The art of packing light

ELLISE PIERCE
Last updated 08:43 12/07/2013
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TRAVELLING LIGHT: Embrace the less-is-more concept while travelling for less hassles.

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I have sat on my last suitcase. No more trying desperately to squash contents back inside.

After a lifetime of travelling internationally and paying zillions of dollars, it feels like, for going over the weight limit, I have changed my gluttonous, overpacking ways. I am now Someone Who Packs Light.

To wit: I have been living for nearly three months out of a single, 28-inch soft-sided Samsonite that weighed in at Charles de Gaulle at just 26 kilos - slightly over the 23-kilogram limit, oui, but the very nice Frenchman working behind the airline ticket counter didn't even mention it.

Three months, people.

I have embraced a less-is-more concept, and it's totally working. Frankly, the less I have, the less I worry about it all, because I have fewer choices.

How did I do it?

Not by adding - say, buying a new pair of "comfortable shoes" to wear on vacation, and a new this or that - but by removing more than I think I'll need on a particular journey.

By tightly editing. Limiting my options and simplifying what I'm wearing. Every single day.

When I'm about to pack for a trip, I first lay out my clothes on the bed so I can figure out what will mix and match with what. If I can't wear something two different ways - or for two different occasions, say a dinner and a day at the museums - I don't bring it.

This is especially critical for carry-on-only travelling, something that I'm aspiring to achieve in the near future. I love how easy and chic it looks to be able to breeze through the airport with one small wheeled bag in tow.

You've seen those people, right? They never look harried or stressed or arrive at their destination with a pinched nerve in their backs from hauling too much weight in their carry-on. I want to be like them.

My regular, one-piece-of-luggage packing goes like this: My day-to-day colour scheme is already pretty straightforward - I tend toward solid blues, khaki green, white and gray - and all of these colours go together.

So it's just a matter of deciding which pieces I'll pack. I don't wear big jewellery but love scarves, so that's where I accessorize.

I use what I call "the power of two" for nearly everything.

For example, in my big suitcase, I packed two of the following: pairs of dark A.P.C. jeans; short-sleeved Lovisa Burfitt tees from Mysore Yoga Paris, made from soft organic cotton (white and khaki green); long-sleeved striped Saint James French sailor tees in blue and white and red and blue; Crimson cashmere sweaters (one navy cardigan and one dark gray pullover); multicoloured long and lightweight scarves; button-down shirts (one denim and one silk); American Vintage T-shirt dresses in charcoal gray and light khaki; and low-heeled n.d.c. Made by Hand boots (black motorcycle and tan ankles), along with a pair of chocolate brown Reef flip-flops that slip into the outside zip pocket. Easy.

If two-of-a-kind sounds like you're skimping, and if you land somewhere and realize you should've packed whatever, then do what I do - go shopping. You'll have a nice souvenir.

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See? There is a silver lining in all this scarcity.

If you live in a climate where it's either hot or cold, getting accustomed to those in-between times, when layers can be taken off or on isn't easy. When travelling, this is a must, because in many climates, mornings and evenings are cool and jacket- or sweater-worthy, and the rest of the day is not.

In the morning, I've found that wearing a long-sleeved striped tee works as well on its own as it does as a layer underneath a navy cardigan ... with or without a scarf, depending on the day and what you're doing. Add dark jeans and a pair of boots, and you're ready to sightsee without looking like a screamin' tourist.

By the way, there's a reason Parisians always wear black. Dark colors hide dirt. So, yes, you might want to leave those white jeans at home.

I love things with more than one purpose, and I've found that the more I travel, the more I rely on things that I can wear more than one way. It helps cut down on what I pack.

Besides thinking through the particular wardrobe pieces and making sure that T-shirt dress will work for a dinner as well as an afternoon tea with friends, I try to get more mileage out of what I pack in my cosmetic case, too.

A few of my favorites: argan oil, to calm frizzy hair and work as a facial moisturizer; tinted moisturizer with sunscreen (I love Laura Mercier but there are lots to choose from); Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour moisturizer for, well, nearly everything and anything that's super-dry (hands, feet, face, lips); Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Swivel Stick, for chapped lips, especially; almond oil as an all-over body moisturizer (I also use this on my face); and Bioderma's Créaline H2O makeup remover that also doubles as a facial cleanser (I like the ones in the pop-up packages for traveling).

I always wear my heaviest boots on the plane - usually my vintage chocolate-brown cowboys - and pack my poncho-scarf to use as a blanket on the long flights. Because I get cold on planes no matter what time of year it is, I always wear a thinner scarf, too, and depending on where I'm going, I may also have either a light or heavy jacket, both easily crushable into my black duffle, which I've carried on for decades.

I used to tote lots of books and magazines onto the plane, but now I put everything I want to read on my Kindle or my iPad and slip it into my purse. That way, if I pick up something at the airport newsstand, it's not a big deal, weight-wise.

Besides that, I'm a freak about bringing along my own food - usually a quinoa salad with roasted veggies and fresh herbs, which is light but filling; trail mix; homemade granola bars; almonds; dried apricots; and a fleur de sel chocolate bar. Yes, I know, it sounds like a lot. But it's all super-healthy. Chocolate is an antioxidant, people.

What if the worst happens - you get to where you're going and you don't have something you need? You deal with it.

Recently while I was in Malaga, Spain, a strange rash suddenly popped up on one arm as I was about to head to the beach. So I walked a few blocks to the pharmacy and got a cream that did exactly what I needed it to. The rash was gone within hours and I was eating tapas again that night.

In Thailand a few years ago, I was still recovering from a torn ligament from a tennis accident, and found just the right cream - and a sports massage, administered by an American who travelled with the US Postal Service cycling team as its team therapist - to work out the pain so I could keep exploring Chiang Mai.

And when no moisturizer that I'd packed seemed to work in India's super-dry climate, I asked around in New Delhi and found just the place - India's Estée Lauder, it turns out - and just the product to work on my sensitive and very dry skin.

The not-knowing-what'll-happen factor is why we travel in the first place, and when things don't go as we expect, that's when the adventure really begins.

To be honest, I didn't plan on living out of a single suitcase for nearly 12 weeks, but I'm actually getting used it. Turns out the living-with-less lifestyle works just as well for every day as it does for a vacation.

HELPING YOU PACK LIGHT

Lynda Richey, general manager of the Container Store at Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, Texas, shares three key travel tips:

1. Take your time when packing. "Plan your trip out, have the information about where you're going, and allow yourself plenty of time so you're not hurriedly throwing things into the bag - that's when overpacking happens."

2. Keep your wardrobe simple. Think two outfits a day. "Dark pants and shorts and basic bottoms. Just switch out the tops."

3. Buy lightweight luggage and use a compression system. "I went to New York recently with friends and I was the only one who didn't have to pay extra luggage weight charges."

What are your top tips for packing light?

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