How many suitcases is too many?

LEE TULLOCH
Last updated 05:45 17/06/2014

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My bedroom looks like a posse of thuggish possums has ransacked it. They haven't. I'm packing. I'm terrible at this. It's a rare trip if I manage to, first off, pack lightly, and second, pack the right things.

You'd think I'd be expert by now, but every trip is different, bringing its own suitcase challenges.

There are trips where I've gone from the intense heat of Dubai to the intense cold of Stockholm, requiring both summer kaftans and coats and boots.

There've been trips where evening gowns and dinner suits have been required along with hiking gear.

Upmarket cruises are particularly troublesome.

While the great advantage of a cruise is that you experience many places yet only unpack once, if I'm doing a cruise around Cape Horn, for instance, I might need rugged gear for Patagonia, dressy clothes for tangoing in Buenos Aires and full-on evening attire for formal nights on board.

Last year, I travelled to Europe with a couple of fellow journalists (female) whose suitcases must have tipped 35 kilograms by the end of the trip. It was no fun trying to heave those cases on to the Eurostar, I can tell you.

What complicated this trip was that we had to dress elegantly for business each day and cocktails at night, which meant bringing along jewellery, perfume, makeup and our best clothes as well as winter woollies and boots for outdoor hikes on a side trip to Scotland.

Add some shopping to the mix and it was luggage compartment hell. We were travellers who wanted to dress glamorously.

Even so, did we really need all that stuff? Mary Gostelow, a veteran British journalist specialising in luxury travel, tells me she only ever travels with a carry-on, and that includes when she's going on cruises and when she stays in expensive hotels. Slim and sporty, she does the lycra/sneaker look in a very hip way.

I'm a bit less minimal than Mary, but I do envy this lightness of travelling. This time, I'm packing for five weeks in Europe - starting with a food tour of Sicily, which will involve walking, and ending with an elegant cruise on the Adriatic. I'm on planes and trains and in cars. I'm staying in simple inns and also in some fine hotels that have a dress code.

I'm determined to take my smallest suitcase and keep the weight under 15 kilograms. So I'm wearing my heaviest shoes and warmest clothes on the plane, along with a cashmere shawl I can use if the weather gets unexpectedly chilly.

I'm weeding out the toiletries, medicine, most of my make-up, and forgoing the cluster of bracelets I usually can't do without. My fragrance comes in a mini-roller and it, along with my moisturiser and other small cosmetic items, will go in the ziplock sandwich bag I carry on the plane.

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Packing from the feet up, I'm taking four pairs of shoes, which is restrained for me, as well as a swimsuit, bathing cap and a rollable straw hat.

I always pack a sarong, even for a cold climate - I can tie it into a sling, use it as a makeshift bathrobe, or as a rug.

I have a weatherproof jacket that folds up to the size of a fist.

I will roll rather than fold my lightweight clothes and I'll sort the small things, including electrical adapters, into bags, so I don't need to bring in a Houdini to untangle them. I'll add in a few multi-tasking items, such as a long jersey T-shirt that doubles as a dress.

I'm taking a mini laundry - travel iron, a container of wool wash and a sewing kit. There's an instrument for my hair that saves me having it done in a salon.

My "office" - laptop, iPad, books, notebooks, camera, documents, a change of clothing - will go in my rolling carry-on. Once I've finished packing, I will weed out 25 per cent of what's in the suitcase. This time, I will try not to make it the wrong 25 per cent.

And here's the thing. Travel is always full of surprises, pleasant and otherwise. No genius at packing will ever anticipate that European summer when the temperature barely tops 14 degrees. Sometimes the one thing I "sensibly" leave out is the one thing I need. Sometimes that thing is a crystal ball. Luckily, where I'm going they do have shops.

- FFX Aus

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