While our Southern France posts were going live, someone asked me how we managed to go for such a long trip with only a suitcase and backpack. With the caveat that you’ll have to make some different decisions based on time of year and climate, here’s how I do it.
First, look at the weather, season, and climate for the non-basics items you might want to pack. We were going from beach (Nice) to mountains (Le Cagnard), to plains (Loire Valley), to oceanside (Nantes), all during a very hot, dry summer. No need for a raincoat or heavy shoes, likely no umbrella or more than a scarf for warmth. We would need swim clothes, a coverup for the beach, good walking shoes, light clothes that helped us not sweat, and hats. The few days it rained through our trip, we planned indoor activities, or our hotel lent us an umbrella one evening to walk to dinner. We felt we could always buy an umbrella if necessary, which it wasn’t. We also knew we’d have at least one “nice,” even “very nice” meal.
We both forgot our surf shoes, and regretted it in Nice’s very rocky beaches. Money solved that with a pair of cheap mesh shoes with velcro closures and hard rubber soles. Surf shoes were the only thing we regretted not bringing, and we used everything we did bring. (I always hate bringing things I don’t use.)
We pack for five days at a time, plus a set of clothes for travel day. For a nearly three week trip, this means we do laundry twice — as we build that into our plans. This is our only real secret. We use laundry strips at home, and bring some in a baggie. A tiny strip an go in a tub or sink for handwashing, a quarter-sized strip goes into a regular washer.
For me, then, the planning shifts to deciding what exactly might get packed. I like to start with the tricky but unavoidable items: the “dress up” clothes. Dress or blouse & skirt? The former has more limited wearability, but takes less room and is usually seen as nicer than just a skirt and blouse; the latter has more options over more days. Knowing the answer, I then look at shoes. I knew I needed sandals, and nice shoes, as well as my usual sneakers.
What I ended up packing was:
caftan (beach cover up)
shorts (2 pr, 1 TD)
t shirt (to sleep in)
3 blouses (1 TD)
1 long sleeve shirt (I use it for light cover on cool nights, and often carry on the plane in case it gets cold)
5 pr each undies (bras, panties, and socks)
low heel slip-ons
not pictured: a sun hat
16 (not counting undies) items in all, all of which fit in a suitcase, or got worn on my travel day (marked as TD). You can see it all in the picture above. We share a hanging toiletry bag (like this one), which often goes in my bag as well.
My backpack carries my laptop, mouse, and power cord; camera bag, kindle, travel docs and passport folder, mp3 player (old school baby!), power cords for all the devices, phone, journal, pens, water bottle, and a bag of dried fruit and nuts.
Compression cubes make packing this much a breeze. Shoes get stuffed with socks, then go into a drawstring bag to keep everything clean (it’s the black one in the bottom right). Undies all go into a small compression bag (upper right, on top of the toiletry bag (not seen). The larger pieces are divided between two large bags (left side). Minor items (a brush, makeup bag, etc.) snuggle in the spaces between. We use the laundry bag as a handy way to track when we need to get that task done, and carry a 2 gallon ziploc bag in case we end up with wet clothes and no time to properly dry them before packing
So, there you have it. Packing for almost three weeks and three different environments.