Every week I get emails from readers asking the same questions; how do you pack when you travel? And while the destinations may vary, the principles of successful holiday packing do not. What I’m going to share with you is the thought process behind the how and why of my packing system. It won’t be an expensive list of things to buy and how to create a carefree Riviera look. But it is a plan that you can apply yourself; whatever your style and wherever your destination.
1. How much space do I need?
Even before I begin to think about what might be needed to wear, I firstly start to build a picture in my mind of just how much luggage I’ll need. Here’s what you need to think about-
What is the airline’s luggage weight limit?
Will I have to carry these bags alone and how many changes of transport will I have to do that for?
Will the luggage be so big and heavy that I’ll need work boots just to drag it around? (Oh so very un-glam)
How much shopping will I be doing? At which destinations and what size of items do I intend to bring back?
Are there different luggage weight allowances on internal domestic flights in the areas I’m visiting?
You may be able to tell from this list that these are tips I’ve learnt over time, sometimes the hard way. And one other hard and fast rule I’ve learnt to apply is this; never bring large carry on. Not only are you not guaranteed a space for this, but it leaves you no wiggle room for that magic luggage expansion that happens on the very last day of your trip.
Keep hand luggage to a minimum both for your own comfort and speed of boarding flights. Generally my hand luggage consists of those things that are irreplaceable like my vintage hats and jewellery; even then I keep it small so I don’t have to carry too much around airports.
Now that you have a mental picture of the size of luggage you need to bring, you can start thinking about the weather, activities and events you’ll be enjoying at your destination. Here is my secret trick to planning the perfect outfits…. I simply imagine the hollywood film version of myself on holidays. What does movie me wear for dinner on the beach, or when dancing a tango, or simply lazing in the shade with a book? Sure, it’s a romanticised version, but it is a great launch pad for ideas.
2. Write it down
For each possible activity I write down a generic description of what I need to wear. Swimming? Bathers and something to wear over them. Shopping on a hot day? Long cool dresses and good walking shoes. Once you have this little list down you can start thinking of which items fit the bill.
3. Pick a pallette
Choosing a basic wardrobe colour palette for your trip is the key to making a few pieces go a very long way. It also saves you from needing to pack a large selection of bulky matching shoes. On my last trip I picked a base palette of red, white and blue, allowing myself a bit of green in there too as an accent colour. Here is the overview of my outfits for a two week trip-
This is what my bed looked like as I packed for my two weeks away. I haven’t pictured accessories, underwear or toiletries here so this isn’t the sum total of my suitcase content. But aside from those other small items, this is it. Keep in mind that I was away for two weeks; one at a beach and the other a lively city. I needed to dress for heat, humidity, walking, lazing, shopping, dinners, conferences and meetings.
In the interest of illustration and helping you piece all this together, I’m going to break it down.
Firstly; scarves, pashminas and sweaters.
You’ll notice that the colours I’ve selected all work within my defined palette for the trip. I had two pashminas, two little cropped sweaters and one long polka dotted scarf. These will be your best friends on a summer holiday. When you are in and out of air conditioning, dining as the evening cools, or simply looking to cover bare skin for modesty; these all do the trick.
The secret is to find pieces that are made in good quality yarns and with a very fine weave. That way they roll up to nothing and you can always carry one in your handbag. The ones I packed are made of angora, cashmere and silk. Breathable, natural and investments that will last you ages if you take care of them.
Let’s break down the rest of the key pieces…
Far left from top down
Zebra print sheer beach cover up – can be worn over swimwear or over singlet tops. Just belt for shape and add some great jewellery.
Black lightweight cotton skirt – made of cotton voile this works for beach wear, dinner wear and day wear. Separates are your friends.
Bikini - I will only wear this at the pool. Not to the shops, not to dinner, and certainly not to play table tennis in as I saw some girls doing.
Leopard print dress – Again a light weight cotton dress with a shirred waist line, primarily worn poolside. On it’s own it is a bit basic (even in spite of the print), but with a black cinch belt, great shoes and a chunky bangle it becomes far more chic daywear. I wouldn’t wear this one to a more formal evening out as the cotton is too light weight to be fancy enough for my taste.
Center from top down.
Stripped peasant style top – again light weight cotton, but super fitted with a side zip. Cute with long or shorts skirts, heels or flats.
Red faux silk dress – cool, comfortable and will take you from the shops to a night out at dinner. Just change up the height of your heels, add a little cropped cardigan and a flower in your hair.
Gingham halter neck dress – Day or night, gingham works, It doesn’t translate to more formal settings, but a beachside dinner, or wine and tapas at a local cafe; gingham and halters come together to make you feel all Roman Holiday.
Red winged bust top – One of my best friends. Because it is so structured with boning, shirring and a convertible and removable halter strap; these babies will take you anywhere. With a cropped sweater , to make the best feature of your waist line, these can become chic little tops for cocktails when paired with an ankle length skirt.
1940’s reproduction 2 piece swim suit - yes, for swimming; but the top piece can also work as as singlet top for cute casual day wear. To make it look less like swimwear, I like to pin a large fabric flower onto one of the should straps at the neckline.
Far right, from the top down.
Large brimmed red hat (out of shot) – for sun protection, drama and mystery. See also hangover cures.
Navy and White ankle length jersey skirt - bloody brilliant! Whether in stripes or a solid colour, a long jersey skirt will take you easily from a comfortable plane ride to a swanky dinner. It can be worn with almost any style of top (steering away from the cut off versions to avoid any muffin incidents), and looks equally as great with flats as it does with heels.
Blue cotton voile 1950’s reproduction day dress – This one will do secret rendezvous, lunch dates, and with a few rhinestones for good measure; even a formal evening dinner.
Blue winged bust top – read the description of the red winged bust top so I don’t keep gushing about these.
Hawaiian print dress – Happy hour anywhere!
Khaki culottes - They are the skirt that isn’t a skirt, the solution to more active pursuits that can’t be handled in a skirt, and far cooler and more forgiving than jeans. The French know their stuff.
4. How to Accessorize
Picking a small but cohesive selection of accessories is key to getting several different looks from each of your outfits. These make the difference of day to night, formal to casual and are also the way you introduce your own personalised flair to each outfit. Here’s what I took to change up my outfits.
Belts – Simple, inexpensive elastic cinch belts in black, red and blue
Jewellery – For day time I chose chunky beads and a scrimshaw bangle in red or white. For evening I picked clear diamontes. A small necklace, super sparkly earrings and a pair of dress clips that you can wear on tops, shoes, bags or even in your hair.
Flowers – Both fabric corsages and faux flower pieces. Each one has both a crocodile clip and a brooch clip on the back; that way they can be pinned on hair, bags, shirt, hats, used to keep scarves together.. you name it! A selection of four key colours and you’re good to go.
Shoes – two pairs of wedge heels, one black ballet flats and one pair of flip flops for the pool. That was it! Not having any short skirts in my capsule wardrobe meant that flats and wedges would work for any occasion. I stuck with red, black and one bright floral pair for a bit of fun.
All in all, there really isn’t all that much here; but each piece (minus the bikini) must do at least three different outfit combinations, otherwise it just doesn’t make the cut.
5. The Finishing Touches
Just as they do every day at home, the finishing touches to your holiday outfit are what take your look from clueless tourist to chic international traveller. And what are they? Your hair and makeup. Being well groomed at all times on your holidays not only makes you feel better but it will save you money too. Hear me out on this one…
When you find yourself in a new city or even at a fancy resort, you are constantly bombarded with images of good looking people, just as you are at home. It may be the pictures of the gorgeous lady getting a massage at the spa, or it may be the urban dwellers you’re bumping shoulders with over a sale rack. Nothing will make you reach for your wallet on holidays faster than when you feel inadequate. Yes, it happens to everyone no matter how much above it we’d like to think we are.
When you’ve given your outfits careful consideration as to when and where you’ll be wearing them, you need to pay equal attention to your hair and makeup. Learn some quick and easy styles that don’t take an hour with the straightener each morning. If you’re going somewhere humid and your hair hates you, be prepared. Pack a small bottle of macadamia oil for emergency smoothing and plan some sleek styles that avoid the issue altogether.
Makeup needs to be simple, straightforward and climate friendly; but even when at the beach I don’t leave my red lipstick at home. I just pick the right formulas. Heavily tinted lip stains, mineral makeup that doesn’t melt and waterproof everything else. ( Come to think of it I really need to write a whole post on ‘beach face’).
In short, consider the whole package. Does it live up to that ‘movie’ version of the holiday in your head, and will that woman wear what you’ve chosen for her? Is it too much hard work or do you need to simplify?
Once you’ve got the basic strategy down, you can mould it until it is the perfect fit for you. It works for summer or winter, the simple holidays or the fancy. I’ve written a hell of a lot here, and as I’ve deconstructed what comes naturally to me, I realise that it isn’t about the little details of what I took, but why I packed each piece. And I’m hoping you can see the big picture emerge from all of this.
Of course, this may leave you with even more questions and you’re always welcome to ask away in the comments section. But for now, go forth and know you can really relax when you get to your destination; packing ninja that you are!