May 11, 2009

All over Italy in two carry-ons.

As I pointed out the other day, some airlines are offering really good deals on nonstop fares to exotic, balmy and romantic destinations. I did just go to Europe last summer, but one country I've yet to cross off the list is Italy. Italia seems like the ultimate in dichotomies: tons of history and tons of fashion; diverse cities and regions and a unifying culture; priceless art and fabulous nightlife; sharp-dressed in the streets but casual in attitude; sexy yet Catholic.

Since the vast majority of my friends are somewhere in the engagement process, they certainly aren't spending money right now, especially in this... do I have to say it? Anyway, the lack of friends or someone special to travel with isn't going to stop me. I've been looking into Contiki tours, which my sister used to go to Greece and adored. Singles 18-35 in fabulous European cities? Count me in!

One of the most daunting tasks for a traveler that I find positively riveting is the packing of the suitcase. I used to be a high-maintenance packer, frenzied that I'd desperately want the one top-bottom-shoe combination I didn't pack, and the entire trip would be ruined. But since then, I've learned both what my wardrobe multitaskers are and how to better combine items, and that combined with lots of travel has made me quite the light packer.

Always remember: If you pack light, you manage to live light.

But the key to packing light and still looking and feeling fabulous is bringing the right items. And a bottle of Febreeze, if you can manage it. So here is my exercise in and preview of packing light for the trip of a lifetime to a country many people on dream of seeing.

But before we begin, there are three grains of wisdom I gained from experience:

1) You can, and should, wear items more than once. A little soap in the sink or bathtub, hang it to dry overnight, and you'll get another wear out of the item. By the third wear it might get a bit skanky, but better than hauling a 40lb suitcase up four flights of stairs (bonjour, Hotel St. Honore!).

2) You must roll clothes when packing. Saves so much room! Fold the item lengthwise and roll it tightly, and you'll double the amount you can fit in your suitcase. Often helps avoid wrinkling too.

3) You must pick a general range of formality for your clothes. Depending on your destination, your clothes will need to be of a certain caliber of dressiness. You can dress 'em up or down with accessories, but a trip to London would call for a different range of formality than, say, Punta Cana. Also, a neutral color palette will offer you many more options.

For the trip I'm planning, the vast majority of activities I'll dress for will be sight-seeing in casual and semi-formal places (streets of Capri, the Vatican), going out at night and riding an air-conditioned motorcoach. I'm not expecting air-conditioning anywhere, so it'll be a bonus if we come across it. Finally, I expect to do a ton of walking and as much as I fancy the idea of a tryst with a sexy Florentine gentleman in capri pants and a linen shirt, sex appeal won't be my top priority. But I'll need to make sure I'm appropriate and chic enough to avoid the Ugly American thing. Kinda tough not to look like a tourist when you're on a tour, but at least I can be a smartly-dressed East Coast girl with travel savvy!

In the large carry-on (small rolling suitcase):
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair white/beige linen pants
  • 2 lightweight skirts
  • 3-5 camis/sleeveless tops
  • 3-5 tops with sleeves (blouses, Oxfords)
  • 2-3 sundresses, at least 1 evening-appropriate
  • 1 lightweight blazer
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair flip-flops
  • 1 pair heels/tall sandals
  • 1 pair wedges/comfortable tall shoes
  • Underthings, as many as necessary. No recycling here!
  • 2 sets PJs
  • 1 great all-around purse
  • 1 wristlet/small clutch
Right there you have a few dresses that can be layered with outerwear, at least a dozen top/bottom permutations and shoes to fit most any activity you'll do. And if that list looks long, roll your clothes, pack your undies in the purse, your jewelry in the clutch... you get the idea.

And now for the small carry-on, in my case a large Vera Bradley tote:
  • Toothbrush, paste, floss
  • Contact lens case and solution
  • Deodorant
  • Brush
  • Curling hairspray
  • Bobby pins, clips and elastics
  • Small make-up bag (more on this later)
  • Chi (and voltage adapter!)
  • Cosmetic bag, filled with jewelry (more on this later)
  • Cell phone and camera, and chargers
  • Essentials (wallet, passport, etc.)
  • iPod
  • Journal and 2 pens
  • Guidebook
Everything beauty-related (just check fluid sizes), and anti-plane-boredom. The tote also makes a third bag option if you need to carry a lot of stuff, or plan to go shopping.

Unnecessary space-suckers:
  • Hair dryer. Shower at night and Chi in the morning, or go wavy. Low-maintenance, girls!
  • 5 pairs of shoes. Choose 3 versatile ones and you'll find it's plenty. Same goes for purses.
  • Every piece of costume jewelry you own.
  • Full-size make-up and hair products. This is what samples are for!
  • Food.
  • More than one book. Wouldn't you rather write down your thoughts, or reminisce?
Again, if you pack light, you manage to live light. You know that time in the morning when you're trying to figure out what to wear, and you're frenzied and overwhelmed, and you forget why you're on vacation? It all goes away when you pack light. Because you don't have a ton of choices. So you pick something in a neutral color palette, add some chic jewelry, and focus on the reason for your trip: vivid life experience in a foreign setting. And (hopefully) when you're gazing at the photo of you under a lemon tree in Sorrento, on your desktop while you're in sterile air-conditioning back at work, you'll fondly remember the spunky woman in a muumuu selling ceramic plates and limoncello, and not how it annoyed you that you left your pink, studded gladiator sandals at home.

Finally, while you want to live light, be prepared with one nice outfit. Most of the fun in traveling is in the unexpected, so if you happen to get asked to dinner at a chic restaurant in Venice by a cute local boy, you want to seize your dressier sundress, tall sandals and clutch so you can take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with class.

Next post: the perfect make-up and jewelry collections for traveling light!

Cheers to travel,


CTB said...

This is an absolutely fabulous post! My heart is aching that I don't have a trip to Italy planned soon! Thank you for these great travel tips!

Lauren said...

Italy has always been #1 on my places I want to go list...i'm so jealous!! Lots of pictures please :)

The Cape House said...

Those are all great ideas. I'm getting ready for an overseas trip myself and should carefully consider all of your advice. Thank you, and have a fabulous trip!

Blacksnow said...

You have been in Italy?
Wow! I live in south Italy, near Neaples(Sorrento & Co.)
But i'm il love with New York! I was here in 2006, and I hope I will come back there again!

I will read you blog soon =)
Bye NYC girl!

Beth Dunn said...

You are the packing queen. So fun. I love Italy. xo

Evelin said...

Great informative post!! Thanks for giving ideas about packing of stuffs.

Anonymous said...

Hi, im leaviing for Italy next month for two weeks with my family and another family. Im 14 years old and was trying to figure out exactly what i needed to pack. Out of all the article's i read this one so far has been the most helpful. Thank you so much.

Michele said...

My husband and I travelled around Greece for 3 weeks with only a carry-on for each of us, and it worked out fine. We had a blast hanging out at a laundromat on Rhodes one night! Although we did bring along one other empty suitcase for souveniers. I made a mistake of overpacking for a trip to L.A. once and it cost me a fortune! Carry-ons are really the only way to go!

Tanya said...

I loved your post! I'm traveling to Russia in a month and luggage restrictions seem kind of tight. To be fair I'm bringing souvenirs for my family there, souvenirs that'll take up the bulk of my luggage, but I wanted to pack all the other things light. I read through the items you packed, and I think we pretty much have the same list. I also used to be an heavy-duty packer. But now, travel light, live light. :)

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