Let’s get something out into the open right at the top here. I find packing so stressful, I sometimes think I’d rather not go away than do it.
Packing for a working trip is hardest. Can you imagine what it was like in the days when my work involved covering the fashion shows in Paris and Milan? I’d still be at it at 3am, whimpering over my suitcase.
But even packing for the loveliest of holidays is stressful, because if you get it wrong it could wreck your precious longed-for fortnight. Overdressed, or underdressed, so much luggage that you need a Sherpa, or so little you have to wear it all at once. It can really blight your trip, so the stakes are high.
I have learned to take one or two failsafe items of each kind. A mixture of things for different temperatures and smartness, but united by a colour theme
With all this pressure bearing down, I have to wash, iron and neatly put away every garment I own before I can even start the process. Until that is done and I know I have the full panoply of my wardrobe in perfect order, ready for active service if called upon, I simply can’t begin.
It’s also an advanced-level procrastination technique. You’re not lying horizontal mainlining Kettle Chips and watching Come Dine With Me, or looking at hilarious Craigslist posts on Twitter; you’re ironing. How can such a heinous task be procrastination?
Pack for varying temperatures
But while I still dread packing, I have got better at it over the years. The main thing I’ve learned is to take a spread of items. I used to get fixated on one level of warmth/coolness, smart/casual etc and fill my bag with multiple versions of that. Working according to this plan, I once set off with my fetish Jigsaw cardigan in four different colours…
In a similar vein, there was the lovely beach holiday for which my husband and I both seriously overestimated the level of smart chic and grossly underestimated the temperature of our destination.
Thus he took no fewer than four sharply cut summer jackets and three pairs of leather shoes, none of which were worn. I took four silk dresses with sleeves and the cardigans: likewise. In the end I had to go shopping in tourist rip-off joints for an ultra-light sundress and he bought a pair of Havaianas at about three times the UK price.
Pack a common colour theme
Now I have learned to take one or two failsafe items of each kind. A mixture of things for different temperatures and smartness, but united by a colour theme. So whatever comes up, there’ll something to wear and it will all go together.
Following this regime, with less to choose from for each situation, you might end up wearing the same clothes every day if the weather sticks in one mode (bright sunshine, with any luck). But I tend to do that anyway on holiday. (Is that just me?)
You will go home from such a trip with a bag of mostly unworn things, but that doesn’t mean a packing fail. And definitely don’t leave out what you didn’t wear next time you go somewhere similar.
The packing light myth
I once kept a list of everything I’d actually worn on a trip to a Greek island, to better facilitate my next packing for the same destination.
Off I set the second time, feeling very smug, with a tiny bag containing only the equivalents of what I had worn last time. I nearly froze to death. The weather was completely different and I had to wear practically everything I had with me at once every day to survive – even in bed.
But at least that experience freed me from the tyranny of believing that packing light is something urgently to aspire to. Thus I now feel fully liberated from the ‘capsule wardrobe’ packing myth so long promulgated by magazines (like the ones I used to edit… ha ha ha).
Of course, if you’re travelling around India by train, you’re going to want to keep it streamlined. But if you’re sticking in one place, it doesn’t matter if you take a little too much.
I have been more stressed yomping vanity hand-baggage-only packing round airports than waiting a few minutes at the carousel for my nice big suitcase to arrive. Let the plane take the strain is my motto.
And by allowing yourself a little more lenience at the packing stage, your holiday relaxation can start a day earlier.