The Art of the Carry-On
Last year, I made an amazing, life-changing discovery. I had always been the classic over-packer, loaded down with oversized suitcases for even the shortest weekend trips. Whatever was new and fabulous in my closet absolutely had to accompany me on my trip. The result each time was a little bit like what happens when you grocery shop without a meal plan: an array of ingredients that only work for one dish and otherwise serve to clutter up your fridge and pantry. My suitcases were eternally overflowing with one-hit-wonder shoes, jackets and accessories.
Enter motherhood, business ownership, frequent work trips and the inability to tolerate any additional stress or clutter in my life. In every area, I began to feel an urgent need to streamline and simplify so that I could focus on what was really important to me. In my travels, that started to translate into wanting to skip the baggage claim altogether, spend less time packing and unpacking my suitcase, and avoid the burden of too many choices. Comfort was now the priority, and I was beginning to understand that I could look put-together, stylish and even sexy without a different pair of heels for every evening.
I will never forget my first trip with only a carryon suitcase. My husband and I were off to South Beach for a long-awaited five-day, sans-kids getaway. If ever there were an excuse to load myself down with cute new pieces, and multiple outfit changes, this was it! Just think of all the fabulous looks I could style for each day... Different outfits for breakfast and the gym, the beach, afternoon excursions, dinner and beyond. Instead, I took a bold personal leap and dared myself to live out of only my carry on. When we arrived at the airport in Miami, a rush of exhilaration that would change my packing strategy forever washed over me: my husband waited for twenty frustrating minutes for his large suitcase down at baggage claim while I, perched atop my tiny carryon, chilled out with a cup of coffee and Vogue in hand. Freedom!!!
The most shocking discovery from this first liberating travel experience was that I ultimately could have packed even less and been happy. Since this trip, it has become a sort of game for me with all subsequent travels to see how much mileage I can get out of as few pieces as possible. I never pack now without a plan. Since it’s that time of year where many of you are heading off on some version of spring break, I thought it the ideal time to share a few of my most tried, tested and effective packing strategies. Please note: this advice is NOT meant for the hard-core minimalist! I am not living out of a backpack yet, and may never be- I take far too much pleasure in getting dressed, and far too little pleasure in roughing it, to pare down that much!
1. Create your canvas.
This is where it all begins- you must find your core before you do anything else. The most effective strategy ever for shrinking down your suitcases is to decide on a simple look that everything else you pack will revolve around. For me, this is usually a black tank and leggings or- my favorite- a unitard (you can't beat top and bottom in one!) Check out our faves from Koral and Onzie . Such pieces weigh almost nothing, take up little space, and can be worn several days in a row. (I also love that I can do yoga in my room in these pieces before getting fully dressed.) Other basics you can easily build upon include tank dresses, jumpsuits, and jeans and a white tee/tank. All are super versatile and can be accented to look completely different from one day to the next.
2. Maximize your multitasking pieces.
Step two is to decide how you're going to add color (or at least flavor) to your canvas. I encourage you to identify pieces that can play multiple roles (something we have lots of here at LYB!) Nothing travels better than a tunic or shift dress that can be at once a studio throw-on, daytime look over leggings, swimsuit cover up, and evening ensemble when paired with great jewelry. Other versatile pieces I almost always travel with include: a long duster cardi, denim jacket, unstructured boyfriend blazer and oversized tees that can be knotted at the waist or worn as a sexy off-the-shoulder look.
3. Select versatile, comfy shoes.
Adulthood has brought me many epiphanies, not the least of which is that glamorous stilettos take up unnecessary suitcase space, aren't necessary to complete my fabulous evening look, and always lead to blisters and having to stop somewhere to buy another pair of actually wearable shoes (my husband could regale you with stories of unplanned Vegas shoe-buying pit stops in my less-enlightened past!) My best advice is to find a stylish wedge or tall boot, and leave almost all other shoes in the closet. As we speak, I'm on my way to New York for a three-day buying trip with only the shoes on my feet: ankle-height, weather-proof Sorel wedge booties. I can walk miles in these adorable, eighties-inspired boots, and they're just dressed-up enough to be acceptable for an evening out. The best part is that they're the perfect complement to every outfit in my suitcase. For spring break this year (back to South Beach), my new Sorel gladiator wedges will be playing a starring role!
4. Take a packable jacket
Regardless of the time of year, it's always advisable to bring along some sort of jacket. For colder climates, don a puffer jacket that provides insulation, but can be easily squished into a suitcase. Warmer trips might still bring cool mornings, air-conditioned restaurants and rainstorms, so pack a piece that can fit into your handbag and doesn't even need to take up valuable suitcase space. A thin raincoat anorak can be rolled into your purse, right alongside a pashmina that can also double as a swimsuit cover up!
5. Ditch the dressing up
Just as I advise leaving your stilettos at home, I would go a step further and suggest that you question the actual need to dress up at all during your travels. I know that when I take a vacation with my kids or even alone with my husband, those evening outfit changes almost never actually occur. We usually go straight from our daytime activities into dinnertime, and most places are so casual now that there's no dress distinction between lunch and dinner. If I'm going on a business trip and know that I'll be dining at a special event or meeting, I find a way to make a great daytime outfit multitask. A simple jewelry change (see my next note) is all that's needed if I've already got a good foundation, like a jumpsuit or shift dress, going.
6. Love your jewelry and accessories.
This is a place where you can finally go to town. Jewelry and accessories like scarves take up very little space, can add a great pop of color and/or sparkle, and have the ability to transform your base into an entirely different outfit from one occasion to the next. If you're a fashionista who bristles at the idea of minimalist packing, this is where you can let your creativity run wild! Along with your basic clothing foundation, consider adding to the mix a chunky metal Jenny Bird bracelet, sparkly Chan Luu earrings, a chiffon choker, a swingy pendant necklace, a Michael Stars neck scarf that can also be worn as head scarf or wrist wrap, and infinity scarves and pashminas. With creative integration of accessories, no one will even notice that your jumpsuit is on its third day!
7. Minimize your medicine cabinet
Last, but not least, consider paring down your beauty routine just for the duration of your trip. Makeup, skin care and hair products can quickly add up to a lot of extra weight and space in that carryon. Now is the perfect chance to try out the travel-size version of products you’ve been considering (check out our favorite kit from Skinny & Co. Additionally, I always a pick one neutral makeup palette and leave the extra lipstick shades, eye pencils and shadow quartets at home. I'm rigorous about my hair treatments at home, but have come to realize that a few days without my extra leave-in conditioner and heat protector spray aren't going to impact the overall health of my mane. The same goes for all of those fancy skincare products. Wait until you get back home to apply your pore-cleansing mud masks and anti-aging treatments. Trust me, you'll look a lot younger walking upright with a lightweight carryon bag than hunched over toting your oversized suitcase loaded with serums, moisturizers and peels!