Those who know me well are fully aware (and have often suggested) that I could fill a book with hilarious-in-hindsight travel mishaps and anecdotes of incidents that have occurred over the years as I’ve been en route to exploring new pastures. Quite honestly, I used to be a truly terrible packer, having an indecisive trait when it comes to clothes choices (I prefer to dress according to my mood that day, which becomes a problem when having to perform a sartorial forecast) and therefore overloading my suitcase and packing impractically.
Image: 123RF / Oleg Dudko
One particularly memorable incident involved a kind and bewildered Eurostar security officer desperately trying to fix the zip of my suitcase (which had burst open on the conveyer belt going through security checks) so that I would make my train back to London on time. The poor guy, who was definitely a gym buff, was breaking a sweat in his attempt to help me! The struggle was real. Safe to say, that was a turning point for me and I realised I needed to completely rethink my packing strategy. So here it is, the guide on how to pack light and smart from someone who learnt the hard way…
Tip #1: Remember the ‘why’
If you want to save on budget airlines (which only allow a carry-on case as part of your airfare) packing smart is essential. You have to keep in mind that you’re packing ensembles rather than individual items so that you don’t arrive at your destination (whether for business or pleasure) without enough outfits which work together, or pieces that are totally inappropriate for the climate. If you’re travelling for work, create outfits as if you’re going about your normal work week and limit casual or off-day outfits unless you know you’ll have plenty of time to explore the city. There’s no point bringing your Converse and professional camera if you’re only going to be seeing the four walls of the meeting room and your hotel, as sad as it may be!
Tip #2: ALWAYS check the weather
It may seem obvious, but always check the weather forecast before you travel, knowing the general climate isn’t enough in countries with seasonal weather. For example, if you’re heading to London in autumn, there can still be hot, sunny days, as well as downpours and freezing cold ones. It will set you up to be prepared. Leave the shearling sheepskin behind and pack a light trench and a few pairs of opaque tights. Tights are a perfect space saving item, as they work well under skirts, shorts and dresses to keep you warm, but can easily be left off if it’s too hot.
Tip #3: Keep in mind cultural expectations
Always do a little recon work on your destination before you go, there’s nothing worse than arriving to discover your shorts and vest top are going to make you stand out like a sore thumb amongst more conservatively dressed folks. A pashmina or blanket scarf is always a must for me when travelling, it will serve you well to keep warm, cover up when necessary and double up as a blanket or pillow when you’re in transit. If you’re going to be visiting a lot of religious buildings, it will also be handy to carry this around with you to ensure you’re always allowed to enter, you don’t want to be missing out on those wonderful architectural phenomenons!
Tip #4: Identify your basics
You need to identify your basic travel ‘capsule wardrobe’ according to your style and destination. My go-tos, no matter the weather or destination, will always be a black vest, plain t-shirt, treggings (replace with jeans if you’re a jeans kind of girl), a tailored shirt, tailored shorts in a versatile colour or print and a dress or playsuit that makes me feel good in the evening. Once you have these basics sorted, you can then add in a few pieces of colour, jackets and a light coat dependent on climate as well as swimsuits and other extras.
Tip #5: Take shoe inventory
We’re all guilty of it, shoes are a pretty fabulous part of every woman’s wardrobe, and it’s oh so tempting to want to bring all three pairs of your favourite heels in case you want to wear them out for dinner one night, but in reality, footwear is the area which needs to be edited most closely! Shoes can be heavy and take up a lot of space, so I suggest taking at least two pairs out from the amount you’ve already gathered to bring with you. The must-haves include: a pair of boots (those with a slight heel are great for adding height but still being able to walk comfortably in), sneakers that can go the distance and a pair of classy heels. A good pair of sandals is optional dependant on destination, but flip flops are always a good bet, even if they’re just used to walk around the hotel bathroom in.
Tip #6: Pick a colour
Deciding on a colour palette will halve your packing woes instantly: khaki and burnt orange, navy and white? Whatever your go-to colours are when dressing (even if it’s purely monochrome) decide on a few and mix in key pieces to the basics you’ve already rolled up in your case.
Tip #7 Get ready to flat-lay it
Flat-laying your outfits out on your bed into an Instagram-worthy edit is well worth the time spent (and may also be pretty fun) to ensure your final choices work together. You can then pick some choice accessories, like a statement necklace and a cross-body bag that will go with everything and leave you hands-free when exploring, that will work with everything. It’s great to see the outfits you envisioned coming together to gauge how it will look in real life too.
Tip #8: Pick your handbag wisely
The handbag you’ll be toting around everyday on your trip should be the one you take on the plane with you. If it’s a business trip, bring your office bag so you can carry your laptop and any documents inside easily. If you want to bring a beach bag or canvas tote, roll it up inside to save space. If you’re planning on heading out in the evenings, ensure you choose a gorgeous clutch and pack your jewellery or any precious things in it to keep with you in your bigger handbag.
The golden rule: Roll, roll and roll again. I never really heeded the rolling over folding advice for packing before a friend helped me when moving apartments one day and I realised just how much space it saves! It also means your clothes will be a lot less creased when you land.
Now go forth and pack! If you land and are stranded without an iron, see our guide on how to get rid of wrinkles in your clothes without one here.