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Tackling the Packing Problem

The first time that I went on a cruise – granted it was a 12-day Mediterranean cruise – I packed 2 large suitcases, a carry-on, and a supersized hard sided garment bag that I needed for my 12 evening gowns. I had been told to expect to need evening gowns for the captain’s dinners, but no one had bothered to tell me that it would only be twice during the cruise!

Needless to say, I used to be terrible at packing my bags. A weekend trip would require at least two 28” bags, because I could just never decide what to bring. The same was true for my four day excursions to Mexico, or to Disney World! I wanted to make sure I had at least three outfits per day, plus evening wear.

There is lots of good advice out there –

Like…you should create some mix and match outfits so that you can use the same bottoms several times. The golden rule is three tops for every one bottom….but…

What if that one bottom has chocolate gelato all over it within the first two hours of hitting Rome!

Well, age and some torn up arms from lugging around all of that luggage has brought me to the conclusion that packing needs to be much simpler. However, the idea that you can wear the same bottoms three times, or that you need mix and match outfits to me is just hogwash.

So, after years of doing it wrong, here is my Gold Standard rules for packing.

1. First, make an itinerary. If you are looking for spontaneity, make a list of possible activities. You want to be prepared to meet the queen or dive into a mud pit. But, you can’t be prepared for either if that type of activity is never anticipated.

2. Make a list of each outfit you would like to wear for each event.

3. List everything – number of pairs of underwear, socks, hats, shoes, pajamas, etc.

4. Now, look at that list and calculate the number of bags you will need – too many, right?

This is where editing comes in.

But you ask, how do I edit?

With great sadness – at least for me, as I always want to just wear all my coolest and newest clothes.

But the truth is, that is not what will happen.

Most days, you will need one outfit. So, for a four-day trip, plan your first four most comfortable outfits. Then think about dinner. In truth, it is unlikely that you will get the chance to change clothes more than twice during that time. Who wants to interrupt the day and go back to the hotel? So, we are up to four day outfits and two dinner outfits.

At this point, calculate any outdoor activities that will require different clothing, i.e., swimwear or similar. No, it is probably not the time to take every swimsuit you own. One swim outfit will be just fine – swimsuit, cover-up, sunglasses, shoes, and possibly a nice packable hat.

Keep remembering that the weight of that suitcase must hang off your arm.

Now is the question of shoes. Shoes are my biggest challenge. I always want to take all of my great kicks, but even I know that the shoes I am most comfortable in are likely going to be my shoes of choice every moment of my vacation. The one exception is at dinner. So, wear the cool pair of semi-comfortable shoes to the airport or to travel, pack your most comfortable shoes, and choose one pair of dress shoes. This gets you three, with only two needing packed.

So, this far for a four day trip we have as follows:

Five tops

Four bottoms

2 Dress Outfits

3 Pair of shoes (one worn for travel)


Six pair of underwear

Six pair of socks, if your shoes require socks

3 Bras (wear one – you should be able to do fine with three total, counting one for specialty wear if your dinner outfits require strapless or such)

4 options for sleepwear – yes – I said 4

Ok, so why four options for sleepwear? Well, that is my preference. At home, yes, I can do fine sleeping in something that has been worn. I aim to wear fresh pajamas every night, but I sometimes fall asleep in my clothes, let alone make sure to have fresh pajamas every night. However, my aim at home is to go to bed in fresh pajamas every night. Even though I may not make it at home, why would I want to go to bed while on vacation without the best possible sleep available?

So yes, fresh pajamas for each night you are there.

So take a look at the list – its simple. The point of the list is to make it to your preference but using the guidelines I have laid out. I prefer fresh pajamas, but what are your preferences? That is the point to simplification. What makes sense to you will guide you to make leaner choices.

So, make your lists, do some editing, and think about what really happens when you travel rather than just what you want to happen – you will be happier and leaner in the long run!

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