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 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.”
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!