At the beginning of this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to France and Switzerland. This trip was all about a lovely group of people, delicious food, complex wine, sun-warmed castle walls, cows with bells around their necks (and other scenic wonders), and coming back with a fresh perspective. I loved it. It gave me fresh eyes and new courage.
A lot of people have asked me about packing, because I decided to only take a purse and a carry-on duffel bag. Kind of an ambitious choice for a 13 day trip, but I made that choice because I didn’t want to worry about collecting bags before going through border security in France. This was the first time I was traveling out of the country by myself, so I wanted to simplify the traveling process as much as possible. It really helped – my flight to Paris CDG airport got delayed for about half an hour and my connection (with border security and passport checks and everything) was already pretty tight. If I had to claim checked baggage from that flight, I probably wouldn’t have made my flight to Marseille. So a win for packing light!
This is the space I had to work with:
Not very much room, but that also necessitated packing light. Nature abhors a vacuum and when I have space to fill, I tend to fill it. Before I went on the trip, I had a plan to find the perfect duffel bag.
1) It had to fit in an overhead bin.
2) It had to be flexible and squashable.
3) It had to have handles and wheels. Handles for when I wanted to carry it. When I travel, I assume lots and lots of stairs. From past trips, I have learned never to assume there will be elevators! But I also wanted wheels, so I had the option of NOT carrying it. Wheels are great for airports.
So I looked on Amazon and got overwhelmed with choices. Then I went to Ross (just in case there were duffel bags there) and found this pretty little blue-and-white number by Chaps. I measured it to make sure it would fit in an overhead bin (CHECK), it was squashable (CHECK), it had handles and wheels (DOUBLE CHECK), and it was cute! Added bonus. This bag was great. The print made it easy to spot, because most baggage is black – this bag stood out like a bluebird in the middle of a flock of ravens.
Once I had my bag, I needed to figure out what to put in it. My packing style is idiosyncratic, so don’t feel like you need to follow my example. When I pack, I assume everything about the trip will go right. I don’t have backup plans when it comes to packing. The way I figure it, if there’s an emergency, I won’t be caring about my clothes anyways. If worst comes to worst (i.e. I get cold), I’ll buy a jacket while I’m there. Or I’ll borrow a blanket from the hotel and walk around with that wrapped around me. It’s a foreign country and I probably don’t need to impress anybody.
I had lists all over my house and they all looked something like this:
- Phone Charger
- 1 or 2 pants?
- Watercolor Pencils (and the list goes on….)
(Spoiler: I only ended up taking one pants.)
I don’t remember where this came from, but I remembered hearing that rolling clothes saved space, so I decided to take that one further. Behold, the roll of rolls:
This is the majority of my packing. This bundle of joy has two pairs of shorts and five shirts, tied with a scarf so they didn’t come apart and dance around the duffle. One pair of shorts formed the outer shell and then everything else got rolled up separately and then rolled up into it. I ended up wearing the scarf as well, so this was an efficient little bundle. In retrospect, I would have only taken one pair of shorts and I didn’t need ALL those shirts. 3 or 4 would have worked fine. The nice thing about this system (besides saving space) was knowing exactly where my shirts were when I got there.
I had the Shorts-and-Shirts bundle, the Dresses bundle, and the Pajamas-and-Underwear bundle. Here’s my lemon dress to demonstrate the bundling:
It’s a cute form of packing. And that lemon print just slays me. I love it so much.
As is my habit, I wore all my bulkiest items on the plane (so they didn’t take up room in the suitcase). My travel outfit included a black cardigan (the closest I came to packing a jacket), black jeans (my only pants), and black Nike sneakers. The other shoes I took were metallic lace-up flats and strappy metallic sandals. I didn’t pack heels, because I didn’t have the room and I didn’t want to wear heels anyways. I only packed shoes that I knew I could walk well in, because nothing can ruin a trip faster than hurt feet. These metallic flats got MVP for this trip, because I wore them almost every day and they were comfy the whole time:
We spent most of the time in Provence and it was glorious. We stayed in two different Chateaus and this is the view from my first room:
Happy sigh. It was harvest season, the sun warmed the stone, and the sun and the stone warmed my spirit. Most of my ideas about Provence come from pictures on wall calendars. But guess what? IT IS JUST AS BEAUTIFUL AS THOSE PICTURES.
I can’t list what my favorite was. It was all my favorite. It felt like I had somehow stumbled onto the set of Much Ado About Nothing and I got to play Beatrice. (“Thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sunburnt”) I know that the colors are going to stick with me. Yellow stone, light blue shutters, light green doors, dusty rose walls, orange dirt in the vineyards, dark green trees, white roads, strong blue skies, then all these colors turning sudden gold as the sun goes down and tries to drag all the colors past the horizon with it. Everything turning white and blue in the moonlight. The sun hitting my face in the morning. All of it.
I did buy some clothes while I was over there.
That pink top is definitely the girliest thing I have ever owned. Maybe that I’ve ever SEEN. Bows and lace and pink pink pink. I bought the panama hat out of necessity, because I needed sun protection, but it also added some adventure to each outfit. I really enjoyed that hat. I’ve realized that I love hats, but most of the hat shapes I love are traditionally men’s hat shapes. I will choose a panama over a floppy brim hat and I will choose a boater over a cloche. If you don’t think you can wear hats, make sure you try a few different kinds of hats!
The white lace jacket is a lot of fun. It was inexpensive and not made to last, but I’m going to wear it a lot. Here are a couple of ways I’ve styled it already:
I bought this gray top, which is probably the most typically French thing I bought. Light gray is very popular during the summertime in France and it has cool little stitching details and an interesting shape.
Most of the women I saw in France looked put together, but not ostentatious. They favor light neutrals in the summer (cream, gray, tan, light blue). A lot of French women wear jeans + neutral top + nice shoes as a daily uniform. But it really depends on what they are doing – it was harvest season at the vineyards while we there, so everybody was pitching in. There was one winemaker who was wearing her Spiderman t-shirt and jeans and most of the winemakers were wearing rubber boots, because it was time to work in the vineyards and harvest the grapes. Clothes always depends on the context – it’s easy to have an idealized image of eternally glamorous French women, but everything depends on what’s going on!
Then I came back home filled with so much joy and energy and inspiration. I feel beautiful and transfigured, like Sabrina Fairchild. But most of the transfiguration happened internally. I don’t look that different, but I feel that different.
I crossed continents and oceans. I packed everything I needed into a carry-on and a purse. I stayed in a castle. I saw swans and flamingos. I saw cowboys herding bulls and cows try to climb down a cliff face. I sat and sketched the places I stayed. I witnessed the beginnings of running jokes. I ate some of the finest figs and pears and plums I have ever eaten, and my heart melted into a puddle of happy whenever I ate a croissant.
I came home changed. Changed by traveling, changed by new friends, changed by observing another culture, changed by having to be braver.
If you have the opportunity to take a trip, take it. It doesn’t have to be big. Try going somewhere you’ve never been before, even if it just one state away, one county over. It changes you. I came back ready to take on new challenges and make big decisions. After living with roommates for my whole life, I am moving into a little house on my own and I couldn’t be more excited for what happens next.