Whether You Travel Heavy or Light, We’ve Got the Packing Tips You Need (with Berit Francis)

Are you ready to travel again? We are! So this week’s challenge is a packing challenge. Joining me is my friend Berit Francis, one of the most stylish women I know. The way she packs for a trip is frankly, miraculous. Her bag is like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. She can pull out an endless array of stunning, perfectly accessorized outfits from her suitcase in a jiffy. It’s not by accident. Berit has a system that works and she’s here to share it with all you heavy packing fashionistas.

I, on the other hand, am a minimalist when it comes to packing. If it doesn’t fit in a carry on suitcase, it’s not coming with me. I actually like the challenge of traveling light—it’s liberating! I’ve got some tips of my own for those who want to pare back with confidence. Whether you’re more of an “extra” chick like Berit or “basic” like me, you’ll find some great ideas to prepare for your next vacation. Read on to see our processes and tips.

Berit—More Choices Mean More Fun

Planning what to pack is one of the great joys I find in traveling. My motto is: options, options, OPTIONS! I like to be prepared and take everything I might possibly need. So I’m definitely taking a big suitcase when I travel. There’s no way I could limit myself to a carry on. My packing process often takes a few days. I’ll use my recent 10-day trip to Palm Beach and Naples, Florida in March as an example.

Deciding What to Bring

First, I write out a detailed checklist based on what I’ll be doing each day. The Florida trip included events like travel days, a birthday celebration (mine!) with girlfriends, a Palm Beach shopping trip, beach/spa days, and dinners with my husband Michael and other couples. Beyond clothing, the list contains must-have items such as a phone charger, make-up, jewelry and hair accessories. 

Then I imagine being at my destination. What’s the weather like? It’s hard to even conceive of being in a tropical place after the wintry months in Minnesota. I also think about the style of the location. I’d dress differently in Florida (time for my Lilly Pulitzer to shine!) than I would in Arizona (turquoise and earth tones). I firmly follow the “when in Rome” principle and dress to embrace the vibe and culture of the locale.

Next I go to my closet and ask—what are my favorite pieces, what’s appropriate for the area, what still fits? I don’t bother sticking with a set color palette. I pull out my chosen options and strew them all over my bedroom. I like to see the pieces in good light and I sort them by article type—dresses, blouses, skirts, activewear, shoes, accessories, etc.

As the garments are displayed, I imagine what I’ll wear to each event. I work best by process of elimination and edit my selections down over the course of a few days. I decided to cut all the black pieces for the Florida trip. Chic, but I need light colors! If I’m torn between two outfits, I just bring both. Options! This detailed planning process makes me anticipate my trip even more.

Here are are few of the outfits I wore on my trip:

Tips for Packing Heavy

A good quality suitcase is a must. Mine is spacious, light, durable, and maneuverable. I’ve used others, but highly recommend this one from Rimowa.

Packing Cubes are my latest discovery and I am 100% hooked. I purchased these cubes at a Lilly Pulitzer shop, but you can find quality options here. I love them because they promote organization, save space because items are compressed and zipped in, prevent wrinkling and are easy to pop in a drawer when it’s time to unpack.

I adore shoes and I don’t limit the number I bring, but I always pack a pair that will be comfortable no matter what—for me that’s tennis shoes or flip flops.

Add in the accessories. It’s nice to switch up an outfit by changing a belt or adding a scarf, and these items are easily packable and take up little space.

The best travel handbags are flat, small and not susceptible to being damaged. I wish I could bring my cute structured bags but I’d rather pack an extra pair of shoes than bring a handbag that could end up ruined. I also bring a fold up beach bag.

Layering with white is key to looking fresh and stylish as well as being able to change up a look. Regardless of weather, I always pack two white button down shirts,  two white polo shirts, and a long-sleeve and short- sleeved t-shirt for layering.  

I love to wear good jewelry on vacation, but I’m careful about it. Wear your big pieces (like my pearls) on the plane to save space. Only put jewelry in your carry on or handbag; never leave it in your checked luggage. And always lock it in the hotel safe. I’ve had expensive earrings “go missing” after leaving them on the vanity. A mistake I won’t repeat!

Don’t overpack activewear.  I’ve learned that I work out less than I imagine I will while away. I simply take my lightest weight running shoes and an exercise pouch to carry essentials while walking the beach.

Prevent makeup bag messes. Squeeze/compress any liquids (like foundation), recap it, then place in a plastic ziplock bag. This will prevent explosions in flight. I ruined countless make-up bags before learning this trick. Also, you can save space by pouring astringent, liquid make-up remover, etc. onto cotton pads in a ziplock bag instead of bringing the full bottles. And this Simplehuman packable makeup mirror is a must!

Finally, I encourage overpackers to think outside the box! If my suitcase can’t accommodate everything I want, I’ll send a box to the hotel or friend’s home in advance. The hotel’s concierge or your pal will likely help with shipping on the other end as well. If you’re shopping while traveling and can’t fit your purchases in your suitcase, have them shipped directly to your home. In Minnesota, I often get a sales tax break when I do this.

Thank you, Marjie, for asking me to illustrate my overpacking travel tips. Have fun organizing, editing, packing and traveling. Safe travels y’all!

Marjie—Reduce, Reuse and Relax

After losing a suitcase full of my favorite clothes—and an expensive necklace Liam gave me—in Ireland a few years ago, I will never, ever check a bag again. Plus, it’s so much nicer to just roll my little suitcase off the plane, into the taxi, and skip the horror of baggage claim altogether. For trips of a week or longer, I need to be very pared down, which can be stressful. Once I’m on vacation though, I rarely wish I had brought more clothes. I haven’t travelled much lately, but I’m going to Mexico next week to celebrate some friends’ milestone birthdays. Here’s what I’ll be taking for a seven day resort vacation.

Deciding What to Bring

My first step is to choose a color theme. I need my pieces to work together and staying within a few colors is efficient and practical. For this feminine fiesta (and influenced by our Neon Challenge) I’m choosing black, pink, purple and a little white. Basically I’m going to look like a box of Good & Plenty! Right away this constraint makes deciding what to take easier, because I’m only considering clothes in these colors.

Then I think about what type of clothes I’ll need during my trip—dresses for dinner, bathing suits and coverups for day, some in-between touring outfits, work out stuff and comfy clothes for travel (I have to connect through Dallas, another reason to carry on) . I find the items I have in those categories in my color theme and lay them all out on my bed.

Next I look critically at every piece. Can I wear it more than once or in multiple ways? Does it go with the other items I’m bringing? Is it comfortable? Will I feel good wearing it? If so, it’s a yes. I go through this process with shoes too. I remove duplicate items. Then it’s time for the final test.

Does it fit in my suitcase? I take all my clothes, shoes, cosmetics and electronics and stuff it in my suitcase. If I’ve chosen the items correctly, I don’t have to worry about packing carefully, because they don’t wrinkle! If everything fits, I’m done. If I can’t close (or lift) my suitcase, I need to pare back.

Tips for Packing Light

Choose the lightest, simplest suitcase you can find. Mine is an basic American Tourister spinner that cost around $100. It has minimal organizing compartments inside, which I prefer. More room for my stuff!

Pack clothes that do double duty. My black cotton dress can work as a beach cover up. My tote bag can be used for the pool. The black joggers are great for travel but also for a morning hike. The black sweater can be used in cool evenings over anything. The sleeveless patterned shirt works with a skirt or shorts.

A couple light layering pieces that go with everything are essential. I’m taking a lavender zip up shirt (perfect for plane or a boat ride), a black cardigan and a pink scarf. Between them, I’ll be comfy.

Don’t bring valuable jewelry. If I do take any good pieces (like my Lana necklace), I literally never take it off. Instead, I bring a bunch of fun earrings to add personality to my outfits. If they get lost I won’t be heartbroken.

No new shoes! I only pack shoes I know are comfortable in neutral colors that will go with everything. Blisters and sore feet are a travel tragedy.

Minimize make-up and cosmetics. I leave all my fancy skin care products behind when I travel, figuring a few days off won’t hurt. I rarely wear mascara or goopy eye makeup at home and even less when traveling. Blush, lipstick and eye pencil are all I use. However, I always include tweezers and hair removal crème. A furry face is not a fun look, even on vacay. I buy sunscreen, deodorant, contact solution and other essential cosmetics in travel sizes and make do just fine.

Wear dark clothes and your heaviest shoes on the plane. It’s hard to stay neat and tidy on a long cramped flight (or two) so wear comfy clothes you don’t have to worry about getting stained.

Make a list of the items you can’t pack until the day of travel so you don’t forget them. For me that’s my glasses, night guard, meds, iPhone, Kindle, headphones, chargers and curling iron.

Tuck a small crossbody bag into your tote to meet the two-piece carryon luggage limit. You can take it out and wear it in the airport once you’re through security.

Finally, be an independent woman. You need to be able to lift your carryon over your head to place in the airplane storage compartment. If you can’t lift it, lighten it. Traveling light means more freedom and self sufficiency—yay!

A huge thanks to Berit for being a guest on Style Challengers this week. We both wish you great adventures and efficient packing as you travel this year! If you have some packing tips please share them here or on our Style Challengers Instagram Page. Bon Voyage!

13 thoughts

  1. I saved this post to linger with me over morning coffee here in Paris. Merci! Although I prefer to be, like Marjie, a carry-on traveler, this time I lugged over a huge bag of mostly apartment must-haves: breakfast steel-cut oatmeal (impossible to find in Paris); Pete’s coffee beans (ditto); Saran Wrap (I don’t have a decent French word for their skinny plastic wrap); and a dozen at-home Covid tests. I’m jealous of Berit’s colorful fruit shoes, but no room …


    1. Patty, ah you’re off to Paris again! Well you are provisioning an apartment so I approve of your checked bag. Funny the French lack oatmeal and Saran Wrap! Enjoy the spring and Paris Cafe Writing!


  2. Marjie, I aspire to be like you. I’ve accomplished it, but only on rather short trips. Generally, I pack like Berit — and I do love packing cubes. I find that, for me, packing light takes much more time than packing heavy (when I throw in everything I think I might want). So much thought is required to pack light. But, I plan to keep paring down and hopefully will get more efficient about it.


    1. Kimberly, travel is full of uncertainly and it’s hard to know what you’ll be doing or need! And some women love clothes too much to squish everything in a little bag like I do. Hopefully these tips gave something for everybody. Thanks so much for your comments!


  3. The lighter the better. I try to get down to half a roll on or a work backpack. Depends on the type of travel. I just drove from Kinsale to Cliffs of Moher to Giant’s Causeway using a not quite full roll-on and overpacked by a fair amount. Light makes travel so much easier. If I am staying in one place for a while though, I check a big suitcase, especially if I am setting up a kitchen.


    1. You are the most adventurous traveler I know! Setting up a kitchen? Where have you done that? I’m looking forward to getting back to Ireland soon.


      1. We rented a VRBO for 3 weeks for us and the kids in both Costa Rica and Crete over the Christmas Holidays during CoVid. At a minimum you need an instant read meat thermometer and decent chef knives. After that, it’s stuff you use all the time but don’t want to buy at the local grocery store, like tea bags, reynolds wrap, saran wrap, splenda or stevia, maybe a decent skillet, etc.


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