How To Pack Light For France

How to pack light for France

On Sunday, I shared my Top Five Reasons For Packing Light. Each one of my points were perfectly reasonable and fairly difficult to argue with, even if I do say so myself.

But having a stack of motives for travelling light doesn’t make the art of refined packing any easier. These days, I can head off for a month in France with only carry-on sized luggage but it has taken me years to downsize my packing.  So today, I thought I’d extend this discussion by sharing some tips on how you actually pack light for France – or anywhere else for that matter.

  • Think hard about where you are going and what you are likely to be doing, and pack accordingly. Planning to dine regularly at fancy restaurants, or maybe you are anticipating a Michelin starred experience or two? Then you’ll definitely be packing your black pants and a dressy top. Expecting to wander through Provencal markets in summer. Then light clothes and flat shoes will be required. Visiting France during winter? The first things in your luggage will be your smartest coat and your favourite boots.
  • Don’t have a ‘maybe’ mentality while you are packing. Even the best packers have made the mistake of throwing something in ‘just in case’. Pack for what you will actually be doing in France and for the season you’ll be doing it and leave the rest behind. If you end up participating in something completely unexpected or experience some unforeseen weather, you can easily pick up new items in France – and they will evoke special memories when you wear them in your everyday life.
  • Take the advice of Janice from The Vivienne Files and use your travelling wardrobe as an opportunity to define your signature style. Even if you are not looking to develop your personal style, Janice’s advice on combining the least possible garments into the greatest number of outfits will be invaluable.
  • Beware of packing anything you don’t love or wouldn’t wear at home. If it’s not an item you adore wearing every day, then you are unlikely to want to wear it in France. There’s actually a greater chance of you buying something new. Pack only the clothing that sings to you – they will be the garments that you wear day after day.
  • Choose your shoes first and build your packing list and colour scheme around them. Let’s face it. Shoes are heavy and they take up a ton of luggage space. I always try to travel with only one pair of shoes – two at the absolute most. I know that I generally treat myself to a new pair of shoes while I’m in France, so leaving from Melbourne with too many pairs is just silly. And think twice before packing heels. Once you are in holiday mode, the thought of staggering across cobblestones in high heels – even for a special night out – seems ridiculous. Your ‘go with everything’ flats will be your shoe of choice every time.
  • Invest in light fabrics. Cashmere is super warm but light. Certain types of jersey are also lightweight and dry quickly. Same goes for some cottons. Swap out a pair of denim jeans for a pair of lighter weight pants. I promise that every little saving adds up.
  • Stick to a strict colour palette. Everything you pack must coordinate with everything else – this is vital if you want to pack light. If every top you pack can’t be worn with every bottom, then don’t pack it. Same with shoes – you must be able to wear your shoes with every outfit. Neutrals are easiest – think black, grey, navy and a white that suits you. If you are someone who cannot live without colour throw in a bright scarf or two.
  • Downsize your toiletries. Buy travel sizes of your favourite hair care and make-up brands or travel with samples to try something new. Decant your perfume and liquid medications. If you take vitamins, don’t take the whole bottle, transfer only as many as you need for the trip to a smaller container.
  • Reconsider your hairdryer. Like shoes, they are heavy and many hotels and apartments will supply a hairdryer. If you are particularly attached to a certain brand, invest in a travel size – just make sure it has universal voltage (France uses 230 V 50 Hz power).
  • Book accommodation with a washing machine or laundry service. Or be prepared to hand wash both the small and the large! This is the best way to ensure you pack light. I like to calculate the number of days between washing facilities and pack accordingly. For all the readers who queried laundrettes and laundromats in Paris, you might like to check out this article.

Do you have a favourite packing tip? I promise it will only take a minute to share it in the comments section below.

Until next time – au revoir.



About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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8 thoughts on “How To Pack Light For France

  • Marilyn Belovarac

    My husband and I have been traveling to Europe for several years, and we have learned from experience that a smaller suitcase is so much easier all around. We frequently travel by train, and smaller suitcases are much easier to maneuver on European trains and subways. We also stay in apartments more than hotels, so an apartment with a washer/dryer makes packing light so much easier. If we have purchased too many items to fit in our suitcases for trip back home, we mail it back.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment Marilyn – it seems like you definitely have it all worked out. The washing machine is one of the key reasons we stay in apartments so regularly – apart from me wanting to indulge my fantasies about living in France of course!! Your mailing back idea is good one too – we’ve tried that a couple of times. And you are so right about light luggage on the trains – I’m always so glad I’m not the person struggling with multiple bags and no space to put them!!

  • Claire

    Interesting post, thanks for your thoughts.
    Any chance you would share a packing list for a mid season trip.
    I’m pretty sure I know what I’m taking, but it’s always useful to have a peek in an expert’s suitcase.

    • Janelle Post author

      When exactly are you travelling Claire? I am planning to post the Packing For Paris In Spring packing list in a couple of weeks. To my mind, spring is the hardest season to pack light for due to the changeable nature of the weather – but it can be done!!

      • Claire

        Janelle, we are travelling mid April to mid May.
        It’s hard to judge the weather, although I’m watching the forecasts closely just before I go.
        A spring packing guide will be most useful.

  • Jan Leishman

    Everything you say is SO true. I wish that elegant, light-packing traveller was me! I always end up with things I don’t wear and particularly forget the blazing heat that can be Provence. I don’t need cardigans – just a light wrap! I have managed to reduce my make-up / toiletries to next to nothing – little bottles of serum go a long way on the face and hands, night and day. Most of that can be bought in France anyway, and in travel sizes, so you don’t feel guilty not bringing them back! A wide-brimmed hat that doesn’t crush plus a light fold-up brolly for sudden summer storms are also good.

    • Janelle Post author

      Oh Jan, I’m convinced you are always elegant. I know what you mean about always taking items you don’t wear. Even when I’m travelling super light, there is always something in my bags I don’t feel like wearing. I force myself to wear it, just so I can justify the garments place on the other side of the world!

  • Karen Mitcham-Stoeckley

    Since I go to France annually and stay 2 or 3 months I need to take clothes that can span the end of winter and the beginning of Spring in Southern France. By the first of April am tired of black and have no need of boots. Voila, the market yields inexpensive light weight clothes and sandals that can be appropriate back home for summer. Also since I teach cooking in France I usually am taking reference materials/cookbooks which I don’t bring back to the USA so the new market place items now have room to travel back with me.