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Packing Confidence

I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately and with every trip I take I pack a little lighter and with more confidence. Looking back to one of my first major trips, a semester in Europe when I was in college, I laugh at some of the traveling mistakes I made.

Granted, back in the early 1980s there weren’t the fantastically light luggage options we have today, though anything would have been better than my wheel-less, oh-so-heavy Samsonites. I practically dislocated my shoulders lugging a couple of those bad boys around Florence looking for a cheap room (I hadn’t made any reservations). I have learned volumes about travel and packing since then.

Recently, I took two of the easiest trips to pack for: a business trip to New York City in the fall and a trip to a beach in Thailand.

The big city

The New York City business trip is easy to pack for because the clothes you’ll need are pretty obvious. Notice I said I was traveling in the fall — summer in New York can be sweltering and it’s tough to pack a business-appropriate wardrobe that can also stand the heat. Winter is snowy and cold, which means packing heavier, warmer clothing, and you will probably need to check a bag, even for a short stay.

My main tip for city packing is to either go black or brown, not both, for your shoes and accessories. Also, as for almost all trips, pack layers. My new favorite thing to wear to the city — sorry guys, this is a girl thing — are long cashmere “duster” cardigans. These look great over pants or skirts and are thin enough to fit comfortably under a coat.

During my four-day trip I wore the same black pants but just changed the top and jewelry each day and evening. New York is a place I do travel with jewelry; most of the time I leave it at home. I feel very safe in big cities, but use your judgment.

The other great thing about traveling to a big city, especially New York, is that you can get anything you need most any time of day or night. There’s a Duane Reade drug store on practically every corner in midtown Manhattan, and I picked up single serving packets of everything from bath scrub and Tylenol P.M. to a deep conditioner for my hair. They even sell eye shades and ear plugs, items I never travel without.

The beach trip

The beach trip is another easy one, but there are some good organizational tips to remember. First, often you’ll be taking off from a cold airport and spend some time on a cold plane before reaching your tropical destination. There’s no reason to spend any of that time uncomfortably; again, layers are the answer.

You may be taking only one pair of pants, so obviously, wear those on the plane. You can pile on T-shirts and a light sweater under a big cotton scarf that can double as a blanket on the plane and a sarong at the beach. If you want to just pack one pair of shoes, and those are sandals, just wear them with a thick pair of socks that you can slip off after you land.

The beach vacation is a perfect candidate for a carry-on only trip. As long as you can buy a big bottle of sunscreen at your destination (since you can no longer carry that on board), you’ll be fine. Swim suits and sun dresses don’t take up that much room. If you take a hat, make sure it’s the type that can scrunch up in your bag.

The one thing that is a big drag to forget on a beach vacation is a pair of sunglasses. These are often expensive, and you’ll want the pair you love with you. The thing to leave at home for a beach trip is jewelry. I’ve heard several stories about women who’ve lost their wedding rings in the ocean. Also, if you’re traveling to beaches in countries like Mexico or southeast Asia, a lot of bling is not appropriate — you don’t want to attract that kind of attention.

Here’s your homework: As you pack for your next trip, make a list of what you’re taking. Keep it with you on the trip and make a note of things you forgot or wish you had. Also note things you brought that you never wore or used and make sure to leave them at home next trip. Keep the list updated; you’ll probably want one checklist for city travel and one for beach travel. Soon you’ll have a customized travel list that will give you packing confidence.