Fun plans to take a long trip this summer? ME TOO! I’m so excited we’ll be heading to Spain in September (Barcelona and Mallorca!)–and as you know I have become a very light, seasoned packer over the years. (Hoping to squeeze 9 days worth of clothes in my carry-on for that!)
I get quite a few travel questions from gals looking to plan their own getaways, especially around this time of year––it seems like everyone plans their extended vacays between July and September. 😂What constitutes a long trip anyway? I mean–for me, I think that’s around 10+ days or longer–long enough to require a lot of paring down and quite a bit of creativity and care when it comes to curating the “mini wardrobe” in your suitcase.
Not sure where to begin? Let’s start with my best tips + hacks, and we’ll get into my packing list at the end!
How To Pack For Long Trips: My Best Tips
Pack in a color scheme:
If you’re packing for a long haul trip, especially in a carry-on, you’ll definitely want to pack in a color scheme as much as possible. The one exception to this rule would be “one-piece outfits”–like jumpsuits and dresses. You don’t need to mix and match these, so as long as they match every pair of shoes you plan to bring, you’re golden! For your tops and bottoms, make sure that these are all mix-and-matchable. For example, in the summer, I typically stick with pants/shorts, skirts and tops in black, navy, white, and red. That way I know they’ll all go together!
Pack around your shoes:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on trips with my friends and they open their GIANT suitcase to reveal 8 different pairs of shoes. (And they wonder why their suitcase is overweight?!)
Are you sitting down? Because I’m about to tell you that you can easily get away with THREE PAIRS OF SHOES with you on any trip. Three. Will you have room for more? Probably. (Especially if they’re summer sandals! Those take up no room!) but still–the best piece of advice I can give is to plan your outfits around your shoes. Decide on those first, and then select your clothing items based on what matches your shoes. Don’t make your shoes an after-thought! I’ll get more into shoes in the next “packing list” section.
Create your own capsule wardrobe of sorts:
If you’re willing to put in a bit of work upfront, this will MAJORLY pay off for you. Edit down your packing list to a handful of items that all go together–try everything on and take mirror selfies of outfits you can refer back to to make getting dressed on vacation a no-brainer. When we pare down our options and only bring staples that require *zero thought* to throw on, yet result in you feeling comfortable, stylish, and beautiful, it makes traveling so much more fun! (Not to mention, you’ll be way happier looking back at photos thinking, “oh, I love that outfit!” vs. “OMG why I was I dressed like a dorky dad?!”)
My “a little something” travel style tip:
I received a DM the other day saying, “I never look cute when I travel! I wish I could have cute travel outfits like you!” The truth is, when I travel (especially on longer trips when I need to be able to mix and match a lot) –a lot of my outfits are really quite simple and basic. They have to be, because I need to be able to wear them lot’s of different ways! They don’t LOOK plain, because I always make sure they have something special about them–and that’s the trick–before you finish getting dressed, ask yourself, “what’s my “something special?” ––a little something you can add to your outfit, in the form of an accessory, that will elevate your look. Here are my two go-to’s:
You know my love for a silk scarf! In the fall/winter I always have one around my neck, and in the summer, I always have one in my hair–it’s perfect for keeping your hair off your face and making any outfit look adorable. A scarf is an unexpectedly chic item that takes your outfit from basic to darling. I purchased a few from the leather markets in Florence, and other favorites I own are vintage, but I think Mango is a hidden gem for cute scarves, too! See my how to tie a hair scarf tutorial here!
You can be wearing a white t-shirt and jeans and swipe on some red lipstick and look like the chicest girl around. Try it–it especially looks adorable in photos! (It might sound vain, but, seriously–who wants to look back of photos of themselves in beautiful locations when they don’t feel beautiful in the pictures!?) My favorite colors are Beautycounter Red, Beautycounter Girls Night, and Alima Pure Iris.
Bring Items You Can Dress Up Or Dress Down:
For example, a feminine dress like this one I just got from Everlane can be worn for both sightseeing during the day as well as to dinner at night. A lightweight slinky camisole, or a black bodysuit (see this blog post!) is another option that can be worn a variety of different ways! Heading to a colder climate? A black turtleneck will be your #1 best friend to wear day and night!
Packing Techniques That Save Space:
Okay, this might be a bit controversial–but I’ve experimented with A LOT of packing techniques over the years and have been a fan of the “rolling your clothes” method for a long time. BUT…then I discovered the lay-flat method and I honestly think it’s even BETTER!
I know, this sounds crazy, because everything you read says, “use the Kon-Mari folding method” or “use packing cubes” but guess what? Turns out THOSE AREN’T GOOD USES OF SPACE.
What is the lay flat method?
Stick with me here. Think of your suitcase like the lasagna pan, and your clothes like the noodles. You open your suitcase, and lay everything as flat as possible, in single layers, overlapping, so they create flat single layers.
Packing pants, shorts:
I pack these at the bottom first. I think laying these flat, always, works best. If you want to roll your tops, dresses, etc on top of them, that totally works, but pants get too bulky–so the lay-flat method is much better.
In the summer I pack mostly dresses (hello, one item outfit) so the lay flat method works best here as well because I think it is the best use of space. (Longer dresses tend to get bulky when rolled.) I fold them as little as I can get away with. (Sometimes it’s in half, sometimes it’s in thirds, depending on how long the dress is.)
For the lay flat method, I typically fold tops in half, hotdog style, and again, layer them like you would a casserole or lasagna–so they aren’t in stacks, but overlapping the edges to create a single flat layer–so there is no space in between. If you prefer to roll, roll them and place them on top of your pants and dresses in a single layer.
Toiletry bags, shoes, accessories:
My suitcase (more on it below) has two sides, so these get put in the other side (above, right), which zips to prevent any loose smaller items from falling out.
Now, a few caveats to the lay flat method:
Or just one, really: I’m not a type A person. I’m like, a type F person. This means that I don’t care if my jeans touch my shirts or that I can’t pinpoint EXACTLY where something is located in my suitcase at a given time. But that’s fine with me. I want to maximize space and spend as little time packing as possible–therefore, this is what works for me.
If space is less important to you than organization, then packing cubes (I have these and they’re great for only $20!) will definitely be your best friend.
Get the right suitcase:
I SWEAR by my Delsey Chatalet 21″ rolling carry on bag. Honestly, I really like to avoid checked bags if I can possibly help it. I don’t want to waste time at baggage claim, waiting in line to check luggage (or getting there extra early to do so) or be stranded without any clothes when the airline loses my luggage. Oh, and above all–I definitely don’t want to be lugging a giant suitcase on trains, hauling it up cobblestone hilly streets, etc. Traveling light is the #1 tip I can ever give anyone. However, if you do need to check luggage, the same suitcase comes in a larger size! 🙌🏻
I haven’t gone on a single trip without my little Delsey suitcase in the past two years, and let me tell you–I never thought I could have such love for a suitcase. It’s not just adorable–yes, it sounds cheesy, but it SERIOUSLY brings me joy rolling it through the airport–but it’s crazy functional. Neal calls it Mary Poppins Bag because of “all the shit that flies out of it” whenever we get to our destination. It holds so much! 😂
Seriously–I packed for 10 days in Paris in this thing with no trouble at all. (See my Paris Packing List here!) I also plan to carry on with this suitcase in Majorca this fall for 9 nights.
Outfit is old, but see full blog post (shot in Tuscany at Borgo San Felice!) here
How to pack hats correctly:
There is a trick to packing hats–did you know this? The key is to place the hat in your suitcase first and then pack everything tightly around the brim–this prevents the brim from bending. Use the inside portion for bathing suits, undies, etc. Which brings me to my next point…
Fill nooks and crannies with underwear, scarves, socks, etc:
I know my super anal type A packers are going to cringe at this, because this obviously isn’t the most organized way to pack, BUT, filling all those nooks and crannies in between your clothes with smaller items like shoes, socks, etc is really the key to maximizing space!
Pack a separate bag for dirty clothes:
It doesn’t have to be fancy–Neal uses a plastic shopping bag from CVS–or if you’re really savvy and want to save space–one of these vacuum seal bags. Reusing an old shoe bag or purse bag totally works as well–it’s just nice to keep your dirty clothes all in one place. Fun fact: My suitcase actually comes with extra cloth bags like this that match the interior–yet another reason to love it so much!
Pack laundry detergent packets + wrinkle release spray:
Throw these in your toiletry bag so you can wash undies, socks, workout clothes, t-shirts, tanks, etc on the go. I just discovered these detergent strips that look really cool and perfect for travel! I also never go anywhere without wrinkle release spray. It’s a life-saver for slightly wrinkled items and saves you from pulling out the steamer every time!
Don’t freak: Consider What You Can Buy There!
I think a lot of us get “OMG DID I FORGET SOMETHING” anxiety, but you really don’t need to lose sleep over every tiny detail. Remember: YOU CAN BUY A LOT THERE! Focus on the things you would be REALLY upset if you left. You can always buy toothpaste or shampoo or whatever at the local pharmacy wherever you get to where you’re going. Fun fact: I forget my toothbrush almost every trip. Why don’t I keep a spare in my suitcase? I have no idea.
What to pack for a long trip–your packing list:
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked, “BUT JESS, HOW DO YOU GET THE WRINKLES OUT OF THAT?!” 🤦🏻♀️
YOU GUYS. You are all smart women. Please, for the love of all things holy, do not try to pretend like *you can’t figure out how to de-wrinkle something*– let’s call a spade a spade. YOU ARE LAZY. (Me too. Takes one to know one.) You do not want to google “how to de-wrinkle clothing” (which is why you don’t yet know what I’m about to tell you) and you also don’t want to iron.
I GET IT. I don’t want to iron either. But this bit of advice will change your life:
GO BUY A TRAVEL STEAMER.
Once you have one, you will wonder how on earth you ever looked presentable without one. I absolutely abhor wrinkled clothing–there is no better way to ruin an outfit, in my opinion. A travel steamer takes a minute to heat up, and de-wrinkles your clothes in seconds. No hassle! There are so many on Amazon that fit in your carry on bag!
If you’re going to buy one steamer, definitely look into buying a dual voltage, like this one, so you can take it with you on that trip you’re planning to Europe or Southeast Asia without risk of blowing it up. (RIP. That’s how I lost my first steamer. 😭)
Dual Voltage hot tools:
Speaking of favorite things I’ve accidentally killed in Europe…add my curling iron to the list. Even with a converter and adapter, you run a very high risk of ruining your curling iron/straightener/hair dryer, so the best bet is to find a dual voltage one on Amazon, or buy a cheap one at a pharmacy once you get there–OR just screw it and air dry your hair/wear it up with a hair scarf.
Clothing & shoes:
My go-to long haul flight outfit is always t-shirt (usually striped because those are way cuter! Everlane has the best tees!), Lululemon align leggings (they feel like NOTHING on you–I wouldn’t normally wear other leggings for 8+ hour flight but these feel like you’re naked. My align leggings also happen to be a size too big–size 6 instead of 4–because I’ve had them since like college when I was a size or two bigger, haha–so maybe that adds to the comfort level. They are truly the most comfortable pants I own.) along with sneakers–for Europe I always pack one pair of cute sneakers and one pair of trainers (like these Nikes, or Allbirds) for more support/intense walking days–so I’ll opt for wearing one of those pairs!
I always recommend bringing a top layer or two, even if it’s hot, because temps can drop at night. A leather/suede jacket or a jean jacket are my two go-to’s, plus a cardigan sweater to wear on the plane and for cool nights. A travel wrap/scarf is always an excellent idea, especially if you’ll be going to religious sites like cathedrals and churches, where you’ll often be asked to cover your shoulders. If you’re planning for cooler weather, this trench coat (for more warmth) or this trench coat (for lighter weight) are my two favorites!
For summer travel, you’ll want a couple pairs of flat, comfortable sandals. (The ones I bring are old/sold out, but this pair or this pair look PERFECT for a lot of walking! I’ve also got my eye on these Nisolo sandals, which are supposed to be insanely comfy, and I love how minimal they are! I may snag these for Spain!) You definitely want something with an ankle strap so they are more supportive don’t slip off your feet during a day of walking. Make sure you break them in before you leave! I may also finally pull the trigger on some Huarache sandals which seem like the perfect hybrid for travel because they’re like a sandal and a close-toed shoe had a baby! 😂They have great reviews too and are supposed to be insanely comfy!
For cooler temperatures/fall/winter travel, I really love flat Chelsea boots and also Everlane’s Day boots–which have a small heel but are SO comfy–both part of my fall capsule. I would recommend bringing one black pair and one brown/neutral pair.
See full outfit post here
These will likely be the shoes you reach for over and over! My favorites are Tretorn sneakers–they go with everything and are so cute. I love classic white sneakers because they’re comfortable but also go with everything-like dresses, cute shorts, for example–and you can’t really wear trainers with much else other than athleisure without looking like an NYC commuter. Therefore, it’s definitely worth packing these as well as your favorite trainers if you plan to be doing any moderate hiking/day trips/etc.
COMFORTABLE heels (only if necessary):
Now–I will say this: heels are not necessary for pretty much any vacation where you’ll be doing any amount of walking. I can only speak for Europe because I don’t have experience traveling to other continents, but I rarely see European women walking around in heels. (Of course, there are exceptions, I guess if you’re going clubbing that’s different, but I’ve traveled a lot, in a lot of countries, and not once have ever said, “damn, I wish I would’ve brought heels.”)
The ONLY pair of shoes that is an exception is The Everlane Day Heel–because they are as comfy as flats, but still so cute, and don’t look/feel too dressy like most heels do. They are also conducive to walking on cobblestone without rolling an ankle. They strike the perfect balance between feminine and special without trying too hard. I love them in red leather!
I highly recommend two kinds of dresses to bring with you on vacation:
Shorter, non-flowy dresses:
These are some of my favorite dresses to wear with sneakers and the best to keep you cool–the reason I say they need to be *not flowy* is because being worried about flashing a large mob of tourists whenever the wind picks up is NOT my idea of a good time. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many *ohhh but it’s SO CUTE* moments I’ve had when I’ve packed shorter, flowier dresses and regretted it immediately. 😂This little dress I wore in this post is a perfect example!
Flowy longer dresses:
I loveee a good maxi dress or midi dress–they’re worry-free because you don’t have to worry about the flash factor, and what makes you feel more beautiful than a long, flowy dress?
Shop some favorite vacation dresses:
I think it’s always smart to include at least one to two pairs of long pants–especially in Europe on the coast, the nights can get cool even when the days are hot. I remember being thankful for the one pair of white jeans I packed in the Amalfi Coast last year. My new favorites are wide leg crops (LOVE this lightweight pair I’m wearing below as well as Everlane wide leg crops!) These are awesome to wear year-round and they look just as cute with sandals as they do with boots. If you’re traveling to cooler climates, check out my fall capsule wardrobe!
I wish Madewell would bring my favorite leather backpack (above) back so you could buy it. 😭BUT at least they still have it in canvas! It’s the best backpack ever–fits so much stuff (my giant DSLR being one of them) and is perfect for wearing during the day while exploring. I also am obsessed with their belt bag! I can’t think of a better small purse for travel–and you don’t have to worry about getting pick-pocketed!
See full outfit post here
Button downs shirts/button-down dress:
I love a good linen button down shirt–mine is from Lolë and I seriously wear it every chance I get–it’s a tunic length so it works great all by itself as a beach cover up, or tucked into shorts or jeans! It’s soft, not scratchy–and while it’s pricy for a linen shirt, it’s definitely high quality and probably my #1 favorite summer staple at the moment. I also wore my Everlane button-down shirt dress a TON on our Italy trip last year. It looks so cute with both sandals and sneakers–as a dress or a cover up!
T-shirts and tanks:
Everlane has my favorite t-shirts and tanks–these are great because they don’t take up much space! I like packing striped tops in particular because they add a lot of interest to any outfit, and they look cuter in pictures. 😂