Everyone at InStyle knows I love to pack a suitcase.
It’s a perverse passion, I know. But becoming a packing pro is a prerequisite for a job that entails lots of travel, whether for weeks-long journeys for fashion weeks in Europe or shorter trips to Los Angeles or who-knows-where for events. Strangely, I find it more challenging to pack for the short stays, because I really must resist the temptation to bring too much in order to avoid checking a bag. So I used a recent vacation to St. Barts to test out a few tricks that might come in handy for anyone heading on a long weekend away this summer – with mixed results.
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My partner and I headed to the island this spring for a four-day trip, and booked the new Le Barthélemy resort, on the eastern side of St. Barts, which is far enough removed from Nikki Beach to avoid the risk of encountering anyone dancing on a table. It’s a low-key luxury resort, serene and spacious by St. Barts standards, and surprisingly offered the best meal we had during our entire stay. It also has a reasonably sized gym, which is on the top of my requirements checklist for any resort. As for my packing list, that’s much shorter.
First and foremost, one needs a good suitcase that can hold a lot, but that is also small enough to fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane. When taking the train or a car-ride for a local trip, I’m all for stylish weekend carry-all bags, but if I’m going to be dragging a bag around an airport, it had better have wheels. For this trip, I tried out Tumi’s International Carry-On bag, which has a smartly designed interior with mesh pockets that clip into the sides, creating separate pockets that leave enough space to keep clothes from getting wrinkled—so long as you don’t try to bring too much. This one was perfect for separating a blazer and trousers from swimsuits and shorts, a stack of T-shirts, and a pair of running shoes. On the down side, why is this aluminum bag so heavy? It weighs 11 pounds when empty.
St. Barts is fancy, but I am not. Most of my casual clothes are basics from J. Crew, but they can easily be dressed up with a few nice accessories that don’t take up a lot of space in a suitcase. I love Vianel New York’s denim twill ball caps, which are pricey, at $190, but they’re so minimalist and sculpted that they look like a million bucks. Of course, I wouldn’t dare sweat on them or get them near the ocean, so I added a hat from the hotel for the beach.
I’ve travelled to some pretty style-conscious beach resorts around the world, from Fire Island in New York to Bodrum in Turkey, and one thing remains constant: All the cool guys wear swimsuits from Orlebar Brown, which pioneered the “designer swim short” market a few years back. The appeal is obvious—they look great as shorts as well as being functional swim trunks, so that means one less thing to pack.
One area I encourage splurging is a pair of sunglasses that broadcast individuality, since everyone else is likely wearing the same swim shorts as you. From Garrett Leight’s spring collaboration with Nick Wooster, these retro frames with bright yellow lenses were inspired by Arthur Miller, and they definitely drew a lot of admiring glances. Only problem, without reflective lenses, they discouraged less-than-discreet people watching on my part.
The shoe situation for a long weekend can cripple even the most skilled packer when faced with the competing demands of dress-wear and beach attire. And I, for one, detest flip-flops. Who wants to see everyone’s toes? But I’m a big fan of Rivieras—classic Spanish-made leisure shoes that have undergone a fashion makeover in recent years and now can be found in boutiques around the world. They work for the beach, and they look great with nice chinos for dinner, too. And their slip-on styles work best without socks.
Never leave home without sunblock. Sure you can buy some at the drug store across from the little airport in St. Barts, but have you seen their prices? And why waste that precious beach time trying to find a parking space next to a pharmacy? Here’s a TSA-approved solution: Supergoop!, which offers several products in travel-size containers. And you might be surprised how many of them you can cram into a plastic zip-lock bag.