What to lug and what to pack

Champs Elysees couture

Champs Elysees couture

“Let the boat of your life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.” – Jerome K. Jerome Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!)

I honestly cannot say that I was born with an innate ability to pack light while not looking dowdy when I travel. I did, however, have the advantage of well-traveled parents – a mother who worked at the theater and often toured with the troupe, and a pilot father who bounced from one airport to the next for twenty years.

Having been able to travel fairly light and comfortably in Ukraine, where airplanes were multiple decades old, overhead bins had no covers, luggage service made US Airways look good and hotels didn’t always offer hot water – let alone toiletries – I was delighted to discover, how many things are offered here in the States that made traveling light even easier.


When getting ready for a trip, rather than considering how many bags it will take to accommodate everything you might possibly need, decide on the amount of luggage that is reasonable and stick to it, regardless of your method of transportation. My personal minimum is a 22″ spinner, a small backpack for hairbrush, journal, wallet, passport, water bottle and tickets, and a tiny evening bag packed into the spinner for going out while traveling. This should be adequate for an adult traveler without any serious health needs requiring special equipment. Obviously, if you are traveling with small children, an extra piece of luggage would have to come along.

While my luggage requirements are fairly minimalist, I do make a point to use nice-looking bags. This rule applies to my everyday bag options as well as to what gets to come with me on trips. Good luggage need not be ugly or expensive.

My favorite place for fun traveling options is eBags. Pay attention, gentlemen, because avoiding ugly luggage is just as prudent for you as it is for the ladies. Here is a place that offers interesting pieces for both genders. Give particular attention to spinners – rolling bags with four wheels making bag maneuvering a lot easier. 20″ and 22″ rollerbags abound, allowing you to bring all your luggage on board, as bags of this size are within the carry-on requirements.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention an adorable little under-seater from Travel Smith for the more casual travelers. You might not be able to get everything into it (although, trust me, it is bigger on the inside than it looks to be on the outside), but it would be a great option combined with a large-ish shoulder bag.

Once you have settled on a bag, consider how you are going to get your possessions from point A to point B in one piece and some sort of wearable condition. When it comes to aiding you in this complex task, there is no place better than Magellan’s and Travel Smith. In addition to providing incredible packing aids (like packing cubes and envelopes) they have some fantastic travel advice at their sites – very much worth perusing, no matter how long you have been trotting around the globe.

Both these sources also offer every imaginable adapter and battery-operated small travel appliance (curling iron, hair dryer, water boiler, radio, toothbrush, alarm clock, etc.), as well as non-liquid detergents and hand lotions.

“We must not think of things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without”. – Jerome K. Jerome Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!)


Plan your trip well. Yes, it is fun to be spontaneous and just go off in a random direction, but you must know at least what sort of trip you are getting ready to take. Where are you going? What is the weather going to be like? What sort of places are you planning to visit while there? Tossing in a bunch of jeans, t-shirts and a little black dress (or a jacket for gentlemen) is going to land you scrambling halfway through your trip with not enough clean clothes and nothing that dries fast enough to be ready overnight

Jeans are not only heavy, bulky and difficult to wash, but they are hot in the summer and not all that terribly warm in winter. Lighter pants travel better, are easier to wash and dry, hang up with fewer wrinkles and are easier to wear in the warmer weather on their own, and in the colder seasons – with silk longjohns (which also pack tiny and are very easy to wash and dry to be re-worn). The three clothing sources I would recommend for gentlemen are Magellan’s, Travel Smith and Men’s Wearhouse.

Magellan’s caters to more of a casual traveler – someone who does much walking, climbing, riding, and seeking out fascinating little hole-in-the wall eateries where all the locals go for the best fish soup or the stoutest beer in the region, but has no plans to attend concerts or four-diamond restaurants. Everything is well-made, practical and eminently wearable. Garment descriptions include not just your usual stuff like cut, size and color, but also the sweat-wicking properties of the fabric, the breathability and sun protection.

Travel Smith and Men’s Wearhouse lean more toward the business travelers, who need to look sharp for various meetings and conventions, as well as those who enjoy all things upscale. While Men’s Wearhouse has expanded the casual wear section (big kidos for that), sharp business and formal wear is where this seller really shines.

To compensate for the lack of a personal clothing assistant you would get at a Men’s Wearhouse store, the web designers included a fabulous Style Advice section on the web site, which I strongly advise perusing. Just a fantastic source for any guy – from the sartorially challenged to the style sophisticated.

Travel Smith bridges the gap between the laid-back Magellan’s and the uber-classy Men’s Wearhouse. While their offerings in the suit separates area won’t fly at a full-on black-tie affair, they will do in a pinch with the right shirt and tie for a nice dinner or a last-minute theater outing. The two huge things Travel Smith has going for itself are washable dress slacks and blazers (think of all the times you splattered something on your one and only business jacket during a dinner, just before you had to wear that jacket to a meeting the next day) and their fantastic outfit designers that combine the already-great garments in interesting and classy ways. I particularly love their use of textured-fabric blazers, which make these garments a lot more versatile than the flat-fabric ones.

What seals the deal with Travel Smith for me is their selection of travel shoes, which does include the rugged and waterproof footwear for the adventurous outdoor types, but also offers a classy loafer to go with a business suit, and a super-comfortable walking Huarache sandal that looks better and will keep your feet in a lot better shape than any sneaker ever could.

Clothing choices for the ladies are more varied and more consistent from seller to seller. All of my three travel wear favorites – Travel Smith, Coldwater Creek and Soft Surroundings – have tremendous selection in a wide range of sizes including tall, petite and plus; focus on all things light, packable, breathable, washable and wrinkle-resistant; and take the guesswork out of outfit building by offering beautiful combinations of their own.

I never understood why so many women get stuck wearing pants while they travel. There is absolutely no reason to spend a week or two in pants if you normally wear skirts and dresses. And if you don’t – well, travel is actually a great time to give skirts a try, because you are in a place where you don’t know anyone, so you’ll feel a lot less self-conscious about dragging your inner girl out of her closet. While I do pack pants on trips, they are not my primary garments, around which I plan my outfits. No – that honor belongs to at least one great skirt and at least one super-flexible dress. Not only do they have to be packable and wrinkle-resistant, the garments in question must be versatile and easily dressed up or down.

For instance, my long midnight-blue short-sleeve dress from Coldwater Creek looks great worn with flat knee-high boots, a belt and a jacket, but can be easily transformed into an evening option by replacing the boots with pumps and adding fishnets, a pretty wrap and glamorous jewelry (all of the above taking up a lot less room than an evening gown).

Similar principle applies to skirts – a skirt with a multi-color pattern can be worn with more different tops, and a longer skirt is easier to dress up with a pretty blouse and jewelry. Please, please, please do not shoehorn yourself into the perpetual white shirt/black skirt look – people at the restaurant will be asking you for a menu. Explore patterns and textures and see what you might stumble upon.

When setting out the garments for your trip, take a long hard look at each one and figure out, how many ways you can combine it with the others. If there is something that can only be worn one way, it is not worth taking. Assume the same attitude toward your shoes. Huarache sandals in the summer and boots in the winter are much more versatile (not to mention better-looking and foot-stink proof) than sneakers. Pumps are worth considering but make sure you pack a pair that goes with more than one outfit, if you are planning more than one upscale outing. When considering colors and textures, err toward brown instead of black, and toward texture instead of flat.

Consider building a travel wardrobe – a set of garments you can definitely incorporate into your everyday wardrobe, but that you know you can rely on and assemble quickly when you need to get on the road. All of the sites I mentioned above have fantastic Sale and Outlet sections – visit them and you are bound to snag some great deals.

Pesky details

Sometimes we get so busy figuring out what we are going to wear that we forget some obvious things. If you tend to get stressed, frustrated and forgetful, when getting ready for a trip, go to one of the travel wear sites (Travel Smith is particularly good at this) and borrow one of their packing lists (they actually have several depending on the location and nature of your trip). I assure you – these good people put down everything from your undies to your toothbrush, in addition to providing great advice to help you determine the number of garments to take with you.

Travel Smith, Magellan’s and Winter Silks all offer incredible underwear and PJ’s specifically designed to keep you clean, fresh, dry and appropriately temperature-controlled. You may think their offerings overpriced, but wait till you are navigating a flea market in Istanbul in July or climbing a butte in Wyoming in November – that’s when you come to fully appreciate stuff like that. Underwear and socks are two things that I advise over-packing as much as space allows.

Find out whatever you can about pharmaceutical supplies available at your destination. For example, most pharmacies in Europe not only carry a wide variety of “emergency” medications (for cold, headache, food poisoning or local water intolerance), but also make it unnecessary for you to look for a doctor, as their pharmacists are qualified and authorized to diagnose such things. So, there is no need to carry your entire medicine cabinet with you. Africa, however, or Asia, or Russia… That is a whole different story. Prepare accordingly. Peruse Magellan’s for a wide selection of emergency remedies designed specifically for people who travel to distant corners of the world.

When selecting accessories, such as belts, watches, gloves, scarves and hats, choose things that can be worn both classy and casual. Again, as surprising as it may sound, brown leather is more versatile than black, and colors, patterns and textures will serve you better than black, solids and flat fabrics. Ladies, this applies to jewelry as well. Explore options with natural color schemes – such as semi-precious stones – in favor of diamonds and emeralds. Travel Smith, Coldwater Creek and Pyrograhpy M all specialize in just that kind of jewelry.

All this preparation may seem like something very troublesome and time-consuming. I would say – if you build up your travel wardrobe and supplies gradually, it is not all that difficult after all. Besides, consider the time and stress level you’ll be minimizing by arriving at your destination well-rested, well-equipped, well-dressed and ready to have the time of your life.

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