How to Pack like a Pro

Guest contributors, Deborah Mintcheff, Connie Maneaty, Sharon Telesca and Mike St. Jovite


Several years ago, I was sitting in the Prestige Lounge at Charles de Gaule airport waiting for a flight home.  I heard a voice which I recognized and looked up.  There was my friend Nina, decked out from head-to-toe in New York City black: stylish Italian leather boots, elastic tight pants, cashmere turtle neck sweater and a jacket from a top European designer, most likely Prada, her favorite.  Her husband, Alan, stood beside her carrying a large box of La Durée macarons. We exchanged kisses and pleasantries chatting about our respective Parisian experiences. Right before heading to the gate, I noticed Alan passed the macaroons to Nina and picked up a small red leather Goyard suitcase.  I asked, “Is that your luggage?”  Nina proudly replied, “Yes, we like to travel lightly.  This is all we needed for our four-day stay.”  “We?” I queried in disbelief. “Yes, for both of us,” she answered somewhat smugly.   I wasn’t letting her off the hook that easily. 

I couldn’t help but press Nina—who always looks as if she’s just stepped off a fashion magazine photo shoot—for a more complete explanation.  She complied with total self-confidence. “You start with wearing on the plane a layered outfit which you really like, something chic that you don’t mind wearing several times.  Then, you reassemble the components based on your needs.  Add a colorful scarf, shawl, contrasting leggings or an interesting piece of jewelry to mix it up.”  Then, Nina added, “All we need to carry in this suitcase is  underwear, accessories and toiletries.” 

Most people are already aware of the basic housekeeping things to do before taking a trip:  notifying your banks and credit card companies; making sure your passport is current; letting our neighbors or next of kin know we are traveling; cancelling your newspaper deliver; and having someone water your plants.  Packing, however, is another matter altogether. 

As I am currently preparing for a quick trip to Paris, I decided to follow Nina’s example. Let’s see how little I can pack and still be appropriately dressed for a variety of activities. To achieve this objective, I looked to some of my friends who travel the world and appear as chic when they board as they do when they deplane while others like me look bleary eyed and disheveled.

First, I turned to Deborah Mintcheff, a top cookbook editor, who travels extensively with her Belgian husband.  I’ve flown with her several times as well and noticed she always uses a compact, carry-on suitcase plus a Louis Vuitton duffle bag. I asked her advice expecting one or two tips.  Instead, Deborah generously shared a cascade of her secrets which prompted me to invite her and several other pals to be guest contributors to this post.

 Read on and see which of Deborah’s travel recommendations works best for you.  In her words:

  •  Carry-on luggage is the way to go. I can’t lose what is in the overhead!

  • Create a master packing list that can be used each time you travel.

  • Pack neutral colors like black, navy, white and gray and accent the wardrobe with bright scarves.

  • Except for what I wear everyday (like my watch), I only pack “travel" jewelry that I can afford to lose.

  • Pack clothing in Eagle Creek Specter Garment Folders to keep everything neatly folded and wrinkle free. 

  • Pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes for every day. This is not the time to try out new shoes.

  • Bring a magnifying mirror for makeup. 

  • I don’t bother with vitamins. It’s a nice break.

 Our second guest contributor, Connie Maneaty, spent her career as a top analyst in the cosmetics, personal care and household products where 30% of her time was on the road.   As a travel warrior typically managing from 4 to 8 meeting a day, Connie mastered quickly the art of packing efficiently.  Here are her tips:

  • Select the lightest weight luggage possible.  I was introduced to Bric's, an Italian poly-carbonate suitcase.  It was hard-sided but remarkably flexible and I could fit a lot in it. My 21-inch suitcase which weighed 5-6 pounds, was easily the smallest in the overhead compartment and in some instances, it fit under the seat in front of me. 

  •  Pack travel sizes on all skin care; minimal make-up.

  •  Don’t forget your universal rechargers or just the ones you need for the countries you're visiting.

Yet another road warrior is my pal Sharon Telesca who does marketing for top international luxury hotels. She introduced me to a new travel gadget, a personal humidifier that works with a water bottle. Who knew?  Here are a few other tried and true gadgets, tips and must pack you should investigate for your next trip.

  •  LugLoc, a luggage locator app that tracks your luggage. At least you know where it is when it is not on the conveyor belt it is supposed to be.

  •  My travel kit. I use a clear vinyl old L’Occitane gift bag with a zipped top. It is never unpacked, always replenished. It contains: eye drop; Zicam swabs to keeps your nasal passages from drying out and helps prevent colds; organic Manuka honey throat lozenges with honey and ginger;  baby aspirin; a band aid (or two); cotton swabs; cotton pads; emery board; Zovirax (I’m prone to getting cold sores); breath mints; travel-sized hand lotion; Advil; and finally, two Benadryl. 

My all-time favorite travel agent, Mike St. Jovite of Valerie Wilson Travel, knows a thing or two about taking care of his clients through all the challenges of today’s travel.  I figured he would also be a pro when it came to packing.

  • Always pack a good book. WIFI and device power outlets on the aircraft do not always work. A good book also helps kill time when you’re stuck at the airport.

  •  Carry a travel-size hand sanitizer. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your final destination under the weather because the rest of the world travels as well and touches the same doors handles, push buttons and who knows what else!

  •  Tear apart a fabric softener dryer sheet and toss it in your bag to keep clothes smelling fresh. You will appreciate this when unpacking during your trip. 

The other day Overseas Adventure Travel sent me a brochure on 101 Tips for Women Travelers.  Written by their Vice Chairman, Harriet Lewis, it addresses the “conundrum” of packing. So, to finish up on the topic, here are a few final tips:   

  • Scan and email your vital information to yourself and/or save them on a flash drive. This way, it they are lost, they are easy to retrieve.

  •  Safeguard against lost luggage by making an itemized list of everything in your checked luggage and carry it in your purse.  This includes your medications and dosages. 

  •  Make a copy of your itinerary—complete with flight numbers, destinations and hotels, and, if you are on a tour, your tour operator’s emergency contact number—and place it at the top of your suitcase. This way should the luggage get lost, the airline knows where to send it.

 Whether or not I succeed with the “little suitcase” challenge, two things are for sure. First,  I plan to use Sharon’s list for my travel kit of essentials. And, secondly, I am  following Deborah’s advice: “Vacation begins the minute I’m in the car on the way to the airport. “ Sounds like a good plan to me.  Paris, here I come.