7 Packing Tips for Summer Travel

packing for summer travel

Vacations in the summer months usually involve traveling to warmer destinations where we can just let go and relax. But preparing for any travel can be anything but relaxing.

So here are some fundamental things to consider that can make the whole process less stressful, and actually kind of enjoyable! Once your itinerary is set and you have a fairly good idea of what the weather conditions will be, you’re already half-way there. The events and climate will give you the parameters for what and how much you need to pack.

Start Early

What causes a lot of anxiety in traveling is those last-minute decisions that often result in making mistakes… resulting in heavy and bulky luggage! So, here’s my main, and what I consider the most helpful, suggestion: start creating your travel wardrobe two weeks before you leave.

If you have one of those handy dandy rolling clothes racks, use it to display the entire wardrobe you plan to pack. If you don’t have one of those racks, designate a portion of your closet to what you plan to bring. You can add or subtract items to the collection during that time, but at least begin the process two weeks in advance.

The reason for this is that your brain starts to connect what you see on that rack every day with how you see yourself at your destination. The length of your trip and the circumstances you will be in will determine what goes on that rack. During that two-week period anything that just doesn’t make sense for your purposes or that doesn’t contribute to the whole image you want to convey will stand out to be eliminated.

Choose Your Color Palette

It’s not as important to create entire outfits as it is to be sure that the colors you choose coordinate well with each other. That doesn’t mean you have to go for all neutrals, although neutral basics will make your packing easier and your travel less stressful. For variety you can bring along one or two print items. There should just be a feeling of harmony when you look at all the items on the rack.

What this means is that several items will be in the same color and will harmonize with your neutrals. Neutral colored bottoms and accessories – unless you want to add a pop of color in something like espadrilles, a belt, or a small bag, will make creating a whole look easier. A few tops in your favorite colors will make sure you won’t be bored. But frankly, mono color neutral wardrobes are extremely chic and packable.

If you love prints, a striped top or blouse is perfect for a summer day and can work with both blouses and slacks. And a floral printed blouse or a midi dress in a nice print can be dressed up for dinner or down for an afternoon walk through town.

Another possibility is to pack a pair of loose, printed slacks and wear them with a very simple solid color button down blouse. A simple white cotton or linen one would be terrific in this look. Add some gold jewelry and you’re good to go. It’s a very chic and festive look.

Whether you bring both pants and/or skirts, make sure that the tops you choose can be worn with either type of garment, several times, and in multiple ways.

Start from the Bottom Up

For most of us, the biggest packing conundrum is about which shoes to bring. One woman I know took exactly one pair of shoes with her for a three-week trip to Italy. They were designed for comfort, had a 1 ½” heel, and went with everything she wore. But our feet tend to be happier when we switch to different heights and types of shoes.

So, here’s the first rule of thumb: wear your bulkiest pair for travel. Every travel expert knows this rule. Since sneakers and trainers are fashionable and acceptable everywhere right now, and are often your most comfortable shoes, that can be your bulky pair. Of course, if you are planning to do some serious hiking, heavier-soled shoes will do.

I know we all see a lot of women wearing sandals on an airplane, especially in those “celebrity airport outfit” photos. Certainly, many styles of sandals are very comfortable. (Birkenstock Arizona sandals are apparently all the rage again in Europe right now.) But frankly, sandals are less hygienic for plane or train rides, and your feet are likely to get cold.

But do plan to bring a pair of comfortable sandals. They just say “summer” more than booties or loafers. If you’re traveling for a wedding, you might think you need to bring a pair of higher-heeled sandals, but they aren’t really necessary when there are so many flat and lower-heeled elegant pretty sandals readily available. Lower heels are less awkward to pack and take up less space.

If you’re going to be going out to dine or attending social events, your sandals should be just dressy enough to look chic rather than just sturdy walking sandals. If you’re planning a poolside or beach vacation slides will serve you well.

Your third pair can be a slip-on casual shoe or canvas espadrille. The latter is dressy enough to make a lot of very simple outfits look very chic and elevated.

And whatever shoes you bring, pack them in bags. I know a lot of women use cloth bags. But shoes accumulate a lot of unpleasant detritus and organisms from the ground. I don’t think it’s a great idea to pack them in cloth bags anywhere near your clothing or toiletries. I save and re-use zip-lock type larger bags when I purchase things like sheet sets or sealed liquids. They work beautifully for packing shoes. Otherwise, large zip-lock food bags for each shoe will also work.

Multi-Purpose Items

When planning your travel wardrobe, choose items that can be utilized for more than one event. In fact, choose items that can be worn repeatedly throughout your trip.

One multi-purpose, no-brainer garment is a large shawl in a pashmina-type fabric. It can keep you warm on a plane or train and in air conditioned rooms. It can provide a nice finishing touch for strapless or sleeveless dresses. I never travel without one.

As oversized tops are very much in vogue, a solid color oversized button down blouse can look great on its own, tucked into a skirt or slacks, or with the ends gathered up and tied around the waist. You can wear it in all those ways with a skirt, slouchy slacks, jeans, shorts or Bermudas. It can also serve as a jacket worn over a sleeveless top or tank. It can also be your beach or pool cover-up.

Fashionable French and Italian women have embraced the midi dress as a forever summer piece for ages. And the style is now popular worldwide. These are usually looser, flowing garments, which makes them very forgiving if you plan to ditch your diet while on your trip. Dress them up with silver or gold strappy sandals (sneakers won’t work with these), dangly or chunky gold earrings, and your shawl. Or dress them down by adding a button-down blouse, tied at the waist, worn with neutral slides or flats, or colored espadrilles, gold hoops, and a crossbody, or tote bag.

Printed midi dress with ruffle wrap

And especially if you’re going to a tropical climate where it might briefly rain every day, or anywhere with very changeable weather, a hoodie windbreaker or rain shell is always a good idea. These are usually thin enough to slip into your carry-on or checked luggage without creating bulk as would something like a trench coat or heavier parka.


The most comfortable material for hotter destinations is linen, of course. It breathes well and tends to keep you dry. But remember that it wrinkles right off the hanger. Style-wise a few wrinkles are perfectly acceptable in linen clothing.

If you are staying at a nicer resort, it’s likely they will have an iron and ironing board in the room. Ask ahead of time. Sometimes they will deliver an iron and ironing board to your room if it’s not already there. Otherwise, a small travel steamer is a good idea, and they can fold up into a small area for packing.

Woven rayons and other plant-based textiles are also excellent for packing. They don’t take up a lot of space, do not wrinkle, wash and rinse easily, and drape nicely. It’s a great idea to pack a couple of t-shirts or tanks in those fabrics. And as Marie Kondo of “KonMari” fame suggests, I like to roll my tees and blouses instead of folding them. I place them on top of one another and roll them as a group. They are less likely to wrinkle and seem to fit into smaller spaces in my bags.

It’s hard to travel anywhere these days without at least one pair of jeans. Denim is a heavier textile but not an uncomfortable one for travel. And it goes with just about anything. If you don’t already own a pair of white jeans, consider adding them to your collection. White is always fashionable in the summer, but now more than ever.

Wear them with a tank top in the same shade of white or one of the other colorful tops in your travel palette. You can also pair them with a striped tank or tee and add a simple belt, hoop earrings, and slides, flats or sandals for a very chic look. You can also dress them up with a patterned blouse or one of the newer eyelet style fuller sleeve blouses worn with dangling earrings.

If you pack wider leg jeans, either in blue or white, you can also likely wear them with your travel sneakers or trainers.

If the weather is going to be changeable or much cooler in the evening, a cashmere or cotton knit cardigan or pullover/jumper is another very useful addition. Wear it with your white jeans, a midi skirt, or even Bermudas with slip-ons or espadrilles.

Lifestride Kascade Wedge Espadrilles


What used to be called “fanny packs” have gone through a marketing transformation to sound more fashionable. They’re now called “waist bags” or “belt bags.” The latter actually serve as a belt, threaded through the loops on your jeans or slacks. Either type can be your everyday bag throughout the entire trip. Some are also worn as “sling” bags, worn like a cross-body.

The more utilitarian versions, like those from Baggalini, have multiple zippered compartments and are very sturdy. They’re also perfect for your travel days. The more fashionable ones are generally smaller but will likely carry your phone, passport, a few cards, and maybe also a lipstick.

Triple Zip Bagg (baggallini.com)

Another option is a so-called “anti-theft” cross-body version. These have slash-resistant construction and RFID blocking technology so your credit cards can’t be swiped electronically from someone nearby.

But if you are on a beachy-type vacation, you probably also want something bigger and more summer specific. You can certainly pack a straw, raffia, or woven satchel or tote if you stuff it with soft essentials like sleepwear, a small travel pillow, even underwear and socks. But if you’re pretty certain you’ll be doing some destination shopping for gifts, clothing, or accessories you might want to pack a foldable woven or macrame-type tote for your haul.

The Sak woven packable tote

Other Essentials

Wherever you plan to travel it’s a good idea to make photocopies of your essential papers and cards (passport, itinerary, emergency contact, phone numbers, credit cards, I.D.) When you get to your destination, keep them somewhere secure, such as your hotel room safe.

Things like sunscreen, makeup, and toiletries can always be easily replaced, but others, like medications, can’t. Bring those in your carry-on, not your checked bags. And lastly, speaking of sun protection, be sure to pack at least one hat, maybe two!

Foldable packable hat

A baseball cap for casual days at the beach pool or walking around town, and a packable roll up fabric or woven hat for when you want to be more stylish. And large sunglasses will jazz up any outfit.

Bon voyage!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Where are you traveling to this summer? Have you packed your backs? How many days ahead of time do you pack? What about last-minute packing? What have you included as travel essentials?