I recently returned from a twelve day trip to Lake Tahoe and the San Francisco Bay Area. This was a tricky trip to pack for, as the weather forecast was different for both locations, plus it was the “cusp” season between summer and fall anyway. I experienced some challenges in deciding what to pack and dealing with the repercussions of my decisions. In today’s post, I share my insights in the hope that some of you may benefit from my mistakes and difficulties. I highlight what I packed, what worked well, what didn’t work, and what I wore during my trip.
What I Packed
The weekend before my trip, I spent some time in my closet planning my potential travel wardrobe. At the time, the forecast called for summer temperatures, so I mostly looked at packing warm weather clothing with just a few cool weather options in case I needed them (Tahoe in particular is subject to wide temperature fluctuations). However, as my departure date approached, the expected temperatures kept dipping lower and lower, such that my planned travel capsule was pretty much null and void. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to make adjustments in the few days before my flight, as my schedule was busy with appointments and tasks to get done.
What made things more difficult was that I hadn’t worn my cool weather items for several months and my weight had shifted somewhat in the interim (as I wrote about in this post). Thus, I wasn’t exactly sure what would fit well and what I’d be comfortable wearing for lower temperatures. While my jeans fit better than they had back in the late spring, I still wasn’t back to my ideal weight, plus I continue to experience regular water retention and bloating issues for reasons as yet unknown to me. Optimally, I would have taken ample time to try things on and determine the travel outfits I’d feel attractive in and enjoy wearing, but I wasn’t able to do this.
Fast forward to my departure date… In the hustle and bustle of the day, which included having to take my husband to the doctor (fortunately, he’s fine now), I didn’t leave myself much time for packing. Thus, I made the all too common mistake of throwing too many pieces into my suitcase, especially when it came to tops. Here’s a look at my travel wardrobe:
By category, here’s what I opted to take with me on my trip:
- 1 dress
- 1 skirt
- 4 tops to pair with the skirt
- 2 toppers for the skirt and dress (1 cardigan and 1 jacket)
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of athletic pants
- 10 tops to wear with pants (6 short-sleeved, 4 long-sleeved)
- 3 toppers for pants (1 parka, 1 jacket, 1 vest)
- 3 pairs of shoes (boots, sandals, athletic shoes)
- Pajamas (pants, short-sleeved top, long-sleeved top – not shown)
- Lounge wear (Capri pants, short-sleeved top – not shown)
Issues with My Travel Wardrobe
Some of you probably noticed a few issues with my travel wardrobe. I don’t pretend to be a wardrobe minimalist or a light packer and I probably will never be either of those things. However, I do want to cultivate a more workable wardrobe and a better packing strategy and the travel debriefs that I’ve been doing (see earlier ones HERE, HERE, and HERE) help me learn what to do differently in the future. The following are what I see as the main issues with my travel capsule this time around:
- Too many workout and lounge items – I didn’t need so many items in these categories and could have gotten by with about half as many pieces as I brought with me. I didn’t end up going to the gym and only went on a few walks, so two tops in this category (one short-sleeved and one long-sleeved) would have been enough. I also could have worn my pajamas for lounging instead of having additional items for that purpose.
- Too many tops and not enough bottoms – I wish I would have packed an additional skirt and that I would have substituted a pair of comfortable black pants for the boot-cut jeans. I also would have liked to have had another dress with me, but a second skirt would have been a more versatile choice.
- No mix and match capability between my skirt/dress and pants tops and topper options – This is an issue with my wardrobe at large, but it doesn’t impact me as much when I’m at home. I’m very particular about proportions and don’t tuck my tops in because I’m short-waisted and for comfort reasons. Thus, the tops and toppers I wear with skirts and dresses are different from the ones I pair with pants in almost all instances. In addition, I almost always wear alternate shoes with both types of bottoms. I think, however, that I can find ways to be less rigid about tops, toppers, and shoes and still feel that my outfits are flattering. This is something to experiment with in the coming months prior to my next “cusp” season trip when I want to pack both pants and skirts/dresses.
In a section below, I will highlight what I shouldn’t have packed and what I wish I would have packed, but the above is a good overview of my most obvious packing problems. In light of these issues, however, I was still happy with most of the outfits I wore on my trip and I had appropriate clothes to wear for all of my activities. Yes, I wish I would have packed less, but I wasn’t all that adversely affected by my lack of a perfect travel capsule wardrobe.
What I Wore
Although I feel that I packed too much for my trip, I did end up wearing many of my items multiple times. These ten pieces were worn at least three times and the jeans, shoes, and purse saw many more wears than that:
Five additional items were worn twice, which I think is a good number of times for a 12-day trip. I feel good about having brought all of the below items along:
As I mentioned above, I packed too many tops and clearly could have gotten by with fewer options in this category. I also wore my boot-cut jeans just once, so it would have been okay to have left them at home. Since I hadn’t worn jeans in months, I didn’t realize this pair wasn’t nearly as comfortable as I thought they would be. I did try them on prior to trip, but sometimes we can’t tell how we’ll feel in an item until we’ve worn it for an hour or more. Here are the ten items that I only wore once during the trip:
Finally, three short-sleeved shirts weren’t worn at all and clearly weren’t needed:
I overestimated how often I would need casual t-shirts. I didn’t end up working out at all during my trip, plus I preferred to wear my skirt or dress on warmer days rather than pants and tees. In addition, the purple top in the center is a summer purchase that has yet to be worn at all. It’s never a good idea to pack untested items for travel and I should have known better than to pack this garment. It’s far better to go with “tried and true” pieces when traveling and to test out the new when we’re at home.
Here’s a look at my Tahoe and Bay Area outfits. Since my “selfies” weren’t always clear and I’ve worn some of the ensembles previously, some of the photos shown are from earlier dates (which is why my hair looks different, although I continue to use the root cover-up powder to hide my gray hair – I will do an update on my transition process again soon).
I was happy with pretty much everything I wore. I didn’t love the outfit with the boot-cut jeans for comfort reasons, but I liked how it looked. I was also physically comfortable in most of the outfits, although sitting all day in jeans was sometimes problematic due to my nerve pain issues. In the future, I’m going to pack a pair of black “athleisure” pants that I can comfortably wear all day for occasions when I’m either bloated or experiencing increased pain (I never know when those days will be).
I did get creative with one ensemble (the outfit on the right in the first image) based upon a suggestion I received. I had lamented having packed only one dress and one skirt, so this woman recommended that I layer a top over the dress to create a separates look. While this didn’t work with any of my tank top options, my cobalt and black print draped tee worked beautifully for this purpose and I was quite pleased with the end result. I’m going to try this technique with other tops and dresses at home to incorporate more outfit versatility, especially for future travel. Also recommended was knotting longer shirts so their proportions will work better worn with skirts or layered over dresses.
There are lots of creative ideas out there for maximizing one’s wardrobe for travel and otherwise. If you have ideas to share, please do so in the comments section of this post. Links to images of such looks are welcome, too (comments with two or more links will be moderated, but I will approve them as soon as I can).
What Else I Packed
In addition to the clothes I showed above, I also packed the following:
- Undergarments (I usually pack a few extras)
- Jewelry (probably 12 pairs of earrings, 3 bracelets, 2 watches, and 3 necklaces – I wore about 2/3 of these items)
- A few articles to read
- Reading glasses
- Neck wrap and wrist pad (I have a lot of joint problems)
- Flat iron
- Lint brush
- Toiletry items
- Supplements and pills (I take LOTS of these! All packed in baggies and small containers, not original bottles)
- Snacks (nuts, Lara Bars, crackers, Paleo cookies and bread – both homemade and delicious!)
I’ve gotten much better at not over-packing in this area and used virtually all of the above items. I would like to get a wheeled carry-on bag, however, as my bag was too heavy for me to carry through the airport, particularly during my two-hour delay on my home-bound flight. This will make a big difference for my travel comfort. I’d also like to get a medium-sized suitcase, which will help me not to pack so much (my existing bag is large) and will be easier for me to maneuver. I don’t travel that often, though, so these purchases are not high priorities, just “nice to have” items.
What I Should Have Packed
I alluded above to a few items I wish I would have brought with me on the trip, but here’s an itemized list of what I see as omissions. A few of these items will need to be purchased (shown with an asterisk) prior to my next trip.
- Slippers (mine are relatively lightweight and would be practical to pack)
- My cobalt anorak (I could have used a lightweight, casual jacket and this one would take up very little space and weight)
- Black “athleisure” pants (they are stretchy and comfortable and should have taken the place of the boot-cut jeans)
- A second skirt and/or dress (of course, I would reduce what I pack in other categories to accommodate these additions)
- A slip to wear under the dress (it wouldn’t be necessary with all dresses, but I would have appreciated the smoothing effect with the maxi-dress I wore on this last trip)
- A make-up mirror * (I have a magnifying mirror at home and struggled to apply my make-up on the trip without this tool)
- Travel hairdryer * (the one I packed was big and bulky and took up too much space and weight)
Yes, I know that a lot of hotel rooms include hairdryers, but my hair is very sensitive and temperamental, so the blow dryer I use makes a difference. There are great lightweight but powerful hairdryers available now, so I think this would be a good addition to my travel arsenal.
What I Wish I’d Left at Home
I mostly just wish I had packed fewer tops, but I also could have gotten by with fewer jewelry pieces and fewer snacks. I have already highlighted what I consider to be excessive items, but here’s a photo of the pieces that would have been better left at home:
I think it would be reasonable to aim to wear most of my clothes two or more times during a trip that’s a week or longer in length. If I left the above pieces at home and packed an alternate pair of pants and maybe one additional skirt, I think I would have accomplished that goal.
Conclusion and Coming Attractions
I continue to improve upon my packing for travel, but this last trip was a setback in terms of over-packing. I need to better plan my travel wardrobe, especially for trips during a cusp season. Ideally, I will find more tops, toppers, and shoes that can do “double-duty” and be worn with both pants and skirts/dresses. I probably already own such pieces and simply need to shop my closet and experiment with various options. I will refer back to this post well in advance of my next trip and learn from the insights I have captured here. I’m probably not destined to become the best and most minimalist packer around, but I can definitely improve and intend to do so!
I hope you found this post interesting and perhaps helpful as well. I know it’s just about my experience, but perhaps it made you think of things you might want to pack or leave at home. If you have questions or comments for me or would like to share your experiences, please do so. Some coming attractions for future posts include a follow-up guest post from someone who wrote a previous “Story of Recovery,” a photography interlude of photos from my trip, and the second half of my wardrobe and goals update. I wish you all a wonderful weekend and I hope you enjoy the remaining days of summer (or winter for my friends “down under”)!