As I mentioned in my last post, I returned from a trip to Lake Tahoe last week. It was my first time traveling in close to two years, so I felt quite rusty in all facets of the experience, especially the packing. Deciding what to pack for a trip is always challenging for me anyway, as I struggle to cover my clothing needs while also keeping within airline luggage weight restrictions. I frequently overpack, which ended up being a good thing this time around, as I extended my trip for an additional three days.
I feel like packing to go away for a few days isn’t all that different from packing for a two-week excursion, as I include roughly the same amount of clothing, shoes, and jewelry in both instances. Of course, I throw in extra undergarments and socks for longer jaunts, but the number of tops and bottoms I pack is much the same. I tend to be a “mood dresser,” so I hate to be too limited in my selections. I like to have choices, as I never know how I’ll feel and what I might be in the mood to wear on any given day.
For most of my travels, there are usually at least a few garments that I don’t end up wearing, and my recent trip was no exception. In today’s essay, I debrief what I packed, how it well it served me, and what I wish I’d done differently.
Let’s start with the footwear… I wore a pair of shoes on my flight and packed two others, as shown below (I also packed walking shoes, which will be shown later in this post as part of my exercise capsule).
I definitely could have gotten by fine with just two options, as I didn’t end up wearing the Munro peep-toe booties at all. I included those shoes because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wear that option or my black Arche sandals to my nephew’s graduation, which was the primary reason for my trip. I had tried on both options at home, but I wasn’t sure which one would work better, especially since I hadn’t yet finalized my outfit for the ceremony. I had a few ensemble possibilities in mind, but I wanted to wait to see how I felt the day of the event, including in terms of my footwear. I ultimately chose the Arche sandals for the graduation, and I also wore them on another day while I was in Tahoe.
I wore my Taos sandals on all but two days of my trip, as they were my most casual and summery option. Since I extended my trip for an additional three days, I found myself wishing I’d left the Munro peep-toes (more of a cool weather favorite) at home and packed another pair of summer sandals instead. If I could go back and do it over again, I probably would have selected my pewter Taos sandals as my third shoe option. These sandals, shown below, “bookend” my hair nicely and are good summer shoes that are both comfortable and stylish.
Alternatively, if I opted to stick with a primarily black color palette, I might have chosen my Sketchers wedges or one of my black Munro flat sandals as another casual shoe option for my trip.
With the exception of the graduation, all of my Tahoe activities were quite casual in nature. Even though I like to err on the side of being overdressed rather than underdressed for occasions, my black Taos sandals probably would have worked fine for the graduation. If I had realized that before my trip, I would have elected to pack two of the alternate shoe options above (I wore the black Taos sandals on the plane) instead of the Arche sandals and Munro peep-toe booties.
When I pack, I usually start the process by selecting my shoes and bottom pieces (usually pants, but sometimes skirts and dresses as well) and then work upwards to choosing tops and toppers. I use this method for several reasons. For one, I find footwear and pants more challenging in terms of comfort and versatility. I also don’t have as many options in those areas, so it’s easier to narrow down my selections. I typically select footwear and bottom pieces in tandem, as I need to make sure that they pair well together. I’ve been working towards having most of my pants coordinate with the majority of my shoes, but there’s still some variation remaining in terms of heel height and pant length compatibility.
For this trip, I selected only cropped pants, as shown below:
I considered packing one pair of full-length pants, probably jeans, but I opted not to do so after seeing that the extended weather forecast predicted warm temperatures. If I’d stuck with my original plan of staying in Tahoe for just four days (not including my travel day, when I arrived late in the evening), I would have been fine with my pant selections, but I ended up feeling bored and limited by my options. I wished that I had another pair of pants to choose from, particularly a non-black option. The two pairs of black pants felt like a bit of overkill, even though they were distinct in terms of style.
If I were afforded a “do-over,” I would have chosen to pack an additional pair of pants, either another printed pair or a colored solid. I may have also opted to pack just one pair of black pants and leave the other pair at home. Here are some possible pants options I could have selected from my summer wardrobe:
I could have also chosen to pack a dress or skirt for increased variety. However, this would have added some complexity to my packing because I wear different tops and toppers with my skirts and dresses than with my pants because of proportion issues (I have a very short torso, so I’m not a “tucker”).
I considered wearing a dress to the graduation, but I decided to go with pants instead because that’s been my recent preference. I also felt that pants would be more versatile for creating outfits on the other days of my trip. If I’d already been wearing my summer clothing prior to my travels, I might have chosen to pack a dress, but the temperatures in San Diego had still been cool and I hadn’t worn my dresses since last October. In fact, I’m not even sure which of my dresses I even like wearing at this point. My preferences – and my body – seem to change often, so it was a safer bet to wear pants to the graduation since that’s been what I’d been wearing recently.
Here’s what I wore for the graduation, and you can also check out the ensembles that my stylish niece (age 12) and nephew (age 18 – the graduate!) donned for the ceremony:
This is an area where I almost always over-pack, but I do it intentionally. Tops don’t take up all that much space, especially when they’re lightweight summer tops, so I usually choose to pack more than I know I’ll need. Also, while I can generally wear pants and toppers multiple times without their needing to be laundered, tops often need to be washed after just one wearing, especially in warmer weather. Since I was staying with my mom, I could have done laundry, but I usually like to just wait until I’m home for that. Packing additional top options helps me to avoid the need to do laundry.
I packed mostly short-sleeved tops, but I also added a couple of sleeveless options:
Because I extended my trip, I wore most of the tops pictured above, and I actually wore the black V-neck tee twice. I mostly stuck to wearing neutral tops, with the exception of the blue striped tee. The following three tops were not worn at all during my trip:
I love the blue top, but it’s a bit short in the back, which makes me feel self-conscious with some of my pants. The solid red and red print tops are both new and have never been worn. It probably wasn’t a good idea for me to pack them, as it’s best to only take along tried and true wardrobe options when we travel. I have the same basic tee in different colors, however, so I’m already confident that the style works for me.
I think the reason I didn’t wear the tops shown above is that I had intended to wear them with a topper, but the temperatures were warm enough that a topper wasn’t needed much of the time. Sometimes I don’t feel like my outfits are “complete” when I’m wearing just a basic tee and a basic pair of pants, but a topper always pulls the look together. A necklace or scarf can also serve as a “third piece,” so I wish I would have had a short pendant on hand to pair with the red and red print basic tees. I actually don’t own a good short necklace option to wear with non-black tops, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a basic silver necklace or pendant to help me feel more pulled together when I’m not wearing a topper.
I wore one topper and packed three others for my Tahoe trip. All four options were similar in style – all long open cardigans, so they were easy to swap out as desired. As shown above, I wore the printed version to the graduation. I used the other three cardigans as needed when temperatures were cooler or when I was in an air-conditioned space.
I wore the three solid cardigans two or three times each during the trip. I was happy with the topper choices that I decided to pack. Sure, I could have gotten by with fewer options, but I liked having more selections to choose from, and I also enjoyed adding color to some otherwise neutral ensembles with the two bright cardigans.
Sleep and Lounge Capsule
Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s important to also consider what I’ll be wearing during my downtime when I’m on vacation. I wanted to make sure I’d be warm and comfortable during the mornings and evenings in my mom’s home when it tends to be a lot cooler, so I packed a thick and soft cardigan that I use for a robe. I also packed a pair of slides to wear around the house, either barefoot or with socks as needed. To round out my sleep and lounge capsule, I packed a t-shirt and pajama pants to wear to bed or for lounging around in the mornings and late evenings.
I wish I would have also brought a pair of sweatpants or joggers to wear at my mom’s house, as I ended up spending a lot of time in my pajamas. I could have gotten by with wearing some of my out-and-about shirts at home, but having a pair of comfortable pants on hand specifically for lounging around would have benefitted me. I’ve done this in the past, but I was trying to pare things down this time. For future trips, I plan to return to my previous practice of packing specific loungewear in addition to pajamas.
Since I like to take walks by the lake when I go to Tahoe, I packed clothes and shoes specifically for that purpose: two tops, a pair of pants, and walking shoes. I also packed two casual jackets to wear for my walks, a lightweight option and a down jacket. I didn’t end up needing the down jacket, but I don’t regret packing it because I may have chosen to take an early or late walk when the temperatures dipped down into the fifties and high-forties. As it was, all of my walks were taken mid-morning or later, and the temperatures had already gotten high enough by that time not to need a warmer jacket (or even any jacket at all).
The final item that I included in my exercise capsule was a small bag that can be worn either around my waist or across my body (which is how I usually choose to wear it). This lightweight bag allows me to easily carry my smart phone, ID, credit card, some cash, tissues, and a snack or two when I go on mid-length walks or hikes. Unfortunately, it’s not really large enough to also fit a bottle of water, so I have to carry that separately (water is essential when walking on a hot summer day, especially in a dry climate like Tahoe). For future trips – and for longer walks at home, I’d like to purchase either a somewhat larger pack or a separate carrier for my water bottle. It’s a bit unwieldy to have to carry my water bottle in my hand, but it’s an absolutely essential item that should always be on hand for a hike!
With the exception of the down jacket, I wore all of the pieces in my exercise capsule, and most of them were worn multiple times. If I had chosen to go to the gym while I was in Tahoe, which I’ve frequently done in the past (I was too busy on this trip), I could have worn the same items for that purpose. I also could have paired the two tops and lightweight jacket pictured above with my cropped pants and sandals to create a more casual ensemble. I didn’t end up doing this and only wore the tops and jacket for walks, but I liked having the option for these pieces to do “double duty.”
I carried the same black handbag all throughout my Tahoe trip (except when I used the small crossbody pack on my walks). It’s a longtime favorite black studded bag from Brighton that I’ve owned for a number of years.
I still love the above handbag, but I wished that I had a more lightweight option for the days when I was out and about more. I like having larger bags that hold more stuff (my husband says that I put everything in them but the kitchen sink!), but they can also get pretty heavy. That’s not a problem when I’m only walking around for short time periods, but can cause shoulder and arm pain when I’m lugging my bag around during full days of sightseeing or shopping. I only own one small handbag at present, as I don’t tend to purchase bags as often as I do clothing and other accessories. This smaller bag is not ideal, as it’s a bit flimsy and not very high quality, but it would have come in handy for a couple of days on my trip.
I plan to buy a new small handbag sometime within the next year, preferably a crossbody style or even a small backpack (in a non-gear style). I’d appreciate having this type of bag both for travel and for excursions near home. I’ll save the larger bags for when I won’t be walking around quite as much – and also save myself the associated shoulder and arm pain.
I packed multiple jewelry options to pair with my various outfits. Since these pieces don’t take up much space or weigh all that much, I don’t feel the need to be minimal in this area of my packing. I didn’t wear all of the pieces that I brought with me, but I’m okay with that. Here’s a look at most of the earrings, bracelets, and necklaces that I packed for my trip (I don’t have photos of all of my jewelry items):
I was happy with the jewelry that I wore each day and felt that most of my bases were covered, with the one exception that I mentioned earlier of a short silver necklace – or a silver pendant that isn’t on a black cord. However, since I don’t actually own a good option in that category, it wasn’t a packing error not to include one. I plan to purchase this type of necklace as soon as I find one that I like that’s within my budget. I own a black and silver short necklace that I love and wear regularly (the second one from the left in the necklace photo above), but since there are some occasions when I don’t wear black, I need a non-black option as well.
Recapping the Lessons
All in all, I would give myself a “B” grade for the packing I did for my recent trip, which is a pretty good score. My packing wasn’t perfect and there are things that I could have improved, but I did more things right than wrong. Because I hadn’t traveled in close to two years, I was “rusty,” and that was reflected in the few errors that I made. I like to debrief my packing for travel, as it helps me to learn from my mistakes and do better the next time around.
To recap what I outlined above, here’s what I would do differently if I were packing for my recent Tahoe trip now:
- Leave the Munro peep-toe booties at home and instead pack a more casual, summery sandal option, such as my pewter Taos wedge sandals.
- Pack only one pair of black pants and replace the second pair with a bright or printed option.
- Possibly pack a dress or skirt option for the graduation ceremony that could also be dressed down for wearing another day.
- Only pack tops that work well on their own, without the need for a topper to pull the look together.
- Don’t pack anything that I haven’t previously worn. It’s better to only travel with “tried and true” options that are comfortable and that we enjoy wearing.
- Include a pair of lounge pants to wear during my downtime at home.
While I could have done a better job with my packing, what’s most important is that I enjoyed my trip and was mostly happy with what I wore for my various activities. The clothes and shoes I had with me weren’t all ideal, but they did include many of my favorites, and I was dressed appropriately for the things I did during my vacation. I also had enough options on hand to keep me going after I extended what was going to be a five-day trip to an eight-day getaway.
I feel that the lessons I learned will help me pack more effectively for future trips. I don’t think it will be another twenty months before I travel again, so these lessons should be relatively fresh in my mind next time around. But I can always go back to this blog post to refresh my memory if necessary!
I hope you found this recap interesting and potentially helpful for your future travels, even if they may be quite different from mine. Some of you are probably much more experienced and minimal packers than I am. I always marvel at those who are able to take a weeks-long vacation with only a carry-on bag! That may never be me, but I’m pleased to be doing better with my packing as time goes by. I hope that one day it will be easier for me, as I do still tend to agonize a lot about the process.
If you have any packing tips you’d like to share (a few of you already did so in response to my last post), feel free to do so. I’m sure there’s a wealth of knowledge among my readers, so I look forward to reading your insights about the often-stressful process of packing for travel.