On Packing, Travel, and Wardrobe Gaps

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently took a trip to the Lake Tahoe area for a pre-Christmas visit with part of my family.  With the exception of one overnight trip my husband and I took in early July, I hadn’t traveled in well over a year.

Like many people, I enjoy visiting other locales, but I find travel to be a stressful experience in many respects, not the least of which is the packing. In today’s post, I share my experience of packing for my latest vacation and what I learned about my wardrobe and how it still isn’t working as well as it could for my life.

Packing for travel

Do you find it stressful to pack for travel?

Packing Often Leads to Anxiety

I’ve never been that adept at packing; in fact, it’s an activity that has caused a great deal of anxiety for me over the years.  I always find myself rushing to get it all done and often end up forgetting at least one crucial item in the process.  I even forgot to pack underwear on two occasions!  I laugh about it now, but it was definitely a big problem for me at the time.

Since I’ve pared my wardrobe down considerably this year and have painstakingly analyzed what I do and don’t wear and why, I thought the packing process would go far more smoothly this time around.  I was both right and wrong in this assumption – right because I didn’t over-pack like I have in the past and wrong because I didn’t have everything I really needed for this particular trip.

Those Darned Climate Discrepancies!

You see, I live in an area with a rather temperate climate.  It’s a rare day here in San Diego when the temperature dips below the 50s (for those of you outside the US, that’s the teens in Celsius).  While I may feel cold on many occasions, it is far from frigid here compared to most other places in the country (and world).   In contrast, the climate in the Lake Tahoe area is far cooler and it’s not surprising to see temperatures in the 20s and 30s during the daytime (below zero Celsius).

I thought that packing a few thermal tops, jeans, my warmest coat, and some ankle boots would be sufficient, but boy was I wrong!  The cold weather laughed at my Southern California “cold weather gear” and rewarded me with bone-chilled arms and icy, numb toes.  I was miserable for much of my time in Tahoe, even while I was indoors.  I just couldn’t warm up my chilled extremities!

So Many Clothes, But Are They the Right Clothes?

My Tahoe experience got me thinking some more about my evolving wardrobe.  I write a lot about how our clothes need to work for our bodies, lifestyles, and personalities.  I believe in the importance of that three-pronged approach as firmly as ever, but I’m reminded that it can be a tall order to fill, especially for those of us who want to dress with less.  Each item in our closets needs to pull its proverbial weight if we’re to have a wardrobe that really works for us.

Those of you who live in colder regions probably swear by the need to dress in layers in order to stay warm and deal with wide temperature variations.  What I learned during my recent trip is that I lack sufficient layering pieces, even for navigating the cooler days in my own hometown.  My “layering” typically consists of a top and a jacket – and that’s it.  Sure, the top may be long-sleeved with a waffle weave and the jacket may have some heft to it, but warmth usually eludes me when wearing such an ensemble.  Even a slight breeze renders me chilled and shivering and rushing to a heated car or store.

Hindsight is 20/20

While in Tahoe, I found myself cursing my poor wardrobe decisions.  Why hadn’t I purchased clothing that could be layered well to help keep me warm?  Why do I buy so many lightweight knits and virtually no warm sweaters to speak of?  Why don’t I anticipate my wardrobe needs for the entire year?  And why do I buy so many warm weather garments when our summer season is relatively brief and fleeting?

If I could turn back the clock and re-vamp my wardrobe, I would do things a lot differently.  I would purchase at least a few lightweight long-sleeved tops to wear as foundation pieces.  I would also invest in a cashmere sweater or two, as well as some warmer socks and perhaps a thicker pair of boots.  Since I tend to run cold anyway, I could definitely wear these items at home as well as when I travel to cooler climates.  I would be more comfortable and toasty all around and it wouldn’t take that much time or money to make a difference in this respect.

Valuing Form over Function

For far too long, I’ve valued form over function.  I would focus primarily on the aesthetic appeal of a garment, as well as the way it fit my body.  While both of those aspects are very important, they aren’t the “be all, end all” of clothing.  We also need to consider to what extent a particular item meets our individual sartorial needs.  Although a lightweight sundress is perfect for tropical climates, it has limited usefulness in Alaska or other chilly locales.  In the same respect, the parka that is ideal for Alaskan weather would simply hang in the closet in Hawaii.

Many people where I live wear shorts and flip-flops year round.   These people either run warm or they are woefully unprepared for the cooler weather we have throughout much of the year.  For their sake, I hope the former is true.  As for me, I run about as cold as they come.  When others around me are donning tank tops, you’ll often find me sporting a jacket (and maybe still feeling cold!).  I just don’t feel warm all that often, even as I approach the dreaded middle-aged “change.”

Know Thyself

Self-awareness is key in cultivating a workable wardrobe.  We need to be aware of our preferences, our tendencies, and our individual needs.  Just as it’s not smart to buy an abundance of going out clothes when you’re basically a homebody, it isn’t prudent to purchase lots of sleeveless and lightweight garments when you have a cooler inner thermostat.

Some women are my polar opposites in that they feel warm pretty much all of the time. I know that when I visit my hair stylist, she’ll always be in a short-sleeved or sleeveless top and have the fan running next to her salon chair, regardless of whether it’s January or July.  She’ll usually turn the fan down and grin and bear it when “cream puff” me comes in for my appointment.  She probably would have been fine in Tahoe with my lightweight tops and lack of layering pieces.  But for me to travel to a cold climate without the proper gear for my personal needs, it was sheer foolishness!

Packing 202 – The Smarter Way

It didn’t take me long to remember why I usually only visit Lake Tahoe during the summer months, but I’m sure I’ll have more winter visits there or to other cold climates in my future.  I need to plan and pack accordingly so I can be more comfortable and better able to enjoy the people I’m visiting and the activities we share.   After all, travel is usually about people, experiences, and memories. The clothing and other items we take along are to support our enjoyment of the process.  If we’re focusing too much on what is or isn’t in our suitcase, we’re missing out on what travel is really about.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been miserably unprepared for weather needs while on holiday.  This also wasn’t my first time in such a debacle.  I remember traveling to New Zealand on my honeymoon with a suitcase full of summer clothes, only to find that summers in that country are vastly different (and much cooler) than what I was accustomed to.  Since that was a longer trip, I was able to course correct, albeit at considerable expense.  The need to supplement my travel wardrobe also led to excess baggage that far outweighed what was truly necessary.

Anticipating Needs vs. Stressing Over “Just in Case”

We can’t always anticipate all of our travel wardrobe needs, but we can do our research and make our best efforts to plan accordingly.   I’m not suggesting that we over-pack for all of the potential “just in case” scenarios, but we can take along what we’re likely to require for the customary climate of our destination.   If we need to pick up a few extra things in order to deal with unexpected weather events, so be it.   But we shouldn’t need to basically start from scratch when we already have a full suitcase of items we hand-picked for that particular journey.

The next time I travel to Lake Tahoe in the winter, I know I’ll be better prepared. I’ll have some layering pieces with me, as well as a jacket to wear indoors or under my coat.  I’ll have warmer socks and shoes so my feet can stay toasty as the temperature drops.  I won’t pack more clothes than I did on my recent trip, but I will pack smarter options for the weather at hand and I’ll be much happier during my trip as a result.

There is Still So Much to Learn!

The more time goes by, the more I feel that I still have a lot to learn about my wardrobe and myself.  I used to shop so unconsciously and make purchases based solely on emotional triggers.  As a result, my wardrobe was extremely large but not very functional.   It only really worked for a fraction of my lifestyle and much of what I owned was rarely worn, while I was unprepared for actual lifestyle needs.

I can’t turn back the clock and undo all of my many, many mistakes, but I can learn from them and do better moving forward.   I need to balance my purchases in terms of practicality (like those sweaters and layering pieces) and the “happy factor” (clothes that make me smile).  Shopping less often and more mindfully will help me to gradually build a wardrobe that truly works for me instead of one that looks good but doesn’t really serve me.   I know I need to be patient and forgiving with myself and trust the process.  I know I will get there if I keep learning, growing, and taking it one day at a time.

I Invite You to Share Travel Tips – and Frustrations

How about you?  Do you struggle to pack for travel?   Like me, do you sometimes find yourself woefully unprepared for real-life occasions at home or on the road, despite a packed closet?    If you have useful tips and tricks for successful packing, I invite you to share them with me and your fellow readers.  I know many people struggle to pack and would be open to your helpful suggestions.

If you don’t have suggestions but would like to share your frustrations, that’s okay, too.   As always, I welcome your comments.  Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the rest of the holiday season!

53 thoughts on “On Packing, Travel, and Wardrobe Gaps

  1. Very thought provoking. I had a recent epiphany of my own- when i counted my wardrobe not just by type (# tops) but also by function (work vs casual). I have too many casual clothes, they don’t look right in a buisness environment which is one of the many reasons why I was so unhappy with my wardrobe despite the size. The funny thing is that I was convinced I didn’t have enough casual stuff and had recently bought a few casual tops just prior to my discovery. I also have way more jeans/casual pants than necessary- i only wear approx. 2 pairs or less a week but own perhaps a dozen pairs! That averages less than 8 wears per year a pair!

    I think the old adage ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ only has limited application and has served people to excuse purchases that don’t make sense in many instances (which is actually opposite of my issue lol).

    • Congrats on your epiphany, Meli! Isn’t it great how taking the time to count/track can really shine a light on what’s going on with our wardrobes? I know it must be frustrating to realize that you have too many casual items (believe me, I’ve been there!), but now you can gradually shift things to where they need to be. Thanks for sharing your insights with all of us!

  2. I hate packing and am notoriously unprepared. I always put it off until the night before (or, god forbid, the morning of). No matter how I try to organize my outfits, plan ahead, have a color scheme, etc, I always fail b/c I think it’s going to be easier than it actually is.

    However, I’ve learned some helpful tips along the way and am better than I used to be. I figure by the time I die, I’ll be perfect. LOL!

    For women who tend to be cold (Debbie), I have one word for you — Wintersilks. Buy a long-sleeved top and bottom, plus a cami or two, and stuff them into your spare shoes in your suitcase — Wintersilks will become your best friend and you’ll wonder how you lived without them.

    Next — pick ONE neutral color (black, navy, grey, or brown) and ONLY one. Build around that color. Your shoes must match or coordinate with your neutral — no packing both brown and black shoes.

    Add in scarves, hats, gloves, and jewelry for interest (and in your case, warmth).

    Roll your clothes.

    Have a toiletry kit that you always keep packed and ready to go. Every time you’re in Target or some such, go by their travel-sized toiletry section and stock up. I throw my dentist-provided toothpaste samples and miniature dental flosses into my kit — ditto my contact lens trial kits and my hairdresser’s samples. Having this kit ready to go is a huge time saver.

    Don’t pack a hairdryer. If your hotel or host family doesn’t have one, live without it.

    Always bring a robe. It can serve as lounge wear, post-shower attire, coffee-in-the-kitchen outfit, etc. Similarly, if staying in a hotel, pack one pair of yoga pants, one non-see-through tee, and a pair of flip flops to wear down to the lobby. You never know.

    Slippers — always. They protect your feet from questionable hotel carpet, cold tile or hardwood floors in family homes, broken glass, etc., plus slippers are soothing and they help you relax. For you, Debbie, slippers can help keep your feet warm. Stuff a pair of wooly socks into your slippers while packing — if you don’t need the socks, you can use them as holders for small trinkets or jewelry.

    • Great tips!! I have a dual-voltage small folding hairdryer (over 30 years old) that I pack, and it does come in handy. I use flip flops instead of slippers (great for showers, pools, etc., too). I swear by the silk base layer — takes up hardly any space and proves added warmth without bulk.

    • PS. I was thinking this morning that “robe” could be misunderstood. I pack a vintage, cotton, Japanese kimono as my robe. This cottony softness and opacity allows for everything I described above, plus it can also serve as a swimsuit cover-up, a lightweight blanket for napping, or even (once) as a curtain for a window with fault mini-blinds! 😉

      • Too funny. I also use a cotton kim0no bought new in Japan in 1985. Not quite vintage, but very stylish. I also have a heavy silk kimono that I’ve used for winter trips. Easy to fold.

    • I love these tips, Bette! Thanks so much for sharing your process with all of us. I will definitely get my hands on some Wintersilks before I take my next trip to Tahoe (and maybe even for the cooler months where I love). Your other tips are excellent, too, and I will definitely use them. I’ve heard the tip to roll clothes before but haven’t tried it. I will the next time I travel!

  3. Unless we are going on a dive trip (flippers), moving, or transporting gifts or bicycles, I don’t pack what I can’t carry on. Period.

    I make vision boards ahead of time. When we went to Paris for a week in 2012, I focused on stripes and scarves. I also favor items that can be worn multiple ways or which can easily shake up a look. I packed 3 scarves for France. When I went to Québec in August, I took two basic vneck tees, a long sleeve shirt, a cardi and a scarf for a long weekend. The tops were unrecognizable to most with vs without the scarf… Or cardi… Or layered long tee. Also, often, many thin layers make a warmer outfit than a few thick ones. Love a cozy sweater, but I won’t pack one.

    It’s worth remembering that few people pay as much attention to what you are wearing as you do. Are you traveling to show off your clothes, or dress comfortably and appropriately and experience the place to which you are traveling? Reminding myself of the reason for the trip helps me keep focused.


    • This is a great idea!! I created a board a few years ago for a London theater week wardrobe but I also use a spreadsheet (I’ve been using this technique for 30 years, moving from graph paper to Excel) that I take with me. Like you, I only pack what I can carry and definitely pack for function as well as style.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. Your tip about dual-purpose items is a really good one. I definitely take advantage of scarves but will use your other tips (especially the vision board one) the next time I travel!

  4. I bought two sets of Patagonia’s long johns in their mid-range level of insulation. They fit under my skinniest clothes, pack down to nothing, and wash out in a hotel sink ready to be worn the next day. I have also heard good things about winter silks mentioned up thread. Regarding rolling clothes: I have never understood how rolling clothes could save any space as the volume remains the same, right? Your engineer husband could answer that question for us. I do however stuff undies and socks into my shoes. Keeps the shoes from crushing , too.

    • Thanks to you and Bette, Cornelia, I now have two possibilities for keeping warmer in the cold weather. I will check out both Patagonia long johns and Wintersilks. Regarding rolling clothes, it’s supposed to prevent wrinkles. It doesn’t really save space, as the volume does remain the same. I will try the rolling next time and see how things go in the wrinkle department. I started stuffing things in my shoes after my husband and I got together. He showed me that trick. I call him the “master packer,” but I am no where near that status!

  5. I once got caught out like this when the weather was colder than expected. Even my cashmere sweaters were not warm enough. Fortunately my colours co-ordinated and I simply layered the V-neck over the turtle-neck. It was only a weekend so I could have worn this combo both days if needed. Cashmere and merino are both warm for their weight. Also I would endorse the silk base layer concept. For the cold you also need your extremities covered. Scarves, hats, gloves, warm socks will all make a difference.

    • I definitely need more sweaters in my wardrobe and perhaps a few turtlenecks, too. I like the idea of layering the v-neck over a turtleneck. I used to do that all the time when I lived in “cold country” (Colorado and Tahoe), but I’ve lived in San Diego for too long and no longer have much in the way of warm clothes. Time to remedy this, but I won’t go crazy with shopping! I have scarves, hats, and gloves, but could use some warm socks!

  6. Wherever I go I take one small, no-wheels carry-on bag that fits under the seat — period. I NEVER check bags. I also plan my wardrobe weeks (s0metimes months) in advance so I am prepared for the trip, clothes-wise. Because nearly all of my clothes in my basic wardrobe can be layered and mixed and matched for every day use, I am able to cull a smaller travel wardrobe around a few basic colors (generally, red, black and white). If traveling in the cooler months, I take a silk base layer for added warmth — this added warmth was a life-saver while climbing the Great Wall near Beijing in the snow one January. I own only a few patterned clothes so I also limit pattern while traveling — maybe one top and some scarves.

    My basic travel wardrobe is: black pants, black pencil skirt, gray “jeans like” casual pants (I don’t take denim — too heavy), black cashmere cardigan, black & white L/S blouse (can be dressed up or down), white L/S top, red top (sleeve length depends on destination), black top (ditto on sleeve length) and white L/S blouse (optional for destinations where I will be doing out to dinner, to the theater, etc.). One pair casual/dressy black shoes, one pair waterproof walking shoes (or sandals), one pair cheap flip flops (for showers/slippers/beaches), 1 pr. p.j.’s, 1 lightweight robe (for B&B’s and staying with friends), 1 outerwear garment (generally a raincoat), scarves (one of which can be used as a shawl on the plane and out to dinner, etc.), socks/tights/undies, and jewelry. Other optional stuff: hat/gloves/warm scarf (cool climate), fleece top (for really cold climates), silk base layer (top & bottom), bathing suit (I use my robe as a cover-up), sleeveless top, small umbrella, sun hat, 1 pair shorts. The optional items often replace items in the basic wardrobe — shorts (or capri pants) in place of a second pair of pants in the list of basics, the sleeveless top in place of one of the other tops, etc. I added a L/S wool dress and jacket ensemble for my China business trip in place of the gray pants and black cardigan (the jacket was black with red trim — worked very well with my other clothes). The black L/S top is often a cashmere turtleneck sweater for added warmth. Or, for summer travel, it can be a v-neck t-shirt. Or a black silk blouse for a theater week. Destination and purpose dictate what I pack.

    I have used this wardrobe for 2-3 weeks at a time. I use packing aids (cubes, sleeves, etc.) to compress my gear and keep it organized although I also roll a few outliers and stuff undies in shoes, etc. The key to my small wardrobe is to do laundry while traveling. I’ve used hotel laundries in China, laundrettes in the UK, hand-washing in bathroom sinks in Italy, and friends’ washer and dryers everywhere. It works! I always have the “right” clothes, and I am always dressed for the weather — well, reasonably so. I can carry my own bag through a crowded terminal, down cobbled streets, and up four flights of stairs.

    I have a standard travel wardrobe spreadsheet that I have been using since 1985, tweaking for various challenges for each trip, such as traveling to multiple climates (Japan and SE Asia in the fall), attending special events (weddings, opera), or hiking up the Great Wall in winter. My goal is to appropriately dressed for the occasion and for the climate so I can focus on the purpose of the trip — spending time with friends and family, or going to the theater in London, or hiking the South Devon Coastal Walk.

    RE: waffle weave tops. Warmth from clothing depends on the fiber content, not the necessarily the decoration. A cotton waffle weave top is generally as warm as a plain cotton top. Originally, thick cotton (2-ply) waffle weave was used in undergarments (I get a mental picture of Wallace Beery here) worn with additional layers of clothing — often thick flannel or wool shirts, overalls, jackets, etc. The current fashion trend of “waffle weave” harkens back to these undergarments but the stuff I see is made out of very thin cotton — it’s not a performance fabric designed for warmth, etc. — it’s a fashion statement. A better choice bight have been double-faced wool jacket, a performance fleece, a cashmere or even heavy cotton sweater. I usually wear 2 layers of clothing inside my Midwestern house, adding a down jacket for out-of-doors.

    • Sounds like you have your travel process really dialed in, Dottie. My mother-in-law always plans her travel wardrobe weeks in advance, too, but I’m more of a day before or same day packer. Time to turn that around… Your points about the waffle weave tops ring true. I like the look, but the tops really aren’t very warm, at least not once I leave San Diego. Your suggestions for better choices are good and will be more of what I reach for on future trips to “cold country.”

  7. I don’t travel very much but when I do, I have a system. First, I go on the Weather Channel and scope out what the weather is predicted to be like for where I am going during the time of my visit. Armed with this information, I then make a detailed list of everything I might possibly need, plotting out my clothing choices for each day based on what I know my activities will be. I start this list several days in advance of leaving, so that as I remember items, I can easily add them to the list, or I can delete if I see I am selecting too many redundant items. I do the actual packing the night before I am slated to depart.

    I allow myself to have a limited color palette, so that if I change my mind on any particular day due to climate or mood, my clothing still coordinates. I pack clothing that is entirely separates: knits or woven pants that can be folded (for me this would be jeans or corduroy pants in cooler weather). Because most of the clothing is knits, each item can be rolled or folded to be very small and tucked in tightly.

    A year ago, I went to a wedding in NYC for a week in June. I took one small rolling case and my handbag. I had a selection of knit separates along with my main dress. (My dress, a cotton Calvin Klein sheath, was rolled up rather than folded, then hung up upon arriving at the hotel. Because it wasn’t folded, it hadn’t wrinkled, and simply hanging it up brought it back to how it should look.) By carefully choosing separates, during that week I didn’t repeat any outfits.

    With regard to being cold, I’m with you there. Ours is not a temperate climate in the midwest. At the cusp of the seasons, the temperature can vary by 40˚ in the space of a few hours. I am accustomed to dressing to be prepared, and again, even for daily dressing, I refer to the Weather Channel.

    So I dress in layers most of the year, except for the hottest months of summer. Right now, the temperature has been yo-yoing from the teens to the 50’s. Every day is a new adventure in dressing, but again, I have devised a system to deal with this.

    I like to dress in lightweight layers because these trap the air next to the body and keep you warm. So, in the winter, I start off my first layer as a Spanx Assets tank top (Target, $24.). These are available in white, black and nude. I choose whichever color works best with my total outfit. The Spanx keeps me warm, provides a bit of back support, and because of its artful construction, takes the place of having to wear a bra. Underpants style depends on what type of bottom I plan to wear.

    Atop the Spanx, I then layer a thin long sleeved shirt or tunic (if I am wearing leggings). Over the shirt comes a sweater of some kind, but usually its a cardigan. I prefer cashmere sweaters over any other type because they are lightweight and warm. At the end of the season, I purchase cashmere sweaters on sale, so I have a collection built up from years. Cashmere lasts for decades if you take care of it. I have some cashmere cardigans that are over 20 years old, and I have one that is from the 1950’s (they really made nice cashmere back then!!). Most of my sweaters are less than 5 years old though. My newest addition, carefully selected to go with my new culled wardrobe, is a pinkish camel cardigan that I got on sale for 32.00!

    If I am not wearing a cashmere sweater, it will be some type of natural fiber or blend with predominantly natural fibers, preferably wool. I like my winter layering sweaters to be a minimum of 30% wool to provide the level of warmth I need. Wool is key to winter layering, because it breathes and you don’t perspire if you get too warm.

    Another sweater option I have come to love is a long wool sweater vest with pockets. Eddie Bauer had some two years ago, done in a wonderful 50% wool Aran knit–I bought 3 in different colors. These can be worn a variety of ways, even as a sort of top coat if the weather is not too chilly. They have a more finished look and are less sporty than fleece or down vests, so you can build a business or casual outfit around them.

    The other great thing about wool sweaters is that they always have a luxe look, especially if its a lightweight, drapy style. Toss on some statement jewelry, and your look elevates immediately. For very casual wear, I like lightweight jackets or vests made of low pile fleece.

    My feet are always cold in winter, so I have a collection of socks, all made of either merino wool or cashmere. My socks are in different weights: heavy merino boot socks (in black to coordinate with everything) to wear with birkenstocks, clogs and Uggs. Lighter weight cashmere blend socks (I prefer Gold Toe for their long term wearability–you have to be careful with cashmere socks, many of them do not hold up) can be worn with most other dressier flat shoes. If I am wearing a skirt, I choose super opaque hose for warmth. I tend to not choose cotton socks for warmth–they don’t keep my feet warm. I buy most of my socks at Costco and Sams Club.

    With multiple lightweight layers in natural fibers, you can put on or take off pieces as your needs dictate and you will never be cold because wool is an excellent insulator. Wool is no more difficult to care for than any other fiber if you handle it carefully during washing. Most wool sweaters and separates (especially the merino wool blend lightweight layering leggings) and tops can be easily machine washed on a delicate cycle. The trick is to not put them in the dryer, where they will shrink. (You can, however, toss them in the dryer to remove any lint and fluff them up–once they are already dry.)

    I choose car coat length top coats that hit me at mid thigh because I do a lot of driving around and don’t like to be encumbered by a coat in the car. I have three basic coat styles for different weathers: a lightweight reversible raincoat (reverses from black to lipstick red), several suede top coats in different colors for dressier wear, and an all purpose lightweight black down coat from Eddie Bauer. To change the look of these items, I have different scarves and colored gloves.

    This system works well for me and I tailor the formula of the day’s outfit based on the weather report. I seldom find myself miserable from having chosen the wrong outfit for the temperature!

    • Deby, I love everything you wrote about cashmere, wool, and other natural fibers. My only exception to whole-hearted agreement is Spanx, which reminds me of sausage-covering. Spanx doesn’t breathe — it is tight and constrictive. What’s the point of natural fibers if the inner layer is nylon and spandex?

      • I find that the spanx is not hot to wear–the fabric is actually fairly breathable. It does not feel like a sausage to me. I wear a size M, and find them to be comfortable. I have to do a fair amount of carrying and lifting in my home because my mother is disabled, so I find the spanx helps give support to my core so that I don’t have as much muscle strain as I would normally.

    • Your system sounds excellent, Deby. Since I haven’t lived where it gets all that cold for over 11 years, I’ve gotten “lax” about dressing in layers, but I paid for it on my recent trip. I would question the Spanx as Bette did, but I know that many women swear by it for support and warmth as well as for pulling things in. I can’t speak to it since I’ve only worn Spanx under dresses on a few occasions. I am going to take some of your tips for layering and will get some cashmere blend socks, too. My feet were what was coldest, as well as my arms. If I had warm socks and another layer on top, it would have made a world of difference. Thanks for sharing all of your wisdom with us!

      • I’ve always liked wearing undergarments like Spanx. When I was in college, long before Spanx were ever invented, I wore Danskin leotards under my clothing in the cooler months. I had them in lots of colors and styles. They were the basis of my wardrobe over which I layered various shirts and sweaters.

        I don’t wear Spanx in the summer, its strictly a fall/winter garment. Usually I only wear Spanx when the temperature dips below 50˚. The rest of the time, I wear regular bras, and I like the Genie bras that came out a few years ago.

      • I like the Genie bras, too, Deby! I am surprised at how they are comfortable yet still provide great support. Perhaps I need to give the real Spanx a try. I’ve only worn some of the cheaper imposters and maybe those are much less comfortable. If Spanx can help me to keep warm, I’m all for it!

  8. I live in a 4 season climate and I am very sensitive to the temperature. I have to be bundled up for the cold and then I need to shed outerwear as soon as I get inside.
    I travel to Florida in winter. My travel wardrobe consists of silk base layer, merino wool middle layer, and a heavy boiled wool sweater that I wear under a wool knee length coat. I have a wool cap, wool scarf and Smart Wool knee socks. That suffices until we get to Fl and I can change into cottons/wool.

    At home, like Deby, I dress for the weather as pronounced by the tv and confirmed by an outdoor thermometer. When necessary, I dress warmly to walk the dogs, but switch the knee socks for lightweight Smart Wool crew socks because my apt. building is warm, even with the heat off.

    I am signed up for a trip to Europe in Oct. and I have been collecting my layers for 60 degree weather. I want to travel with only a carry on, so this is a puzzle of layers.

    • Thanks for sharing your tips for cold weather layering, Sandra. I can see how the four layers on top would keep you warm. I will check out Smart Wool knee socks, too. Good luck with your Europe trip. Traveling to Europe with only a carry-on sounds challenging, but I know many people do it, including some of the people commenting on this post!

  9. I travel a lot for work and have homes in two different countries with very different climates. I don’t like packing and find it stressful. What does work is a packing list (honed over time) on my computer. Without it, I tend to forget essentials like chargers, adapters, and toothpaste. Still, I always misplace items while travelling. Right now I’m missing my favorite snakeprint scarf and two pairs of ankle boots.

    I’ve become a minimal packer. I usually don’t check in my bag so I have see-through Muji pouch of travel-size toiletries ready to go and another for non-liquid items. I always think in layers and often dress up on the plane (if I need a suit I’ll wear it). I always take along a pair of merino tights and woolen socks and a lightweight woolen shawl. A down jacket is obligatory for most of the year in Italy – houses are often freezing inside even when it’s relatively warm outside. My travel clothes are more boring than what I would wear at home, mostly navy and neutrals. The biggest challenge is how to have some variety in footwear.

    • I love the idea of a packing list, FrugalFashionista. One of my friends who travels a lot has one and I vowed to create one while packing for this last trip. However, I didn’t give myself enough time to pack and when I got home, my plane was delayed for a long time and I got home very late. Perhaps I will just put something together soon and hone it during the next time I pack. I would love to be more of a minimal packer! I’m better than I used to be but still have a long way to go…

  10. I just returned home today from a trip to New England. I travel quite a bit so I don’t find packing to be stressful unless it’s a completely different kind of trip than I usually take. I start by doing what Deby said, I check the weather. For this trip it was very cold. One day had a low of 8 deg. I choose a limited amount of colors, for this trip it was black, grey, red, and denim. I consider what kind of activities I’ll be doing. I knew I’d be going out to eat a few times, family dinners, and a museum so I packed mostly casual clothes. Jeans and leggings with nicer sweaters and boots. When it’s cold I’ll wear a long sleeve top under a sweater or a cardigan rather than my usual tank top. I also bring very warm lounge clothes to wear to bed or when I get up in the morning because most places we stay are heated by wood stove and the upstairs is usually in the low 40’s. Brrrrr. I tend to take the same or similar kinds of trips and I find myself bringing the same or very similar types of outfits. When something works I stick with it. I probably have a larger variety of clothing than you because where I live in Tennessee can be down in the teens in the winter (average 30’s) and over 100 in the summer (average 90’s). When I book a trip I will try to see if I’m going to need something for it and I can keep it in mind when I’m shopping.

    • I didn’t realize it gets that cold in Tennessee, Tonya. I’ve only been there once, though, and it was during the spring. Our temperature ranges are much less wide, so my wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of warmth variety to it. However, since I run cold, I’m sure I would use the type of layering you mentioned even when I’m at home. I do stick to a smaller color palette when traveling and that has worked well. My travel wardrobe sounds much like yours, but I could use another layer on top (and some warmer socks!).

  11. I would love to travel light and have the clothing pretty much sorted but my BIG problem is make up and toiletries. How to fit all those things in a carry on?

    I take photos of outfits and try to have one of the items from the outfit transfer to another outfit with a different top or bottom and accessories. The photos are great when you get to the destination and you can just get dressed in the outfit from the pic on the phone. I don’t try them all on before, I lay them on the bed with shoes and accessories, and then take the pic. On a recent trip to Hawaii for 10 nights this worked really well. I didn’t have to think about what to wear, I had the pics to tell me.

    I also rely on the weather forecast for the place I am travelling too. We came from winter in Australia to summer in Hawaii. I wore layers on the plane and took them off as we landed in Hawaii and changed my shoes to sandals.

    • If I may be so crunchy, I stopped using shampoo and conditioner, and make my own deodorant. If a trip is a long weekend or shorter, I just wash the day I leave and don’t wash my hair again during the trip. I can pack a little arrowroot powder (or corn starch) as dry shampoo, which I prefer to water-only washing. For longer trips (like Paris), I pack a couple Tbsps of (dry) baking soda (clean), and (separately) 3ozs of distiller white vinegar (condition), which I can dilute locally in the drinking glasses the hotel provides or in empty bottles I can stuff into a pair of shoes (I prefer a spay bottle for the vinegar rinse, because it also works as a curl refresher and leave-in conditioner). Deodorant you make yourself fits into whatever container you want. It’s equal parts baking soda, corn starch (or arrowroot powder) mixed with coconut oil. I pack a little oil for moisturizer and then my mascara and lip balm to in the clear Baggie with my contact stuff and toothpaste (though baking soda can be used as toothpaste too).

    • I love the idea of taking photos to plan travel outfits, Pauline. I’ve done that a bit in the past and it was helpful. I also struggle with the make-up and toiletries, so I appreciate Rebecca’s wonderful tips. When I take shorter trips, I wash my hair before I go and save myself from having to drag along all of my hair stuff. But Rebecca’s other tips are mostly new to me and definitely provide some food for thought. I never knew about vinegar for hair and making one’s own deodorant!

  12. I travel a lot, mostly for business, and I prefer to travel light. I take 1 bag and a carry on and that’s it. I use a written packing list for each trip. I pack the night before. My packing list is divided up this way: what I wear on the plane, items in my carry on, items in hold luggage. I hang up my travel clothes the night before. I always check my luggage-its worth the extra fee to forget about it, and since becoming a student pilot I feel even more strongly PX should check their bags-it is what the cargo hold is for-and you could board and deplane MUCH faster and life would be easier for the cabin crews. I also check Roadwarriorette for packing tips. THat is a very helpful travel site.

    • I always check a bag, too, Maharani, and probably always will, at least for longer trips. I like your ideas for dividing up your packing list. I will incorporate them into the list I’m going to create before my next trip. Thanks for the tip for the Roadwarriorette travel site. I will check that out!

      • I am pretty sure I downloaded the template for my packing list from RoadWarriorette. At any rate there’s a lot of useful info on the site for women travelers. I would suggest you make a list now and keep it ready for your next trip-then you wont be so stressed when ready to pack and go. You can think about and tweak it, and each trip allows you to refine further-mine now works very well-I save them all because I make the same trips each year. Packing takes me about an hour now, as opposed to a lot longer, and is so much easier and less stressful than it used to be.

      • I just peeked at Road Warriorette (for others who might be interested, here’s the link: http://boardingarea.com/roadwarriorette) and am impressed with what I saw thus far! I look forward to perusing some more of the articles and perhaps I’ll find a packing list template there. I agree that it’s a good idea to create the list now rather than when I’m in a hurry to travel somewhere. I’m all for less stressful travel!

  13. My problem is that, even when I check the temperature beforehand, I often have no conception of what that feels like! I live in very warm weather, so anything under 70 feels cold to me, and therefore it’s hard to imagine the difference between 20 and 40, say. I do find that scarves can keep you warm, even if you’re not wearing clothing that is otherwise warm enough. If my neck is warm, that’s a big first step. I usually travel with a pashmina scarf that I stash in a ziploc baggie – I can either wear it as a wrap if it’s not too cold, use it as an extra blankie to snuggle under, or use it as a scarf.

    • You and I are in a similar boat, Sarah, in regards to what cold weather feels like! I think anything under 60 is cold, but it was in the teens at night when I was in Tahoe and that was REALLY cold! Pashminas can definitely be helpful for neck warmth and are very versatile items to have around on trips, as you note. I need those, as well as some of the Wintersilks / Long johns mentioned above (and warm socks) and then I should be set!

  14. I find travel packing to be a great exercise of style and simplicity, it’s like creating a smaller version of your wardrobe. The first time I decided to travel light, it was for a business trip in Las Vegas, 3 days, and I only took a 72 hour computer bag and a small purse. I remember the anxiety indeed: “did I really take everything I need? Did I forget something? I’m sure I’m forgetting something!” was what I thought during the trip to the Airport, checking my passport and tickets every 5 minutes. But then, it was so freeing, not to have a huge luggage to carry around, not to have anything to check in… I think it is a good experience at proving that we don’t need that much after all, objects are just a way to reassure ourselves, a “just in case” thing. But once that anxiety is over, you realize just how few you need to travel well.

    I also agree that self awareness is the key in wardrobe refining, but also in life simplification and objectives in general. If I had one key takeaway from the year, it would be this one – know yourself better first! Do you have one key takeway from this year of simplification?

    • Great insights, Kali! I would have similar anxiety if I traveled light, but I’m sure it would be okay, as it was for you. “Just in case” leads to lots of over-packing , to be sure!

      I think that in addition to self-awareness, another key takeaway for me from this year is that I don’t need as much as I think. A large wardrobe is not necessarily a GOOD wardrobe, as I’ve learned very clearly. I have read your blog with great interest (and have gone back to read your earlier posts). I see that it’s taken you a few years to build a wardrobe that works for you. I didn’t even realize that my wardrobe didn’t work for me until I stopped shopping so much and started analyzing my wardrobe and my actions. Although I tracked what I wore during 2011 and 2012, things didn’t start to come together for me until this year. I suspect that next year will be pivotal for me in terms of both personal style and a workable wardrobe. I want things to happen faster, of course, but it takes what it takes. I am willing to do the work and be patient, as I know I will later reap the benefits. Your process has taught me a lot and I’m glad I found your blog!

  15. My trips are typically to London in the winter and Hawaii at various times of year: For the former I always take my trench coat with the wool liner zipped in-I carry it with my hand luggage, gloves. I always pack cashmere sweaters, my tall boots which are comfy enough to wear flying, booties and 1 extra pair of shoes, usually my leather walking shoes and pm shoes IF I need them. I always dress up for the plane which we all did in the 60s and 70s-it adds a little fun to the experience and lets me recall how glamorous flying used to be. I get very tired of seeing all the awful clothes people wear to the airport today-it is dreadful, butt cracks showing etc. For 1-2 weeks my packing list has colors and the number of tops/bottoms etc, accessories etc. I stick to it-heres 1 rule I use-if you want to pack 3 sweaters, pack three different ones, not 3 of the same style (ie slouchy, cascade, cardigan)-you get more outfits out of what you pack that way. I take 1 makeup bag and 1 wash bag in my checked luggage-I think people make far too much fuss about carrying this stuff on. I never wear makeup flying because I don’t like to sleep in it. I have a wool shawl in my hand luggage, plus kindle and its charger, phone and charger, documents in a leather folder, purse, and thats about it. For Hawaii, when I started working with my wardrobe consultant and tailor, we bought things specifically for these trips and so thats what I pack. I have shorts, a long dress, a couple of skirts and tees, or a simple summer dress and everything is coordinated. These items work for casual summers here as well as for Hawaii so they get lots of use. I take a chiffon sari for special. Business trips are of course slightly different and more suit/dressy clothes focused.

    • I got a chuckle about your comment about people’s travel wardrobes, Maharani. So true! I aim to dress nicely for travel as well as being comfortable, too. I like your tips for packing, especially the rule about packing different styles of garments within categories (such as sweaters). My problem is that I have too many similar pieces in my wardrobe, but I am now aiming to remedy that now that I am aware of the problem.

      • My last trip to London was for nine days. Here’s what I took: 2 pairs shoes , 2 pr pants, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 5 tops, 2 jacket equivalents (1 dressy 1 more casual),accessories (2 belts, 3 scarves, 2 bags, jewelry), underwear/nightie. This is in addition to what I wore to travel. I wore everything except 1 top, and I did not exhaust the outfit possibilities of these items by any means-I cold have created another week’s worth. This list is my usual count of items and I usually find I overpack SLIGHTLY, by about 1 top, but it is nice to have. If you like I can send you my list. I prep a week before I go and work hard to think it through.

    • One thing you didn’t say in your article what what categories of clothing you packed and the # of items in each, plus length of stay. With this information it might have been easier to pinpoint why you overpacked.

      • Very impressive packing, Maharani! I didn’t really overpack for my trip, as I wore pretty much everything I brought with me. My problem is that I didn’t have the RIGHT types of items for that particular trip. Now that I reflect back, I think having a turtleneck or two or some long underwear, as well as warm socks, would have made all the difference! I will definitely do better the next time around…

  16. My London clothes are good for Paris too-in November 2012, my sister and I took my niece to Paris for the weekend on Eurostar. My clothes worked perfectly-black wool dress pants, cashmere pullovers, scarves for accessories, coat, gloves and boots, plus a black dress for a fancy dinner out. While I dont look Parisienne (though I lived in France for a couple of years), I didnt look obviously like a tourist-not that I care-I AM a tourist-but I could also walk around comfortably and the clothes worked for the time of year and the things we did-museums, dining out, walking around Paris, train travel. By the way all of these work for Southern CA in winter too-so while I agree that clothes should be bought for frequent travel, they can be surprisingly multi-use in very different climates. All the pieces I took get lots of wear at home, at the office.

    • Your Paris travel wardrobe sounds lovely. I could see wearing such clothes at home (I live in Southern CA – do you as well?), too. I can definitely see myself wearing cashmere sweaters here for at least half the year. I wear a jacket most of the year, so why not cashmere pullovers?

      • Yes I do. I wear my cashmere sweaters all winter-I have 2 dressy pullovers, but also a red cashmere hoodie I live in at home-it is 4 years old and is part of my winter flying wardrobe (both commercial AND student pilot) because it is not only warm but light. I wore my new pullover the night before last for entertaining at home, and all sorts of dressy and casual occasions since I bought it. Its cost per wear is dropping fast.

      • It’s good to have another Southern Californian in our community! I have added cashmere sweaters to my shopping list, as I definitely think they would get a good amount of wear since I run so cold. I won’t overbuy – will aim to start with 1 or 2 – and will see how it works out for me. Your comments pretty much have me sold, though! 🙂

      • Make sure you buy the highest quality you can afford and if it’s only one, make it as versatile a choice as possible. You can wash it yourself or dry clean it, but be sure you maintain it as that will keep clothes moth at bay.

  17. I have realized that travel is a huge spending trigger for me. When I pack I think about all the scenarios and envision having the perfect outfit. It really spins me in to a spending frenzy to gather the perfect wardrobe. I am going on 2 trips in the next 6 months and am trying to tell myself not to crazy shoppping for stuff we likely don’t “need.” Any great words of encouragement to stop me from a frenzy?

    • Thanks for your comment, Melissa. I think travel can be a big spending trigger for a lot of us! I know it can be for me sometimes… What helps me is to start early to plan my wardrobe for a trip. A good first step is to brainstorm the types of activities you’ll be doing while you’re gone (you may not know everything you’ll be doing, but you probably know more than you think). Then consider what you might wear for those activities. Consider what you wore when you did those types of things in the past. You likely have most of what you need already in your closet and may only need one or two new things, if anything at all. I wrote a full post on this topic on a previous blog – here’s the link: http://debbieroes.com/travel-packing-tips/ Hope this helps… Best of luck to you!

  18. Thank you for a very informative post! I used to be a terrible packer, and while I still have much room for improvement, traveling with small children has forced me to think more carefully when I pack. I find that it’s not just what you pack that’s important, but how you pack it. I fold clothes into smallish rectangles or squares and “stand” them in the suitcase, sort of like filing them (sorry for the terrible explanation). I can fit enough clothes for three people for an unpredictable climate in one medium sized suitcase that I used to easily fill with just my own clothes. Anyway, the information in this post and the comments should be very useful for four their improving my packing skills for our next trip!

    • Thanks for your comment, Kayla. I’m glad you liked this post. I’ve really enjoyed all of the wonderful comments from readers, including yours. I love your idea of standing the clothes up in the suitcase! I know exactly what you’re talking about, as we do that with my husband’s t-shirts in his drawers. It DOES use the space better!

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