Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Packing For Paris (And Rome, London, NY...)

Packing is horrific. How many of us have felt the terror of trying to predict the weather in XXX city on XXX date a week/month/year from now, and THEN trying to compress 2 weeks of clothes into a carry-on bag? No wonder our bedrooms look like the end of a Myer sale on Boxing Day. It's never pretty.

The other problem nowadays is luggage allowance. With more airlines coming down hard on luggage (some make you pay for checked-in luggage; others don't like too much carry-on and make you pay for that too), it's a wonder we ever make it through the Security Gate!

After 15 years of travelling, I've discovered that best thing is to try to pack light. Consider trying to fit everything into a small carry-on case. (Check your airline for limits though: Air France allows 12 kilos; Virgin Atlantic only 6 kilos). I've never been asked to weigh my carry-on. As long as it looks reasonable and you're not overloaded with other bags, they'll let you through. I've even squeezed a tripod into my carry-on. It's possible to travel light. I promise you.

Oh – and here's another two arguments for packing light. Most London Tube stations don't have lifts for luggage – and some have lots of stairs. You don't want to lug a 20-kilo bag up 20 steps! Similarly in New York and Paris, you don't want to drag a case over cobblestoned rues to get to your hotel, nor pay hotel porters hefty tips to carry it up New York flights. It's easier to go with less. Don't forget, you can always buy stuff at your destination.

Here are a few tips.
{Above photo of Hermes' riding boots and scarf: perfect for travelling}

Start with one good all-rounder, go-anywhere, look-good-in-any-situation piece.
I usually start with a favourite blazer but you might go with a favourite LBD. I always think a blazer makes you look smart at the check-in desk (airline staff do look at your outfit when they're considering upgrades). It also takes you out to dinner; covers you on cold days; dresses you up for any trade shows you might decide to go to, and will even carry you through any unexpected job interviews or business meetings. I never go anywhere without a decent blazer. (TIP: Wear this at the airport, so you don't have to pack it.) {J Crew 'Tuxedo' blazer in black}

A good blazer will even make a pair of jeans look respectable. Not that I pack jeans, but lots of people do. {J Crew 'Schoolboy' blazer in navy}

In fact, a good blazer will take you anywhere.
This one, above, could even take you to the opera at Covent Garden. Toss on a pair of black pants or a skirt, and some jewels, and you're ready for anything. {Anthropologie Faustanelle jacket}

Then you need to layer. The idea of layering is so you're covered in every possible temperature. 
These 'underpieces' or layers could consist of a white shirt (I like tailored ones with French cuffs), a t-shirt, a long tee, a light poloneck or a simple v-neck top, like this Carla Zampatti one. (These tops will depend on the weather. Polonecks if the destination is going to be cold; lighter tops for warmer climates.) 

I usually just take a white shirt and a v-neck top like this one. Both will see me through business meetings, weekends and everything in between. Just remember though: white shirts usually have to be ironed. Crepe fabric tops, like this cutie from Carla Zampatti, will roll up into a tiny ball and come out perfect the other end.

Here's something I've learned after 25 years of travelling. Jeans are not made for travel. (I know; I can't believe I'm saying it either.) They're heavy, they're hard to wash, they're not good for long-haul, 13-hour plane trips, and they're not versatile either. 

Instead, take a pair of elegant black or navy pants. Stretch ones if necessary for the plane trip. I use cigarette or Capri pants. You can dress them up or down, wear them with heels or flats, and – best of all – they scrunch up into a tiny ball! They're also easy to wash, dry quickly, and are comfortable on the plane.  Witchery always has great pants, but most stores – J Crew, Zara, etc – will stock them as a basic staple. {J Crew 'Tuxedo' pants}

A good cardi is a must. A cardi will ward off the fierce chill on planes, keep you warm in the evenings, give you an additional layer during cold days (ie over your white shirt /v-neck tee or top) and even act as a defacto dressing gown if your el-cheapo hotel doesn't have one. {Zara 'Tuxedo' cardigan with chiffon collar}

A coat is a difficult thing to pack. The wisest thing is to only take one if the weather is going to be cold. A blazer and your other layers will usually suffice for spring and autumn days. 

If you do feel the cold and want to pack one, consider one that will do double-duty as a dress, like this Zara one above, or an opera coat for fancy dinners and other elegant affairs.

Every trip needs one hot frock. Like a blazer, a great LBD (or a great LWD) will see you through all kinds of sartorial situations. 

I love DVF's wrap dresses (top), but I've also discovered Ralph Rucci's gorgeous DIY pattern for Vogue (directly above).

Here's a great trick. Take one medium-sized purse (not a wallet) that's big enough to carry all your valuables – credit cards/passport/money, etc – and then PUT IT INSIDE a larger handbag that accommodates everything else. Then, when you go out at night, you can leave the big carry-all bag at the hotel and just take the sexy clutch. (Another great tip is to leave your big bag with your laptop, etc, plus your passport and a spare credit card in the hotel safe.)  A decent, medium-sized clutch will take a passport, some credit cards, a few notes and even a lipstick and phone. And if you buy a boldly coloured one, such as this animal print, you'll always be able to keep an eye on it when it's inside your larger handbag, so you know it's there and hasn't gone walkabout down Oxford Street. {Zara zebra clutch}

Like the wrap dress, the Go-Anywhere Frock is a godsend. 
The difference is, where wrap dresses are good for summer, Go-Anywhere Frocks are better for winter. You can wear tights and boots with them, go bare-legged in warmer weather, toss a blazer or coat over the top for warmth, dress them up with jewels for evenings, or just feel comfortable in them on long-haul flights. {J Crew 'Teddie' dress in Byzantine blue}

Shoes are heavy things. They will push you over the luggage limit before you can say "But I need my Manolos!" Once I took six pairs. SIX. Who wears that many? Now I take two, three at most. In the winter, I'll pack a pair of knee-high leather boots for wearing over pants or under dresses. In the summer, a pair of loafers. (TIP: Loafers like this pair of Tod's driving shoes, above, are better than ballets. Ballets don't have adequate heels or padded support and will eventually hurt your feet.) Then I'll sneak in a fancy pair of heels for evening. But I'll try and find light ones. Stilettos, not chunky ones. Don't forget you can often buy shoes much cheaper overseas than at home. (London is fantastic for cheap shoes!)

The best handbag is actually a weekender. I take a workhorse handbag that holds everything – including a prettier little purse for the valuables, and evenings out (see above). I have a Chloe weekender, but this YSL is the ticket too.  Your workhorse handbag should have a zip. Preferably LOTS of zips. You need to keep it zipped shut for security. Inside compartments should have zips too. I'm a zip freak. It's the only way to stop people slipping their hand in and grabbing something you might need on the trip. Such as a passport!

Into this workhorse handbag goes: My smaller clutch or purse with credit cards and passport, a small cosmetic case, a laptop or iPad, a SLR camera, a book or magazine,  sunglasses, a spare pair of underwear and a change of top, a comb and some basic toiletries (places such as Singapore's Changi Airport have showers to get changed on long-haul flights), and a cardi or wrap / scarf to keep warm if the cabin freezes. Believe it or not, it all fits. Sometimes I'll squeeze a tripod in too. Airlines rarely weigh handbags, particularly if they're slung over your shoulder. So you can fill it with heavy stuff to keep the carry-on luggage light. The carry-on is what they'll weigh, if they weigh anything.) If you're worried about the weight of it, and lugging around cities, either leave the laptop/iPad in the hotel safe. Also find one with good strong, thick handles so you can carry it over the crook of your elbow. Much easier than over your shoulder. And safer too. Some smart travellers find ones that go across their bodies: that's a good trick too.

One blazer
Two or three underpieces (ie white shirt, t-shirt, etc)
One pair of pants (cigarette, Capri, jeans: it doesn't matter as long as they're comfy)
A cardi
One or two wrap dresses or go-anywhere frocks
A pair of flats, or boots for winter, plus a good pair of heels for evening
A coat that does double-duty as a dress (in winter only)
A couple of bright scarves (cashmere are good for keeping warm on planes and in airports, otherwise cheap-n-chic versions are just as good for brightening up outfits)
Minimal underwear (tights, 2 bras, 3 pair of knickers, a slip for the dress, a cami if it's cold – underwear is easily washed, so you don't need much)
Minimal jewellery (leave the valuable stuff at home)

Pants, blazer, underpiece (shirt or tee), and flats or boots. Toss the cardi into your handbag. If it's winter, wear your trench coat or coat as well. (Just in the airport, so it doesn't add to the luggage weight).

This means all you have left to pack in your carry-on is your wrap dress(es), another underpiece or two (poloneck, singlet, tee, white shirt, whatever – it depends on the weather), the high heels, the scarves and your underwear. 

One last tip: If you take fabrics that are easily washable, you can wash clothes out every night. The scarves will brighten up the neutrals, and also make outfits look different each day. And the layering will keep you warm – or cool – and ensure you have a flexible wardrobe for any occasion. See? It's easier than you think.


  1. am the worst packer alive and always have Regrets. I find shoes hard. I find everything hard.

    For my next trip I am already stressed.

    1. You have such great accessories that they probably take up half a suitcase on their own.

  2. Eek! Just the thought of packing makes me want to lie down in a darkened room I am THAT bad at it.....and to think that I have to pack for 5 other people in addition to me. Horrors. At least there is usually an exotic destination waiting at the other end. Love your ideas new mantra is that I'm going to pack better and not be scared.....must perfect getting husband to pack less shoes than me and discourage children from taking lego on the always gets lost with diabolical consequences. Rx

    1. Ah, children create a whole other challenge. Husbands too! I always pack for my partner. Otherwise he'd be tossing in old tracksuit pants and shirts from 1972. xx

  3. The thought of packing for an overseas trip, can send me into a "decline".
    My last overseas trip involved mountain walking, beach, and city tourist. My packing resulted in a suitcase of sorrow.
    Thank you for the tips, come next year, hopefully will not let the side down!

    1. When you combine different destinations packing becomes even more difficult. Mountain walking would have been tricky because you need proper boots. I'm sure you will adept next May! You'll probably show the rest of us up. xx

  4. When I went to Europe in March (only 2 weeks) I packed into a carry on (but took a suitcase for purchases). My list was much the same, and it worked fantastically. Everything was in charcoals and blacks so mixed and matched, I had outfits for work dinners with the husband in London, smart day outfits for London and Italy (don't believe in dressing like a "tourist"). I found a couple of pieces that were fantastic - Jeggins (Jean leggings, skinny dark ones from J Brand, absolutely fantastic, super comfortable and smart looking and flattering), a Tory Burch dress that was made of stretchy thinish satiny black fabric that rolled up into nothing and could be dressed up or down, a long line cardigan (I like the cable melbourne ones), and black leather camper trainers - dressy enough, but incredibly comfortable for 4 hours of walking a day. Where are you off to.....? xx

    1. I can imagine you'd be skilled at packing Heide! Most mothers are. Those J Brand jeans are well-known for being travel-friendly. and clothes that roll up with creasing are the best. (I always roll; never fold. That's another trick to save space.)

      I'm not going anywhere, although I my sneak off in January to help a friend with a book.
      I was going to sneak off in December but this friend lives a really long way away (a 13-hour flight; another 5-hour flight; then a 2-hour flight, then a boat ride, then a water taxi...) and I feared I wouldn't make it back in time for Christmas! xx.

    2. Dear Janelle

      You would have been both a good friend and an inveterate traveller to tackle this before Christmas!
      I was one invited to stay with a wonderful woman in her village home in the Solomons. But would have needed to fly to Honiara, then to a smaller island, then boat to a certain place (forget where) and then about half an hour or more by canoe. Not quite brave enough to try it. But Solomons is not nearly as far as your first flight would have been. Best wishes, Pamela

    3. The Solomon Islands are meant to be beautiful.

  5. Thanks for the tips...I think hair and make-up products also take up lots of space and are quite heavy, any tips there?
    thank you.

    1. You're quite right Linda. Hairdryers are the worst. It took me ages to find a tiny but powerful travel-sized hairdryer. Now, to save space, I rely on the hotels' hairdryers and hope they're high quality. They usually are, especially if it's a good hotel. I also rely on Klorane's Dry Shampoo a lot - it's a life saver. No wonder travellers love it.
      With foundation, I take a combined moisturiser/foundation with SPF sunscreen - Garnier has a great one. MAC do compacts that carry 3 eyeshadows (you can pick and choose which ones), and their wet/dry foundation / powder is good for coverage too. I only use 3 lipsticks; most women do, so they don't take up much room either. (And part of the fun of travelling is buying a new Chanel at dutyfree.)
      You can also buy tiny toothpastes and small 100ml travel bottle to put toner / scrub / night creams / tanning creams in. I buy mini shampoo and conditioner bottles from my hairdresser, and small serum bottles too. The most important thing is buying a soft toiletries bag rather than a firm one. A soft one will fit in corners of your luggage without taking up too much room.

    2. Dear Linda and Janelle
      Have given up on hotel hairdryers - but probably don't stay at the right hotels! Most of them seem to be designed for men going bald. My hair's not very long but very thick and bushy and takes forever to dry. So I always take a small powerful travel dryer. But then I never try to travel OS with just carry-on.

      Coming back with husband this year (he's worse than me for loading up the bags) we ended up with four large suitcases: he'd bought 3 pairs of shoes he wanted to keep in the boxes and two coats as well as loads of shirts {he loves Souleiado for casual wear), ties, books, art materials etc, plus an extra duffle bag. Our landlord in Paris was shocked to the core - he came to help us into the airport transfer car. Said he'd never seen so many bags. Don't worry, Janelle, won't be doing this in May! All husband's fault. So understand about the old tracksuit pants! He just wanted several pairs to wear around hotel room or apartment in Paris - would've taken up half the bag. Best wishes, Pamela

    3. Dear Janelle
      The garden tour is suddenly getting a little scary. All you fabulous young things in your fab frocks, stylish blazers and skinny pants. I hope there are one or two grandmothers like me who are no longer the slim young things we used to be. Sadly I'll be packing lace-ups with cushioned soles (read sneakers - orthopod's orders) so have to wear pants all the time. Luckily have loads of scarves. But a bit worried about letting down the glam image of the tour. Already started ransacking wardrobe to work out what to wear. So difficult, especially not knowing whether it will be cold and wet, as it can be in May, or glorious and sunny - hopefully the latter! But very excited, even though it's still months off. Best wishes, Pamela

    4. Somehow I think you'll be more stylish than anyone Pamela! You know more about designers than even Miss SMR. (Well, perhaps not, but your depth of reading shows in the referencing.)
      Please don't worry about May. Just bring any old thing.

      I hope you've recovered after the shock of Bryce Courtenay. Thanks for the emails. Wasn't it lovely of Christine to email you all? Did you go to the funeral? It's all so very sad. I'm wary of writing too much personal info here, as it's not appropriate, but do just drop me a line if you need to chat.

    5. Dear Janelle

      Will be attending a service in Sydney next week, along with others from the group, a celebration of his life. Expect to cry buckets. Then a wake.

  6. fab article janelle. am bookmarking it.:)

  7. I pride myself on light packing of stretchy garments that I can wash and dry in a hotel room. However, before my last solo trip to Paris, I carefully photocopied all my credit cards etc., was interrupted by a distressing phone call, etc etc and ended up in Paris with my credit cards and bank cards all sitting sadly in the photocopier and not sitting happily in my purse. The panic when I opened my purse!!!


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