How to Pack Light and Still Be Fashionable, According to Style Expert Tan France

Save on baggage fees without compromising on style.

<p>Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images</p>

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Traveling with only a carry-on doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your best looks. As a frequent traveler, style expert Tan France has more experience than most when it comes to striking the right balance between packing practically and fashionably. France even partnered with Europe's train booking app, Trainline, to create the brand’s first-ever European style guide of curated “trainleisure” outfits for top European destinations—the UK, France, and Italy.

But picking out what to wear on any kind of vacation is only half the battle—getting it all to fit in our luggage is the even trickier half. As much as we wish we could just bring all the options, overpacking and overpaying for a checked bag can really ruin the vacay vibe. So, for stress-free and stylish travels, take notes from France's six tips for packing light as a fashionista.

Related: 4 Ways to Boost Your Work-From-Home Mood With Fashion, According to Queer Eye's Tan France

How to Pack Light Without Compromising Style

Pick 3-ish Pairs of Shoes

As tempting as it is to pack shoes for each outfit, that’s a travel fashion fail. France recommends bringing only three pairs of shoes, one option to wear on the ride, and two options in your carry-on bag.

In the train, plane, or car, wear your bulkiest, heaviest, or chunkiest shoe. “The longer the train or plane ride, the more important that you take on that chunky shoe,” he says. “Whether loafers, heels, or boots, France says donning the heaviest shoes frees up the most space and baggage weight. If sporting a clunky shoe on a long-haul flight sounds like a drag, France has a remedy. “I’ve always got, in my backpack or bag, a pair of thin slippers that I will change into as soon as I get on the plane,” he says, showing off over video call the hotel slippers he picked up on his travels. After boarding, put the clunky shoe in your carry-on or the overhead compartment and enjoy a comfy, slippered transit experience.

In your carry-on bag, pack two other types of footwear. The first should be a soft, lightweight sneaker that is perfect for “walking around the city all day…from train to tube to bus and still feeling comfortable.” These shoes will be your go-to in case of inclement weather, so make sure they’re ones you’re okay with getting dirty. For adventure trips, bring a neutral-colored sneaker or hiking shoe hybrid with enough traction for a light climb.

The last pair of shoes (when warm-weather traveling) should be a slim, leather or faux, slide-on sandal, perfect for the pool, beach, or a morning jaunt to the coffee shop. If you’re thinking, “Why not a flip-flop?” France says think again. Even at the pool, rubber flip-flops don’t exude chic. In contrast, leather sandals are easy to clean, comfortable to wear, and just as versatile.

Related: The 25 Most Comfortable Shoes to Pack for Your Next Trip

Pack for the Person You Are, Not the Person You Want to Be on Vacation

“So many of us pack as if we're going to be another person when we're in a foreign land, and none of us are,” France laughs. “If you don’t have the confidence to wear an outfit in your home state, you probably won’t have the confidence to wear it elsewhere,” he says. Instead, he advises planning outfits in advance, taking photos of your fashion prep, and packing only the things most aligned with your trip itinerary (and your personal style).

If your instinct is to dress like the locals while on vacation, chances are you’re headed straight for a fashion faux pas. Instead of helping you to blend in, he explains, this can just make it look like you’re in costume trying to cosplay stereotypes. It’s important to respect the local culture, and wearing what you think locals wear is a recipe for a misstep. France says to instead “take the things you know you’re going to feel good in, things that you feel comfortable in, and the things that actually feel like you.”

Packing Tip

To maximize space in your suitcase or carry-on, France recommends storing socks, belts, or other small items inside your shoes.

Contrast Neutral Clothing with Colorful Accessories

To maximize outfit options, pack neutral-colored clothing and punchy accessories to bring your looks to life. For accessories, think statement jewelry—belts, neckerchieves, and scarves. These items are easy to pack and won’t take up much space. France says to always use the space inside shoes to stuff belts, socks, neckties, and other small items. This will help your shoes keep their shape, while maximizing all available space.

Stay Weather-Ready

The weather is always unpredictable, regardless of what the apps say. Plan for every eventuality by bringing on the layers and packing a mini pocket umbrella. Particularly when traveling from cold climates to hotter ones, plan for lightweight layers. Not only does this allow for a wide range of outfit combinations, but versatile layers help you prepare for any surprise seasonal shift.

But don't just throw any random jacket or sweater in your bag. Opt for multiple lightweight layers that can work together and be styled different ways, versus one chunky sweater that takes up more space. And don't forget to incorporate these layers into your outfit planning stage, so that they still look intentional on your trip. “Make sure every layer you put on is still a look,” France says, since you may be putting on or removing these layers throughout the day. For example, before packing a sporty windbreaker that may not match any of your sundresses, consider if a breezy button down shirt or thin cardigan may be a better match with the outfits you have packed.

Skip the Vacuum Seal Bags

Vacuum seal bags may seem like a good solution to fitting more outfit options in your luggage, but France says they make clothes too wrinkly to bear. “Most people aren’t staying at a hotel that has an amazing iron,” he says. Even if you will have access to a good iron, no one wants to spend precious vacation time ironing out heavily wrinkled clothing. “It’s not worth it," France says. "Just pack lighter.”

Leave Room to Shop

Traveling isn't all about the shopping and souvenirs, but some things are just too good to pass up on. And one of the benefits of packing lighter is that it leaves room for these items in your luggage. However, France says it's still important to be discerning about what you spend your money on and try to focus on "the things you truly can’t buy at home."

To prepare for some shopping, consider packing an empty, lightweight bag in your luggage that can function as a personal item for your trip back home. France also says to “see your body as an extra way to carry your new pieces,” on the way back. For any bulky wearable, put it on your person–rather than overstuffing your limited number of travel bags.

Tan France

Style expert Tan France is one of the Fab Five on Netflix's series Queer Eye. His memoir, Naturally Tan, was published in June 2019, and it became a New York Times Bestseller. He was also the host of the web series talk show Dressing Funny and co-host of Next in Fashion, a fashion competition reality show on Netflix.

Space-Saving Packing Tips

  • Use packing cubes to separate outfits or garments for specific activities (all of your workout gear in one, for example).

  • Leave items you're very unlikely to wear at home.

  • Roll rather than fold lightweight garments like T-shirts.

  • Plan your outfits; this will help you determine if you have extraneous items you're unlikely to wear.

  • Pack small items last. A thin tank top that can be rolled and stuffed into any available crevice in your suitcase is an easy last-minute addition, but you'll have more difficulty finding a spot for that bulky blazer.

  • Wear layers on the plane. Wrapping that chunky sweater over your shoulders will save room in your suitcase, plus you'll be prepared if the plane is chilly.

  • Opt for travel-size toiletries or decant your favorite full-size products into smaller (TSA-approved) bottles with leak-proof lids.

  • Include at least one spare outfit, underwear, and socks in your carry-on. Not only will this save space in your checked luggage, but it will save the day if your luggage is misplaced.

  • Rely on versatile garments that can work with many outfits. A jacket that coordinates with any outfit is better than one that only works with certain looks.

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