How to pack

I’ve promised to ‘tell you about it shortly’ a number of times and about a number of things, and here for your delight and edification, working backwards on my promises, is the first. Yes, you can cross this promised gift off your wishlist! 😉

Oh the poise!

Packing for a holiday is like packing for an alternate you. The divine Maggie Alderson has called this person Holiday Me – and you know who she is. She’s tall, long-limbed, sun-kissed and exists in a day that has only three times: clear mediation sunrise under a palm tree; warm orange sundown on a beach; and sparkling starry night on a yacht with champagne. Holiday Me has wavy hair that never whips in her eyes or gets greasy, being perfectly cleansed and styled by the waves; on the beach she strides out of the water glistening while sand brushes off her without sticking; she’s at least four times as rich as you are; she’s much better dressed; calories are worth one-tenth to her as they are to you; and she doesn’t even need an invitation to all the best parties at her holiday destination to know that she’s a VIP.

Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly) is the ultimate beach fashionista in To Catch a Thief.

Holiday Me also has a beautifully put together holiday wardrobe, which contains only clothes and accessories that are perfectly suited to her environment. A light wrap is sufficient to keep her warm at night, or Holiday Man lends her his tux jacket. It never rains unless she’s dancing in it, in which case it’s warm. She never minds walking all day because blisters don’t bother her slender feet, and all she needs to tour European cities is a small light handbag that rests gently over one bent arm. She has a small scarf tied at her throat, a lightweight kit thrown over her shoulders where it stays without slipping, and wearing pale colours – particularly camel and white – is of course the perfect choice because is it impossible for her to attract dirt or spill coffee.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief: Riviera chic.

Do you hate her? I do.

Francie Stevens with the ultimate holiday accessory - a convertible.

Maggie A has also pointed out that sometimes we become a sort of perverse, warped Holiday Me when we go away – your Holiday Me may suddenly become enamoured of sarongs, or tie-dye, or any other hideous item that is covered in dolphins and is sold in tourist shops. Your Holiday Me may suddenly strain to emulate the suave and smooth locals and start buying Ray-Bans, chinos, boat shoes and man-bags. Your Holiday Me may see the light and start investing in PolarFleece.


This is hideous. I don't care if I offend you. Don't let your Holiday Me buy this atrocity.

The real thing about Holiday Me – and you might love turtle covered beachwear or chambray shirts in real life, or you may in fact be a person who can confidently wear white jeans – is that Holiday Me is not Real Me. And Real Me needs to pack for Real Me.

 When you pack, you’re effectively reducing your range of clothing options while preparing for an expanded range of environmental conditions. Heat, rain and cold may not bother you so much when you’re cocooned in an office every day, but if you’re sightseeing you’ll be all the more in touch with Mother Nature. So how does an organised gal remain comfortable, stylish, appropriate and under 20kg per suitcase?

A little bit of colour-matching goes a long way.

Here’s what not to do: open your suitcase on your bed and throw in all your favourite clothes. You’ll wear them more, right? Nope. Although it’s true that you shouldn’t pack that thing at the back of the wardrobe that you bought three years ago and still has its tags on because Holiday Me will like it, just dumping a whole lotta stuff isn’t the solution either. 

If you lay it all out and it looks like this – too much!
You need A Plan.
The steps below aren’t about the nitty-gritty of packing. It’s a different post if we want to talk about The Great Fold vs Roll debate, or how to compartmentalise your case, but below is about the big-picture stuff: how to decide what to take, not just how to take it.
Oh so pretty!

Step 1: The Situation.

  • Think about where you’re going and what time of year it will be. New York City in August will be significantly different from New York City in December. Do your research.
  • Also think about what you’ll be doing – are you going to Europe to backpack and stay in hostels, or is this a bumper-luxe trip of a lifetime? Will you be going to any fancy events, or are you pretty sure that the pub will be as posh as it gets?
  • How long will you be away? There’s no real rule of thumb (I think) about X days = Y pairs of Z item, but you don’t seriously need ten pairs of jeans for a two week trip. You will however need many more pairs of underpants than two. Come up with a rough list, eg: two pairs jeans (one everyday, one ‘good’); two T-shirts; two singlet tops; one jacket; one belt; one pair walking shoes; one pair flats; one pair thongs; one lightweight scarf.

Step 2: The Style.

  • Think about the kinds of clothes you usually wear. I am, for example, a pants-wearer. Taking a skirt or dress would be pointless. If you’re a dedicated frock-er, work around that. A skirt-wearing friend of mine bought a highly expensive but very useful pair of superdooper tights to wear with her usual denim skirt in a European winter and she loved them.
  • Bearing those things in mind, are there any colours or other themes that come through? For example, for our honeymoon I chose my two favourite colour combinations and chose separates around them (navy/white/red, and olive/neutrals). Don’t wear a rainbow. Choosing a colour scheme will help all your clothes be workhorses.
  • Make sure your style is appropriate to the places you’re going and the things you’ll be doing. PolarFleece is not ok if you’re planning on meeting The Queen, but a pussy-bow blouse is ridiculous if you’re climbing Machu Picchu.

Step 3: The Selection

  • Now think about the things you’ll actually wear. Favourites are good at this point, as are things that do double-duty, eg: a pair of sparkly flats that you could wear out to dinner as well as for a bit of wandering around would be more useful than a pair of ten-inch stilettos. Likewise, unless your plan is to hit the nightlife hard, think about a nice top that could be worn in the evening as well as the day, instead of a spangled sequinned backless top.
  • Choose accessories. A belt, shoes, small jewellery, sunnies and scarves are good, light, non-bulky ways to change the look of a basic outfit.
  • Now lay it all out. Will you wear it all? Will you feel good in it? Will you look good in it? Edit your selection. Holidays are not times to morph into Impossible Gorgeous Holiday Me, but there’s also no need to allow Ratty Scruffy Cargo Pants Holiday Me to drag you down.  
  • Is any of it dry-clean only? Ditch it. Is any of it unwearable without an iron? Seriously consider ditching it unless you love to iron on holidays.

Step 4: The Stuff

  • And by stuff, I mean fold nicely and pack in your bag. How much room is left? Does it fit perfectly? Yes? Then take it out and toss things – you haven’t even begun to pack your toiletries, electronics, and other sundries yet.
  • Toiletries are really up to you and what you feel you need, but I take shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair straightener (or dryer – just remember to check voltage!), brush or comb, contact lens stuff, medication, tweezers, nail file, polish if you’re a polish wearer, moisturiser, face wash, makeup, and anything else that I use daily. This fits in a case about 20x10x10, but it’s quite heavy.
  • Unless you’re actually backpacking, you need some space in your bag to take account for purchases, things you’ll pick up and carry about, and to make re-packing easier and less like a Rubik’s Cube. Wearables including shoes should take up about 50-60% of your space, other items about 20-30%, and the remaining space should be empty.
  • Pick up your case/bag. Walk around with it. Be honest – what needs to go? If you can weigh it, do.

Step 5: The Sit

  • Meaning: let it sit. If you have some time, allow yourself to re-think some decisions, and remember that you’ll recall a few forgotten items over the next few days (reading glasses? Only packed black bras and white shirts?).
Not how to do it!

That’s it – it seems long but a little planning will mean you will have everything you need, you’ll have confidence in the clothing choices you’ve made, you’ll not be randomly squishing strange items into your bag half an hour before you have to leave for the airport, and most importantly, you’ll always be comfortable and appropriate for the Real You.

An alternative of how not to do it.