A friend dropped by my house the other day and nearly tripped over two kittens running between her legs. Before she could roll her eyes, I said, "I know—I never learn from my mistakes. It's what keeps me young." I was teasing, of course, because I am not so young... and I've learned a few things. 50-something years' worth of trips and travel have yielded several true packing mistakes. Today, I consider myself a relatively expert packer. Regret is a terrible feeling, and everything I throw in my suitcase is in service of avoiding it at all costs. Because I can spiral in a matter of seconds. "Oh man... I WISH I had brought that slipdress." Or "It is boiling... why did I only pack Blundstones?" Or "ugh; this bag weighs a ton and I still don't have anything to wear and we're running to catch the train." And then after a trip, it feels so wasteful to unpack all the unworn, still perfectly-folded items back to my closet. They had a long trip together, lonely and squashed together, and for no good reason! I've made my point. It feels good to have the right things with you.
I was a fashion editor for a dozen years, took a domestic break to have and wrangle five daughters, and then jumped into business with my husband Sid. We have a fashion brand based in Atlanta with stores in several cities, so we hop on and off planes to Europe pretty regularly for sourcing and manufacturing. In fact, one of the reasons we left New York and opened up shop in Atlanta was because of the major, wonderful, world's-busiest airport here. (Plus the daffodils bloom in February; two months ahead of Yankee Mother Nature.) In short, I get it. When planning a getaway – beach, city, country, whatever – I have a few things that nearly ALWAYS go in my bag.
For me, shoes are the biggest deal, and the thing you should decide first. They take up the most space and weight in my bag, and my husband's are even worse. Even just a single size 9.5 boot occupies a lot of real estate. He used to pack shoe trees in greener days... he's gotten smarter along with me and now he stuffs his socks and briefs inside. At any rate, your shoe choices will determine the happiness of your trip. Trust me. For warm-weather travel, you've got to have flat sandals. My favorites are by K.Jacques – I am devoted to this family-owned French brand based in the very romantic Cote d'Azur. There are a few other coastal cities with their own iconic sandals — Capri sandals from Italy, Havaianas from Rio, Jack Rogers in Florida. These epitomize St. Tropez. A chic, lightweight sandal will earn its spot in your suitcase. One shoe – multiple uses. They aren't too precious for the beach (leave the rubber flip-flops; these are more versatile), down the streets of your favorite walking city (I prefer them to ballet flats), and then can make it all the way to evening with low-key jeans or a little dress. I have even worn them with a long silk shantung dress to a fancy wedding. They looked chic, although the flat sole meant I was not quite as tall as I would have liked. Compromise is key when you're working with a carry-on... but on the other hand, they were excellent on the dance floor.
My other must have is the classic driving moccasin. Other than being enormously comfortable, they have those little rubber grommets along the bottom that serve as safety patrol! They keep you gripped to the ground even on the bumpiest cobblestones. And while they aren't exactly hiking shoes, they can go off-road... I have scrambled down a rocky path while finding a shortcut to the beach. (I am married to someone who adores to go "off the beaten path.") And they make excellent city shoes as well. Comfortable, safe, practical, blah blah blah—can you tell I am a mother?—but the biggest reason to pack driving mocs is that they are stylish all over the globe. Tod's in Italy is the most well-known maker, though there are dozens of brands (including ours) that riff on the car shoe. It was originally launched in the 1960s as a way to give car enthusiasts more control over the gas and brake pedals. To me, it's like a Euro version of a preppy Topsider in New England. You wear them, and you feel like you belong. And let's face it—even when it's for pleasure, travel in unknown places has enough of a unsettling effect. Who doesn't want to feel like they look like they belong? Is it only me who pretends I actually LIVE in the country I am visiting? Those first moments in a new place—not knowing how to pay or what bus to get on or the regional version of 'excuse me'—can be intimidating. In driving mocs, you will feel chic and international and unencumbered by time zone. You can also pad around the hotel... My size-6 feet never fit in those terry slippers at the fancy places—I feel silly taking the elevator up to the pool in them. And no one really loves to be barefoot in a hotel, do they? They are speedy in the airport if you are racing between flights (we love a tight connection) and easy to slip back on when your feet swell up on the plane.
Another must-take is a pareo. I can wear it to the pool or beach over that bathing suit with the white shirt I wore on the plane... I can wear it in town wrapped as a city skirt with the sandals and a striped t-shirt... I can lay it down on the rocks at that remote stretch of beach we hiked to... (No cabana or towel man there.) I have used it as a makeshift tent for sunburned toddlers, and wrapped a baby head to toe when our golf cart was zooming through a particularly mosquito-ridden stretch. If nothing else, it'll add a big hit of pattern to your look. Handy and chic.
And on top... I am going to put myself out there and tell you to get used to the idea of wearing the same shirt again and again. I promise, you can truly get two or three days out of a cotton shirt. If it feels sweaty, there's always the hotel sink for a little evening scrub. Very European to hang it dry. (I had a friend who raised four children in a tiny Paris apartment with no dryer at all!) You can sacrifice variety for suitcase space and brain space. Save that for looking AT things. You only need a few tried-and-true things that make you feel great... not dozens. This is not the time for experimenting!
And my very last go-to: the little cotton scarf. Just the thing to tie around your neck for some variety on Day 3 of that cotton button-down. You can tie it on the handle of your tote bag, or around your wrist as a little accent. In your hair it becomes a ribbon. And when it's tied on your head, you are chic beyond belief. But be warned. It is not the most flattering—you need to choose 'interesting' over 'pretty'—but I love it.
So there is my packing list, and there is my advice. Take it or leave it. Bon voyage.