Last month, I took a trip to the Reno/Tahoe area to see my family. That was my first time traveling in almost a year, and the temperatures were much colder this year than the last time I visited. I always struggle with what to pack when I travel, and this time was no different.
Although I’ve learned a lot over the years when it comes to packing, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I’ve found that writing travel debrief posts like this one helps me to formulate and deepen my lessons learned so that I can hopefully do better the next time around.
In today’s essay, I share what I packed for my recent trip, what I ended up wearing, what would have been better left at home, and what I wish I’d brought with me instead. I also highlight some of the mistakes I made and what I learned from them.
Travel and Clothing Overview
I spent a total of nine days just before Thanksgiving in the Tahoe area. Unfortunately, most of my time was spent indoors because the temperatures were just too cold for me to enjoy the outdoors. Not only do I not own a lot of extra-warm clothing, but I also feel the cold more intensely than those who reside in cool climates full-time. I did the best I could with packing layers and warm outerwear, but sadly my dreams of long walks by the lake went mostly unfulfilled this time around.
The purpose of my trip was to visit with my family, most of whom are currently living in either Reno or Tahoe. My secondary desire was to take long daily walks by beautiful Lake Tahoe, but I had to settle for working out at the gym instead, except for one wonderful walk the day before I returned home. Fortunately, I planned for the possibility of exercising indoors, but I could have done better with the clothing that I packed, as I will outline later in this essay…
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the clothing and shoes that I brought with me on my trip:
The above includes both “out-and-about” and at-home items (sleepwear, loungewear, and workout pieces). I’ll break it all down by category below, and I’ll also show you the jewelry and accessories that I packed, but I wanted to start out by showing this overview image to give you a basic idea of my travel wardrobe.
I know it probably looks like too much to some of you, and in hindsight, it probably was. But for the most part, what I packed covered my needs. Could I have packed less? Certainly, but my suitcase is large and I didn’t exceed the weight limit, so I was okay with having more than I absolutely needed with me. I like to have choices in terms of what to wear, as I tend to be a “mood dresser.” I also wasn’t sure how cold I would feel, so I wanted to cover my bases as much as I could in that regard.
Item Categories and Numbers
Broken down by item type, here are my numbers, as well as photos of the items. I share thoughts about some of my packed items below the photos, but additional feedback is included in the sections below.
- Out-and-About Pants – 3 (1 pair of black pants, 2 pairs of jeans)
- At-Home/Workout Pants – 3 (includes pajama pants)
- Shoes – 4 (walking shoes, 2 pairs of boots, slippers)
I know it may seem strange to pack two pairs of black boots that look very similar. I probably could have gotten along fine with just one pair, but the Ecco booties are looking less pristine these days. They’re very comfortable, but the Regarde el Ciel boots look much nicer. Additionally, the Ecco boots worked better with one pair of jeans and the Regarde boots worked better with my black pants.
Perhaps I need to be less picky about my pant and shoe pairings! I also don’t own many closed-toe shoes since I live in a relatively warm climate where I can wear peep-toe options and sandals much of the year. It’s on my list to replace the Ecco booties and purchase a pair of metallic (preferably pewter) booties soon.
- Jackets – 3
I had intended for the fleece jacket to be used for layering when I went on my walks, but I mostly wore it indoors. The shorter Downtown jacket was worn to the gym and on the one lakeside walk that I took, while the longer and warmer Altamira parka was worn over all my out-and-about outfits. I was very happy to have all three jackets with me on my trip.
- Cardigans – 3 (includes robe)
The red cardigan was worn only at home as a robe. I could have maybe worn it out and about as well, but it’s quite loose on me and I prefer that the cardigans in my outfits be more fitted. I’ve been wearing Barefoot Dreams cardigans as robes for years now, but they can definitely be worn outside the home, too.
- Long-Sleeved Tops – 12 (includes 1 underlayer piece and 2 at-home-only tops)
- Short-Sleeved Tops – 3 (2 for workouts and 1 for sleep)
The total number of garments I packed was 27, and the total number of footwear items was 4, for a 31-item capsule. However, I left the slippers at my mom’s house last year, so I didn’t need to pack those this time around.
If I break the items down into out-and-about versus at-home items, here’s what it looks like:
- Out-and-About Items – 18 (3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 jacket, 2 cardigans, 10 long-sleeved tops)
- At-Home Items – 13 (3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shoes/slippers, 2 jackets, 1 robe, 2 long-sleeved tops, 3 short-sleeved tops)
Of the “at-home” items, six were designated for workouts and the other seven were intended for sleep and lounging at my mom’s house. The pictures below show this breakdown. I wish there was more crossover among my pieces, which I will delve into more in the following sections.
The main focus of this article is on the clothing and shoes that I packed for my Tahoe trip, but I thought it would be interesting to also show you the accessories that I brought with me. Accessories don’t take up a whole lot of space and can add a lot to our outfits. I especially love interesting jewelry pieces. I thought I might enjoy wearing scarves, too, but I ended up wearing only one of the scarf options that I packed (the black and white polka dot one).
Here’s a look at all the accessories that I brought with me on my trip:
I carried the same purse the entire time, and I wore most of the jewelry pieces that I packed. I think there were just one or two pairs of earrings that went unworn, but I wore all the necklaces and bracelets. I would like to get back to wearing scarves more often, as I like the look, but I’ve been more into wearing necklaces in recent years. I think I chose my accessory options wisely, and I was happy with the choices I had on hand.
What I Didn’t Wear
I wore almost all the clothing items that I brought with me on my trip, and many of them were worn multiple times. The three pieces that I didn’t wear were all tops, which is often the case when I travel. Because I like to have variety and I have the space to pack extra tops, I usually overshoot the mark somewhat in that category. In the end, I didn’t wear the three tops below:
The top in the middle has been in my closet for many years. In fact, I just looked at my old tracking spreadsheet (I no longer track wears) and I saw that I purchased this top way back in 2010! It may be time to do another update on my closet “oldies but goodies” (the last one I did was in March 2020, just before the pandemic exploded here in the United States).
Anyway, the green waffle top is still in reasonably good condition, but it’s really just a wear-at-home type of garment now. I put it on one day on my trip, but it didn’t feel pristine enough for out-and-about wear, so I changed into something else. It’s had an amazing run, though, and I plan to keep and wear it at home. In fact, I’m wearing it right now as I type this post!
As for the other two tops, they were both recent purchases that still had their tags attached. Both came from Athleta, which is one of my favorite brands for pants and toppers. However, I haven’t had as much success with their tops, as many of the fabrics seem too “utilitarian” for non-exercise wear. I liked the print and color of the two tops above, but when I put them on with my jeans, I just wasn’t feeling it. My jeans showed through the fabric too much and I didn’t look as polished as what I like to convey.
It was a mistake for me to take two unworn tops on my trip, but at least I discovered that they weren’t right for me while it was still within the return window. I returned both tops shortly after I got home. I’m still on the lookout for a red long-sleeved top, and hopefully I’ll find one soon.
What I Wore Only Once
As I mentioned above, many of the items I packed saw multiple wears. This was especially true for my pants, shoes, and jackets. Some of my tops were also worn multiple times, particularly the short-sleeved tees that I wore for sleeping and to the gym. As for my long-sleeved tops, five of them were only worn once, including the two tops that I had brought with me for at-home wear. I also wore one of my cardigans only one time.
I love my Tommy John Lounge Henley tops and they work great for wearing at home in San Diego, but the fabric is too thin to wear in the bitter Tahoe cold (it’s even cold inside my mom’s house because she has electric heating that doesn’t work very well).
In hindsight, it would have been fine for me to just continue wearing my out-and-about tops at home, as they’re all quite comfortable and casual. Additionally, since I wore a black long-sleeved underlayer beneath most of them, that also extended their wear. That said, I wish I would have packed an additional underlayer top, but fortunately I was able to do laundry midway through my stay to wash that and some of my other items.
I’m surprised that I only wore the black cardigan once, especially since I wore my teal cardigan three times. I think since so many of the long-sleeved out-and-about tops in my travel wardrobe were neutrals, it might have been better to replace the black cardigan with another brightly-colored one. Alternatively, I could have packed a third cardigan and reduced the number of tops that I packed. I didn’t realize that I might want to do more layering under my black parka, but it worked well to wear three or four layers most days (usually an underlayer, a long-sleeved top, a cardigan, and my parka). For future cold weather trips (which I think I’ll mostly try to avoid), I will keep this in mind.
What I Should Have Left at Home
Although I mostly did well with what I packed, I would make a few substitutions if I had it to do over again. Some of the items that I brought with me were not the best choices I could have made. Below are the garments that I would have left at home:
Here are the reasons why I would opt not to take the pieces shown above:
- Black Post Om pants – These pants are currently too loose on me. While that makes them quite comfortable for wearing at home, they don’t look nice enough to wear when I go out. Because space is at a premium when packing for travel, I would have done better to pack a more fitted (but still comfortable) pair of lounge pants that I could also wear to the gym. As it was, I wore the same pair of joggers to the gym for a week straight, which wasn’t ideal.
- Black Wearever Slim-Leg Pants – Although I wore these pants twice on my trip, the two outfits skewed too dressy for my activities. It would have been preferable to pack a third pair of jeans instead. If I owned a black pair of jeans, that would have been ideal, but that particular item still eludes me! I could have done fine with just the two pairs of jeans that I packed, but a third pair of jeans would have been a better choice for me than these black pants.
- Burgundy and Red Tommy John Lounge Henleys – I mentioned these two tops above. I thought I’d wear them a lot while lounging around my mom’s house, but they’re not very warm. I was mostly fine just wearing my out-and-about tops at home with my fleece jacket over them. I didn’t really need tops specifically for wearing at home.
- Green Waffle Top – As I stated in the last section, this is a great at-home top, but it’s no longer in good enough condition for out-and-about wear. I could have worn it while lounging at my mom’s house, but another waffle top would have been preferable for out of the home activities instead of this one.
- Green Print and Red Athleta Tops – As previously mentioned, these tops were both new and hadn’t yet been worn. While I thought they would be good tops to wear in Tahoe, that didn’t end up being the case. In retrospect, I should have packed tried-and-true tops instead of ones that I was unsure about. It ended up being fine because I had packed too many tops overall, but in the future, I’ll aim not to pack new clothing when traveling.
What I Wish I Packed Instead
Upon reflection, I wish I would have packed the following items instead of the ones shown above:
Here are my reasons why it would have been preferable to take these garments on my trip:
- Black and Cobalt Striped Top: This is a longtime favorite top that had been too tight on me for several years but now fits well. It’s in line with my personal style aesthetic and it looks nice with either jeans or black pants. It also coordinates well with the black cardigan that I brought with me on the trip.
- Black Metro Classic Pants: If I still wanted to take black pants with me, these would have been a better choice than the black Wearever pants. They’re a thicker weight and also skew more casual in their vibe. Both pants are comfortable, but this pair is less dressy, which works better for Tahoe.
- Charcoal Breathe Joggers: Unlike the black Post Om pants, these joggers fit me well and would have been appropriate to wear to the gym. They’re also comfortable enough to wear around the house in the evenings. The Post Om pants are a little warmer, but these pants have a decent level of warmth, too.
- Dark Wash J. Jill Boyfriend Jeans: These jeans would have been a good choice if I opted to pack a third pair of jeans instead of a pair of black pants. I wouldn’t have packed these and the black Metro Classic pants, but either pair of pants would have been a wise option for me.
- Navy and Turquoise Waffle Top: This top is in better condition than the dark green waffle top that I took on the trip, so it could have been worn either out and about or at home.
- Red J. Jill Cardigan: This would have been a good layering option to wear with my black and white long-sleeved tops. I could have packed this cardigan either in addition to or instead of the black cardigan.
- Turquoise St. John’s Bay Workout Tee: It would have been nice to have a third workout tee option on hand, especially since I went to the gym almost every day on my trip (since it was too cold to exercise outdoors). I was trying not to overpack in the area of workout clothes, but short-sleeved tees don’t take up much space and can come in handy.
For future trips, I’m going to pack fewer “one-off” items and aim for more pieces that can do double-duty. Why not have casual pants that can be worn either at home or to the gym? And why not have tops that work for multiple purposes, too? If I had subbed in the items above instead of the ones shown in the previous section, I would have had a more well-rounded travel wardrobe. Hopefully, I’ll do better with this on my next trip.
I learned a lot by analyzing my travel wardrobe, and I hope you got something out of this article, too. I was going to recap all my lessons learned, but since this post is already quite lengthy, I’ll just summarize a few highlights:
- Don’t pack pieces that haven’t yet been worn. It’s best to stick with “tried and true” items that we know will work for us.
- Aim for “dual purpose” items as much as possible. For instance, I would have been well-served to pack tops and bottoms that can be worn both for working out and lounging at home.
- Consider the environment you’ll be in and what you’ll likely be doing, and pack accordingly. My black pants made my outfits look too dressy, so I would have been better off either just wearing jeans or wearing more casual pants.
- Pack more layering pieces for cold weather. November Tahoe temperatures are usually warmer than they were for my trip, but weather can be unpredictable in the mountains. I was very cold and usually wore three to four layers each day.
- It’s okay to be an “outfit repeater” when we travel (and anytime). I don’t know if I’ll ever be one of those people who travels with only a carry-on bag (like my sister-in-law), but if I get more comfortable with repeating outfits and using scarves to create variety in my looks, I can definitely pare things down.
Now I’d love to get your thoughts on this post and on packing for travel.
- What tips can you share to make packing go more smoothly?
- What have you learned from your packing challenges and failures?
- What would you pack for a week-long trip to a cold weather locale?
- What factors do you consider when deciding what to pack?
Please feel free to weigh in on these topics, as well as whatever else you’d like to share. Thank you for reading and I’ll be back soon with some year-end posts. I wish you a peaceful and happy December and holiday season.