When Lydia Mansel started Just Packed — a website dedicated to, you guessed it, packing — she wanted to take the stress out of preparing for a trip. Whenever she searched the internet for the perfect packing list for her upcoming trip, she told Travel + Leisure, she came up empty handed.
“I realized if I was feeling this frustration, there were other travelers out there who felt the same,” she said. “This became more apparent as I’d routinely go on trips, for work or for pleasure, and hear complaints and moans of, ‘I didn’t know what to bring with me,’ and ‘I just didn’t pack the right things.'”
Mansel first started avidly traveling in college, with a summer spent working on a dude ranch out west and the following semester spent in Devon, England. Since then, she’s spent a significant amount of time in the United Kingdom, made her way around Europe, and lived in New York City, Charleston, and beyond.
Now, she’s working remotely full-time and planning to spend the rest of the year based in London and Bath and check plenty of new trips off her bucket list. (And yes, she did pack everything she needed in just two suitcases.)
Here, she lets T+L in on her best packing secrets.
Travel + Leisure: Why do you think packing is such a struggle for people?
Lydia Mansel: “The root of the struggle of packing for a trip comes down to not knowing what to bring with you. If you aren’t confident in what you have in your backpack or suitcase — or feel like you didn’t bring the right thing — your trip could suffer. Sure, you’ll survive without a raincoat or basic t-shirt layers, but any kind of discomfort will detract from the adventure.
This uncertainty can often become overwhelming, leaving travelers paralyzed, confused, and all of a sudden throwing five dresses they won’t wear into a duffel bag and bringing seven pairs of shoes along (just in case). Those are the overpackers. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the underpackers — those who aren’t quite sure what their destination will require, so they just pack a few items and end up wishing they brought a nicer dress shirt or a warmer layer.”
What can travelers do to stop packing from putting a damper on their trips?
“For any length of trip, you should start thinking about what you need to pack about a week to two weeks prior. Personally, I use the notepad on my phone to jot down items I’ll definitely need and add as something else comes to mind. For clothing, I type out all of the days I’m there as well as any specific events (sit-down dinners, weddings, hikes) where I’ll need to have a better idea of what I’m actually going to wear.
Starting at least a week in advance gives you time to order that packable straw hat you need for your cabana in Tulum or dry clean the blazer that’s been sitting in your other suitcase, unpacked, for several months. For your own list, I suggest typing out literally everything you’ll need to pack, including a toothbrush, extra contact lenses, and a hair brush. That way, when it’s the night before your early wake up time, you’ll feel more relaxed and assured you’ve remembered to pack everything you’ll need.”
How do you pack differently for travel since covid?
“I’ve flown a few times in 2021 so far, and for me, it’s all about the efficiency of your personal item bag. I like to have all of my essential items — passport, credit card, extra mask, hand sanitizer — in a secure but easy-to-access bag. I want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible and not spend any extra time fumbling around my bag looking for my ID, holding up the line in the process.”
What is a packing hack you swear by?
“I’m a recent packing cube convert. For the longest time, I didn’t believe in the hype, choosing to simply roll or pack my belongings in my bag. Since investing in a set of packing cubes, my entire packing process has become more organized. Depending on the trip and what I’m bringing with me, I’ll either pack designated outfits together, use the cubes to hold shoes I don’t want to get scuffed up, or group similar pieces (like t-shirts) together. At the end of my trip, I’ll use one cube to house all of the dirty laundry — which also makes unpacking a breeze.”
What’s one trick you use to save space?
“Along with making a packing list beforehand and using packing cubes, I’ll do a version of the famous Coco Chanel quote: ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.’ That means I’ll lay out everything I plan to pack and decide what one or two items I can leave behind. Do I really need two sweaters? Will one do the trick? Same thing for toiletries. I can usually survive a five-day trip without both face moisturizers.”
What is the worst packing mistake you see people make for a long trip?
“I’m a recovering overpacker, which is a result of previously having a wardrobe full of standalone pieces. This type of clothing inhibits the efficiency of packing, especially for a long trip. Instead, invest in classic, versatile separates that can be mixed and matched. That way instead of filling your checked bag with all of the dresses, tops, and pants you think you’ll wear, you’ll be creating an on-the-go closet that can easily be mixed, matched, and create a number of different outfits. For this type of clothing, I turn to brands like Everlane, Mango, and Vince to round out my travel uniform.”
What about for a short trip?
“The worst packing mistake for a short trip is definitely packing too many shoes. You’re there for two to three days, max, you don’t need to bring any more than three pairs. The location and season will, of course, affect which shoes you bring, but it should be a relatively similar formula. In the summer, a nice pair of leather sandals (that can be dressed up or down) will take you a long way, similarly to a pair of smart boots in the fall and winter. The travel sneaker is an all-season must-have — perfect for exploring your destination — and if you have room for one more, a block heel (or loafer, for gentlemen) for dressed-up occasions will do the trick.”
What is the worst packing mistake you yourself have ever made, and what did you learn from it?
“I was 20, traveling to London for a long weekend in October. Not only did I bring both a large duffel bag and a backpack full of items I was never going to wear, but I didn’t bring a coat. I assumed that 60 degrees Fahrenheit meant warm… I thought wrong. Not only did I not have the proper attire, but I packed a pair of 5-inch heels to wear at night. If you’ve ever experienced heels on 1800s cobblestones, you know this was a terrible idea. Long story short: I’ve learned to think through the packing process more thoroughly, wear more practical heels, and always, always double check the weather.
One more, because I’ve found myself in this predicament a few times. If you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll have to fill out a customs or entry form. Always have a pen in your personal item or carry-on. No one wants to be that traveler waiting around for an extra pen or asking fellow passengers if you can use theirs once they’ve finished.”
What is your go-to carry-on suitcase?
“I’ve tested several brands of carry-on suitcases, but the Away Bigger Carry-On has been my favorite of the bunch. It’s spacious, lightweight, and hasn’t let me down yet. Plus, I can confirm it holds at least one or two outfits more than my other carry-on bags. I may have learned to be a more efficient packer, but I’ll still veer toward overpacking if I’m in a pinch…”
Any other packing accessory must-haves?
“For many travelers, nailing down the perfect airport look — equal parts comfortable and put-together — can be a struggle. No one wants to wear jeans, but leggings and sweatpants usually don’t give off a professional vibe. I personally swear by an oversized blazer (which is usually the perfect layer for airports and airplanes), a classic tank top or t-shirt, and slacks. If you’re headed to a work event, you look the part, but if you’re jetting off to a vacation destination, remove the blazer, throw on your shades, and you’re off.”