August 15, 2011

the essentials

earrings - handmade by Carie of Pretty Little Mountains, won in giveaway / pink silk button-down - thrifted / tote - Forever 21 / watch - Arkanoplatz flea market, Berlin / braided chain bracelet - homemade using this tutorial / overdyed skinnies - Zara / woven flats - UO

From time to time I get emails from readers asking what they should pack for a trip, and I've always hesitated to be particularly specific in my replies. After eight months of living out of a suitcase, I have a pretty clear idea of what I like to pack for myself, but the trouble with my offering any kind of definitive packing list is that it will without a doubt fail to take into account all relevant factors. What do you like to wear the most? What time of year are you traveling, and to where? Will you be pounding the pavement in big cities? Lounging on a beach? Or hiking rugged trails? I can't tell you what to pack, because at this point I am only just beginning to get a handle on what I need while traveling - at this particular time and in this very particular set of places. Any travel brings with it an incredibly specific and idiosyncratic set of requirements, so to create a definitive and universally applicable packing list is an impossible task.

That said... are a few things I think almost any traveler will find useful in their bag.  
These are my essentials.

1. A button-down shirt : As has been documented, I brought a lot of button-down shirts with me on this trip. Button-downs are infinitely versatile - they can be worn tucked in or untucked (or half-tucked), buttoned all the way to the collar or open, over a dress or top as a jacket, under another layer for a hint of color, tied up or belted. In nicer fabrics like silk (widely available at thrift stores), they can be worn casually or easily be dressed up should the occasion call for it. This oversized coral one is a blend of linen and silk which feels lovely and doesn't get too wrinkly in the suitcase - and cost me $2.98 secondhand.

2. A tote bag : Or, ideally, several tote bags, so that you can easily cart home your groceries (You weren't planning to eat out for every meal, were you? Eating in can make a huge difference in your traveling budget!). Not only is it good environmental karma to bring your own shopping bags, in many non-US countries bags are not free with your grocery purchases and must be paid for individually - not something you want to learn at the end of the checkout process! You'll also find lots of other uses for a lightweight bag while traveling - this one is packed with a water bottle, tupperware full of snacks (Pack lunches! Save your money for shoes!), a small notebook and pen, an extra grocery bag, and a scarf. However, please do not carry your wallet or passport in a bag like this - it is far too easy for pickpockets to just pluck your valuables out of the top in a crowded area with you none the wiser! Keep them in a securely zipped bag or money belt, or better yet, a safe or locked cabinet at home!

3. A watch : Or a cell phone, if you must, although beware of theft, and of potential roaming/data charges when you're far from home. You will be amazed at how often you will need to know the time while traveling - the time the metro stops running, the museum closes, your flight leaves, or that incredible bakery opens. With an eye towards safety, I'd recommend against anything too expensive or flashy. I wore a leather wrap watch from La Mer for the first part of our trip, and since then I picked up this 'gold' watch at a flea market in Berlin for €3.50.

4. Dark wash jeans : I feel like this staple hardly needs to be explained. Choose something comfortable enough for airplane rides - I like mine skinny with a lot of stretch. They'll go with everything in your suitcase, can probably go longer without laundering than you'd think, and the dark wash will allow you to dress them up or down as needed. I picked these up at a Zara in Barcelona and they've since become one of the most-worn items on my blog!

5. Flat shoes : I talked about the importance of your choice of shoes in this guest post over on sartoriography, but it cannot be stressed enough - you must. Bring. Flat. Shoes. If you are going to be doing any amount of walking or taking public transportation, you are going to want a pair of flat shoes that are truly comfortable. Comfortable means they should stand up to at least two hours of wandering/sightseeing at a time without pinching, rubbing, blistering, or making the balls and heels of your feet ache - at all. You will probably be on your feet a lot more while traveling than you are in your day-to-day routine, so soreness is to be expected, but your feet shouldn't feel ready to quit after only a few hours. Even if you're a devoted 'heels only' girl, try to give yourself a couple of flat options that you really like and will actually wear - personally I reach for these woven flats on a near-daily basis, and my brogues have proven a cute but practical option for rainy days.

I can't tell you how much use I've gotten out of all of these items over the last eight months, but I do know they've all more than earned their spot in my increasingly overstuffed suitcase. Do you all have any must-bring staples for traveling?


dellagraceslife said...

Great advice! I hope I can utilize it one day when I travel.

 P.s. I almost didn't recognize you with your hair down in the latest posts....loved the change! (but I do adore your bun.)

Genevieve said...

Love this guide. I think my other must-have traveling item is a pair of super comfy, thick socks. Even in the summer, they're great to carry around for chilly plane/train/automobile rides!

Jessie said...

this post is so awesome emily! your tips are always so helpful. a watch is something that i definitely always forget.

Callie Gisler said...

This came just in time for a vacation I am dreading to pack for. Wonderful advice - I agree with you on the ease of a button down shirt and the importance of flat shoes. Completely essential. Oh, and a wonderful outfit - super cute!

Emily B said...

Fantastic advice, and very timely! I'm about to make a couple of trips before starting grad school, and was just wondering how I'm going to cover two long plane rides, a week long road trip, and at least three separate climates with one carry on...

In addition to your great advice, one essential I'd recommend is something you can lounge and sleep in that's conservative enough to be seen by people other than your romantic partner. You won't die without it, but it's nice to be able to change in to something comfortable that still allows you to answer the door, use a shared bathroom, or evacuate from a fire without embarrassment. 

Reading (and chickens) said...

Wonderful advice; I always seem to pack the wrong stuff. And I don't know if this is terrible to admit to a fashion blogger, but I *hate* heels. I think they're just too uncomfortable to even consider. I swear by flats and clogs and boots. And I think Salt Water makes the most comfortable sandals around. I wish I found flats that were that comfortable--one day I will.

barefootandvintage said...

great post!  i'm the worst at packing.

Audrey @ Putting Me Together said...

I love packing posts.  Hence, that is why I love your whole blog.  :)  I always need to bring a cardigan in a neutral color, no matter what the climate is that I'll be in.  Navy is my color of choice.  I also love your woven flats.  I never get tired of seeing them!  I tried them on at UO but for whatever reason they didn't work for me.  :(

BiblioMOMia said...

Such a perfect ensemble, which illustrates your traveling guidelines exactly.  I love the crisp shirt and jeans mixed with the other geometrics--the braided bracelet and icon on the bag, the triangle earrings.  It's just lovely, and it would work wherever your adventures take you.

Erin Schmalfeld said...

That salmony color gives you such a pretty glow and pairs so well with jeans. As much as I wish I could, I can't set off on a worldwide adventure; but when I do I'm sure your packing tips will come in handy!

The Dewey Decimals

Kelly Wood said...

I love those earrings! Are they wooden?

Kerry said...

It is sooo hard to find a really comfy pair of flats! And the problem is, you can't fully tell until after a few hours of wearing them.  Do you swear by any particular brand or store?  

I like to always have a lightweight scarf with me....great for keeping warm on the plane and renewing an outfit.  

Aubrey said...

I travel often and my best packing tip is to roll your clothes. It saves so much room. Roll the shortest, lightest item, place it ont he next and roll again. Keep going until all your clothes are rolled.
Oh! Also most of the tops I bring can be worn with most of the bottoms and vice verse. Remixing saves a bunch of room

shoegal04 said...

This is a great list. I never bring a button down shirt because I associate them with my work, but I think that may need to change. I too am a huge fan of flats!

Penny Ka said...

thank you for these tips!I think I always underestimate the necessity of a tote bag but you are absolutely right I think!
an item I always carry with me is a huge oversized scarf- except having used it as a scarf, blanket (for the flights and trains), I have also used it as a picnic blanket, a top over my jeans and so many other things!
Penny from

Rhilorenzo said...

great advice!

Thealucia said...

Thank you so much! I am new to your site and adore it already. I'm getting ready to study abroad in Sweden and couldn't have happened upon this at a better time. 

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