Jetting off to Lake Tahoe for a girls’ trip got me thinking about how exactly I choose which coveted pieces make it from my closet to my carry-on. It may seem like a breeze between the floaty dresses and floppy hats, but through weekend getaways and months abroad I’ve finally got packing down to a tee (okay, maybe three or four).
First of all, sturdy luggage is key. It’s important to invest in a multiwheel suitcase made of aluminum with a lock. It will be pricey—but trust me on this, it will make packing and schlepping through the airport so much easier. My personal favorite is the Rimowa North America Topas Titanium 29″ Multiwheel; it comes in a sleek rose gold or titanium hue to make your suitcase just as chic as the wardrobe it’s holding. (Also, don’t be fooled into thinking you need fancy name-brand luggage. I once had an uber-expensive Louis Vuitton suitcase and believe me, I was too worried about my suitcase being damaged to even care about the clothes inside.)
Full disclosure: I usually end up packing the night before my trip—as much as I try and plan everything out ahead of time, I’m still a procrastinator at heart. So if you’re like me and throwing everything in last minute, fashion icon Lauren Conrad suggests rolling your clothes instead of folding them to make more space for those last-minute impulse grabs (Bonus: it also prevents wrinkling!).
Check out weather.com to see the forecast—there’s nothing worse than showing up to your destination in sandals and a sundress and finding out it’s 40° in the middle of May. And no matter where you’re going, make sure to pack in layers; I recommend at least one basic cardigan that pairs with everything, a denim jacket, and a leather jacket as a baseline.
I also recommend doing some research on Yelp to scope out the best hotels and find some of the area’s hidden gems. Be sure to browse the user photos so you can get a feel for the local fashion scene. Websites like lookbook.nu are super helpful, especially if you’re heading abroad and want to get a sense for the country’s street style.
To get the ball rolling, I set aside the must-haves first. Underwear, bras (a love/hate relationship), gym clothes, and comfortable cotton camis. Leave these out for now; they’ll be the easiest thing to squeeze into the nooks and crannies of your suitcase at the end of packing, and this way they won’t take up precious cargo space. Then I pull out my tried-and-true staples, like my favorite jeans and basic tees. Make sure to pack pieces that you know look good on you; the rule of thumb is that if you don’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it in unfamiliar territory.
Next I assemble my uniform. No, we’re not going back to high school, but a personal collection of similar pieces is a MAJOR KEY when it comes to packing like a pro. Personally, I live in light, flowy dresses and flat sandals, so as much as I might be tempted to bring that black blazer that makes me look fierce, I fight the urge and leave it behind. Along the same lines, Shiona Turini from Cosmo urges: pick a color scheme when packing. “[It] helps cut down on any unnecessary extras that I never end up wearing anyway and reduces the number of shoes I have to pack.” Whatever color you decide, packing thematically helps ensure that all your pieces will go together and helps prevent you from taking that one pair of boots that doesn’t go with anything. For a beach trip, I like whites and light blues; for the city, black is my go-to pick. When in doubt, go with jeans. They’ll never go out of style, and with the exception of baseball, wearing jeans is basically America’s favorite pastime. (Also, you can re-wear them and no one will ever know, which saves key real estate in your suitcase.)
Finally, I pull out a couple statement pieces that I don’t wear everyday (just a couple!). For weekend beach getaways, this means floppy hats and chiffon maxi dresses that can transition from beach to brunch. As much as I try to conserve space in my ever-too-tiny carry on, I know that this is the time to experiment. If you’re anything like me, you will be taking lots of photos, and a floral maxi beats a grey t-shirt any day when it comes to Instagram.
When packing toiletries, zip lock bags will be your best friend. Nothing is worse than getting to your destination and opening your suitcase to find your perfect packing job ruined by a shampoo mishap. Speaking of shampoo, make sure to stock up on the travel sizes! Not only will they help you speed through security, but they’ll also do less damage if they go rogue and decide to burst in your bag. And you know those little samples the ladies at the makeup counter give you?? Bring them. One of my guilty pleasures is drinking wine in my hotel room while giving myself a mini facial….Okay, and maybe some room service. I have also found that little scissors have come in handy—you never know what you’re going to encounter while traveling. These are perfect for loose threads, bothersome tags and any other wardrobe malfunction that may come up.
Now for my tote bag. The bag itself is of the upmost importance, since traveling in style is the only way to travel! My personal pick is a classic black leather tote, which will match with everything and have the Mary Poppins-esque power to fit the world inside. For air travel, I always throw in lip balm, and I cannot live without my favorite from La Mer. Mine always lasts for a few months, so it’s worth the investment.
My last minute must-haves include: Aleve, reading material which ranges from an intellectual “how to” business book to a “how to” relationship book (currently more single than a dollar bill), blotting papers, socks (I put them on as soon as I get on the plane), a lightweight scarf, a travel tooth brush set, moisturizer, vitamin C and a journal if I’m in the mood to write. And don’t forget your chargers! Between phones, tablets, and computers (oh my!) the cost to replace your chargers on vacay could end up being as expensive as the trip itself. Speaking of essentials, proper forms of identification aren’t just recommended—they’re legally required. This means a valid driver’s license if you’re going anywhere or passport if you’re going out of the country; without ‘em, you might as well just get your chic butt back in the car and turn yourself around.
Personal items aside though, don’t stress too much about forgetting something. Remember—you’re on vacation, and splurging on a new outfit or two is part of the fun. You look great, your luggage is expertly packed, so now it’s time to relax and explore!