Travel & Packing

How to Pack for a Trip

Things 2 Think About Before Packing

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweet reader!

The other day, a Facebook friend shared a meme picturing a frog “talking” about going on a trip and needing 4 outfits, and packing 37. The tagline was “That ought to be enough!” I find lots of women AND men pack that way, my husband included! I never understood why he found it necessary to take half his closet when we would pack for vacation, until I realized that he was packing the way he always did when deploying for 4 to 6 months. I would ask “Why are you taking that?” The answer was always “Because I might need it.” (He’s better now.)

The love of my life is married to a woman who headed home (to help my mom after my father’s unexpected death) for an undetermined period (6 weeks to 3 months) with her clothes and shoes in a large duffel bag, along with our three sons’ clothes and shoes. I was flying standby with three boys, a car seat and a booster. Clothes were an afterthought. Do you know how much food you have to pack for an international flight with three sons, ages 4 to 10? (Ordering pizza to be delivered to the airport really is a lifesaver.)

Even with so little in my bag, I have yet to feel I have under-packed. I would rather spend my travel time exploring, and indulging my curiosity, rather than standing in front of the closet (or drawers) wondering what to wear today. Although… Last summer, I did wish that I had not forgotten my white dress! Even so, what I had packed was enough, even without the dress. How do I pack lightly but still manage to have enough and feel put together?

Check the Weather

First order of business is to check the weather at your destination. This used to be a royal pain, but technology has sorted that. I would be surprised if you don’t have an app on your phone that can do this for you in 30 seconds or less! If you are unused to the kind of weather you will experience, knowing that snow, icy rain, desert heat or rain forest style humidity are expected not only helps you pack the right gear, it helps you prepare mentally, too. I think about the difference in weather between my starting point and destination, as well, when choosing my travel outfit. On one of our trips to Arizona, it was freezing at home when we left, and in the upper 80’s upon arrival. I wore my boots, and layers, and tucked my sandals into the outside pocket of my suitcase. Get off plane. Remove outer layers. Change shoes. Move ahead smartly.


I check my calendar and/or guide book to see what kind of activities we are planning. The suitcase for a long weekend in New York City will be different from the one packed for a camping trip in the mountains. Will we be museum hounds, or hikers? I always plan something to wear to church, and that does double duty if we splash out on a nice dinner. For this, I usually pack a dress, or at least a dressy blouse to go with trousers or a skirt. Are we staying with family, or in an apartment? If so, I pack three to four days of clothes (or so) and do laundry while there. In big cities laundry is generally easy to find. If you don’t want to pay the (often blackmail worthy) prices for laundry at your hotel, you can swish out your undies in the sink, and air your shirts and trousers for another wearing. When our family spent 10 hot and sticky days in Rome, we dropped our dirty clothes at a laundry near the convent where we were staying. Bless the owner who returned our clothes fresh and clean at the end of the day… With the hundred-aught Euros my husband had left in his pocket to pay for our lodging, neatly pressed and sealed in an envelope!


Our activities determine not only our clothing choices, but more importantly our shoes! These need to be the most comfortable and versatile possible. Unless we are planning on PT, I do not pack running shoes, but I will bring hikers or tennies if the activities will be very sporty and  casual. I normally pack a pair of oxfords, or very comfortable ballet style flats for days walking and sightseeing. The ballet flats can double as slippers in the room. If the weather is cold and I want boots, I make sure to wear them on our travel days to minimize the weight I have to carry in my bag.

Travel Clothes

I never used to travel in jeans. With the advent of Spandex in almost every pair of jeans, I may wear jeans for a trip, but prefer to pair them with a blazer to keep my look polished. Travel blogs will tell you this is a good way to get an upgrade if there is a seating issue. That blessing has yet to happen, but I do think it has helped  when there have been flight cancellations and reschedules. It certainly helped me feel more adult and in control as I stood there with everyone else juggling logistics!  I do not understand flying in pajamas. There are plenty of other ways to dress comfortably, and not be dressed for bed. I dress in layers because I tend to the chilly side, and airports, planes, and other forms of transport are notoriously unpredictable in regards to temperatures. A tank at the bottom (one that can be worn on it’s own, not an underwear cami) topped with a tee, maybe a button front shirt or a cardigan, whatever jacket is needed for the trip, and always, always, always a large scarf or shawl. The scarf can be a blanket, a pillow, bedhead concealer, eyeshade, sunshade, napping/nursing baby cover, footie blanket if I want to take off my shoes and still keep my toes toasty, and so much more. It’s easy to tie onto a bag strap if the weather is too warm where I am at the moment.

The Rest

Once I have decided on shoes and the kind of travel clothes I want to wear, I choose a color palette for the trip. One neutral+ denim + one accent color is usually enough for a trip of up to two weeks. (If you don’t wear blue denim, than choose another neutral.) I always pack one more pair of underwear and one extra pair of socks than I have trip days, especially if the trip is adventure-y. For any trip up to about a week, I pack a second bottom (I am wearing one already), a dress, and three tops, which brings my total to five. The last piece depends on the destination climate. If cold, I’ll pack another topper, if warm, a second bottom. Everything will mix and match, and I can usually get at least 12 outfits out of my six. That should be enough variety for a week or two, and if we get stuck somewhere on the way home, I still have options. For a shorter trip I may only pack 4 or 5 pieces. Packing light also leaves me space in my suitcase to buy something special that might leap in my path. (Thanks to Janice Riggs at The Vivienne Files for her term “Six-Pack” for packing!)

I know people who plan an outfit for each day’s activities, and package them up in a Baggie, accessories and all. That works, if you have lots of space, and don’t mind the extra weight. I prefer the flexibility that keeping a tight palette gives me. Less stuff to carry = less stress.


Some travelers don’t “waste” precious luggage space on accessories, but I get more outfits out of less clothes by packing them. In the same space that a tee shirt takes up, I can pack two scarves, some jewelry, and a belt. Unless hiking through the forest is the entire itinerary, these additions give my clothes far more options and variety than the one extra tee would. (And are a great way to sneak in another accent color if you feel you must!)


Carry-on seems to be the only way to fly (unless you fly Southwest!), and I pack accordingly, even when we drive. (Caveat: All bets are off when we take our grandsons to the beach. That adventure more resembles Hannibal crossing the Alps, but without the elephants.) We have a small wheelie suitcase that does most plane trips, and for the car I usually pack my trusty LL Bean duffel. It has been trekking the world with me since somewhere around 1998, and is still going strong.  For the little things, en route I prefer a tote or backpack to haul my need-at-hand items, but at our destination, I usually want a cross body bag. My go-to travel purse is this one from Baggallini. I have it in grey. Since it matches my hair, it goes with everything! The last flight I took with my mother, sherpa-ing both our suitcases and totes, pretty muchly convinced me that it is time to find an adult (and less utilitarian looking) backpack for my under-seat bag. This one is in the running… Although the teal is REALLY tempting!

(Note: I have received no compensation from the companies whose items are linked above. I am sharing the information just because they have been my trusty travel companions for years now, and they deserve the love!)

PS: If they wanted to, I would not be opposed to trying out a new color!

So those are my packing basics! How about you? How do you prefer to travel? Light? Or with all the comforts of home? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

Stay stylish!


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