Monday, August 31, 2009

Packing How-to's: Clothing

I began my packing how-to's series by talking about some strategies for packing toiletries and beauty products, followed by a post covering the products, containers, and bag I use when I travel. Today I'm continuing my packing series with a discussion on strategies for packing clothing, shoes, and accessories. For this post I've included some more of my favorite photos from past trips, and in the next installment I'll show you the clothes I'm bringing with me to Argentina and the bags I'm carrying everything in. All the photos are clickable, and the key to the locations is at the bottom of the post.

I'll be honest; packing clothing for a trip is still a challenge for me, even with as much traveling as I've done, so I'm not going to sit here and tell you there's a simple formula to follow. Particularly if you're going somewhere you've never been before, it's always going to be tough to figure out precisely what weather to pack for and what level of dressiness you'll need to achieve. But there are a few guidelines that I follow when selecting a travel wardrobe, and I'll share those with you today. Of course, much of this is based upon my own personal travel style, so take it with a grain of salt; you may have very different priorities when you travel.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I always try to travel with carry-on luggage only. I do this for several reasons: it saves time when I reach my destination; I know my bag won't get lost, misplaced, or roughed up by the baggage handlers; and most importantly, I know the luggage will be easier to manage if I'm not planning on staying in one place for the entire trip. Tipping a 50-pound bag onto the conveyor belt at the airport is perfectly doable, but what about hefting it into the tiny overhead bins on a train once you get there? If there's one sure way to stand out as the obnoxious, completely clueless American stereotype, surely traveling with huge amounts of luggage anywhere outside the US has got to be it. It's also a great way to become a target for pickpockets, because frankly, you look like an amateur.

Here are the things I tell myself as I'm preparing my travel wardrobe:

You don't need to pass yourself off as a local. I detest people who claim that they're not tourists, but 'travelers.' To me they just sound like snobs. If you're filled with wide-eyed wonder at the amazing beauty and fascinating culture that you've gone to all that trouble to visit, then guess what? You're a tourist. If you're not filled with wide-eyed wonder, then why on earth did you bother? Keep your jaded ass at home and leave the traveling for the enthusiasts. It's okay to be an unabashed tourist; rather than cramming your bag full of fancy accoutrements to try to emulate the elegant locals, take along a limited wardrobe that's comfortable, practical, and that represents your personal style. You can still look stylish, but understand that part of traveling light is living without a lot of the embellishments you have at your disposal at home.

Remember that you will shop. I'd much rather pack light and shop heavy, so I always make sure to leave plenty of space in my luggage for the purchases I'll accumulate along the way. I also assume that the clothing I buy for myself will get worn on the trip, and I pack fewer clothes based on that assumption.

There's no need to scale up your travel wardrobe for longer trips. I pack about a week's worth of clothing whether I'm traveling for a week, 2 weeks, or a month. ONE week's worth, no more. Exactly what I take will vary with the length of the trip, but not how much. For instance, for longer trips I will pack more of the super-lightweight layering pieces that can easily be washed in the sink, and avoid items that require any sort of special cleaning. For shorter trips, I assume that I won't wear each individual piece enough to bother with cleaning it as long as I wear a layer underneath. Of course, whether or not smoking is allowed indoors weighs heavily into this decision; I avoid anything that can't easily be washed if I'm going to smell like smoke after every dinner or evening out.

Mix it up with accessories. Small, lightweight accessories are a great way to mix up a very limited wardrobe and make different outfits out of the same basic pieces. I always make sure to bring at least a couple of scarves, a hat or two, a few pieces of jewlery, and at least one belt. Items like these are compact and don't add a lot of bulk or weight to your luggage.

Look for items that serve multiple purposes. Any guesses as to which jacket I'm bringing with me to Argentina? That's right, the one I can make from my 5-in-one flight suit. The whole piece is coming with me, so it's an entire outfit by itself, or a jacket, or a vest. The most valuable travel pieces will always be the ones that can double as something else. Also in my suitcase for this trip are a few short dresses that can be worn as tunics over either jeans or a skirt.

Plan around the shoes. I'm on my feet a LOT when I travel, day after day. Thus the shoes I take with me must not only be comfortable for walking all day, they must be comfortable for walking all day for several days straight. Depending on where I'm going, they might also need to accommodate cobblestones or unpaved surfaces. They need to look good with skirts and pants. As you might imagine, very few pairs of shoes meet all these requirements, therefore when I'm packing for travel I always start with the shoes first and build the rest of the wardrobe around those. I limit myself to 2 pairs of shoes (unless the third is flip-flops for the beach or pool), since they tend to take up the most space, so I really make sure that those 2 pairs will go with everything.

In the final installment of this series, I'll show you what I've packed for my upcoming trip, as well as the luggage I keep it in. I'll also share some tips for making efficient use of space in your luggage.

1. Library at Strahov Monestary, Prague, Czech Republic
2. Painted skulls at the Beinhaus, Hallstatt, Austria
3. The beach at Tulum, Mexico
4. Near Kronborg Castle, Helsingør, Denmark
5. Flaming shots of Black Balsam, Riga, Latvia
6. Kärnan tower at Helsingborg, Sweden
7. View of Mt. Vesuvius, Sorrento, Italy


WendyB said...

Sigh. I thought I was doing really well packing for my last trip but I overpacked once again. I think I have learned some lessons for the next time.

The Small Fabric Of My Life said...

I have just got back from two weeks in Barcelona. I packed very light (for me) and wore everything apart from a pair of white capri trousers.
I did hand wash a lot of my clothes after each wear which made it all go a lot further.

Anonymous said...

I just love your take on travel snobbery. SO true: Why even go if you're going to spend all that energy trying to blend in? ENJOY!

Lorena said...

These were great tips, thank you for sharing !
Specially.. pack light-shop heavy ! yay!

Erin S. Carter, RD, CLT, LD said...

This series could not come at a better time, I leave for my first trip to Europe on the 18th and have been worrying over the packing ordeal. Thank you for taking the time to share your tips and strategies with the world!

s.i. michaels said...

I always try to have only a carry-on--a backpack if I'm going somewhere I can't be sure the streets will be paved. Everything you said about the reason to pack light is so completely true--and I'm so on board with being able to shop when I get there and not bringing *more* bags home!

Alison said...

Great advice! I'm hanging on your every word. I don't travel much by plane and always pack way too much. I'm hoping to go to NYC in Feb or March and am going to bookmark all the packing advice I can find. I'd love to travel with just a carry-on.

Eyeliah said...

Great post! There were a couple thing I was thinking I could 'add' but then you covered those too, lol. I have so far only get away a week or less at a time :-( (not including trips before I was an adult). I would love to try a weeks worth of clothes on a months journey...

Emily Kennedy said...

Super GREAT post. I am a big carry-on only advocate. Especially for women, because I argue that too much luggage makes you a target. The question then is always: what are the uber functional pieces that go inside the carry-on? Thanks for putting your ideas out there.

Ali said...

I have to say, and I am not a frequent commenter, that this is one of the best travel packing tips compilations I have read. In several regards.
First, for women who do not only pack blouses and trousers a la eagle creek or travel smith packing tutorials
Second, for people who are not interested in basing colours around black grey and brown
and Finally, in bits and pieces of your other tips - basing clothing around shoes, how to pack, packing toiletries (that piece was excellent). I have traveled exstensively around thw rold and am a firm advocate of traveling with carry on, and looking great the whole time. I also have a weird fetish for reading about and watching travel blogs and videos and packing tutorials. You have done a wonderful job, and I've recommendedyou to several of my friends, also for your fashion tips. Your style is unique and not for everyone, but I think the logic behind your outfit assembly is EXCELLENT and a great way to teach a newbie about fashion, and give an 'oldie' a few new tricks as well. Keep up the wonderful work.