination-beach vs urban vs hill-station vacations are different destinations with different weather stories. That will dictate whether or not you need a swimsuit or a floppy hat or sunscreen or hiking shoes or what not. Use your brain!
PACKING TIP #3 DRESS FOR THE WEATHER
Seriously, do some homework and check the weather of your destination a few days in advance to put some thought in your packing. if you are not too sure, then follow the golden rule of dressing in layers and do the packing accordingly. Pack a few light sweaters (cotton/linen) which can easily serve cooler weather and can come off during the day or a light jacket.
For winter travels, packing in layers helps too with a healthy mix of light and heavy sweaters, scarf, gloves, hat. Always have your heaviest piece on while traveling and you will be all set! I wore this heavy-duty faux leather jacket from BlankNYC which served me well in the cooler, rainy weather of Lisbon and one navy cardigan (Ann Taylor) to layer, plus a comfy scarf (another good idea to carry for extra warmth).
I always read up diligently on the weather and that came in handy when I packed for New Orleans in February. The yellow snood and my trusted BlankNYC jacket and another light sweater (when layered formed a deadly combo to beat the cold) were very handy when the mercury dropped considerably. Or for that matter, my Ann taylor cropped trench coat that helped weather the colder climate of Helsinki.
The rule of layering helped me tremendously when we travelled to the pacific northwest (Seattle and Vancouver) in summer since both cities have cooler weather even in May and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. So dresses and shorts for warmer days and light jacket, layering full sleeved chambray shirt, joggers for comfort and light sweaters for cooler weather (came in handy at Whistler) were my attire.
PACKING TIP #4 ACCESSORIZE
Jewelry such as statement necklaces, drop earrings, sleek belts, and a hat instantly helps to glam up your look and makes less seem like more. Proper accessorizing can be an art if you are so inclined but even if you just want to have fun with your clothes, they can be your life saviors.
Best of all, the jewelry can packed up in a nice pouch that can double up as a clutch and your scarves and belts can be stuffed in your hat to keep its shape and to get some extra space. Hats are life saviors since they also protect you from the sun (even more for a beach) and from bad hair days. Remember, when in need get a hat indeed! I get mine from Goorin Brothers (SF based bombastic brand) or Banana Republic or borrow the better half’s stuff (I have a big head) Anthropologie and Ann Taylor have always been my go to places for statement necklaces (I am an absolute sucker for them), but you can buy them at any budget and from any clothes retail store which carries jewelry.
I used a linen pouch from Loft.com to secure my jewelry in, but you can organize better and buy jewelry organizer pouches to better compartmentalize your bling. If you are even more adventurous, get a cute bow-tie or fray those pair of designer jeans to breathe new life into your old clothes!
PACKING TIP #5 FOOTWEAR
This tip is super important because soles full of blisters can instantly spell doom for your vacation. This is especially true for Europe where the impossibly beautiful cities are full of even more impossible torturous cobbled streets and require a lot of walking around. By the way, I have you covered for Europe with just this right post on walking shoes for Europe or this post on best shoes for stylish travel.
Wear slip ons for easy take off at security, but carry one, or sometimes even an extra pair of super comfy, sturdy, a million times broken in (no experimenting with new shoes like an idiot) shoes because feet need to feel sweet and hold up throughout the trip. Sneakers, worn with élan, by European women with every conceivable attire, are possibly the best option if you are packing to visit that continent.
But flats, with ample cushioning, are a good bet too. Heels are a strict no-no, but if you are attending a fancy event, the pack a pair of kitten heels or wedges that might get some more use in some legs of the travel. Since I have flat feet, I wore slip ons (from Naturalizer, cause they come with in-built cushioning) but was wise enough to carry an extra pair of shoes (from Sketchers) that really held up during the trip all across Spain and Portugal and were my go-to-pair.
Foot petals (Naturalizer sells them too) are good things to carry in your purse, should your soles need a dash of comfort and are easy to insert on your shoe sole. They are pretty sturdy since they have an adhesive back and can be purchased from your local pharmacy (Walgreens) or from Amazon.
Shoes are best packed in shower caps or thin plastic bags or if in their own cases which can form the base of the bag with clothes packed on top. For business travel, slip-ons for travel and a pair of professional shoes (tie-ups or mid sized heels) in the luggage works fine. Shoe color is super important, so nudes or light browns or fawn colors are safe bets since they go with almost any outfit.
PACKING TIP #6 DRESS FOR COMFORT
When on a vacation in a foreign land, you will more often than not find yourself reaching for comfortable pieces, pieces that make you feel relaxed and confident. So if you are not comfortable wearing anything wacky at home, rest assured you won’t do so in a faraway place. So keep this simple mantra in mind when stashing your clothes. keep it simple, keep it comfortable.
Carry pieces that you feel good wearing and some really comfortable in-between clothes if you are traveling between cities. I got me a pair of joggers from Target which really helped during our bus rides between cities. Also, remember to pack in a comfy pair of night clothes, cause heaven knows you will need them for a relaxed night of sleep after a day full of swashbuckling adventure!
PACKING TIP #7 OPTIMIZE SPACE
Contrary to belief, rolling up your clothes for packing in your bag will create more space than lying them flat. Packing all your underwear in one opaque bag and carrying an extra clothes bag to stash away the dirty ones is a smart thing to do. Keep a small first aid kit (basic stuff like analgesic, paracetamol, bandaid, cream etc) handy in your tote cause you never know what might get your goat or forehead or stomach (I had a super tough time finding a bottle of tylenol at the Copenhagen airport and finally found one so horribly expensive that my headache vanished in a jiffy!).
Carry all your liquids and gels in a clear baggie so as to avoid airport security hassles. Have your laptop in a separate laptop bag and always carry that in your large, roomy tote so as not to be a pain in the neck of fellow passengers while struggling to get it out of your bigger carry on luggage. Jewelry can go in pouches, socks and belts can be rolled and filled in nooks and corners, scarfs can be stashed in hats (or perhaps even wear them to the airport).
Throw in a small shoulder bag in your carry on luggage or tote bag if you don’t want to be seen with a huge-ass bag slung on your shoulders everywhere. My trusted bags from Angela and Roi or Urban outfitters usually do the trick, again choose a neutral packing accessory to go with your outfits, nothing too blingy or garish to blind the living daylight out of mortals nearby. Packing an umbrella if the weather says it will rain is wise cause when it rains it pours and finding an umbrella in an unknown place ain’t easy, like many other things.
More packing guides and resources
If you want some awesome packing tips for what to pack to a beach or how to pack for your summer vacation, here is an ultimate packing list for the beach and ultimate summer vacation packing list! Traveling with kids? Then check out this fab review of different kids’ carry-on luggage comparisons or this Disney checklist for your next trip to Disneyland or this ultimate list of best dry bags to keep your precious electronics safe!
For those of you into photography, check out some of these amazing light travel gear for improving your blog photography. Finally if you are into some arduous hiking to remote destinations, here is a handy guide on what to pack for Havasu Falls, Arizona, that should give you a good idea for what you need to bring along for long distance hikes. If you are a backpack traveler, here is another excellent guide on the best lightweight sleeping bags for backpacking to take the weight off your shoulders!
This saga of common-sense mixed with some experience comes to an end here. Let me know if you have more tips to share or even better, your goof ups and lessons learnt on trips be it vacation or business related. Remember to have fun, create beautiful memories and stay safe! Pack wisely, pack light and as travel right!
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