12 Jul 2011

The French Girl’s Suitcase

Overheard in the farmhouse this morning…

Me: Today, I think I will write about travel and how to pack. I have been thinking about how best to pack a suitcase and what are the essentials for a bon voyage.
Lulu: without a moment’s hesitation…That’s simple. A swimsuit, a beach towel, sarong and sun cream….and maybe some soap… that said with a smile.

That is the difference between a French girl from the south and me….She dreams of baring her all by the sea; I think of ways to cover up my all inside.

Travelling is hard work, whatever the destination or reason and it is best to attack the packing with a systematic approach.  I believe that the secret to successful travelling is in the packing and the secret to the packing is the weight. The more we carry, the more tiring the trip; the more tired we are the more fraught we become.

Travelling is no longer about luxury, relaxing and being pampered – travelling is about getting from A to B as safely as possible. There are many obstacles to be conquered on a journey… getting to the airport, negotiating check-in, undressing for security, dealing with crowds and in particular impatient people, finding airport lounges and getting to the gate on time…without being weighed down to breaking point. Wherever I venture I travel light with the exception of skiing…that is impossible..

I wear the same thing when and wherever I travel. Jeans, long sleeved teeshirt, Converse or ballet flats depending on the season, a silk scarf and black trench-coat. I carry an oversized handbag because I am joined at the hip with my laptop, iPad, camera, current read and extra pashmina for the airplane. As fabulous as the ipad is I always carry a book for those delays when electronic equipment is not allowed. The extra cashmere scarf means whatever thermostat system on board (they are never consistent, always too hot or too cold) I am prepared. For long haul flights I always have an extra teeshirt to change into on arrival or for those spilt drink emergencies. On top of all this there are the requisite wallets, passports and make-up kit that can’t be lived without…that’s why the big Longchamp works so well… it is light enough to throw over the arm or sit on top of the wheelie bag and be dragged along.

What goes into the suitcase? That’s the tough stuff to decide and obviously changes depending on destination. Generally speaking, I try and think like a man when I am packing. I have always thought their ability to wear a suit to almost any occasion one of the great advantages of their sex. So that’s what I do…I choose my version of a suit…I pack a jacket, skirt, pants and or dress that is colour co-ordinated and that will take me anywhere. The pieces must be interchangeable and wearable with shirts and tees, flats or heels. My rule is one pair of heels and one pair of ballet flats – this footwear can take me from day to night, from appointment to party. My alternative handbag other than the Longchamp is a small clutch that fits my phone, a credit card and cash. In winter I add a couple of cashmere sweaters, in summer extra tee shirts. Two silk scarves, some costume jewellery to glam up the night time and that’s it…I’m done. I have the trench-coat for wind, rain and cold and the converse if I am walking miles. It is not the most exciting or varied of wardrobes but it works well for business trips and those holidays that are on the move and about the sightseeing.

What would the French girl think of my packing tips? I am not sure I should ask… I suspect she would think them all about work and nothing about play… xv

VA In Your Inbox

subscribe for updates from vickiarcher.com


Linda C,

My problem is outerwear. Finding a coat that is lightweight, water-proof and stylish, is always a problem. They're either a hiker's delight( fully water/windproof) and ugly, or just not up to the job…I'd love to find a coat that you just mentioned.

thanks for another great post.

Ingrid Mida

I find packing a real challenge. My inclination is to bring too much so that I don't end up being bored with everything. One trick I've learned is to stick with mostly black, white and beige – except if I go to Hawaii where colour is king.

Sarah (Snippets of Thyme)

You are so right about packing being too fraught with excess. Getting past the stroller/carseat stage was a true delight. That is my families number one complaint with traveling…its gets too stressful getting from A to B to C. I always want to be on the move seeing multiple cities. My family wants to stay put, rent a place and only take day trips. Last year, we wisked around Switzerland at a fast pace and then stayed put in Saignon, Provence for the 2nd week. Perfect! A win-win! Just extend the trip!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen

Lots of wonderful tips here Vicki and you've got such good taste. I've saved it for future use. I totally agree on the color coordination idea, but I took too many black skirts, pants, dresses, to France and felt my wardrobe looked too black. I wished I had included more color. I'm hoping you will address (or show) sometime how to coordinate neutrals without letting one color predominate or taking too many pieces.

Again, merci beaucoup for your great advice and fashion sense.


mmm, I always plan to pack sensibly and always still take too much and come home with things I have never worn. Maybe next time….


Great tips. I always begin packing this way, never finish this way. I'm one of those people your described in your post, weighed down and exhausted. I have to do better, not so young anymore. That was the secret………Great picture too.

The French Hutch


Great tips here Vicki. Because my travels now seem to be taking me to unusual destinations I'm finding packing more challenging….but I'm learning. I don't mind the actual packing, it's choosing the right stuff!

Africa last year was actually quite easy. For a two week/four country safari, and only allowed one soft duffle bag (sans wheels!), I learned to rethink my wardrobe and it worked successfully. Coming up this year is an expedition cruise to an even more remote spot, followed later by Thailand and Vietnam – so I have my work cut out for me when it comes to choosing what to pack for those two trips!

I wear Converse – my favorite being the laceless One Star from Target – in grey or beige – love them and they seem a bit lighter than original All Stars! Also have a cream pair with laces for Summer – they are good with shorts and capris when sandals don't do it for sightseeing walks, climbing rocky shorelines etc. Scarves are a must for travel – I have a ton of lightweight ones – must have my neck cozy, and they can dress up even a tee shirt. Love the gossamer knits for cardigans – have several (J.Jill and Vera Wang) which can work as jackets, they pack small and are almost weightless – layering is the way to go. Jeans, one pair only as they are heavy and bulky. This summer my cropped pants and shorts are light linen blends, they are more comfortable, dry faster, and don't require ironing like thick cotton. Jewelry – my favorite find for travel has been Brighton (and there are other similar brands) where you can change around the beads on one necklace, a pair of earrings, and a bracelet, making different looks and color combos – without hauling tons of pretties which you then have to worry about losing or worse!

Off to Northern California soon – Summer holiday at the most beautiful lake – it's become an annual trip so I know what to pack thank goodness!

Happy travels – always be safe and have fun.
Hugs – Mary


I think your list is perfect. Since I"m in Paris mostly in winter, it's black black and more black and lots of scarves/pashmina. This last trip I unpacked upon arrival and discovered I had six scarves/pashminas and they were all in the raspberry, h ot pink family. What on earth was I thinking? Well I made do but that is the prime reason why you should lay it all out and have a look before you start rolling and stuffing.

helen tilston

Hello Vicki

I can tell you are a very experienced traveller and wise. I totally agree with you on packing, my additional item in carry on is a pr of yoga pants and underwear, which helps for a change should a bag be mislaid.Yoga pants can be used as sleepwear or lounging around.
A wise woman in the airline industry told me years ago to travel simply and for special occasions, go full make up and wear beautiful jewellery, which is precisely what you just said.

Another great post Vicki, thanks for reminding us.

Karen in CT

… loved today's post & pic … been gone with Will & Kate for a while … well, via screen … still, it was just all fairy tale … If you were't into Cinderella when you were young, you just don't get it … XO … glad to be back, missed you.

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle...

Great post. My guess is the French Girl adapts just as you do. Not all trips take you to Corsica or French Polynesia after all ;-) I like your list. Mine is similar (I even brought a light trenchcoat on our European tour this time and got to use it in London, sadly.) Here, on the Spanish coast where we are now, packing is a lot easier, of course. Your French Girl would approve. Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

david terry

Dear Vicki,

How funny to read your dour assessment of travelling these days…..

…I was just chuckling (twentyminutes ago) over a comment Eudora Welty wrote to her longtime friend and editor, William Maxwell, once she'd returned home to Jackson after a week's stay with the Maxwells at their country house in New York.

Miss Welty had already been apprehensive over everyone's assuring her that the return-trip would be "luxury" travelling…."first class" on an airplane.

She wrote to confirm that she had, indeed, FINALLY gotten back home to Mississippi, but hadn't been more than twenty minutes into her "luxury" return trip before she felt as though she were "remembering Eden while being hustled through Hades."

Isn't that amusing?

As for packing?….there's an equally amusing passage (in your fellow-aussie, Gernaldine Brook's book "Foreign Correspondence") in which Gerladine describes the business of packing a suitcase when you're a female war-correspondent who's just received a 3 a.m. call from your editor….telling you to get on the NEXT PLANE to a war-zone or some other "hot spot".

She kept a check-list on the refrigerator door, so that she could blearily consult it while her husband,Tony(also a war correspondent) got up to make coffee. Imagine having to remember that you'll be landing in a muslim country (got your spare burqua ready-cleaned and pressed?), might find a flak-jacket handy, AND need to pack something Geraldine refers to as "my King Dress"…

….that last item is what you need just in case, in the middle of dodging bombs and artillery assaults, you find that you've been granted an interview with the King of Jordan or some similarly poo-bah-ish character. you also need make-up for that sort of 15 minute "audience"/encounter.

Catherine Deneuve's "packing" is, in a word, BYZANTINE. She has to be in all sorts of places, wearing all sorts of different things, and she's generally expected to look p-e-r-f-e-c-t all the time. Every week or so, her assistant, Francois, makes a list of where-she's-to-be and what-she's-supposed-to-DO-there….and he gives the list to a maid, who then dispatches the clothes so that they arrive at, say, the Berlin Film Festival before Catherine does. As far as I can figure out, the maid is essentially the clothes' nanny.

Basically, Catherine just blithely moves from outfit to outfit in different cities the way I casually move from room to room in this small house. She and her wardrobe circle around each other, throughout various european capitals and airports, and they meet up on pre-scheduled dates.

I find that incredibly funny.

As for me? I never pack. My job, before we leave on our many trips, is to close down this old house and garden, deal with the dogs, calm-down all the parents, etcetera. Herve picks out what I'll wear (as you'll have noticed, I'm an enterprisingly haphazard dresser…the result of spending too many years going to and afterwards teaching at schools where you simply wore a blue blazer, a tie, standard-issue khakis, and that's that). then, Herve packs the suitcases. I get to find out what I'm wearing once I get to wherever we're going. thus far, he hasn't pulled any noticeable tricks on me.

Level Best as ever,

David Terry

I Dream Of

Your suitcase strategy sounds very wise. I think good packing takes practice — although I've been practicing for decades and still haven't gotten the knack!


Thank you for these tips. I am the first one to admit that I haven't yet figured out the art of travelling light and in style. The outfit I travel in is the easiest part, just like you, I am for jeans, t-shirt, ballet flats and a scarf to add a little twist. But when I reach my destination, be it on business or vacation, I realize I have either too many things packed or on the contrary, that I haven't packed the proper clothes…Hope you have a great week! :)

Mona Thompson Providence Ltd.

Thanks for alll the great tips. I really need to take this to heart. I'm a terrible packer. I try to take everything I own. Funny thing…my husband is just as bad. No one offers to carry our bags. Ha!


What a wonderful post! I laughed when you wrote that you are trying to find ways to cover up, I feel the same way!

I pack almost the same things you listed in my tote for the plane ride, always good to be prepared.


Nice post…
and great travel packing tips.

I prefer to travel light and pick clothes
that can be mixed and matched…
But if I had those lovely suitcases,
I might just bring a couple more wardrobe and shoes, who cares if I have a hard time carrying those suitcases, they are so gorgeous ♥

Chez Loulou

You travel in almost the same exact outfit that I do! Except for the Converse, which I always used to travel in, but now find cumbersome with having to take them off to go through security at almost every single plane change when going from France to the US. And even though I always have my iPad with me, I also bring a book. And a journal to write in.

When I see people in the States traveling in PJ's and Ugg boots it makes me cringe! I know those are comfortable, however…



Love your travel choices!!Which Longchamp travel bag do you prefer?

As Helen mentioned I include a pair of good looking yoga pants, in case of layover for comfort.


Art by Karena


Thanks for a very helpful and timely post. I am just now contemplating what to pack for a short trip where I must bear humidity and heat and look stylish at the same time (is that possible??. Good universal tips and concepts that are helping me decide and pare down my piles! Maybe this time I'll get it right;-) Some very helpful comments too. Love your blog!

peggy braswell

I am great(well, not great) at packing(always take too much)but it is the unpacking that undoes me. Love this post. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com


Isn't it amazing how our lives have changed, now less is definitely more when travelling. I would never have thought this way just a few years (decade) ago, everything had to be the perfect ensemble. Now, like you, I am comfortable with the basic necessities. I remember taking 21 pairs of shoes to NYC waaaaay back in the 80's…absurb. But, perhaps all that was a feeling of insecurity on my part, always needing to be perfect…while now I'm feeling confident in my own skin & the apparel needs to function.
Sending love…


Dear Vicki,
I love your thoughts for today especially in retrospect after just coming back from a 7 week trip. 5 weeks in France and 2 in Spain.
I must say it was a bit of a challenge especially with Paris being our first point of call, I always feel I need a little more coordinating there. I was happy with the choices I made and the weather certainly was kind.
My husband met me very kindly half way through my trip and so I was able to off load some heavy items to him and carry on. I did purchase along the way.
I my tour of Spain I was impressed with a mother and daughter pair. They managed just a small carry on suitcase each and this included all their toiletries. I have to say I dont think I am that clever.
I do agree with the " French. Girl" traveling light certainly is a gift and you realize you always pack much more than you need.
By the way – Saint Remy was as gorgeous as ever and my husband fell in love with France just as I am. I am now going through the many photos as the iPad didn't let me up load throu my journey. I am home now and reliving it once again.
Safe travels where ever you go,

Michelle H.

I think that I enjoy the planning and the packing for a trip more than most. Years ago on a first trip to China in '84, in an attempt to coordinate my wardrobe color-wise, I drew a chart with all of the clothes I thought I might take and then could visualize just what pants would go with which shirts, etc. One can then eliminate anything that does not do double or triple-duty. I have continued the habit and it is fun to look back at the "charts" and remember the clothes I wore in say "Italy, 2009." Just bought a new bright red super light-weight small bag to fill for a proposed trip to Provence and Northern Italy. Not large so coordination is a must. Already mentally planning hoping it will all fit. We'll see….

under spanish moss

Great tips, Vicki. Packing is always such a struggle. We always seem to overpack and still never seem to have all that we "think" we need. We always have to pay extra for our bags. Going to try your tips on our next trip.
Angela and Renee

A Thousand Clapping Hands

Such good advice. I'm a light packer. Having to make too many fashion choices while traveling is tiring. For me it's always: the lighter the suitcase, the better the time. Packing for a city trip is most challenging, though…I'd love to be able to bring lots of handbags, but in the end, what does it really matter? One light satchel and a clutch for evening are really all I need.

Mary Jo from TrustYourStyle

I think your travel tips are perfection Vicki and the only thing a french woman would add would be lots of sexy lingerie, haha. I always take a pashima for the plane because I get so cold–wish your tips had been around a long time ago so I didn't have to figure that out the hard way! You make a great case for the trench and I will be mulling that over.

xo Mary Jo

Trina McNeilly : la la Lovely

Love this post! I'm not the greatest at packing. I over do it and then always find myself wearing the same things over and over. The Longchamp is gorgeous.. putting it on my one day wish list!
xo trina


Well, I agree Vicki, traveling is certainly tricky these days…taking as little as possible, colors that can be mixed and match, and I particularly like fabrics that are easily folded, don't wrinkle and look great no matter what. Chico's, Citiknits and Travelsmith all have beautiful fabrics that are fabulous for traveling. Bon Voyage!!

Dustjacket Attic

Oh fab, I'm just getting ready to go to NZ for a week, I'll keep your tips close at hand…as I tend to get carried away with packing things! xxx

ha ha just read david's comment


A gorgeous image….l agree, the lighter the better is my packing motto too… keeping a bit free space for the 'little finds' that need to come home with me! Ax


Packing is definitely an art that you seem to have mastered for yourself. My sister, who used to travel around the world for work, is an expert and always reminds me how to do it. I find it always the hardest when going to the beach in the summer where you can have very unpredictable weather and the temperature ranges from cold at night to very hot during the day.

Morning T

Fabulous post Vicki! We just returned from a 10 day trip to Europe and this was the first time in years that I didn't pack correctly. We never check luggage so careful planning is always a must for me and this year I didn't take the time to really think it through. I wished I'd brought my converse, white skinny jeans AND my Longchamp bag!! C'est la vie…


Lost in Provence

So perfect, Vicki and I know that you have helped more than one person getting ready for their summer travels. Although I don't get to travel as much as I used to, I love making the extra efforts for when I am on the plane–well, that has also scored me upgrades!–but even just for me, stuck in coach, it puts some of the dignity back in travelling when you do it right–including an air picnic!

I love your writing, as always, such a wonderful flow to it and so natural. Inspiring.

à la parisienne

Depending on the itinerary, I can be very clever in packing lightly. When I studied abroad, one of the French teachers (a native française) living in Texas traveled with us, and her wardrobe was so limited I couldn't believe it. I had never seen a person wear the same blouse and same pair of pants so many different ways ans still look chic! To me, that's a true gift of style.


Renae Moore

I have done a bit of traveling recently…I find what will mix and match easily. It has been quite hot here in the southern US so I have several light weight knit non-wrinkle dresses. I can get by with 2 different pair of shoes and the more simple the better. I like your style and European travel is definitely different than here in the states.


Thank you Vicki for all those great suggestions for travelling light and elegantly. We are the worst travellers – somehow we always need to schlepp three large wheeled samsonite suitcases and a minimum of three pieces of hand luggage (not counting shoulder bags). A nightmare when getting trains. On our last trip, the manager of our hotel was so appalled at our plight when we were leaving Florence for Milan (recovering from chest infections) with all this luggage. He told us we were pazzi (crazy) and I agreed! He insisted on sending his porter and trolley in our taxi to look after us at the railway station. What angels they were. Luckily almost everywhere we found porters (now almost as rare as hen's teeth) who we were happy to pay. Why do we do it? I ask myself the same question. But coming on the long haul from Australia and being semi retired we stay in Europe for around two months at a time, mostly in France and Italy and usually somewhere in Central Europe over spring/early summer so we need clothes and shoes for cold as well as hot weather. We tried once taking the minimum but we were so sick of wearing the same things for two months and were embarassed walking around central Rome and Paris doing the passegiata when all the local were so beautifully dressed. As we often visit friends who have sometimes quite formal dinners and drinks for us we need to have suitable evening wear, don't we? One thing we've learned is to lighten the bags by sending most of the winter clothes back home in French Post Office boxes once the weather warms up. They always arrive safely and then we have more room for shopping, especially as we time visits to be in Paris for the end of June sales. Still it does get harder as we get older – and I keep telling my husband that next time we must ration down to two suitcases (he is the one who insists on taking lots of shoes!). I'm happy to say though that like you Vicki I always take a lovely magic pashmina, or two, and several silk scarves. My favourite footwear and (husband's) for walking are the wonderful quite stylish Geox Italian sneakers with the soles that breathe. So can be worn in hot weather for serious walking without feet getting hot and sweaty. For actual travel days I always carry a largish Oroton (Australian designer) shoulder bag with an across the body strap. It's strong and smart and very secure. Then of course there are a couple of other bags (part of my downfall) for day and evening wear. I never worry about beach things as we figure we have plenty of time to go there in Australia and don't want to spend our French time just lying on a beach when there are so many other wonderful things to and see and experience. Cheers and love your blog!


Personally I reckon your best travel accessory is Mr. FF!
Millie x
P.S. Gosh Vicki you were almost upstaged in this post by the divine David T…..almost.

Callie Grayson

Great tips and advice! I travel a lot and as light as possible last time I had to oj it through the airport jumping over suit ase to catch my flight which was at the end of the line! But I made my fight :)
I also leave a bit if room in my bag for items that I buy on my trip

The Fashionable Traveler

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen directed me to your blog, and I'm so glad she did. I love it! I completely agree about the Longchamp, I can't live without mine either. "Thinking Like a Man" when it comes to packing, I like that, great advice.

Duncan Faber

We have two girls and travel quite a bit. The secret to travelling light in our case is leggings, and lots of them. They pack light, and they can easily put them on underneath a skirt to stay warm. This seems to be our favorite brand these days. LOL.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

powered by chloédigital