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Step away from the shoes: Tips for packing light

Bring cotton dresses — this one is from Banana Republic — and other lightweight clothing.

Associated Press

Bring cotton dresses — this one is from Banana Republic — and other lightweight clothing.

What's worse than lugging a heavy bag to your summer vacation spot, only to pop it open and find it filled with too many of all the wrong things?

If you pack lightweight, versatile clothing instead, you can save money on luggage fees at the airport and even hoist your own bag into the overhead compartment. If you're driving, you'll find yourself with room in the trunk for souvenirs.

And, most important, the fewer wardrobe choices you have, the quicker you'll be wading into the surf or taking in the sights.

"The lighter you travel, the easier it is the whole way through," says style expert Mary Alice Stephenson.

Here are tips from the experts for packing light:


Stephenson suggests taking several lightweight items that can be mixed and matched.

A light summer dress is her top pick. A short tunic, long maxi or something in between can be worn over a bathing suit with flip-flops, or with embellished sandals at night.

"You need a summer dress that is beach-friendly but glamorous for going out at night," says Stephenson, whose clients include model Molly Sims and actor Michelle Monaghan.

Then add a pair of khaki pants or capris. "It's kind of like summer's jeans," says Stephenson. "It's really light and airy."

If pants aren't your thing, grab a pull-on skirt in breezy cotton or gauze.

With a neutral on the bottom, add something special on top, like a floaty blouse with embellishments, or a feminine, floral print, Stephenson says.


Next is a T-shirt or tank top, basics that come in all colors and prices and can be worn with everything.

Pick the best bathing suit for your body, and use it as another item in your interchangeable vacation wardrobe.

Another option is a wrap dress, like the signature style in jersey from Diane von Furstenberg. It doesn't wrinkle and feels light and soft, the designer says.


A sea breeze or a blast of air-conditioning can leave you shivering, so pack your favorite cardigan, in cotton or thin cashmere.

"It can be belted over the tank top or worn over the summer dress or worn with khakis," says Stephenson.

Or take a thin shawl or pareo, which can cut the cold and be used many ways, from a trendy summer scarf to beach coverup.


While it may be painful to leave some beloved shoes behind, experts suggest wearing your heaviest pair while traveling and packing no more than two others. merchandiser Rachel Funk says shoes that make the cut should serve at least two functions, like sightseeing and going to lunch. says a pair of women's dress or casual shoes generally weighs 1.5 pounds. The site has choices that come in at or below the 1-pound mark.


Carry a tote bag that can double as a beach bag, and bring a clutch or small bag for sightseeing, Stephenson says. Take one necklace in coral or turquoise or chandelier earrings to dress up your outfits. Pack a crushable sun hat.

As for toiletries, packing expert Susan Foster says don't bother with the government-approved 3 ounces for a carry-on. A 1-ounce bottle of shampoo lasted her three weeks.

Belts and shoes, especially men's, also pack on pounds, says Alan Krantzler, vice president of merchandising for Tumi luggage. He suggests one neutral color for apparel and then one set of leather accessories that will complement everything.


Packing can be stressful, but people who do it often have their method down. Von Furstenberg boasts of being the "lightest packer you have ever met."

"I always joke, if you can figure out your suitcase, you can figure out your life," says von Furstenberg, who says she rarely sleeps in the same place for more than three or four nights. "I pack like no one. I always have the smallest bag."

Step away from the shoes: Tips for packing light 07/31/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 4:30am]
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