How to pack for a trip

Now that the pandemic is endemic, restrictions are being lifted, and we can take travel once again, it seems like we are all THIRSTY for a vacation. Anecdotally speaking, the airports were packed when I flew last week, and based on an elementary understanding of supply and demand, ticket prices are definitely reflecting that. (I'm not going to tell you what I spent on my flight to NYC, but on a normal day, it would have bought me a flight to Paris.) Having not done much air travel in the last few years, I'm a little rusty, but so far I've found it's just like riding a bike—muscle memory kicks in right away. And of all the aspects of traveling, I think I'm a particularly good packer; this may be a surprise, but I actually tend to pack light. Over the years, I've perfected my formula, and since so many of you have asked me about it over the years, here's how I pack for a trip. 

Step 1: figure out your color scheme

I almost never overpack, because I stick to a simple formula: I pack mostly neutral clothing with one accent color. As you can see here, I went with black, white, and pink. This is important, because it gives you flexibility—in theory, you should be able to mix and match nearly everything you bring so that you can make different outfits. It's good to have options, especially if the weather is unpredictable, or if you're just not feeling a certain look. In general, I go with lighter, brighter colors in warmer weather, and darker colors for fall and winter, but you do you. 

Step 2: plan what to bring

In terms of how many pieces to bring, that depends on what kind of vacation you're taking and what you'll be doing. For a beachy trip, I'd plan to wear swimsuits and coverups during the day, then pack one sundress per night, plus several mix-and-match tops and bottoms for any daytime outings. For a city trip such as this one, I planned for one outfit per day, with about three extra tops. Note: shoes take up a lot of room in your suitcase, so my general rule of thumb is two pairs in a carry-on and 3–4 pairs in a checked bag (plus you get to wear your comfiest pair on the plane). Don't forget socks, underwear (I always bring 2–3 extra pairs), bras (max two), and pajamas. 

Step 3: use the packing cubes and pouches to pack

Several years ago, I was introduced to Flight 001's Spacepak system, and it has completely revolutionized the way I pack. Using packing cubes saves space, keeps you organized, and protects your stuff from spills, sand, dirt, etc. It also makes repacking your suitcase at the end of the trip go much faster. Here's what I recommend:

At least one packing cube. Flight 001 has sadly gone out of business, but you can find a ton of similar products out there, even on Amazon. I am particularly a fan of Flight 001's because they have a clean and a dirty side; the closest I can find is this two-sided Eagle Creek cube

Hanging toiletry bag. Again, mine is from Flight 001 and it fits a mind-blowing amount of stuff. This Gonex bag is a close approximation, and I highly recommend one with mesh pockets instead of clear plastic, because if you've ever had a bottle of Skin So Soft spill in your toiletry bag, you'll appreciate being able to throw it in the washing machine. 

Shoe bags. My suitcase came with them, but if yours didn't, I recommend this set. I like the single-pair bags because you'll need to tuck your shoes in wherever you can, and the bigger ones that hold multiple pairs of shoes take up too much space. Again, bags are key for shoes because they keep the rest of your things clean. 

Zip pouches. You can invest in a set of these...or you can reuse a bunch of old makeup bags. (If you're like me, you likely have at least 10 of these lying around your home.) I use them for lingerie, charging cables, travel hair tools, vitamins, jewelry, or anything else that's bound to get mixed up or lost if it's floating around. Again, these help you stay super organized and make repacking a breeze. 

Step 4: put everything in your suitcase

This is the fun part! Just kidding. Well, maybe it's fun if you're checking a bag and have a ton of space; or if you manage to fit everything in your carry-on and want to congratulate yourself for being so crafty. Either way, I usually put the packing cube in the deeper part of the suitcase then wedge in my shoes and pouches around it. Toiletry bag and the rest of your pouches go on the more shallow side. It's like a game of Tetris fitting everything inside—particularly if you're just taking a carry-on—but it's a good mental (and physical) exercise! 

This is everything inside my full-size suitcase

This is everything inside my carry-on 

Step 5: don't forget your airplane outfit and carry-on

If you're having trouble fitting stuff in your suitcase, good news: you can always pack it in your carry-on bag. (Note: if you're only bringing a carry-on, that means inside your personal item.)  Just try not to overload your carry-on bag, because you have to schlepp through the entire airport with it, and some airlines get very persnickety about size. In terms of what to wear on the plane, I wrote a whole post about it, but the TL:DR version is a blazer, long-sleeve tee, stretchy jeans, and sneakers. Another pro tip: if you have super-bulky items that take up too much room in your suitcase, like a winter coat or knee-high boots, you can also wear those on the plane. Remember, airlines can make you check a bag, but they can't make you strip ;) 


ALLIE NYC said...

Oh this was so helpful. It is surprising how overwhelming this can be. And then add Fashion Week into the mix and it is even more challenging. Last time I traveled to Paris in 2019 I met an influencer who went to 24 cities, and had 54 outfits and get this ONE suitcase! That is epic. I am going back to Paris for the first time since 2019 this fall. I can't wait!

Allie of

Mica said...

I'm impressed you have packing down to such an art! I always overpack, even though I really try not to!

Hope your week is off to a good start :)

Away From The Blue

Nancy 's Fashion Style said...

Oh I am so bad at packing. Bacause it depends so much on my mood what I wear. So packing ahead is hell for me!

Lovely said...

The packing cubes are a lifesaver. Yours looks cute.

Laura B said...

That clean and dirty side of those packing cubes is brilliant! I might need to see if I can find a similar product! These are wonderful tips! Thanks for sharing!

Gail Is This Mutton? said...

Very timely as we are soon off for our first holiday abroad since 2019. I like the tip about neutrals with a bright. Unfortunately I have a tendency to take the kitchen sink and it's not helped by having a huge suitcase (and extra baggage allowance!). But I do want to travel a bit lighter because I have to carry that case up numerous flights of stairs! Thanks for linking.