The “Just One Suitcase” Test

My friend, Annie, is a brilliant set and costume designer, and a tenured college professor with a master’s degree from Yale. She grew up in England and Southern California, and has traveled extensively.

In spite of her education and worldly experience, she has one self-admitted deficit that has plagued her for years.

Annie has packing issues.

Whenever she travels, she inevitably packs too much, leading to much heave-ing and ho-ing of heavy luggage and, very often, frustrating trips to foreign post offices to ship home the overflow.

On a recent European trip, via cruise ship and then rental car, she decided to tackle her impediment and faithfully adhere to my “Just One Suitcase” list.

Was she finally able to successfully streamline her packing and still feel like her wardrobe was complete?

Read on . . .

Annie wisely began by purchasing a carry-on size hard-sided suitcase. (Her clothing ratio would be limited by the daunting fact that the suitcase cannot expand . . . soft-sided bags that she can overstuff are the kiss of death for her.)

After obsessively reading and re-reading my list as if her life depended on it, the packing commenced . . . with Wyeth the cat supervising.

• JEANS [one pair boot cut, one pair skinny jean that can be rolled up or tucked into boots; add a white pair in warm weather]
• BLACK PANTS [one pair – or similar pants that can be dressed up or down]
• SKIRT [can replace black pants with skirt in warm weather and take two]
• BLACK LEGGINGS [wear to travel]

[NOTE ON BLACK CLOTHES: You just can’t go wrong with basic pieces in black. They can be combined with anything else, and you’ll always look put together. Add pops of color with a shirt, sweater, or accessories.]

Here is our e-mail correspondence during the packing process:

skinny jean, white jean, navy/white patterned crop (in place of black) – into the suitcase!

That’s the easy part . . . now stick to the list!

Hmmm . . . I did a practice pack last night . . . Didn’t win against the bag. Too sneaky with extras I expect! I’ll try again tonight. I’ve bought two black skirts and the wayfarer sunglasses . . . So I’ll give it another try. I’ll forward images of the skirts.
Also, think if the black skirts work, I’ll remove the gathered flowered skirt.
I may stick in a pair of shorts – ship wear.
If I feel confident I’ll do as you say . . . but want it to work first 🙂

[Image of black tube skirt forwarded to me]

Not a fan of the tube skirt. Looks great standing still, but walking around? (You’re going to be walking around a LOT.) If you ask me, I still like the gathered skirt better.

The tube skirt looks better on. I also bought a shorter one. It’s a light weight crepe jersey – above the knee – slight A-line.


Ha, ha.

[The gathered skirt goes into the suitcase for a trial run.]

Well . . . This idea ought to be called: un-packing and re-packing with Ann!
Here’s how it went . . .
Okay . . . I’ve got this. Okay . . . Start over . . . Okay . . . This will do it . . . Okay start over!

Also, is there an Olympic time record for the Universal Travel Adapter? I just need to gauge how far away I am from reaching the goal! I eventually got to something that at least partly resembles the British plug!!! But OMG . . . Way to find out challenged I really am!

• SHOES, RUBBER SOLED [ballet flats; boots for cold weather; sandals for warm weather]

[Ten points for following the shoe checklist!  Big fan of the strappy sandals . . . small enough to bring both.  Looks like Winslow, her other cat, reluctantly approves.]

• BUTTON-DOWN SHIRTS [one white, one print]

[Shirts are narrowed down and folded neatly. My list allows for two button-down shirts, one solid, and one patterned, but even I will squeeze in a couple more if it’s going to be a longer-than-a-week trip . . . so I wholeheartedly approve of these choices.]

• ONE SILK TOP [doesn’t take up space and can be worn for a more formal look or layered under a sweater]

[Check.  And cute shirt, BTW.]

• STRIPED NAUTICAL SHIRT [Chanel made this a classic and it never goes out of style – comfortable in any season]

[Striped shirt, check. She’s doing well, but this is when the extras start going in.]

• CARDIGAN AND / OR V-NECK SWEATER [good to have regardless of climate – you never know]
• T-SHIRTS, LONG AND SHORT-SLEEVED [versatile essential, worn layered or on their own]
• TANK TOPS [another great layering option]

[A last minute find . . . okay, looks like a great travel item.  I approve.]

I ordered this in the navy . . . It just came . . . It’s brilliant! Great with white jeans as shown . . . Also with black leggings . . . Two pieces (pull-over top, and longer tank) very, very light, and folds super small! Love it – may live in it on the ship! Taking instead of v-neck as I have long black cardigan, mint cashmere cardigan, and white cardigan.


• SCARVES [not only useful for keeping your neck warm, they just look good. Will make you look and feel less like a tourist.]

one black pashima (in smaller carry-on)
one whisper thin silk/wool pale yellow, one whisper thin silk/wool pale mint and one fringed voile pink multi.

[Note use of ziploc bags . . . best packing accessory ever.]


• ONE BLACK DRESS [style to be determined by the season]
• BLAZER [if possible, wear to travel – can be worn over all of above]
• PAJAMAS, UNDERWEAR, SOCKS, AND TIGHTS [self-explanatory, but pack bare minimum]
• COATS [raincoat; preferrably “weightless raincoat” from Aqua O]
• BELTS [roll up and tuck into corners of suitcase]
• JEWELRY [bring just a couple items that can be worn with everything – take in a small pouch in your carry-on bag]

[NOTE: If everything on this list is in the suitcase, and there’s still space, resist the urge to keep adding.
You’re going to want to buy things, and you’ll be glad for the extra space. Trust me.]

She’s back from her trip . . . was she able to stick to the list and still feel like she had enough wardrobe options?

Here’s the post-trip report:

Yes the system worked very well… except that I think I added a few extra items, and therefore had no extra room for purchases (as you had warned would be the case!)

For instance, I did end up taking the black tube skirt as well as the short one and the green patterned one. I should have taken the black crepe pants rather than the tube skirt.

My four shirts were perfect – one light weight print cotton voile, one crisp white, one black jersey knit with gold button details, and one cotton navy and white gingham..

I took four white tanks and would have included a couple more… also took two in black and one in mint (my accent color.)

I had the long black cashmere/silk cardigan with gold buttons, the 3/4 sleeve mint lightweight cashmere cardigan, the white cotton knit cardigan and a 3/4 sleeve lightweight black cardigan (didn’t need the 3/4 sleeve black one).

I was lucky the weather was warm most of the time (occasionally very hot!) as I didn’t pack a v-neck sweater in the end – but bought a navy cotton one (on sale for 12 € at Zara’s in Lisbon) and was happy to have that in the end.

Pants: bootcut jeans (wore on plane), skinny (wore with cuffs turned up for cropped look most of the time), white jeans, and a pair of patterned navy/white cropped twills from Gap that I loved – they were very flattering and comfortable.

Guess I think I would have still liked a pair of black pants… but I made do in the end just fine.

Wanted to take two belts, but ended up with one and that was sufficient.

ONE black dress! Yes, only one dress. I wore for both formal nights on the ship and changed out the jewelry and the scarf I wore with it. To do this I took two very different necklaces – one silver and glass, and one gold-tone and pale green glass stone clusters (both showy pieces and both really changed the feel of the dress enough for me to feel satisfied.) Plus I had an every day simple gold necklace and similar in silver.

Overall, I was very pleased with all I took and wore just about all of it! – two small loads of laundry while on the ship – and I felt like I still had options available to me if I needed them.

I couldn’t believe I did it . . . success!

Thank you, Pam.

[Click here to read more of what Annie had to say about her great packing experiment.]

3 responses to “The “Just One Suitcase” Test”

  1. admin

    J Crew!

  2. Anne

    Where did you buy the navy blouse and long tank?

  3. hollie

    Great step by step. I am also packing challenged. And love the fashion tips. You should do articles on how to dress when traveling. Its such enlightening information on international fashion. Do you know about Lo and Sons travel bags?? So fabulous. Hollie