Travel Tips, with Danielle Johnston, Journeys To Come Editor

by Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Travel Question: 

Hi, I’m going on a three-week overseas trip during the next school holidays and I absolutely hate packing. I always pack too much and somehow never have anything to wear that makes me feel good. Got any good packing hacks? Thanks, Mel.

Danielle’s Response:

“He who would travel happily must travel light,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a pioneering aviator (among other things), which brings a whole new meaning (read: survival!) to his pithy little quote, doesn’t it?

Well, Mel, you’re definitely not Robinson Crusoe in suffering from this universal, travellers’ predicament but, unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this perennial question.

We all battle the tendency to flip-flop between either: 1. Packing all the random articles of clothing we love, only to find out on the other side of the world that half of them don’t go with anything else, so they come home unworn; or 2. Going out and buying a new wardrobe of say, maxi-dresses (a style we’d never previously warmed to) and iridescent yellow tops and white shorts because that’s what people wear out for dinner in high summer in Taormina. Not.

It’s time to realise the madness of lugging over-stuffed suitcases around the world. What a waste of calories and aviation fuel.

It’s time to release ourselves from the burden of choice anxiety.

It’s time to truly have a holiday from our normal, overstuffed and cluttered lives and not, for once, stress about making a good first-impression on people we’ll never see again in our lifetime.

I’m not going to suggest you drop the whole ‘La bella figura’ urge and go feral. The world needs all the beauty it can get. Nor do I condone just walking out the door in what you’re wearing, carrying a bag of air, and a ‘wherever I  land, I’ll shop to my heart’s content’ credo. This approach will only see you going back to square-one, methinks. (I’d be up for trying this once though…!)

I must warn you, there’s going to be plenty of subconscious pushback to this new approach. To silence that evil-little-alter-ego’s running commentary in your head (‘you’ll ruin your holiday/relationship/life if you don’t take 12 dresses and 10 pairs of shoes’), leave some space in your bag for souvenirs, and pack a lightweight, reusable, shopping bag for excess purchases.

My job here is to try to bring some joy to this annoying-but-necessary process. So, first, check what the weather will be ‘there’, and what you’ll be doing, then try these…

10 Tips For Freeing Yourself From The Urge to Over-Pack (And Still Look Hot!)

1. Choose a SMALL travel bag. The bigger the suitcase, the more you’ll put in it. It’s a Law of Physics: horror vacui, or put plainly, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum‘. So it FILLS it. Serious. Abide by the law and buy a soft duffle bag with wheels (yes, they do exist). Something like an Eastpak Leatherface. Duffle bags are more easily squeezed into overhead lockers, under seats on trains, and under a bed so you don’t trip over it every time you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And consider using packing cubes (or large ziplock bags) to keep each type of clothing separate so you’re not turning your bag upside down daily looking for a black sock/bra/undies.

2. Pack for ONE week, not three. Have you heard of ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule’? No more than five sets of socks and underwear, four non-iron tops, three bottoms (black pants/shorts/skirt), two or three pairs of shoes (walking shoes, thongs or runners, and dressy sandals or ballet flats) and one foldable hat. Just adjust the list to suit your needs by adding a jersey dress, swimsuit, jacket, workout gear, etc.. BTW, disposable plastic shower caps are handy for covering the soles of your shoes in your luggage and avoid dirt on your clothes. And, if your clothes do get dirty and you can’t find a washing machine, consider taking away with you a Scrubba Wash & Dry Kit. BYO detergent.

3. Banish ‘JUST IN CASE’ items. Someone wise once said, “Just in case is the curse of packing.” How true. Be ruthless about everything you take on holiday. Think twice about every item. Let the other ‘choices’ go. I repeat: Leave the ‘maybe’ items behind. You can always buy them abroad and probably for less than you’d pay at home. Besides, who doesn’t love that rush of memories coming from, years later, putting on a piece of clothing you bought in London/New York/Delhi/Sydney.

4. Think in LAYERS, not bulk. Long tank tops worn under shirts add warmth and earn their spot for warmer weather, too. Target has a range of Merino wool thermal tanks and long-sleeved tops, which are inexpensive ($4!), light, long-lasting and great for keeping the core toasty. Leggings can be worn under dresses in freezing temperatures and double as pyjama pants, with a tank top. Stop worrying. Unless you’re heading to the Arctic, packing layers and warm hats, gloves, and socks may mean you can leave the chunky, down, jacket behind.

5. Buy a versatile DRESS. A simple dress (that you love) can be worn night or day. Tights or leggings and a jacket or (thin merino wool) jumper will team with the dress for cooler climes. Try and find a non-iron jersey dress or, if it tends to crease, wrap it in dry-cleaning plastic or white tissue paper and roll it up to keep the wrinkles away. I bought a timeless, black, stretch-jersey wrap dress from Marks & Spencer in the 90s and it’s still going strong…

6. Put in a PASHMINA. A gorgeous pashmina (real or synthetic) will earn its place in your bag so many times over it’s not funny. It will double as a blanket on the plane; serve as a sarong over shorts or a skirt in a temple (just wear a shirt or t-shirt to cover your shoulders); protect your modesty doing a ‘bush wee’ beside a bus in India; and keep your shoulders warm in an over-air-conditioned restaurant.

7. Select a COLOUR palette. Take your absolute-favourite item in your packing list, then choose two complimentary colours and… presto! You now have your colour palette which means everything should mix and match. This may sound a bit boring, but it works. Do the three, though. I tried packing only a black and white travel wardrobe once and I must say, I craved more colour. Ask yourself, will having less than my usual full-colour-spectrum of clothing really affect my happiness? Focus on what will add meaning to your holiday, rather than immaterial, material things made from colourful material!

8. Bring some BLING. Dress up your daytime look for evenings with a pair of inexpensive earrings or a necklace. Not the real thing. Don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear to lose. Laundries can misplace or mis-shape things, suitcases get lost and stolen, and lost property cupboards at airports, train stations and bus depots are brimming with things heartbroken travellers left behind. You don’t want to remember a holiday for the wrong reasons.

9. Practice OUTFIT combos. If the thought of adhering to these new 5,4,3,2,1/colour palette/small bag rules is giving you anxiety, consider testing out your selection and actually trialling all the different combinations your edited clothing selection will afford you, before you pack. Lay out all the clothing combinations one at a time, and take pictures of the outfits so you can remind yourself when you’re on holiday. I recall helping a friend take digital photos of potential clothing combos before her first weekend away with a new beau. I think I can say the strategy was successful. They’ve been married for years.

10. Go HALVES. (If you’re travelling solo, this tip isn’t for you.) If you’re traveling with family, consider packing half your things in one bag and half in a separate one (and have your partner or kids do the same). If a bag gets lost, at least everyone will have something to wear.

So, Mel, to paraphrase Monsieur de Saint-Exupéry, travelling light is the key happy travels. Thanks for your question and good luck!

Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels

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