How I Learned to Pack Like an Adult

how to avoid overpacking



Before I get into my new ways, let me give you a brief history of how I used to pack, along with its pros and cons. Old Nicole, who would travel by plane, say, two or three times a year, would start by choosing a suitcase—stolen from my parents, the size of which was dependent on duration of the trip—and fill it with any climate-appropriate item in my closet that I liked at the time. Favorite shoes, tops, jackets, dresses, jeans—they all went in. (Side note: One truly can’t imagine the quantity of things I acquire as a shopping-obsessed editor, nor does one want to.)

Anyway, this highly irrational and purely emotional selection of clothing and accessories would happen without a thought in the world about whether there would be an occasion to wear these items on said trip, if I’d even included the right pieces to coordinate complete outfits, or if it was all just generally excessive. Pros of this “system” were that it was easier on the brain, it was fast(er), and it left me with a variety of choices—because you can never have enough options, right?

Wrong. You can have too many options, and the problems only start there. Actually, they started at the airport bag drop, where my suitcase would, a good 70% of the time, be overweight or close to it. Thankfully, I always had a weekender-type bag to put some things in (which I’d then have to carry) in the event I had to take stuff out of my suitcase, or at least I could transfer a few items to a friend’s lighter luggage. Neither solutions were fun nor come recommended.

Once I’d made it to our destination airport, there was then the dreaded fear that came as I anxiously waited for my luggage to come down the carousel. What if my bag gets lost? Literally every item I own and like is in there. The purses, the shoes! I wouldn’t even know where to start with replacing things—could I even remember every individual item I packed if I had to fill out a claim form? Probably not. Oh god. And lastly, there was the trip itself and the further realization that my system was fatally flawed: I’d then have to spend my precious vacation time sifting through a mass of things, trying to make any outfit work for the multiple occasions on any given day.

Nevertheless, I did this all my life because at the end of it, in the often long time between trips, all these cons would become but distant memories, and by the time I had to pack again, I had no reason (that I could remember) not to repeat my old ways. However, over the past couple years, I’ve found myself traveling more frequently, and my faulty system became harder to forget when trips to the airport were but a few short weeks apart. This is what finally pushed me to start packing like an adult. What did that mean exactly? Planning outfits—strategically.

Not only do I now pick an outfit for every event or occasion of my upcoming trip, but once I’ve done that and everything is laid out, I see what items can be used in multiple looks and cut out the things those could replace. So where I used to take four pairs of jeans for a one-week trip, I can now get away with one or two because I’ve taken the time to check that what I’m bringing goes well with my selection of tops. Similarly, rather than packing my six favorite pairs of shoes and four favorite handbags, I take a few minutes to see which ones actually match my outfits. This has allowed me to cut down my packing so significantly that I can now go on one-week (sometimes even longer) trips with just a carry-on—where I used to stuff a large suitcase to the point of being over the airline’s weight limit.

In short, what I once deemed unworthy of my time has actually saved me just that, but on the part that matters: the actual trip. I no longer deal with overweight suitcases or spend too many hours getting dressed while I’m on vacation. Instead, I travel light and comfortable, and all my thinking about clothes stops when I’ve zipped up my suitcase at home.

Now that you know, continue to shop some of my favorite pieces to travel in.

Everyone needs a pair of go-to shades for when they got no sleep on the plane.

These high-waisted leggings are so flattering.

I can't go anywhere without my cropped flares. Plus, this pair is so comfortable.

These cool glasses make me feel a little less dorky when I wear my prescription lenses.

Does it get any cooler than this?

Not your average sweatpants, right?

These classic sneakers are worth the investment, trust me.

Up next, the four commandments of airport style, according to our favorite jet-setting celebs.