Stop panic packing! The art of the carry on traveler, via Coco Chanel

I know you’ve done it, or you wouldn’t be here. You panic packed everything you own for a weekend getaway.

No judgement here. I’ve done it too.

You’ve dragged your luggage to the airport, convinced you have covered an outfit for every conceivable occasion. You set it gingerly on the scale, praying to every god including RuPaul that it comes in under 50 pounds. It did, after all, when you set it on your scale at home.

Life doesn’t have to be like this! You can remove this stress from your life and ACTUALLY enjoy the journey. Promise. And you’ll still look smashing. Here’s how.

Step 1: Find two bottoms that feel good, look good, and that you won’t miss if you can’t wear them every day. For ladies, I’d suggest one black skirt and one pair of nice yoga pants or leggings.

You may think I’m insane for saying “nice” yoga pants, but we all have them. There are the faded ones from a discount store sale two years ago that are now not quite black. Then there are the expensive ones that look almost good enough to drop “yoga” from the name. Those are the ones I’m talking about.

Take both of these items (my black skirt is Ex Officio and my black pants are Lululemon) and store them in your carry on bag.

That’s right. Take these clothes out of your normal rotation and devote them entirely to travel. You will not regret this choice. It will keep you from being sick of the sight of them, and if you’ve chosen stretchy fabrics it won’t matter how many cookies you ate during the month before your trip. You’ll be comfy and look great.

Remember: Most people only see you from the waist up. In selfies, at restaurants, at meetings, whenever. Keep the bottoms plain and comfy. If you want to get fancy, have a summer set and a winter set.

Boom. Your butt is now covered.

Repeat this with shoes. You only need two pairs. They should go with both bottoms and not cause blisters. Again, no one is looking. Don’t be that poor girl breaking her ankles on cobblestones because of six inch heels.

Step 2: You do not need a new shirt for every day of your trip. Read that again. Consider it Gospel. Make it your lock screen if necessary, but hammer it in to your brain.

In reality, you need two shirts. That’s it. Neutral colors (I prefer one black and one white, YMMV) and a few necklaces or scarves to jazz up different days. These accessories take up almost zero room.

Men, you’ve got it easy here. There’s very little chance anyone is looking at your shirt. Sorry. Just the facts.

For anyone, I suggest one extra top. Something trendy, if I’m being specific. This will help date your photos in 30 years when someone wants to taunt you. This is not a bad thing. It means they care.

Step 3: Take a jacket. I don’t care if the destination is tropical (swimsuits take up little space, pile em in) you still need a jacket. I prefer a different jacket for every trip so I don’t see the same one over and over again.

These trendy shirts and disposable jackets? Send them to consignment when you get home. They will please someone else, and gods know we all need the room.


I know, I know. They sell these luggage sets that are a great deal for three pieces! Don’t fall for it. It just encourages overpacking.

I’ve traveled Europe for three weeks of winter with nothing but a carry on duffel bag weighing 27 pounds. That’s winter weight clothes, people! You can do this.

I’m old now, and prefer a rolling bag for most destinations. I did not, however, get the biggest one I could find. My roller bag is roughly half the size of those you watch your fellow passengers shove (or not fit) into overhead bins. Flight attendants have stopped me to ask where I got it. It was honestly from one of those travel catalogs so don’t go fancy. Go small. Your back will thank you.

Step 5: Get out your miniature luggage and start to pack on some stress free day at least two weeks before you leave. Yeah. I know. The weather forecast. *eye roll* You know they sell clothes where you’re going, right? If you really want an umbrella or a muumuu or a pair of wellingtons you can buy them at your destination. If you’ve followed these rules you’ll have room to get them home.

Step 6: Lay everything out on the bed and look at it together. Think through how many combinations you can make. This is fun! It’s a puzzle waiting to be solved. Now gently place your garments in the bag, or shove them in at random. Whichever makes you happy.

Over the next two weeks you will probably find lots of excuses to put one more thing in the bag. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. Just keep the luggage zipped and pile all these extra things on top. You’ll soon see how little of it you need. You’re allowed one or two. But remember you need room for those wellies.

The night before you leave, after you’ve checked in to your flight and when the panic packing urge sets in and you curse me and all the gods because you should have bought that luggage set- relax.

Remember the immortal words of Coco Chanel. “Before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”

Pour yourself a glass of wine. Open your luggage. Lay the perfect contents on one half of your bed. It won’t take much room.

Now dump that giant pile of “but I might need this!” on the other side. Do you see the difference? One is the Capsule Wardrobe that fashion editorials drone on about every season. The other is the pages and pages of accessory advertising that pay the editorial salaries.

If you can spare the room and the weight, pack one of your advertising frivolities. It will please your magpie soul. Now repack your capsule items, stuff your liquids into that ziplock, and enjoy your well deserved rest.

I can’t help you with the part where you wake up 18 times, afraid you’ve missed your flight. If you can fix that neurosis please let me know.

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