by Margaret Cabaniss
For my recent trip to Rome, I knew I wanted to avoid checking a bag if at all possible — and judging by one of my colleagues’ experiences, who had his checked luggage sent on a cruise without him, I definitely made the right call. Surprisingly, it was easier to do than I was expecting; here’s what worked for me:
Color-coordinate everything. I purposely stuck to one general color palette so that everything I packed could be worn with everything else, which gave me a ton of mileage out of the fewest number of pieces. For this particular trip, I embraced my inner Claire Underwood and kept it pretty neutral; adding an (easily packable) scarf, belt, or piece of jewelry was a simple way to add some interest.
Take pictures. This felt ridiculous while I was doing it, but it’s also probably the single most useful thing I did. Pull everything out of your closet that you’re considering packing, try it all on, then snap a picture of the outfits on your phone. (This part is much less painful if you can enlist the services of an obliging friend. And a bottle of wine.) When I was finished, I was surprised to find that certain pieces I was sure I wanted to pack didn’t end up working together or being all that versatile, so I didn’t bother to take them “just in case” — the impulse that usually leads me to overpack. Instead, I was able to easily scroll through the photos, see (and delete) what didn’t work, then pack the rest; once I arrived in Rome, all I had to do was to check my phone and pick an outfit, saving me time and hassle.
Layers are your friend. Rome in March would be in the low 40s in the morning and the low 70s by the afternoon, so having easily shed-able layers was the way to go. The one thing I was always happy to have: my blanket scarf. I’d wear it with my coat in the chilly evenings, as a wrap in drafty restaurants, or use it as a blanket on the plane. It was never not useful.
Roll, don’t fold. I was skeptical of this one, too, but it works: Layer your bulkiest items in the bottom of your suitcase first (jeans, jackets, etc.), and then roll — don’t fold — everything else. I was amazed by how well everything compressed: I was able to fit two blazers, two pairs of pants, two skirts, four t-shirts, three button-downs, two silk tops, two cardigans, a dress, pajamas, and all my shoes and unmentionables without a problem. For extra space-saving, pack bulkier items in a large ziploc bag first, then squeeze out the extra air.
Maximize that “personal item.” All my clothes and shoes went in the carry-on bag, but my camera, guide book, iPad, and liquids went in a tote bag as my (slightly oversized) purse. I also wore my bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane, leaving that much more room in my suitcase.
Things I was glad I brought: There wasn’t a day that passed when I didn’t consult this guidebook; I was also glad I had this map on me, particularly when I wanted to wander off the beaten path. This packable tote took up no room at all in my purse, but it was great to have for hauling home my loot after a long day of souvenir hunting. I also brought a packet of laundry detergent with me so I could do a little hand-washing in my hotel room whenever the need arose (though I likely could have just picked that up there — see below).
Things I should have left at home: New shoes. One bum pair that I hadn’t broken in yet left me in a world of pain — not ideal when you plan to be walking all week. Remember, too, that they sell things like toothpaste and shampoo where you’re headed; don’t stress about fitting everything you need in that one-quart ziploc bag.
Looking for more advice on what specific items you should pack? It’ll vary based on the where, when, and why of your trip, of course, but Jordan Ferney has a great packing list (for two weeks in France!) to get you started. (Mine looked similar, though I swapped out most of the dresses for button-downs and skirts instead.) Also, Erin of Earnest Home Co. demonstrates the handy outfit-photo trick so you can see its usefulness in action.
What about you? Any tips for packing light on an extended trip?