Born to Travel: Packing Secrets for a Quick, Effective and Light Suitcase
I absolutely love packing. Not just because I see it as the prelude of my next adventures, but also because I’ve honed some tricks that make it quick, effective and pleasant. Here are my most important globetrotter advice for balancing light and smart packing.
First of all, a confession is in order: the lightest packer I am not, or at least not in the old-fashioned sense of the word. If you see someone traveling with only a backpack or a small carry-on, it’s most definitely NOT me. I am not the heaviest packer either, but I will always have a decent-size suitcase, with a little extra room left.
That’s actually my first tip, the king of all other travel tips: never go somewhere with your suitcase already jammed full of clothes.
There will always be that extra-book, that providential dress, that one-of-a-kind jacket on sale, those little (but not so little after all) presents for those at home. All of the above can tip the scale to some extra pounds or kilos and you don’t want that to happen. Why stress yourself out, when you can be serene, happy and well-dressed at the same time?
It may sound elementary, but I have been on countless professional trips in which people had come with the smallest carry-on, the fullest suitcase or the tiniest backpack, only to be running around buying a second one, dragging heavy stuff through the airport in a shopping bag that’s just waiting to fall apart or ,,courting” other people from the group into hosting their stuff for the flight.
Why do that when you have a 23 kilos suitcase allowance for most mainstream airlines? I could never truly grasp it and I don’t recommend it either.
Plus, think about this: do you want to be among the best-dressed and most elegant women or men at the event/conference that you’re attending with your peers, or do you just aim to be the winner of the ,,I have the smallest piece of luggage” contest, organized by… no one?
My second tip: Layering is your best bet
Never think of your luggage in terms of ,,one jacket, one pair of trousers, one coat etc”, especially if you are traveling at odd times of the year, such as spring or autumn, when weather is hard to predict. For example, you can carry a heavy overcoat with you and have the surprise of a sunny beautiful weather and, on the contrary, you can expect spring temperatures and end up freezing in a light trench coat.
My choice: layers. Not any kind of layers, but smartly done layers, so that you are never cold and you don’t carry extra weight for no reason. For example, I always-always-always carry with me a super-thin featherlight jacket, exactly like the one in the picture, which is from Liu Jo and it has goose down inside, for insulation.
It’s cut like a blazer, so I can wear it under lighter jackets and coats, instantly transforming them into warm clothing, without adding unwanted volume. That’s why you have to choose the absolute thinnest ones you can find and there are quite a few options out there, just keep your eyes open for them. When you see the right one, grab it, no matter if it’s summer or winter. Opportunity to buy a staple item in your wardrobe doesn’t present itself every day.
I also have a sleeveless goose down vest from Mango, in black, and they are both wonderful in ,,uncertain” weather. They are almost weightless and the space they will occupy in your luggage is next to none. Not to mention they’re the best investment ever, since you can literally use them forever, with everything you own. Choose black, brown, or beige, for the easiest pairing.
My third tip: Size really does matter. Go small.
Traveling as frequently as I am – and rarely for just one night – I need my cosmetics & toiletries kit at all times. Compared to other women, I am low maintenance when it comes to beauty items: I have my staple products, that I love and use for long periods of time, but even so, transporting my 400 ml cream jar, my 300 ml tonic and my 100 ml washing lotion with me every time would eventually amount to 1-2 kilos more in my luggage. Which is not only annoying, but ineffective and unnecessary.
This is why miniatures were invented. Of course you cannot downsize everything and I always end up with 2-3 full-sized products, such as my favorite perfume of the moment, my night cream or something else that I really want with me and I cannot downsize nor have I found in miniature size.
However, the difference between a kit with a few normal products and a bunch of miniatures and a kit full of all-normal products is essentially the difference between having enough space for that extra-book, that art album or that wonderful jacket that just happened to lure you from the shop window and… paying 20 euros per kilo for extra-weight. What’s it gonna be?
My choice: I have a set of empty travel bottles from Sephora and one from Mac, which I’ve been using for years (I change them roughly every 6 months, they’re cheap and it’s more hygienic that way) and it’s made my cosmetics kit light, space-and-weight-effective. Also, every time I go to London I pay a visit to one of their Boots stores (my favorite one is in Picadilly Circus), where there’s an entire floor of miniature stuff, from Tony&Guy shampoo and conditioners to mini hair-sprays, mini-lotions for every skin issue and even mini mascaras. I always find my favorite products there and it’s a lifesaver for my overall traveling experience.
My fourth tip: Think of your luggage as a puzzle
Invest in a few textile-pouches of different sizes, to organize the contents of your suitcase. I bought a few from H&M, last summer (but you can choose whichever brand you like, from Zara and H&M to Victoria’s Secret) and I’ve been using them non-stop. Feel free to choose any colour you like and to go as crazy as you want. Nobody will see them, except for you. And you will see them often, so you gotta love them!
Why are they so useful? Because, being small, they don’t take up a lot of space and can be used to fill the inevitable ,,gaps” of the suitcase: in-between the shoes (never transport your shoes in plastic bags, never, only textile bags) or the sweaters, between the rolled-up pairs of jeans and so on. They fit in anywhere and make your space smart and effective.
For example, I have one for my underwear, one for my socks, one for my stockings, plus one for my hair-comb and hair-accessories. My cosmetics case and my make-up case are both plastic, because they have to be easily washable. They’re all rather small, because now I know how to roll and use the space thanks to Marie Kondo and her ,,Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”. I wrote an entire piece on this, here.
And, finally, 5 things you should never take out of your suitcase:
Why bother bringing one with you? Because the umbrellas you can borrow from the hotel are big and tedious to carry around with you; because it’s easier than to change clothes from head-to-toe or to fix a soaking wet hairdo and, last but not least, because weather has gone officially mad, all over the world, and you can never truly know. Trust me, I’ve been there more than once.
My choice: H&M umbrellas are good for your money, small, light and sturdy (hey, we’re talking rain showers, not hurricanes).
One black & one white t-shirt
Because they go with absolutely everything you brought from home with you, because you never know when you might spill something on your jacket, change your mind about a certain outfit or simply need a Plan B. A black or white t-shirt is always a good plan to fall back on and I’ve never had a trip in which I’ve NOT used them. Make sure to buy them in a good-quality version, so that you can wear them with both sporty outfits and exquisitely-chic evening jackets.
My choice: Helmut Lang cotton and modal t-shirts are my favourite. I’ve had them for 3 years now and they’re as good as new.
A pair of sneakers
They have to be light, super-comfortable and in a color that’s easy to combine with the rest of your wardrobe. A trip usually implies walking a lot and even the comfiest flats you brought along with you can turn up nasty surprises if you spend too much time in them.
A good pair of sneakers, however, comes in handy whether you want to hit the gym, skip taking the subway, tram or taxi for a day, or if you’ve had an unfortunate incident with another pair of shoes. Not to mention they are super trendy nowadays, so there’s no compromise on the fashion side either.
Of course you don’t want to consider the worst-case scenario, but for your peace of mind, you should! Maybe your favourite shoes will produce a blister after days of walking, maybe the nail polish will crack right before the big event (happened to me several times), maybe your hair will decide to rebel against you, maybe you catch a cold or maybe, just maybe, you decide to buy something too fragile to put in your suitcase.
You don’t have to carry around a huge bag full of ,,just-in-case” stuff, you only need a few staples that are light as a feather, don’t take up too much space and you’ll never even feel they’re there. Until they’re not and you find yourself desperately needing them!
Compeed blister-patches (the only ones that ever worked for me, the girl with the most capricious and fragile feet ever);
Mavala 5 ml nail polish bottles in your colour of choice (I have a shade of red that is super-close to the Jessica Royal Red I usually use and it always comes in handy for last-minute fixers);
H&M normal black hair-pins: they’re what I call ,,consumables”, because I buy, use, abuse and misplace at least three 30-pack sets per year. With a slightly wet hair and only 10 hair pins, artfully placed before going to sleep, I can turn my hair around from one day to the other. Plus, they’re indispensable for bad hair days, when that lock of hair simply won’t stay in place. One time I even ended up using them to keep in place the décolleté of a black dress.
Medicine kit. By that, I mean the bare essentials: 2 cough drops, 2 anti-allergy pills (I tend to get allergies sometimes, so to me they’re essential), one painkiller, one digestive pill and whatever works for you. I’m not advising for the use of pills, but sometimes you can’t avoid it and it’s better to have 10 of them, in a tiny satchel, than to go running around through all the pharmacies in Amman, trying to get nazal-spray in sign-language-and-Arabic on a 50 degrees Celsius June afternoon, like it happened to me, or to get a painfully unexpected sore throat on a Sunday in Vienna, when everything is closed. That also happened to me, yeah. If you know you have certain weak points (for me it’s allergies and colds), be ready. If not, you’re lucky, keep doing whatever you’re doing, cause it seems to be working.
A foldable bag. Okay, you’ve brought your main bag with you, but what I hate the most is running around the airport with duty-free bags in my hands or, even worse, traveling with a paper-bag containing a pair of shoes or something that I bought and that I consider too fragile to squeeze into my suitcase. Or maybe I just bought 4 magazines for the flight and I want to carry them fashionably and comfortably.
The solution for all these situations is a foldable bag, the type of bag that you can easily find in almost any fashion store, from Zara to the biggest brands. More than 7 years ago I bought myself one from Louis Vuitton that has literally seen over 40 countries with me. It’s coated canvas, not leather, which is great because it can be rained on, shoved under airplane seats and basically abused in all ways, without showing signs of aging. I can also fold it in three without anything happening to it.
After all these years it’s still impeccable and I never travel anywhere without it, it’s my number one travel companion. The brand, however, is of the least importance: find one that works for you and keep it close. After the first 2-3 trips, you’ll thank me for it.
May your travels be happy, safe and light!