I'm the kind of gal who loves a challenge: whether it is negotiating with a difficult client, finding a use for the fiddlehead ferns I received in my CSA share, or figuring out the fastest way to bike through rush hour traffic, I thrive on tricky situations. So when I decided to quit my job and travel for six months, putting together an itinerary on a serious budget that covered three continents, nine countries, two goat farms and a Ukrainian wedding was more of a joy than a hassle.
The one challenge I did not anticipate as I was drumming up a plan to hike in Iceland in May and Nepal in August, traipse through London and Paris with art collectors and culture bloggers, milk goats and make cheese in Brittany and photograph a wedding in Kiev (in which I am also somehow supposed to be a bridesmaid…), was how I was going to pack for all of that—in one trekking backpack.
My friends, it has not been easy—things go into the bag, and then come out again. My favorite pair of Kron Krons didn't make the cut (I was so hoping to wear them in their homeland—Iceland—but really, I'm going to want hiking boots and not four inch heels there). After a test run of packability, the dress I was intending on wearing to the wedding turned out to be irreparably wrinkled after two hours in the backpack. I've had to pare down my wardrobe into a few highly versatile, easy-to-care-for, durable and fashionable staples. And, after zipping the last outer pocket of my carry-on and pronouncing it DONE, I realized that I ought to share the wisdom, since these are the kinds of things every gal needs in her closet.
So here's the top 5 things that make for versatile packing—and everyday dressing:
1. What I affectionately call "Dinner Denim." These are the dark jeans that fit you like a glove, and are comfortable enough to wear on an airplane with a schlubby sweater, but easy to transform into an evening look with a pair of heels and a stand-out top. I find that the thicker the denim, the better… My go-to pair of BCBG jeans have taken me from the back roads of Bosnia to West Village bistros, and made thousands of every day looks in between. Plus, dark denim is less likely to show a few spills or stains than lighter pants.
2. A Maxi Skirt. When you're traveling, comfort is key, and in my world there is nothing comfier than a long skirt. Breezy, but not chilly, easy to move around in, and, let's face it, one less reason to shave your legs, Maxi skirts, like the Jabberwocky skirt are a packing go-to for me. Added bonus: When I was getting ready for this trip, I realized I would be visiting plenty of Holy sites, where custom dictates that women should be in skirts longer than their knees to enter. What better way to kill many, many sartorial birds with one stone than packing a skirt that could work for dinner in London, wedding promenades, and Hindu temples?
3. A packable dress. Need I say more? A dress that folds up, and unfolds into a readily wearable, no-think outfit is basically all I want when I'm living out of a suitcase. I'll tell you a little secret: the New Caledonia dress is probably one of the most packable dresses I own. It made the cut…
4. A tissue-weight turtleneck. Base layer for hiking in Iceland? Check. Perfect top for chilly Brittany weather (whether milking goats or going to dinner)? Check. Throw it on under a packable dress when it is really cold and you need to look nice? Check. Takes up less than six cubic inches when packed? Double check. Done.
5. A beautiful scarf. The number of times that I have been grateful for having a lovely scarf with me is innumerable. I have a large, lightweight silk scarf that a friend gave me several years back that has served as a pillow, blanket, makeshift hat on a freezing ferry ride in Maine, devotional head-covering in Kazakhstan, clothesline, picnic blanket, camera protector, and, well, lovely scarf. Worth its weight in gold, you'll never be sorry to have a good light scarf on hand.
How about you? What must-have items are making your summer packing lists?