Week of requests: packing light

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A reader named Mimi was interested in my thoughts on this topic, and writes: “The only time I’ve traveled without checking luggage was an overnight trip 25 years ago. I’ll be in Scotland and Dublin for 2+ weeks in late September and am determined to pack less than I ever have.” You can do this, Mimi: I once traveled to Central America for two weeks with just a carry-on (I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m still unreasonably proud of it). This might be a bit tougher for you because I was traveling to a hot climate, and packed only lightweight clothes, and the weather where you’re headed will be a bit cooler. Still, I think it’s achievable. For starters, pick a very tight color palette: for this exercise, I’ve stuck to grey, black, and white. Second, accept that you will be wearing the same items a LOT (which really isn’t so tough given that at least in my experience, I tend to wear the same thing over and over when I’m traveling anyway). Third, wear your bulkiest items on the plane. I might choose a hoodie like this one for the flight.

Or I might go for this gorgeous chunky sweater.

I’d pair either of the above with a pair of jeans; I like these Levi’s because the wash is good and the price is right.

My second pair of pants (I’d only bring the two) would be something simple and black, and I like these because they have a comfortable fit and pull on. These trousers from Everlane are good too, and much cheaper.

I rarely travel without bringing along a long-sleeved black and white striped tee, and it is inevitably the piece I get the most wear out of.

I like silk shirts like this one because they’re eminently layer-able and pack down to nothing. If you get hung up on wrinkles, bring along an eensy travel steamer. This one is amazingly effective for its size.

I might also bring along a polo shirt; this one is pricey for what it is (but so cute!) so here’s a (somewhat) cheaper alternative fromLacoste.

I’d also toss a cashmere V-neck into the suitcase; the silk shirt and striped tee will layer nicely under it.

This down jacket from Uniqlo was designed to work as an inner or outer layer, and also packs down to nothing.

I have written multiple times about my absolute reliance on Chan Luu Scarves for travel: they’re warm enough to keep you cozy, but really lightweight, and this charcoal grey is quite appealing.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, I’d consider a pair of classic Blundstone boots, which I’d wear on the plane. They’re super-comfortable, and very well-priced.

And I’d pack a pair of Seavees slip-on sneakers, because they’re nice and compact. They don’t provide the best support if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, so I might invest in a pair of insoles.

Finally, I’d consider getting myself a set of packing cubes, because they really do help you cram more into your suitcase. I think these are pretty excellent, but here’s something less expensive.

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31 Thoughts on Week of requests: packing light
    Beana
    6 Sep 2018
    3:46pm

    I did both a 3.5 week and 2.5 week spring central Europe trip and 10 day Mexico trip with carry on. My comments here are based on my Europe trips.

    I did laundry with my travel partner every 4-6 days.

    I use dry bags instead of packing cubes for two reasons:

    1. They are waterproof
    2. They compress so excess air is removed (when travelling light, volume is a concern).

    I would pack an extra pair of shoes, in case a pair gets wet.

    I buy non carry on friendly toiletries (sunscreen, laundry detergent etc) at my destination.

    I brought a small purse (holds passport, small wallet, mini tablet), foldable backpack (eagle creek and herschel make them), and foldable reusable bags (loqi brand) in addition to my carry on backpack (osprey fairpoint 40; women’s has a 38 litre capacity).

    Clothes: socks and undies for seven days, t shirts for five days; two pairs of jeans; one sweatshirt; rain coat/shell; one long sleeved t shirt; pyjamas (tshirt/shorts style); three bras; two pairs of sneakers; two washable ball caps; one pair lounge pants.

    Other stuff: quick dry towel and wash cloth; 10 litre collapsible bucket (for hand laundry), portable speaker; camping plate and cutlery (hotel room picnics); plug adapters (most electronics don’t need voltage converters and hotels sometimes have USB ports)

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      c.w.
      6 Sep 2018
      4:29pm

      Beana, I am so impressed. You have the packing thing DOWN!

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    elaine Martin
    6 Sep 2018
    12:19pm

    I’m originally from Ireland, and was there just last week. It is unlikely to be very cold in late September, and will probably be humid, so layering is best. My Uniqlo puffy jacket was more than enough warmth, and too warm when hiking.
    I would pack a very light rain jacket instead of an umbrella; a jacket is better when it’s windy.
    It could actually be warm in late September as Indian summers are not unusual, so make one pair of pants light, and add leggings that you can wear on their own or under the pants if it is really cold.
    I stick to a limited color palette, but usually white, grey and blue.
    Finally – in Ireland – buy anything you missed in Penneys! I get all my underwear there, and always find some other bargains.

    Have fun!!

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      suz
      6 Sep 2018
      4:12pm

      I was just about to post that there were way too many heavy sweaters for ireland this time of year, and the raincoat , and also Pennys. Ha! Did actually wind up buying undies there last trip 🙂

      Rather than the thin down jacket, something like a slim northface rain resistant jacket would be good. Down will just soak up the damp/rain.

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        elaine martin
        7 Sep 2018
        11:48am

        We think alike! I bought my rain jacket in Penneys when I was there. I wore it over the down jacket when the rain was heavy, but that was rare. Usually it was just misty rain, so the (hooded) down jacket was enough. They have lovely down jackets in Penney’s also, now that I think of it 😉

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    Kirstjen
    6 Sep 2018
    2:15pm

    I have been able to pack for a month in HALF a carry-on & an average large handbag. Half of my carry-on is used to carry a CPAP, which can never be checked, and the other half carries my clothing. I depend on the toiletries in the hotel or AirBnb, and I usually make a stop at Sephora when I land, to get bath products & some sample size stuff.
    All the tech goes into my purse, along with meds, a journal & toiletries.
    I wear the bulkiest clothes I think I’ll need, and I wear mostly black or gray. The color usually comes from my accessories – a scarf generally. My souvenirs are nearly always some kind of fashion accessory. Anything huge that I buy gets shipped home. But packing light keeps me really choosy about souvenirs generally, which is a good thing.
    I make sure that EVERYTHING fits & is comfortable before it goes into the suitcase. There is NO room for stuff that isn’t perfect, but it’s doable & I don’t get too bored, especially if it’s a trip of 15 days or less.

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    AJ
    6 Sep 2018
    8:18pm

    I’ve ordered from Chan Luu a few times and have been disappointed each time. The photos of the scarves on their website do not show the colors accurately. What looked like a royal blue on the website showed up as a muddy purple in person. Their customer service department was apathetic at best. The scarves are loosely woven and very easily snag. After three tries, I realized other companies offered a better product and much better customer service.

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      Jennifer Zinn
      3 Oct 2018
      9:14pm

      A little bit more “fancy” (very small pompom/tassels along all edges), but I’m a big fan of the silk/cotton dupattas from Matta:
      https://mattany.com/products/dupatta-essenza?variant=12696284463198
      They’re pretty sturdy considering their delicacy. I hit the mother lode at their sample sale this summer and added three more to the three I’ve been wearing for the past few years. Their employees seem pretty decent, and I believe they offer a repair service if any of the tassels fall off your scarf.

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    Nancy
    7 Sep 2018
    2:14am

    I have tried 3 different packing cubes and Flight001 are the best-they have more structure than others. As others have said, you can separate your clothes as you see fit and you know where everything is. You can fold dirty clothes into one of the cube sections and it keeps everything flat. If I take care when folding, the cubes also minimise wrinkles. We often end up travelling in two climates (winter/tropical) so I have a cube for each. No, it’s not just carry on for me. Please do consider merino underwear. They are so good for your body, can last for more than one day, easy, and they wash up and dry surprisingly quickly. Ice Breaker is the brand I buy. Personally, I am so clumsy, I would never take a white sweater, it’s an accident waiting to happen. I find that a dark wash black jean can work for nicer places rather than the faded charcoal wash (I have both). Happy travels Mimi!

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    Maggie
    7 Sep 2018
    2:47am

    I highly recommend vacuum seal bags. I went to Europe for 16 days with one backpack, and you’d be amazed at how many clothes you can fit in them. We got ours on Amazon.

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    Nancy
    7 Sep 2018
    3:33am

    If you are in the market for cashmere made in Scotland, stop by Epitome in Edinburgh.

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      Mimi
      7 Sep 2018
      10:02am

      Thanks! Cashmere turtlenecks I bought in London 35 years ago are still pill-free and perfect. I would like to find an Irish fisherman style sweater in a stylish cut, preferably not cream or navy. Hoping hunting fir it will be fun.

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    Amanda
    9 Sep 2018
    10:20am

    This post is very helpful and super timely. I’m traveling to Milan for work in November and am going to spend the 10 subsequent days traveling around northern Italy. I would like to stick with just a carry-on but I doubt that will be enough room; I plan to do some hiking/running while sightseeing after. Between that and work clothes (and it being MILAN), I may need a bit more space. But the suggestions in this post have been super helpful. If anybody has a recommendation for a pair of cute rain boots (maybe heeled?), I’d love to hear it!

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    Betsy
    6 Sep 2018
    10:29am

    As a traveler who hates to check luggage, I would just add a black knit dress (non wrinkle), I have friends who swear by Tumi packing cubes.

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    Amy Coda
    6 Sep 2018
    10:31am

    This post is fabulous as well as the comments from others! I am a seasoned traveler previously for work and now for pleasure. I often employ the one color palette rule using navy rather than black. Print and plaid scarves as accessories break up the monotone and can change the entire look of an outfit.

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    elise
    6 Sep 2018
    10:32am

    I also did a 2 week trip with just a carry-on and am also quite proud of myself for accomplishing that! Esp since I’m known to carry an entire tote of beauty products! One thing that helped….knowing I could find inexpensive laundry service. Check to see if your hotel offers it or can arrange pick up & delivery for you – it made all the difference in being able to wear items multiple times. And a YES to Chan Lu – I’m a convert thanks to Kim and other readers 🙂

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    Mimi
    6 Sep 2018
    10:45am

    Thanks for the post, Kim, and all the other suggestions offered. To answer Sharon’s question about packing cubes, I have the Amazon set and I don’t know whether they make what you have more compact, but they greatly streamline packing and unpacking. If all my underwear is in one pouch and belts are in another I don’t have to take each item from the suitcase and put it in a drawer. Just unpack the pouch and my stuff is accessible and organized. I will be checking a bag, because… why not? I thought I was approaching sainthood for planning to take 3-4 pants, but you suggest only 2 pairs. I’ll rethink my number.

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      Jenny
      6 Sep 2018
      7:02pm

      I LOVE packing cubes, too! It’s really changed my level of organization! We love compass rose packing cubes, because they have some small amounts of mesh to make it super-easy to see what’s inside.
      https://www.amazon.com/s?k=compass+rose+compression+packing+cubes&crid=3O3ZB0DYFSDG&sprefix=compass+rose&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12

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    Viajera
    6 Sep 2018
    11:22am

    Did anyone else request full length pants – preferably mid-rise? Those Levis are cute, otherwise.

    Also those boots if not for the silver trim – why? Is that a Western thing? Maybe I just don’t understand them.

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      suz
      6 Sep 2018
      4:16pm

      I was thinking that this person will have cold/damp ankles, esp in ireland……I hate ankle jeans/cropped pants but that is the majority of stylish pants these days.

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    Eliza
    6 Sep 2018
    12:02pm

    Having just gotten back from Scotland – and having overpacked – I’d suggest adding a raincoat or water resistant windbreaker, a small umbrella, wool gloves, maybe a beanie, and at least one or two warm-ish tanks to layer on. It’s pretty chilly up there – same latitude as norway – so layer for warmth! I also wore my army green cargoes a lot, which I felt I could dress up a bit, and my white leather converse were great for looking nice but also staying dry. I wore zero short sleeve shirts btw!

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    Erika Gwilt
    6 Sep 2018
    7:49am

    I saw those Uniqlo jackets in a vending machine at the San Francisco airport last week! They were indeed squished into little tiny cubes! For my own packing light, I would add a few colorful scarves to liven up this palette. Great post! Erika

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    c.w.
    6 Sep 2018
    9:05am

    I agree with all you suggest! And what excellent choices even if you aren’t traveling (that sweater, oh my)! I might add two things…a waterproof jacket or outer shell or waterproof jacket with a zip out lining and I would include a silk long underwear top and bottom because you can sleep in them, you can wash them out in a hotel sink, they pack into nothing and there might be some days when you want the added warmth.

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    Anne
    6 Sep 2018
    9:37am

    Might I suggest that for wrinkles that a spray (or wipe) of water and an overnight hang will take care of most wrinkles without needing to have a steamer on hand. This has saved me on many a business trip where the (non major chain) hotel never delivered the promised iron to the room.

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    Eloise
    6 Sep 2018
    9:41am

    Thank you!! I know you’ve posted similar entries before but this time I’m paying attention since I just, just, just booked a flight to Madrid in late November. Not a huge fan of the City, but it’s been years and I’m meeting my niece who is spending a semester in a neighboring town. (Debating actually spending the time in Seville, but we’ll see – recommendations welcome!) May actually bite the bullet and finally get a Chan Luu scarf, too!

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    Sharon
    6 Sep 2018
    9:55am

    So inspirational!! I travel a lot for work (professional clothes needed) and often tag on a bit of a vacation after (different clothes). So a carry-on only might not work, but I would LOVE to pare down the haul. I have a question about packing cubes, for those of you who have used them: How do they help fit in more? Seems like the cube itself takes up space and then prevents scrunching things in close together. I’m intrigued…

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      Jenny
      6 Sep 2018
      7:35pm

      The cubes allow you to smash clothes together more tightly because you can compress stuff very tightly within. The outer material of the cubes are generally very thin and slippery so they don’t take up ANY space.

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      Viajera
      6 Sep 2018
      11:19am

      Ditto. I too wonder about the cube issue.

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        MaryAlice
        6 Sep 2018
        7:34pm

        Fair question, but they do not take up any extra space and they are life-changing as you will never again spend a single second trying to find your socks, undies, T-shirts, etc, because, instead of shifting around all over your suitcase, they will be neatly contained in their respective cube. I was able to spend 10 days in southeast Asia last summer with a carry-on and I truly believe it’s due to the cubes. When you’re on an overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang you don’t want to be fishing though a crammed-full duffle bag for your socks!

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          Candy
          6 Sep 2018
          11:40pm

          I also recommend watching a video on how to roll clothes to fit tightly in the cubes you buy. That made a big difference for me. And MaryAlice is right, everything is so organized and compact so you don’t need to hunt for stuff and you can keep dirty stuff separate from clean more easily.

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    Rysia
    6 Sep 2018
    9:57am

    Just a couple of extra suggestions, it rains a lot in these countries, so pack a sturdy but tiny collapsible umbrella. Also, maybe switch the color on a couple of the tops to relieve the monotony. I would add a red l/s tee shirt and maybe swap out the striped shirt for one in a beautiful periwinkle blue.

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Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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