9 tips for packing clothes for a trip away

Nikki Parkinson Fashion, Travel 63 Comments

I’m travelling again this week. This is far from an unusual occurrence.

I’ve spent the best part of the last six months packing and unpacking … for mostly work trips.

The thing is, I don’t think I can hang on to my notoriety as an over-packer any longer.

Well maybe just a little bit.

Necessity has forced me to streamline my packing process.

I’m still (generally) packing more than I need but I’m not packing as many clothes as I used to.

I’ve cutback on my “options”, instead working out in advance what outfits I need for different days or occasions.

This method tends to fall apart in a scenario like we had last week when road-tripping to the beach. My luggage didn’t come with a weight restriction so I well and truly took advantage! But in a work or short-trip scenario, I have to say I’m (almost) nailing it.

SY reader Amanda asked me to re-visit the packing and travelling issue in a blog post as it had been a while, so I thought this week’s lightening trip to and around Tasmania was an ideal week in which to do that.

See, I’m on a personal campaign with my packing.

We’ve booked to go to Europe for three weeks in June. I don’t want to be THAT person requiring excess baggage allowance even before she’s left home.

I want to be THAT person who sails through the UK, Paris and Italy with a capsule wardrobe that takes her from beach to bar and from cool English summer afternoons to toasty Mediterranean days by the water.

Anyone who KNOWS me is laughing right now. I can hear you!

When I was buying a new suitcase in the sales with this trip in mind, the personal shopper in David Jones (who reads my blog) helped me choose a size.

Even SHE laughed at my attempts to buy down a size from the one I eventually opted for (red 75cm Samsonite Firelite … it’s seriously so light and beautiful).

It’s still one size down from the largest in this Samsonite series and it’s had its maiden outing this week – carrying not just my outfit options but Master SY’s as well.

We have had a cabin bag with us but that’s only had the purpose of containing our clothes and toiletries for on board the Spirit of Tasmania. Our big suitcase stayed in the car for the journey over.

So, how have I gone?

Pretty damn good, even if I say so myself.

Here’s the process I used for this trip – and what I  now use for packing clothes for a trip away.

9 tips for packing for a trip away

Packing tips

1. Check the weather at the destination of the place/places you’re visiting. I use the weather app for this and find that it rarely steers me off course, even working a week in advance. So for this week, it indicated cooler temperatures than what we have had at home and some rain but not a super cold snap (which can happen in Tasmania at any time of year).

2. Consider what activities or events you’ll be doing or attending. I knew that on Day 1 (straight off the boat) we’d be driving a few hours before climbing up the Wineglass Bay lookout, so I packed our sneakers and comfortable active wear. Yesterday I had a book signing at a Hobart book store and we’ve had a couple of dinners out at night so I wanted a couple of smart casual options. There were no dress-up requirements so heels were left at home.

3. Write down outfit possibilities for each day/evening. I use the notes function on my iPad. The beauty of doing this is that I can refer to it when travelling if I forget the combinations I’d planned at home.

4. Put all proposed outfits – including shoes and accessories – out on your bed. Consider it like a jigsaw puzzle. Can you cut out one or more pair of shoes because you have two pairs that go with all your outfit combinations? Can you take one pair of jeans to mix and match for day or evening with different tops or accessories? Can one jacket work with all outfit combinations in case it gets cool? This is where I find I can cull down what I’ve packed and create a capsule that just works.

9 tips for packing for a trip away

5. The key to a workable travel capsule wardrobe, I think, is keeping to one or two neutral colours. On this trip, I stuck mostly with black and white with a bit of blue and denim thrown in. It all works. Yes, it’s not the same variety as I would wear at home but my suitcase isn’t groaning and I’m feeling quite smug. Just call me Queen Capsule. You can check out my outfits from this trip on Instagram. Here are just a few.

Bassike dress | Frankie4 Footwear sandals | Sterling and Hyde bag | Uberkate necklace

Bassike dress (I’m wearing L) | Frankie4 Footwear sandals | Sterling and Hyde bag | Uberkate necklace

Blue Illusion jacket | Moochinside scarf | Sussan tee | Harlow Australia jeans | Frankie4 Footwear slides

Blue Illusion jacket | Moochinside scarf | Sussan tee | Harlow Australia jeans (as featured here) | Frankie4 Footwear slides

Phyllis and Mimosa shirt | Salita Matthews necklace | myOmy Australia saddle bag | Frankie4 Footwear sandals

Phyllis and Mimosa shirt (I’m wearing size 14) | Harlow Australia jeans (as above) | Salita Matthews necklace | MYOMY Australia saddle bag | Frankie4 Footwear sandals (as above)

6. Ensure all – or the majority – of packed pieces clothes that don’t crush or need ironing. Who wants to iron while away? Not me. These labels are my go-to in the non-iron travel department: Mela Purdie, Metalicus, Motto, Bohemian Traders, Bassike, Blue Illusion.

7. Add in a couple of extra white or black tees for luck. If you have the pants or jeans and accessories sorted then these are all you need to extend your travel wardrobe. They are also blank canvasses for any souvenir scarf or jewellery shopping you may happen to do.

8. Don’t forget underwear. Seems obvious but there have been many a time I’ve nearly forgotten mine. I’ve been so engrossed in the outfit-planning mode that I have nearly forgotten the essentials. Nude underwear will work for just about any outfit. Yes, I know it’s not as exciting but packing only nude cuts down on suitcase bulk.

9. Don’t forget the activewear. In a previous life I never would have included that tip but there it is. I don’t leave home without mine – and my sneakers – last week I even took my yoga mat because we were driving. I now make room whereas in the past I would have sacrificed the sneakers for more heels space.

9 tips for packing for a trip away

My next challenge?

Well apart from working my European capsule wardrobe (and if , like me, you are travelling OS in our winter, then think ahead by picking up pieces in the summer sales that you’ll wear now and also while away), my greatest travel/packing “issue” is the amount of beauty and medicinal products I feel I NEED to bring away with me … JUST IN CASE. I’m working on it. I’ve reduced my skincare and makeup to the bare minimum (well MY bare minimum!) but there is more work to be done in that department.

So, over to you. Are you an EXCELLENT packer for trips (work or pleasure)? What tips can you share with us that have worked for you.

Comments 63

  1. This is one of my favourite articles by you. I travel alot and I have reread and referred to this post many times this year!! So many handy tips and my travel companions have all been amazed at my ‘mix a match’ options with so few things packed- my secret is to stick to black and white with a bit of denim!! Thanks for sharing this great secret Nikki!!

  2. I love that you pack a powerboard – so many hotel rooms don’t have a sufficient number of power points, especially when travelling with two adults who have multiple electronic devices that all need charging overnight AND we have a toddler so if she’s sleeping in a different room I bring a small baby monitor so I’ll hear her if she wakes in the night. Having a powerboard is a brilliant idea and I will definitely remember that for future trips!

  3. Whenever we go to Europe (once every year to visit my Italian in-laws) I take a mostly empty make-up/toiletry kit because the pharmacies over there are amazing. I use it as an excuse to try new brands! My favourite find so far is Nuxe Huile Prodigeuse – so versatile, and I love the smell!

  4. My husband and I are going on the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli Cruise leaving in March. It lasts for 36 days onboard visiting Colombo, Egypt, Turkey (including dawn at Gallipoli) Greek Islands, Athens, Sicily and Italy. We then stay a week in Rome, fly to UK for another four weeks and fly home. Help! How can I stick to one suitcase (even if I try to sneak a couple of shoes into his case) and a backpack and cope with the various weather we will encounter?

  5. Hi Nikki,

    We’ve just come back from a family holiday in the UK and Paris for nearly 4 weeks. I thought so much about what clothes we would take and I’m proud to say that we only took 2 medium suitcases between the four of us: my 8 year old daughter shared a case with me, while our 7 year old son shared a case with my husband. Our case was 12.6 kilos (I had my knee high boots in there), while the boys case was 12 kilos. Admittedly, we only had to pack Winter clothes (we had left a smaller case in our car of Summer clothes to change into at the airport).

    My wardrobe consisted of 2 pairs of jeans, one pair of pants (I wore on the plane) and a skirt which I wore with ponti pants for Christmas Day. I took pyjamas, 3 long sleeve t-shirts, a wrap cardigan, 2 woollen thermals, 5 sets of underwear, 2 camisoles and 2 sets of boots (ankle boots I wore on the plane) and my knee high boots. I had a scarf, hat, gloves, a long cardigan and a turtle neck in my hand luggage to put on when we got to London. Our children also had a hoodie tops in their small back packs and my husband an extra jumper in his backpack. We all carried our coats on board as well. We all coped really well with this amount of clothing and not until you mention it in your tips, I’ve realised that all clothes that I took did compliment each other in terms of colours: blue, black and splashes of magenta with my scarf. We did, however, wash every 5 days which I’m aware not everyone can do. I knew we wouldn’t have access to exercising, so didn’t take any exercise gear.

    There are a few things which I discovered may be useful. It’s important to check your children’s clothes before leaving. My daughter had packed 2 pairs of jeans which she had worn this past Winter and when we got to London, she had outgrown them. We then had to buy her a new pair of jeans, but she did survive easily with just two pairs of jeans (she had a third pair which still fitted her) and a denim skirt with long leggings. The rolling trick which has been mentioned, is a great way to get more room in your case. I learnt this trick years ago and this means that
    things are less likely to crush.

    Thanks for your post – very time for me! xx

  6. Great tips Nikki 🙂 I actually did the laying out of my wardrobe and the checking of the weather before my Japan trip in 2012 and it kinda worked; unfortunately the weather man got it wrong so it was colder than we thought but still amazing!
    My one mistake was the shoes that I didn’t wear because the heels were too high, but it was a great excuse to buy myself some fabulous red cowboy boots!
    Next month I am going to Thailand, so I am planning my wardrobe now; which of course means trawling Pinterest and lots of travel blogs. I am sure you are going to have an amazing time in Europe!!!

  7. Great post Nikki- we went to UK and Europe just over a year ago and I spent ages trawling blogs and pinterest to help me get into my head how to pack a capsule wardrobe, and the study time paid off! I also had 2 little boys to pack for, and a suitcase to share with the husband, so I didn’t have much space. We went in September so we did need big jackets (we are Queenslanders!), but also lighter jumpers. I stuck to the black and white and denim combo and a scarf here and there for variety. Calf high black boots and ballet flats for shoes. Look forward to seeing your adventures on the blog!

  8. Hi Nikki. I know you will pooh-pooh me but I have just had to lug my bags through the subway system in New York which always reminds me why I went from the mega bag to a hand luggage size system – YES! I am now sitting in Penn Station New York with said bags. A week into this trip it yes reminds me that you do only wear a few outfits that work for travelling. I travel overseas for work several times a year so here are my tips year 3 into doing the hand luggage size.
    Get the BIGGEST hand luggage bag you can find – it took me a while but its so worth it and I can get heaps in
    Get the biggest/easiest to carry ‘personal item’
    Not only check weather but also Laundromats near where you go. I now factor in the 10-15$ cost of someone doing my wash/fold every 4/5 days when away. Other option is to stay in apartments that have washing machine.
    ROLL your gear to pack – you seriously get more in that way. use those ridges in the bottom of the bag for undies, socks etc then the rest of the room is for clothes.
    Toiletries – find the small bottles and use these. It took me a while to realise that they sold my shampoo and conditioner in New York, London etc so I buy these when I arrive if I am staying a while. Otherwise those small cylindrical bottles are good for shampoo/conditioner and hair styling muk. Again, the small cost of buying shampoo etc at major stops is cheaper than physio on my shoulders
    Pack about 1/3 of your clothes that you don’t mind throwing out. As I know I am travelling a bit I keep my slightly faded-soon-to-be-purged pjs, undies, t-shirts and throw them as I replace with beautiful new things 🙂 Same with makeup etc. I would love to find lovely silk fold small pjs but until then this is the system I use…
    OK train is moving – off to work meeting in Washington! I do pinch myself to be so lucky…

  9. Happy New Year Nikki! Now this post is right up my alley! Thanks for all the great tips here, I’ll be checking out your new suitcase – love the colour. I can’t wait to read more of your posts on this topic, as I’m heading to France and Italy this year too! Planning to pack a capsule wardrobe into a cabin bag and tote style handbag – we can always buy a cheap bag over there for any purchases, and check it in on the way home! I’d love some ideas on the perfect crossbody bag and one jacket to take please! xx

  10. Our last trip to Europe was in the northern summer – but the climate ranged from 11 degrees and wet (Switzerland) to 45 degrees and dry (Dubai). The majority of time was in Italy which ranged from 18-35 but we still had to pack to climb a mountain (0 and snow) and spend 5 days in Dubai during Ramadan.
    I used packing cells and my 5 year old son and I shared a suitcase. I packed cold weather and hot weather clothes in separate cells, so I didn’t need to touch some for a while. I also kept to 4 pairs of shoes (Birkos, trainers, saltwater sandals and ballet slippers) and toiletries to a minimum. I had a ipad bag that was very colourful and I used it to keep my plane bag organised – also came in handy as a clutch. I washed every 5 days. I wished I’d taken different bra’s as mine seemed to get very sweaty from the travel. We also got travel adaptors with usb’s in them – all the plugs and adaptors can take up space. We travelled by train for most of our European trip – and I would use smaller suitcases next time and have one each – getting a big back into small luggage containers on trains was stressful. A couple of scarf acted as shoulder cover in Dubai/churches as well as making my all black capri pants/singlet combo a bit more interesting. I was ruthless with my toiletries and missed my favourite red lippy – not going to forget again.
    And finally – always leave a little room for some shopping. Love collecting little things – scarfs, jewellery whilst away, always nice to say “oh this? Picked it up in a little market in Tuscany”…

  11. I like to pack clothes in separate packing cells – one for tops, underwear, pants, dresses, shoes.. that way they are all contained and don’t move around in the luggage. One tip though is to maybe write on the outside of each cell to identify what it contains! first time I did it I was opening all to find something in the last one! Toiletries – make up remover – I use baby nappy wipes – easy disposable and room left in your luggage at the end. All leads for recharging and adaptors, I put in a large snap lock bag that I can see into which makes it easy. I have overpacked in the past, but now am becoming more savvy as you may never see someone again when travelling so essentially mix and match for say 4 days is enough. Cannot wait to go again! Last year my trip cut short with a fall in Paris, operation then flight home- after only 4 days!

  12. Thank you so much Nikki! These are fantastic tips that I will definitely be referring to, you’ve written my checklist for me. I always try so hard for the ‘smug’ factor but am always disappointed to see just how much I’ve packed that I don’t wear. My boys too. I’ve finally figured out, that if have access to a washing machine while on holidays, I can literally halve what I pack! And shoes, I must cut those down. I do love the packing cells, they are great for t-shirts, activewear, swimwear and underwear. I’m really loving everyones tips too xo

  13. Great tips Nikki I like options that’s my problem with packing I take to many outfits,I wish you look for when you have to pack for Europe and how exciting Xx

  14. Love packing cubes! I take one for underwear and one for T – shirts it makes it easy to store and find things in hotel rooms and repack at the end of your stay plus you can see how much clean clothing is left) Another handy tip I use a small evening clutch bag to hold costume jewellery pieces, it keeps them to hand and the clutch can go out to dinner leaving the cross body bag for daytime duties only.

    Also I second those people who buy toiletries at their destination, especially if you are staying with friends or family for a while. I also use zip lock bags for medications which removes most of the bulky packaging.

    When it comes to what to take, I usually pack a small evening capsule ( black pants, black skirt and evening tops) a casual capsule with jeans t shirts and anorak style jacket and some smart casual outfits where my preference for Europe is usually tank tops Capri pants and lightweight shirts e.g linen usually with adjustable tab type sleeves. Complete with 1 walking sandal1 evening style and one closed walking shoe this gets me through a 4 week stay in the uk with side trips ( Turkey last year Spain the year before that)

  15. Also a chronic over packer so I love packing cells, Ikea much cheaper than Kathmandu. I also use them in the caravan, saves an enormous amount of gnashing of teeth looking for a certain item. Pleeeease Nikki, can you do more on travelling with toiletries and keeping them to a minimum! Is sorbolene good for all skin including face? Does anyone else find that skin lotion with SPF 15 builds up stains around the neck of shirts etc? Also, I seem to end up with 2 toiletries bags, one for hair including dryer, and one for body. Love the blog!

  16. I am a chronic over packer.(To the point of being the butt of all my friends jokes) I am going on a 3 day cruise next week for a friends 50th and can guarantee I will have the most luggage out of the 40 I am travelling with. On a recent trip to Europe I found the style of suitcase you bought to be very impractical. If there are 2 of you in the room you need an awful lot of space to have them open at the same time. They don’t usually fit on the suitcase racks in hotel rooms. A lot of European hotels are very small. I couldn’t wait to get rid of them when we got home. I am buying a different style for our trip this year.

    1. Yes the same issue with those type of suitcase. Friends bought some also whilst overseas and got rid of them the minute they got home….so impractical.

  17. These are brilliant tips and timely too – we are taking carry on luggage only for our Valentine’s weekend trip to Brisbane. I also tend to stick to very neutral colour scheme of mostly black, white, grey and denim. Love the “puzzle photo” tip, definitely going to do this next month! Also like how you pack a power board – excellent idea.
    (PS: I’m so glad I’m not the only one who nearly forgets to pack underwear!)

  18. I love your packing style and choices.
    Did a big trip to US recently, so needed room in my suitcase for purchases… I bought toiletries/make up in US (cheaper and lots of flight friendly sizes). Had absolute basics in my toiletry bag to get by for 12-24hrs on landing.
    I find that unless I am outback or in isolated places that I can buy anything i need or forget to pack. Minimise the amount of underwear (4 undies, two bras) , I wash them as I shower, send out to dry cleaning (you are on holidays!)
    Tried the packing cells, no they don’t work for me, I like being able to pack bits into nooks and crannies of suitcase. I always have all my clothes out for perusal before I pack to eyeball and edit as you have shown.
    I keep my shoes in either plastic bags or those drawstring waterproof bags from outdoor shops.
    Multi plug for all those devices and load up the iBooks or Kindle app, treat yourself to new music and podcasts!
    Always pack a pashmina for chilly breezes make it a pretty colour.
    Jewellery to minimum, scarfs a plenty, stylish handbag like a all purpose nylon Longchamps in a pretty base colour… phew!

  19. Hi Nikki, in regards to cosmetics get yourself a good CC Cream (complexion corrector) I use Mary Kay with 8 benefits in one, moisturising, sunscreen, brightening, redness correcting, it’d act as your foundation primer so just a light foundation over the top and you’ll be right for the whole day.

  20. I travelled through Europe (through the summer and winter) for 6 months with just a 45L backpack and one carry on bag.
    With the clothes, I planned what I would need for both seasons, then when I had everything out on the bed, got rid of one outfit for each season. I didn’t miss having those clothes with me, and it meant a little more space and a little less weight. It’s about asking yourself, ‘do I really need THAT many outfits or can I recycle clothes?’. No one will care if there are holiday snaps of you wearing the same top or jacket!
    Also, roll everything that you can (provided it won’t crush), it saves heaps of space in your bag, especially when backpacking 🙂

  21. I have to say that for interstate trips I tend to take a carry on suitcase as well as another tote size bag to fit all the things I cannot fit. But I have to say that I am still overpacking as I do not always wear everything I have packed. Thank you for sharing your tips and congratulations on packing light. V x

  22. Despite my work travel, I’m a chronic over packer- shoes and toiletries being my major space stealers.
    However, over the recent Christmas break we flew to Melbourne and I managed 5 days with just a carry-on. It was so freeing to walk straight out of the airport at both ends and I STILL had things in the bag I didn’t manage to wear.
    My tip would be get over yourself and don’t try to be a fashionista every day. No-one else cares if your shoes don’t quite match your outfit and you have worn the same scarf 4 days running.

  23. Thanks for your tips Nikki – we are planning a trip to the States in late July/early August so all packing tips are welcome.

      1. Nikki – 1
        More thing – we are doing a short work related trip to Bali next month and I was wondering if you had a suggestion re a bag to take out at night . I have a great cross body bag for day but I need something to fit a small purse , glasses and lippie for evenings – thanks

  24. We should start a support group “overpackers anonymous”. I’m getting better. Each time I come home I asess what I did not wear and try to remember for next time. Making a note of your planned outfits is key, because I spend half my time trying to remember why the heck I brought such and such an item with me. Enjoy Tassie – it’s top of my bucket list. Xx

  25. did well queen capsule! or queen of the capsule! … I’m impressed!
    and with master sy too! … he must be having a ball!
    all outfits worked beautifully! can’t loose with those basics! …
    hearing you loud and clear girlfriend! … enjoy your trip home! love m:)X

  26. I picked up a tip from friends that travelled with us, they rolled all their clothes, its amazing how much space is saved by doing this. It also helps the item of clothing from crushing as much!!!

    1. I’ve received that tip many a time Robyn and I’ve really tried but mine seem to crush! When I lay them flat they keep their shape better for me. Would depend on the clothes in there, I guess. I’ll keep trying!

      1. Things I’ve found work: Roll your underwear and t-shirts, slip them into the gaps between folded items; if taking underwire bras (no more than two, wash the one not being worn) slip them into inside pockets; place socks/stockings inside shoes, place shoes head-to-toe in a lightweight plastic shopping bag or similar to save space & keep dirt from clean clothes; buy travel-size toiletries wherever you can, & place spillable toiletries in zip-lock bags (it can prevent disasters & save space to slip these into gaps rather than corral them in a beauty bag). But my first trip OS (to Seattle) was hilarious. I batched everything methodically, and bagged the batches in separate plastic bags. Needless to say, only those that contained dirty clothes made it home! I have learned to leave plenty of space to bring acquisitions home! Happy travels.

  27. My goal is to only use a carry on if it’s under 5-7 days (haven’t tested to see what is practical). I love using packing cubes because it keeps things organised and I’m so not organised – hotel rooms somehow just have stuff everywhere 10minutes after I arrive.
    My work wardrobe is already fairly capsule; 1 pair of black pants and 4 tops that I rotate. Though I hate my black pants because they don’t fit very well and should get a new pair!
    I’m a slight over packer because I don’t plan outfits and want to be able to change with my mood. I’m actually looking to buy an overnight bag now so that I’m forced to reduce my packing even more for 1-2 night trips (stalking a cute wheeled large handbag type one Gumtree that is unlike anything I can find in retail stores).

  28. You did well to fit in Master SY’s things as well. I find just hubster’s shoes seem to take up half the case bc they’re so big! The bigger the kids get, the harder it is to fit their stuff in!

    Love your tips. I’m also the one with everything out on the bed, putting together outfits for each day, weather app in hand. I find it easier to get all my favourite things out first, then start culling. I use the Pocket Weather app. It’s not free but the detail is amazing.

    I don’t take active wear, bc realistically I don’t use it, but I always make sure I take trackies or some sort of loungewear so I have something to relax in.

        1. Excellent! I have to pack for 2 weeks at the coast, followed by a weekend in Melbourne and then at the end of March 5 months living in the U.S.
          Off to IKEA this week!

  29. I love all of your outfits! I’m a terrible packer and tend to take everything but the kitchen sink. Next time I go away I’m going to be following your tips to the letter. Happy Holidays! PS Are you going to blog your Tassie Tips? I’m hoping to go later in the year and I want to do all the things!

      1. just discovered everyday cashmere shop,decided im going to buy the best basics i can afford so they,ll look great and will last longer.Love the wrap cardi I just bought. Its stylish super soft, cosy and easy to pack! Can also be worn dressy or casual-highly recommend a good cashmere item!!!

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