I Recently Packed the Best Carry-On of My Life
07.26.18

My packing instincts hail from a time in my life, especially around my teen years, when I could fit all the clothes I didn’t hate into a single duffel bag under the blind and usually correct assumption that it would all work out. When your style is simply “jeans and a top,” it’s hard to get the equation wrong. As I’ve gotten older, though, and as my closet’s grown and my style’s become more nuanced, I understand — intellectually, at least — that this approach sucks. If I just pack my favorite stuff with little care for its composition, I will end up hating what I brought and secretly crying about it.

It wasn’t until recent years that I finally accepted the idea that I needed to pack with full and specific outfits in mind, but even then, I kept failing. The outfits were always too specific or weren’t weather-flexible, or my bag couldn’t zip closed. And then last week, for no discernible rhyme or reason, I packed the best bag of my life, with room to spare. I’ve been waiting for my trophy ever since.

Haley's Packing Tips Abroad Wedding

The bag was for an eight-day trip to Europe, which included going to a wedding in Bolesławiec, traveling to Prague with a group, and visiting Berlin with my boyfriend. When I posted photos from it on Instagram, I got a surprising number of DMs and comments asking how I packed, suggesting I’m not alone in my struggles. So it is with great pride and a healthy portion of self-indulgence that I answer that very question below. If you’re a historically shitty packer like me, here are the five things I did differently this time.

1. I packed based on a detailed itinerary.

I’m not sure if this sounds overkill or obvious, but I’d never taken much time to think my outfits through from an activity perspective. This time, I wrote every day out in a Google Doc with details like “expected weather: 77 and drizzly” and “bring alternative top to change into for dinner.” It was oddly satisfying and helped me pack more efficiently.

Haley's Packing Tips Abroad Wedding

2. I packed like a style blogger.

You know that specific brand of style blogger who seems to only wear crisp pieces in denim and khaki and neutral colors and always looks great? It’s quintessential capsule dressing — the kind of simplicity that I can never seem to achieve in everyday life (I get antsy) but which works perfectly for a trip. That’s how I packed my bag. Everything I brought matched each other, allowing me to dress fast and feel “crisp” despite pulling from a carry-on (I also brought a travel steamer). My outfits leaned more basic than trendy as a result, which mentally freed me up in an appealing way.

3. I formed outfits around shoes and outerwear.

Shoes and jackets always take up the most space for me. For this trip, I decided I only wanted to bring one jacket — a khaki trench — one pair of white sneakers and one pair of flat black sandals. I chose these pieces for their ability to straddle form and function (all could be worn for a long daytime adventure or out to a bar). And I found that using these as a base made all my outfits engender that same simple versatility.

Haley's Packing Tips Abroad Wedding

4. Everything had a double use.

Apart from my non-negotiable wedding outfit (a blue silk dress with lucite heels), I wore everything in my bag twice and never got bored. My bathing suit doubled as a going-out top; my wallet doubled as a wristlet; my pajamas doubled as daywear. My red dress could be for day or night depending on shoes — same for both of my pants. Even my moisturizer became tinted moisturizer with a drop of Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi.

5. I brought my nicest quality stuff.

My day-to-day style is a mix of high and low. But for this trip, I eschewed my cheaper stuff in favor of fewer quality things, and I think it had a disproportionate impact on how well it all worked. Not everything was expensive necessarily, but they were all items that had proven their quality over time. Having a jacket that didn’t wrinkle easily, jeans that looked good after multiple wears, tops that fell nicely without fussing and a bag that didn’t hurt my shoulder… they all made it so I spent very little time thinking about my outfits or body, which may have been the biggest win of all.

Haley's Packing Tips Abroad Wedding

What are you best packing tips? Are my breakthroughs old news? I think I’m a late-blooming packer.

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