Walking onto the plane carrying just a duffel and a purse for 7 days in two different areas of France (and a stop in Germany!) was my goal. And here I am standing at the airport, right after John dropped me off and took this shot. Yup. Just a purse and a duffel. I did it (with space to spare!).
And because I’m nothing if not a minimal wardrobe hype woman (more on that here), please allow me to sensually tip your head back and shout directly into your mouth: “knowing how to maximize your options without dragging your entire closet with you is a real actual life hack.” So read on to see how you can get the most out of packing this way (it was my first trip to Europe – so I definitely didn’t want to forget anything!). And if you already pack with a similar mindset (I certainly didn’t invent it)… welcome to the club ;)
Not only does packing light mean there’s nothing you have to check and worry about getting lost in transit, you also don’t usually have to gate-check a small duffel like this on a packed flight (those carry-on-sized rolling suitcases tend to get gate-checked a lot more when a flight is full, which means more waiting when you land).
Quick note: you can absolutely use this packing method & put your own spin on the looks, so please don’t think this is me telling you to pack these specific things. I’m just sharing what my brain does to get a whole lotta flexibility out of a relatively small number of pieces (all of which I wear – nothing goes into the suitcase and rides around the world & comes home unworn). This is more of an “intentional” packing approach than anything else.
Also, my outfit poses in the mirror are truly awful. Please laugh and then immediately erase them from your mind. It’s like I suddenly have no idea what to do with my hands. #somethingsneverchange
What I Did In France
For anyone who missed my Instagram Stories about my France trip last month, I went on a painting retreat with 14 women hosted by the amazing Jessi Raulet, an artist (also known as Ettavee) who lives in Strasbourg. She made this entire trip possible along with the amazing Liz Lidgett.
I paid for this trip just like everyone else (it wasn’t sponsored or anything) and there’s an archived story called France Trip under our IG profile. Scroll over to the right and it’ll be one of the circles under our bio that will get you all caught up on many things I enjoyed doing in Strasbourg, Baden-Baden, and Paris.
Shout out to Elsie Larson who agreed to come with me after I sent her a one-sentence pitch about why we should go, as well as to all of the other awesome women I met while I was there. Also, hat tip to my amazing husband who said “You have to do this. We will be fine. Go have the best time!” It was truly the trip of a lifetime & I came home feeling so inspired. Insert all the magical twinkle emojis here.
I feel like it makes sense to mention the range of things I was doing for those 7 days abroad – because it was quite the smattering. Here are just a few of them:
- painting in a studio a bunch of times
- a walking food-and-wine tour
- touring a cathedral
- soaking in pools & the sauna at a spa in Germany
- an African dance class
- an evening riverboat cruise
- a bunch of mostly casual meals
- one fancy meal at a Michelin five-star restaurant
- miles of flea market hunting in Paris with Elsie
- and so much more (including getting a few more tiny tattoos)
It’s safe to say that a whole lot of ground was covered, and I needed everything from the usual suspects (like casual everyday outfits along with a top layer like a jacket for warmth and comfortable shoes) to a bathing suit for the pools in Germany and workout clothes for the African dance class.
What I Packed
My duffel bag was brimming with options. Because again, my method of packing light isn’t about bringing nothing – it’s all about strategy. I had 3 pairs of shoes with me, 3 purses, 3 dresses, 2 pairs of jeans, and 3 jackets to choose from! Not to mention 5 tanks & a leopard sweater for layering options galore. My packing approach doesn’t mean giving anything up – it’s really just all about figuring out what pairs well with what *before* you leave (and identifying which bigger items to wear on the plane versus pack). A whopping 9 items in the infographic below weren’t in my duffel bag, which is why the rest of them easily fit. But more on that in a second.
Of course I also had underwear, socks, and PJs packed in my duffel – but those aren’t going to get an infographic. So let’s get to my first tip, which covers how I like to keep things organized.
Tip #1: Packing Cubes
As you can see below, I used four of these packing cubes that easily slipped into my duffel bag to keep myself organized and to group categories of clothing together. Yup, those packing cubes below are all of the clothes I packed for this entire weeklong trip – and they also contain two pairs of shoes! Here’s what was in each one:
- Bottom left: socks, underwear, my bathing suit, workout clothes, & PJs
- Top left: a jean jacket, my green blazer, 3 dresses, and a pair of jeans
- Top right: my comfiest stack heel sandals
- Bottom right: 4 tanks, a leopard sweater, & a pair of Rothy’s flats
Note: those quantities don’t add up to the overall number of items I listed earlier because they don’t include the items I wore on my body while traveling too ;) More on that in a sec.
I feel like packing cubes are hard to understand at first because they sound like this trendy unnecessary thing. I mean, we didn’t have them for decades and we all survived. But once I got them it was INCREDIBLY HELPFUL. I love that now I don’t have to dig through a whole duffel to find something at the bottom (pull out the packing cube with your PJs or socks, and there’s said thing – without anything else getting jostled around or unfolded). They also help me stay organized while I’m packing (this is where the tanks go, this keeps my socks together, etc).
Oh and for anyone wondering where my chargers, European plug converters, and even my two extra purses were (I brought a small black crossbody bag & a brown leather one too) – they were all in my large purse, along with my phone, wallet, passport, etc. I also had a small waterproof pouch in there with minimal toiletries (folding toothbrush, small tube of toothpaste/deodorant, and minimal makeup like mascara & lip gloss). It was nice to have a large black purse, a smaller brown crossbody one, and an even smaller black one (you can kinda see it in the photo below) for… once again… say it with me… a variety of options! They all basically paired with any outfit I brought. Three cheers for purse versatility!
There are not one but two photos of me in this outfit, and I’m sorry to say that you can’t see my black crossbody bag any better in this second one. But it’s this bag if you’re curious. I also wore it with jeans for many hours of walking through Paris flea markets. It’s always smart to have a small bag that zips in front of you in Paris so you can keep an eye on it ;)
Tip #2: Plan What Pairs Well
Ok, so now that I have my first tip (PACKING CUBES!) out of the way, I’m just going to show you how I plan for a trip before I go. Basically, I try on outfits and when I like something and want to bring it, I try to think of at least a few ways I can wear one or two of the items. For example, packing a jean jacket and a pair of sneakers for one outfit is a whole lotta bulk… but if you can wear both of them with a long comfy black dress…
… and then again with a different dress on another day – they feel like good staples that can come in handy a few times each, right? It’s worth noting that both of these outfits can also be worn with both of the other shoes I packed. So although I planned to wear sneakers with the long dress, as you can see in my picture above…
… I actually ended up wearing my stacked-heel sandals because it was warmer that day and I wanted my toes out. Ha! Also, how convenient is this giant mirror by the hotel elevator that I used to snap a few outfit pics for this post (as long as nobody was there – if they were… no pic for you ;)
I guess my point is that I’d never set out 7 different complete outfits on the bed for a weeklong trip and attempt to wrestle them all into a suitcase (and then shove in a few fancy things in case you have a nice dinner or need that special hat or something). I think that’s how people end up with heavy giant luggage they have to check (and lots of things they don’t end up wearing).
Instead, I like to think of layers and combo moves. Bringing three pairs of shoes (pointy flats + stacked heel sandals + sneakers) was SO VERSATILE. Same with having three different purses. And three different dresses. And two different blazers + a jean jacket that can be paired with 5 different colored tanks and a patterned sweater.
It just adds up to so many MORE outfits than seven, thanks to different pairing options that you can make on the fly (depending on things like how warm it is that day, what shoes your feet feel like wearing, etc). Let’s do some quick math:
- The 3 dresses I packed, which could be paired with any of the 3 jackets I brought = 9 outfit options right there. And then any of the 3 shoe options I bought could be chosen, along with any of the 3 purses… which leads to SO MANY OPTIONS.
- And the 6 tops I brought (5 colored tank tops + 1 leopard sweater), which could be paired with 3 different jackets = 18 more outfit options out of the gate. And then I got to choose any of my 3 different shoe options along with any of my 3 purses. THAT’S A LOT OF COMBO MOVES!
- In simpler terms, if every day was a combination of choosing some tank/sweater/dress (of which I had 9) + a jacket pairing (of which I had 3), I had 27 different outfit pairings to choose from. Not to mention those 3 purse options & 3 shoe options to further customize things.
That’s what I mean when I say this way of packing is flexible! And it’s also what I mean when I say that being intentional and ensuring that your outfits can mix & match is so much better than bringing a jacket or a dress that doesn’t go with anything else – or even a pair of shoes that only work with one or two outfits instead of choosing things that working interchangeably with all of them.
I also have to acknowledge that someone who dresses more boldly can demonstrate this thesis even more clearly. Imagine one of the items being a floral dress, one of the tanks being checkered, one of the jackets being bright red. A super colorful shoe in the mix? It really can add up to so many different and fun options. Again, I’m just basic ;)
I should also mention that I’m not re-wearing anything dirty over & over again with this method. Different colored tanks under blazers & jackets (along with my leopard sweater) each typically get one wear (as do the dresses I packed – and socks & underwear of course). So if you notice I’m wearing a black tank in France as well as on the plane, it’s because I wore one and packed another one (along with a white, green, and taupe one). Tanks are awesome because they take up so little space.
It’s only the outer layers like my jean jacket and my blazers (I bought my green one and a classic black one) that can make multiple appearances with different things under them, earning me a bunch of different looks with those key pieces. Like so:
See what I mean? Different shoes & a different tank + a classic jacket or blazer is a good deviation for me. Again, someone could make this outfit look a lot more different with patterned tanks or a floral dress under the green jacket. Put your own spin on it for sure.
I’m also a person who doesn’t mind wearing jeans multiple times like the experts recommend, but do whatever works for you! Packing another pair of jeans (or two) would not make or break this approach. Honestly, I had so much room in my duffel that I came home with a pretty large painting I made while I was there, along with lots of treats for the kids.
I know those two photos in a row of my green blazer with different tanks & shoes might make you think… uh, those outfits still look pretty similar. It’s like Clark Kent putting on glasses. How could that fool anyone? The key is that I wouldn’t wear the same green jacket two days in a row – and when those outfits are among a mix of other things, they feel a lot less repetitive. So if you saw me in a different dress in between each of those photos and added in some outfits with the black blazer between them as well, you’d get more of the full picture. Picture a week of clothing that I’m mixing & matching looking more like this:
- Day 1: travel in black blazer + black tank + jeans + sneakers + duffel/purse + bracelet
- Day 2: green jacket + white tank + jeans + leopard flats + brown purse + sunglasses
- Day 3: long black dress + denim jacket + sandals + black crossbody + sunglasses
- Day 3 (outfit change for pools/spa): bathing suit
- Day 4: leopard sweater + 2nd jeans + sneakers + brown purse + bracelet
- Day 5: short dress + denim jacket + sandals + brown purse + bracelet
- Day 5 (change for African Dance class): joggers + workout top + sneakers
- Day 6: green jacket + black tank + 2nd jeans + leopard flats + big black purse
- Day 6: (change for fancier dinner) jumper + black crossbody + sandals + bracelet
- Day 7: travel in black blazer + taupe tank + 2nd jeans + sneakers + duffel/purse
The thing I love about this method is that it’s flexible. Nothing is set in stone, so you have an easily pivot-able game plan with lots of options for deviation. For example, I ended up pairing the taupe top with my black blazer and leopard flats, not the sneakers. The key is that you can do things like change shoes on a dime if your feet want to – or bring a larger purse based on wanting more room to carry stuff that day. And you can do that because everything you brought works together (no long jeans that only work with a certain height of heel for example – or a specific dress that clashes with every jacket except one).
It’s really just about not looking at packing as: I have seven days, I need to stack up seven complete outfits in my suitcase – because that’s when it gets huge. I also think that planning outfits you like beforehand beats throwing everything you own in the suitcase “just in case” because you arrive at your destination with a thoughtfully considered plan. Every morning of this trip I got dressed in a few minutes. It wasn’t a panicked process in the hotel mirror trying to figure out what to wear. And I loved that for something as simple as “my feet will be happier in sneakers today” I had that option with every outfit.
Tip #3: Optimize Your Plane Outfit
Let’s revisit the outfit that I wore on the plane, because strategy #3 is: wear something comfy on the plane that includes a few of your larger items so you don’t have to pack them. When I’m traveling and I want to have boots and a winter coat, you bet your buns I wear them onto the plane. In this case, it was about 50-70 degrees while I was in France, so there was less pressure to get huge things onto my body, but in wearing the outfit below, I knew I didn’t need to find room in my bag for my sneakers, my black blazer, and this second pair of jeans. They all got to come with me on my body – and the blazer, sneakers, and jeans all got to reappear in other outfits – as well as the purse.
And like this (picture me shouting REMIX!):
In short, a thoughtfully considered plane outfit = efficiency at its finest.
Sidenote: please do whatever works for you – like if you prefer a sweater on the plane, the leopard sweater I packed is about as big as my black blazer, so you could travel in that and pack the blazer. And please remember that using this method can look SO MUCH MORE VARIED if you don’t always wear basics and a whole lot of black. I just like what I like ;)
And if you remember me saying that 9 whole items on my infographic of what I brought to France didn’t end up in my duffel, those items are: my bracelet, my sunglasses, all 3 purses (2 were nested inside the biggest black one, but none were in the duffel) and of course the black blazer, sneakers, black tank, and second pair of jeans that were on my body weren’t in that duffel either ;)
Tip #4: Things Don’t Always Have To Be Combined
This might seem obvious to point out, but just because you can layer things doesn’t mean you have to. A sweater doesn’t have to be under a blazer, but it’s nice and flexible that way. I ended up wearing this outfit during the day…
… and then added a blazer for warmth during the evening riverboat cruise.
And on one of our painting days, I wore just this black tank in the studio with an apron, then walked around town with my green jacket & brown crossbody bag added to the mix.
Same for this white tank. It was just that + an apron while painting in a workshop, but then around town I added the jacket & my brown purse again.
Tip #5: Analyze Your Trip When You Unpack
You’ll always learn something when you travel, so taking a second to reflect on what worked extra well and what you might change for next time is definitely worth those ten minutes while you load things into the washing machine. One thing I took away from this trip was that sometimes I just bring sneakers and a nicer heeled sandal or boot – but these Rothy’s that I’ve had for years were truly the MVPs of the trip, and they’re so small to pack. So my takeaway from this trip = you don’t have to choose between sneakers or comfy flats when the flats are so tiny and easy to pack! I’m always just going to throw them into my bag.
I also really liked having a large purse + two smaller bags with me to choose from – so because I now know they can nest into my larger purse so easily, I think those will be coming with me on a lot more trips as well!
Actually, those two realizations are a great example that packing light isn’t all about trying to just bring fewer and fewer items every time – it’s about trying to bring a nice mix of useful things that will give you lots of options and make you feel good. It can be extremely luxurious to have so many choices come out of one purse and one small duffel. Maybe we should call it the Mary Poppins approach ;)
P.S. If you’re at all intrigued about a minimal wardrobe and why I love mine so much, this post explains how you can simplify your closet & save money. Plus you’ll recognize a few pieces that came to France that I owned back in 2018 when I wrote that post!
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