After a few busy weeks, I’m back! I hope all of my readers in the United States had a nice Thanksgiving (as well as Hanukkah, for those who observe that holiday). I actually got to see almost all of my immediate family on or around Thanksgiving this year. I took a trip to see my family members in the Reno/Tahoe area in mid-November. After I returned home from almost a week away, my sister-in-law and stepson visited my husband and me in San Diego and stayed through Thanksgiving. The remainder of the holiday season will be fairly quiet, but the decorations are all up and I’m starting to feel at least somewhat festive.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a few yearly wrap-up posts, but first I want to reflect a bit on how my packing went for my Tahoe trip. And because my sister-in-law visited us right after my trip, I was able to compare and contrast the way she packs for travel with my own experience and learn some effective packing trips from her. My sister-in-law is a very seasoned traveler who has taken countless domestic (she lives in Canada) and international business trips over the years, so she knows a thing or two about how to pack and travel well.
In today’s post, I look at the two opposing ways my sister-in-law and I packed for our recent trips. I share what we both did well, what I wish I would have done differently, and what I plan to shift with future packing after getting some tips from my “packing master” family member. Unlike my previous packing for travel posts (you can check them out HERE and HERE), I won’t share photos this time of what I packed for my trip. I’m sure I’ll do that again in the future, but today’s post is more about wins, mistakes, and lessons learned. I’m keeping things more simple to get back into the swing of things with blogging, and I hope you like this post!
My Extra-Large Suitcase
My suitcase is about as large as one can travel by air with these days. I often come right up against the fifty-pound weight limit with this bag, which is why my husband and I purchased a luggage scale in order to avoid excess baggage charges. I like to have choices in terms of what to wear, but I usually pack too many options. This time, I overpacked more than usual because I had set out a bunch of clothing possibilities on the bed, and my helpful husband squeezed them all into my suitcase thinking that I had intended to take everything with me. I had planned to pare things down, but because I was running late (a common situation), I thanked my husband for his help and we were on our way to the airport. My trip was six days long, but I had enough clothing with me for a month-long excursion!
What I Did Well
While I was in Tahoe, I was grateful to have plenty of clothing on hand for my daily walks by the lake. The weather was quite cool (especially for someone who lives in Southern California), so I was happy to have my warmest jacket and lined joggers to wear to keep me feeling toasty. I was also pleased to have brought along my robe (one of my favorite purchases of 2021) and slippers, as well as some lounge wear to put on while I was hanging out with my mom at home (Tommy John lounge Henleys and Athleta joggers). I ended up leaving the slippers at my mom’s house for future visits and purchasing a new pair (inexpensive ones from Isotoner – in black, of course) to wear at home.
My Packing Mistakes
Although I did well in packing for my exercise and downtime on the trip, I was too excessive with my out-and-about clothing options. In terms of bottoms, I wore one pair of black pants on the plane and brought along another pair of black pants and two pairs of jeans. I also packed an additional pair of booties (I wore one pair en route) that I only ended up wearing once. I could have easily gotten by with just one pair of black pants, one pair of jeans, and one pair of booties. It can be difficult to determine which options to include, but I didn’t have to pack all of them. As it was, I didn’t wear the extra pair of black pants at all and one pair of jeans only got worn once.
But the worst part of my packing was that I brought along far too many tops! I must have had at least ten long-sleeved tops with me, as well as several thermal layering pieces to go under them if necessary (I didn’t end up needing those). It was really overkill, but I was happy that my last-minute decision to pack two dressier top options paid off for the two family dinners that we had. While I could have worn my casual tops for those occasions, I felt more polished and attractive in the upscale printed tops that I paired with my black pants.
What I Wish I’d Done Differently
One addition that I wish I would have packed was another cardigan. The only cardigan I brought with me was the black one that I wore on the plane from San Diego to Reno. Because some of the tops I packed were either solid black or very dark, I would have benefitted from packing one of my bright or printed cardigans for a second option. That would have served me a lot better than the five or so tops that I didn’t end up wearing. My all-star topper was a long lightweight puffer that I purchased at Old Navy on sale earlier in the year. I hadn’t worn it much at home, but I layered it over my outfits every single day in Tahoe. I wish it was still available to purchase for my mom, but no such luck…
When it came time to pack for my trip home, I had to scramble to fit everything into my suitcase, especially since I’d made a few purchases on the trip (not clothing), and I also needed to pack several clothing items that I’d sent to my mom and needed to return. Because my suitcase had been so overstuffed from the get go, I ended up needing to borrow a small bag from my mom to house some of my heavier items so that I could meet the weight limit. Thankfully, Southwest Airlines allows passengers to check two bags free of charge on all of their flights, but it would have been nice not to have needed that second bag!
My Sister-in-Law’s Carry-on Bag
When my sister-in-law arrived in San Diego, it was after a week of visiting friends in the Vancouver area, so the total length of her trip was almost two weeks. However, instead of a large overstuffed bag like mine, she had only a standard carry-on bag and a small backpack with her. I marveled at how she was able to pack so lightly for a trip that was two times as long as the one I’d returned from a day earlier, and I asked what her secrets were.
A Smart Strategy
She told me that she’s very minimalist when it comes to packing and with her wardrobe in general. Years ago, she switched to only wearing black tops, and she only wears jeans and black pants. To add variety to her ensembles, she uses printed scarves. When she’s wearing dark solids both on top and on bottom, switching out the scarves creates a totally different look. She used this strategy for her work trips, which allowed her to pack lightly and still look polished, pulled together, and different enough each day such that no one really noticed the sameness in most of what she was wearing.
Another thing my sister-in-law does is pack small baggies of laundry soap so she can do laundry in her hotel room in the evenings. She showed me the baggies, but said she wouldn’t need to do laundry at our house because she had already washed everything where she’d been staying previously. She was with us for five days, so I guess she only needs to do laundry about that often while she’s traveling.
What My Sister-in-Law Packed
For her trip to Vancouver and San Diego, here’s what she packed:
- Two short-sleeved black tops (one crewneck and one V-neck).
- One pair of jeans.
- One pair of black pants.
- A pair of brown boots (she only wore these in Canada).
- A pair of black casual shoes (this is what she wore in San Diego).
- A black zip-up hoodie (for San Diego).
- A warmer blue coat (for Canada).
- Printed scarves (I think I only saw her wear one of them, but she may have had more).
- Assorted earrings (she switched those out but kept her other jewelry minimal).
- Undergarments and socks (I assume these are what she washed, in addition to the tops).
- Two sets of pajamas (warm ones for Canada and a less warm option for San Diego).
- A casual blue travel purse (crossbody style).
I was surprised at how minimally my sister-in-law packed for her trip, but it seemed to work well for her. She isn’t at all into clothes and fashion the way I am, so she doesn’t feel the need to have a lot of choices. But she seemed to be comfortable, happy, and appropriately dressed for all of the activities we did together during her time in San Diego. I’m sure she experienced peace from not having to worry about what she was going to wear, as it was all figured out for her.
When we went out for dinner and for Thanksgiving lunch, she wore the printed scarf and looked perfectly appropriate. We dined at mid-level restaurants, but her outfit with the black top, black pants, black shoes, and printed scarf would have worked for fine dining as well. Had she needed a topper in such an instance (she mostly didn’t – she’s from Canada after all!), the hoodie might not have been the best choice, but because it was black, it wouldn’t have stood out as extremely inappropriate, either. I think she knew that virtually everything she’d be doing on her trip would be casual, so she packed accordingly.
I don’t see myself as ever wanting to pack as minimally as my sister-in-law does, but I think I could definitely scale down to more of a middle ground between my excessive packing and her spartan ways. I think I could do fine with just two pairs of pants for out-and-about activities, and two pairs of shoes would also suffice (I actually could have packed just one pair of boots for Tahoe, as well as my walking shoes). I would probably pack a few more tops, however, and maybe one more topper in a bright color or a print.
I like the idea of having one main neutral, and I would also choose black for this. Having two or three toppers to mix and match, as well as a few scarves, would add the type of variety I enjoy incorporating into my ensembles. I think where I went wrong on my recent trip was trying to add in too many colors with my tops and skewing too dark with tops that were too close to black, such that they didn’t mesh well with my black toppers (my lightweight long puffer was also black). I did pack a few scarves for my trip, but they weren’t the best options because they were also too dark. My sister-in-law’s scarf had a white background with black and other colors in the pattern, so it brightened up her otherwise dark outfits. I can do the same thing, as I have quite a few scarves that are light and bright enough to pair well with black.
I don’t know if I’ll ever pack minimally enough to just use a carry-on bag, but I see that possibility as more viable now that I’ve learned from my sister-in-law’s example. Now, if I can just learn how to pack more minimally with my toiletries, I’d be in business! Baby steps…