7 Secrets To Never Overpacking Again

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Anyone can throw a bunch of clothes into a bag and call it packing, but to be truly prepared for a trip — without hauling around every item in your closet — a more methodical approach is required. My 20-plus years on the road as a travel writer (and enthusiast) have helped me hone my technique.
Whether you’re planning to play tourist or you're all business, what to pack comes down to a handful of questions you need to ask yourself before you snap that TSA-approved travel lock shut. Follow these tips for a more streamlined suitcase, weekender, or, for the true minimalist, backpack. Bon voyage.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
Whether it’s a layering piece for business, club-hopping, or outdoor pursuits, is it durable enough to multi-task? A silky cami can work beneath a sheer blouse or blazer, or even function as sleepwear; cotton tanks are ideal for more casual trips. If I’m headed somewhere seriously cold, I also bring a merino version like Woolies camis and racerbacks by Ibex, which are cute, comfy, stink-proof, quick-drying, indestructible, and equipped with built-in bras.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
I'm a sucker for shoes, so this is always my biggest challenge. But I start by thinking about the climate and planned activities, and then I let the length of my trip and space constraints dictate what to pack. The right shoe can dress up any look, from super distressed jeans or cut-offs to urban exercise-wear.

My go-to down-time shoe for major backpacking trips are inexpensive cloth Mary Janes from Urban Outfitters or whatever Chinatown I happen to be passing through. I can tuck them into my day pack if I need to transition from day to evening, and while they’re not ideal for all-day walking excursions, you can slip in a pair of arch supports or liners to amp up the support factor. Bonus: Ditch them at trip’s end, and make more room for souvenirs.

Other reliable picks include lightweight street sneakers (like Keds), ballet flats, and flat-heeled booties. I’ve been known to go out dancing in my hiking boots on a tropical beach, but I don’t recommend it.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
If you never wear a particular item when it's hanging in your closet, then what makes you think you would wear it on a trip? Part of my packing strategy — besides practicality — is to limit myself to items that I feel like myself in. Travel (especially when it’s of the long-term and/or backpacking variety) can take its toll on your psyche, no matter how much fun you’re having. If you don’t feel comfortable and confident, it can affect your whole mindset; you don't want to be bogged down by that while you're trying to experience a new place. The better you feel, the more powerful you are, even if you’re not dressed to the nines.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
If you're going to, say, a destination wedding, you probably have a good idea of what activities you'll be doing and what garments they'll require. But even without a firm itinerary, think about travel logistics and what you enjoy doing, which is a good indicator of what you'll be inclined to do at your destination. Then, make sure the item in question can multitask. I’m a big fan of black T-shirts. I usually bring a tank, a “working” shirt, and a sexy, more fitted version. Substitute your item of choice, but remember that having a few dark, solid-colored pieces is always smart, as minor stains won't render them useless.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
Yes, it’s comforting to have a beloved pair of jeans or your favorite flannel on the road, but it's also a good idea to temper that impulse with how devastated you'll be if they don’t make it home. Any item that you couldn't stand to lose — whether it's a true investment piece or it's just loaded with sentimental value — might be safer at home. If you plan to check your luggage, the risk of loss (or theft) is inherently greater; if you're traveling with a carry-on and staying in five-star hotels in safe areas, you may not need to worry as much. Pack a couple of well-worn items, just make sure they’re not your besties.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
Anything delicate and prone to wrinkles (unless the item is sink-washable and dries quickly) should stay at home. I love rayon or sheer cotton camis, blouses, and skirts because they’re versatile and can go from filthy, balled up mess to working dinner in an hour. If you know that your fave silk skirt requires steaming the minute it comes off the hanger, make sure you'll have access to an iron, or leave it behind.
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Illustrated by Paolo Delucca.
Business travel has its own set of rules, but for practically any other trip, do some research to avoid committing any cultural faux pas or compromising your safety or comfort. Sure, I’ve seen women traveling in the Middle East and parts of Asia and Latin America in booty shorts and tank tops; that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate or smart. A fail-safe addition to your packing list should be a pretty, lightweight, oversized scarf that can function as a wrap, and provide coverage. (Cleavage and bare shoulders or even knees are verboten in many countries, especially if you’re visiting religious sites.) Bonus: these are easy to find and usually cheap, so take advantage of flea markets and street fairs, especially in countries known for their textiles, and buy in bulk.

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