Six Packing Mistakes That You Might Be Making
Living out of a suitcase? Here’s what to wear when you travel this spring
Travel is enticing, but it can also be difficult. Too often the reality, whether it involves a plane, a train or an automobile, is uncomfortable, demeaning and usually very tiring. And, somehow, the understandable sense that journeys are to be endured has come to inform our approach to packing; it can quickly start to seem like a rigorous preparation for a military exercise rather than an extension of the pleasurable business of dressing. We propose a more relaxed approach, one that draws on the joy we get from clothes when we’re at home.
Of course, it’s true that there are some trips when time is of the essence, where the difference between travelling with carry-on luggage and checking in a bag could be the difference between making or missing your meeting. On such occasions, there isn’t much for it but to slip a clean shirt, socks and boxers into a soft briefcase and hope that the person sitting next to you on the flight doesn’t spill their drink in your lap. But this spartan approach to packing is a necessary evil rather than a blueprint to follow every time you load up your suitcase. If we’re honest, even when travelling for work, there’s usually enough slack in the schedule to wait 15 minutes for a checked bag to make its way from the aircraft’s hold to the luggage reclaim. Because the contents of that checked bag can significantly improve the quality of your trip.
The days when rich men travelled with a steamer trunk full of clothes may be long gone, but despite the democratisation of modern travel the mantra of packing light has gone too far. It’s not a disaster if you bring back an unworn item of clothing. Better to have had it and not needed it than to have needed it and not had it. Whether you’re away for work or for pleasure, it’s gratifying to be well-dressed in whatever situation you find yourself, and potentially uncomfortable to be found sartorially wanting. Here’s a personal example: as a young man I went to the countryside in Tuscany, Italy, for a summer holiday. I exclusively packed casual clothes for this warm-weather rural vacation but unexpectedly found myself in Florence for a day. I was acutely uneasy wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt in that city’s wonderful restaurants and clothing stores, dearly wishing I’d packed a pair of chinos, desert boots and a button-down shirt. Approaching packing with an attitude of monastic severity means there’s no spare capacity to cope with last-minute changes of plan, or random invitations.
Good packing can affect more than just your appearance. Packing really well (or not) can change the mood of your entire trip, but in order to achieve this you’ll need to abandon some oft-repeated shibboleths about the right way to pack. Let’s bust some of those myths.
Myth 01: There’s a perfect bag out there
The reality: everyone needs a variety of bags
There’s no such thing as the perfect bag, only the right bag for the trip you’re about to undertake. By owning a range of bags you’ll have an appropriate one every time you travel. When travelling light is paramount a briefcase with room for a spare shirt and boxers is sufficient. If you must stick with carry-on luggage, then a small holdall offers greater flexibility and will look better than a small trolley case.
When it comes to longer trips it’s helpful to consider the nature of your destination. If you’re taking a lot of kit for an action-packed vacation (think skiing, diving or cycling) then a big, rugged holdall likely works best because of the great capacity it can offer. Whereas if you’re staying somewhere more sophisticated, then a suitcase will deliver your clothes with fewer wrinkles; in such circumstances the practical answer is a big trolley case, but men with stronger arms, and a greater concern for their image, should consider an old-fashioned suitcase.
Myth 02: No one uses hotel gyms
The reality: business trips are a great opportunity to exercise
It’s very easy to give yourself entirely to the demands of a business trip and to adopt a work-hard play-hard attitude. Better, we think, to claw back some valuable me-time in the form of a swim or a run either before the day’s meetings begin or before dinner. It’s probably no bad thing if, in order to be able to get up and exercise the following morning, you don’t stay until the bitter end of the evening’s entertainment. There are personal and professional advantages to keeping a clear head when you’re away from home and returning in better shape than you were before the trip is a worthwhile prize. To achieve this, check out the hotel’s gym facilities in advance and pack some appropriate sportswear.
Myth 03: A man needs one set of clothes per day
The reality: most men need to change their clothes twice each day
There’s a pleasing simplicity to the idea that a guy needs a fresh shirt, socks and underwear each day. The reality is that he can only really claim to be civilised if he takes two fresh sets of underclothes for every day of the trip. Whether you’re sitting in stuffy meeting rooms, making presentations, touring building sites or trekking in the forest, the clothes worn during the day need to go into the dirty laundry bag when you get back to the hotel for that pre-dinner shower, to be replaced with fresh garments.
Myth 04: Rolling your clothes prevents them becoming creased in your bag
The reality: it’s best to pack your clothes flat
There are many theories about how to prevent clothes getting wrinkled en route, and the idea that rolling them stops them creasing has gained wide acceptance. It’s also nonsense. No less an authority than Savile Row tailor Mr Thomas Mahon, a man who ships bespoke suits all around the world, pointed out to me that rolling clothes simply increases the number of creases in them. He counsels that clothes be packed horizontal, with as few folds as possible. And where you do have to fold tailored clothes put something soft (like a pair of rolled boxer shorts) inside the crease so that it’s not crushed flat.
Make sure you hang your clothes up as soon as you get into your hotel room and pay attention to what they are made from; jackets constructed from high-twist wool should spring back well, while linen clothes and suits made from very fine fabrics have a notoriously long memory when it comes to wrinkles.
Myth 05: It’s best to pack a versatile selection of clothes in bland colours
The reality: outfits, not clothes, are the way forward
When you’re at home, you can easily pull together a formal outfit from the contents of your closet. When travelling you have to work with a much-restricted collection. There are two ways around this problem – the first is to make sure all the elements work together by only taking white shirts, blue suits and grey trousers on a business trip. But unless you dress in an equally simple way at home, this can feel rather restrictive.
The more enjoyable alternative is to pack outfits, having figured them out at home in advance. Lay out a full ensemble (socks, trousers, shirt, jacket and tie) for each day you’re away – of course, you can wear some of these garments more than once. The only real limitation is likely to be the number of pairs of shoes you can take with you. Take a phone snap of each outfit so that, even if you’re jet-lagged, you can remember what to put on every morning.
Myth 06: The smartphone provides all the in-flight entertainment you need
The reality: not even Apple has made reading redundant (yet)
Whisper it, but we make a harsh judgement when we see a grown man occupying himself with Angry Birds, Roblox or Candy Crush on a plane or train. The obvious alternative source of entertainment is mind-numbing social media feeds, but it’s surely better to make the most of your journey’s hang time by reading.
Whether you’re in the mood for self-improvement from someone such as Mr Tony Robbins, the latest page-turner by some gloomy Scandinavian author, or a much-admired tome from the canon, take a book with you. (Actually, we’ve compiled some good recommendations on this front.) And for those moments when you’re too tired to read? We strongly recommend two Spotify podcasts about music. The first is Stay Free: The Story of The Clash, which is narrated by Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and the second is the much-anticipated new season of Dissect.