You’ve been planning your summer vacation for months. Mid-winter inspiration led to intense discussions that resulted in amazing planning for a truly festive week – and now, the trip is only days away. You know that you have everything you need in your closet, but how do you narrow down your amazing warm-weather wardrobe into the perfect capsule for seven days of fun and frivolity? Yes, you could bring much more than you need so you can choose outfits on a whim – but do you really want to lug around an extra suitcase? And do you want to be the brunt of jokes (again) when everyone else got their week’s worth of clothes into a carryon?
I’ve packed clients for more vacations that I can remember, and I’ve come up with several tips and tricks to bringing exactly what you need, with some flexibility – aka my packing secrets! So read on for my straightforward rules and strategies to follow that will allow you to look great, feel fabulous, and avoid any packing remorse (and avoid sore arms from carrying that extra bag!).
START AT THE BOTTOM
Bottoms are the basis of your vacation wardrobe, so it’s best to start here. Take the number of days that you’ll be away (removing a day for travel) and divide by 2. So if you’re on a 7-day trip, bring 3 bottoms. You’ll be wearing each of these bottoms twice, so don’t choose anything that’s too specific, or (gasp!) only goes with one top in your wardrobe.
PACKING SECRET: Stick to a tight color palette, with one or two pop colors – for the packing example here, I chose a basic black and white wardrobe, with pops of red and yellow. By sticking to a narrow range of colors, you’ll be able to mix and match beyond the literal outfits you planned out – now isn’t that fun?
ONE DAY = ONE TOP
Since you’re creating outfits for 6 days of your vacation, you’ll get to pick 1 top per day – 2 tops for each bottom that you’ve already chosen. The assumption I usually make with warm-weather vacations is that the top layers closest to your skin will get sweaty/dirty during the day, so it’s best to plan to wear each only once.
PACKING SECRET: If you have a top and bottom that match, you’ll easily get double duty out of both. Together, a matching top and shorts look like a romper – but separate, they’re integral parts of other outfits.
Based on your agenda, you’ll need to bring separate outfits for nighttime – whether you’ll be getting your clothes dirty during the day and need to refresh, or your evenings are dressier than your days. My biggest caveat in this is to be realistic – you may not need a completely separate outfit for each and every night, and you can always wear these things twice, as well. In general, I advise to bring the same number of nighttime looks as the number of bottoms – so in this case, 3 looks that work for evening events (and if you’re worried about not having enough, or have a full agenda, add one more).
PACKING SECRET: I like it when my evening wardrobe also plays a role in the daytime, so my rule is that if you’re going to wear something twice, wear it at night, first. Generally, you’ll be wearing something during the evening for a shorter period of time and in cooler temperatures, so you’re less likely to get it sweaty/dirty and render it un-wearable for the rest of the trip.
KEEP ACCESSORIES NEUTRAL
Shoes will be the heaviest things that you pack - and conversely, jewelry and scarves are the lightest – so pack accordingly! For a typical warm weather trip, I’ll select:
- 2 comfortable pairs of sneakers/shoes – so that if a lot of walking is on the agenda, you can trade out everyday to give the shoes (and your feet) a break.
- 1 flat or sandal – for non-hiking days and evenings
- 1 evening shoe – based on your wardrobe and preference, this could be a heel, a wedge, or another flat/sandal option.
- 1-2 scarves - that can be worn around your neck during travel, tossed over bare legs if the AC is cranking, and that you can wear as a wrap over bare tops/dresses at night.
- 2 handbags - 1 large one (that you’ll carry on the plane) and 1 smaller clutch/cross-body for daytime wandering and evening.
And as far as other accessories are concerned, bring what you love, but what you wouldn’t mind losing/replacing if something happens to your checked bag (I advise keeping all jewelry in your carryon, along with anything else that's irreplaceable).
PACKING SECRET: Although truly neutral shoes are the easiest to wear with multiple outfits, they might not be the most fun (but I do love metallics as a go-with-anything option!). So the word ‘neutral’ in this case just means that what you choose has to work with most of your outfits – i.e. the red sandals that I’ve chosen here.
PLAN FOR THE UNPLANNED
Yes, you’re going to a hot destination – but that doesn’t mean that you’ll never be in frigid air conditioning. You’ve carefully selected 2 tops for each bottom – but that doesn’t mean that the kids won’t get ketchup on your white linen shirt. The forecast says sunshine and blue skies – but into every life (and vacation), a little rain may fall. So bring a few extras:
- Tanks & t-shirts – lightweight, easy to pack, and can we worn alone or as a layer based on the weather.
- A cardigan and/or jacket – in case of weather, and also if it feels more appropriate to have your shoulders covered in certain locations. Focus on lightweight styles that can be tossed in back of the rental car for unanticipated circumstances.
- At least 1 bathing suit – even if you don’t plan on getting into the water, you want to feel appropriate if everyone else is. But you don’t have to bring a separate cover up – long cardigans, tunic-length button-down shirts, or knit dresses are easy stand-ins to wear to the pool without adding another item. (or check out my favorite stand-in for a pool cover-up here!)
PACKING SECRET: What you wear to get there counts, in many ways. As long as it makes sense, wear your heaviest shoes on the plane, along with your heaviest jacket/outer layer. You can always strip down once you get to your destination, and this saves precious space in your bag.
And my biggest packing secret – give your family the same guidelines! I taught my kids (and husband) to pack wisely with my rules:
- # of bottoms = # of days ÷ 2
- 2 tops per bottom
- # of nighttime outfits = # of bottoms
- 2 walking shoes, 1 sandal (good for the pool), 1 nighttime shoe
- Just in case: extra t-shirts, jacket, etc.
Do you think that you can abide by these rules when prepping for your next vacation? Let me know your packing stresses in the comments!
All clothing and accessories pictured are from J. Crew, except for the Kate Spade tote.