Packing For Paris – My Four Step Packing Process

Packing process

Packing for Paris.

Once upon a time, those words made me feel more than a little apprehensive. It’s such a stylish city, and it is easy to feel like you might muck it up. Thankfully, visiting Paris at least once a year for the past decade has removed my packing nerves. But I won’t pretend that I’m a last minute packer who can stand in front of my wardrobe, throw a few things into my case and nail my travel style.

To my mind, successful packing takes time and thought. And more than a little planning. Recently, I started thinking about what I’ll need to pack for our upcoming European vacation so I thought I’d take you behind the scenes and share my four step packing process.

Before We Start

Let’s talk weight.

Whether you are a dedicated ‘carry-on only’ sort of traveller, or someone who is happy to take larger luggage, you need to consider how much you are prepared to lug around with you.

Airline restrictions are one thing, but you also need to think about your trip. If you are planning on moving between locations, you may be required to carry your own bag. If this is the case I definitely recommend packing as light as you can. I’ve heard too many tales of travellers injuring themselves – and ruining their long awaited vacation – thanks to very heavy luggage. Often these injuries involve carrying heavy bags up stairs (Paris has lots of stairs and very few elevators – or perhaps that’s just how it seems to me much of the time) so it is worth thinking about accessibility both in and around your accommodation choice.

Personally, I try to travel as light as possible. For trips up to a month, I take a four wheeled carry on case, which I check so that I can also take an extra tote bag onto the plane. Knowing that I only have a limited amount of space to work with forces me to really think about what I’ll need.

My Four Step Packing Process

Step One – Planning On Paper

Before I even peek into my wardrobe, my planning starts on piece of paper. I make notes about where we are travelling and what we will be doing.  I also print out a copy of the relevant Distant Francophile Packing Guide as a reference. For this particular trip I need the spring packing list.

We will be travelling for three weeks, visiting both the Czech Republic and Germany before heading to France for two weeks. About half of my time in France will be in Paris – I’ll be leaving Scott in Germany to catch up with some very special friends in Paris.

While we are travelling together, Scott and I have at least one fancy dinner and a dressy day when we will be in Paris for Scott’s birthday. We are visiting four ‘new to us’ cities on this trip, so there will be several days of sightseeing. And we are catching up with friends in Germany as well as France.

In looking at our itinerary I’ve decided that I won’t be needing frocks – the weather will most likely be cool to mild, and my black jeans will cover the dressier occasions with the right tops and accessories. With that in mind, I’ll be leaving the classic black pants at home and will travel with three pairs of jeans instead.

And – just in case you are wondering – I won’t be packing heels. I learned a long time ago from some very stylish Parisians that flats can take you almost everywhere.

Step Two – Speaking Of Shoes

I, like so many other travel and style bloggers, always start my packing plans with shoes. There’s a reason for this. Shoes are bulky and heavy and they eat into your valuable luggage real estate. Given this, wherever possible, I travel with only two pairs of shoes, unless we are doing something unusually fancy that does require me to wear heels.

In thinking about how much walking we will be doing on this trip, it wasn’t difficult for me to conclude that I need to go with two pairs of comfortable and relatively flat shoes. These shoes also need to look good enough to take me from casual to dressy and back again. With this as my criteria, my first choice are a pair of black leather ankle boots that have an almond toe and a slight elevation. I’m planning to wear the boots on the flights and also for the dressier events.

Once upon a time, I would not have bothered to take a second pair of shoes for a visit to Paris at this time of year. But after being caught in an unseasonal spring heatwave a few years back that forced me to buy shoes a lighter pair of shoes in a hurry, I’ve learned to always take a warm weather alternative. This year I’ll be packing my very versatile, metallic gold ballet flats.

(Now I know what you are thinking. And yes I agree. There are worse things than shopping for shoes in Paris. But feeling like you have to buy shoes not only eats into your travel budget, it also takes a lot of the fun out of shopping. Especially when you know that you already own any number of perfect options and just hadn’t been clever enough to pack them.)

Step Three – Onto The Clothes

With my shoe decisions sorted, I can then start building outfits that work well with those shoes.

But first I have to pick a colour scheme that complements the shoes. My preference is to build my travel capsule wardrobes around three colours. For this trip, I’ve chosen the very neutral trio of black, white and grey.

With all the foundation choices made, I begin transferring all the clothes I think I might want to take with me onto a portable wardrobe rack (or, before I realised how affordable those racks were, the bed in the guest bedroom).

I’ve spent a number of years building up a wardrobe of travel friendly clothing that usually find their way into my packing choices. These items are light, easy to layer and most importantly, resist crushing.

I also make sure I include all my wardrobe essentials. For me, that includes a white button down shirt, a dressy black v-neck top, my favourite skinny jeans, a white t-shirt and a cashmere sweater. I also consider possible outfits for my dressy days.

The first clothing cut for this particular trip includes:

  • 3 pairs of jeans in black, grey and blue denim
  • A black singlet for layering
  • A white singlet for layering
  • A grey short sleeve t-shirt – for layering or for casual days
  • A slightly dressier grey three quarter length sleeved top
  • A slightly dressier black short sleeve t-shirt
  • A velvet short sleeve top
  • A dressier black v-neck top
  • A black button down shirt in a soft travel friendly fabric
  • A long sleeve white t-shirt
  • A dressier long sleeved white top
  • A white button down shirt
  • A dressy taupe top
  • A grey cashmere sweater
  • A fitted grey merino sweater
  • A black merino waterfall cardigan
  • A cropped black leather jacket
  • A packable down jacket in blue grey

Step Four – I Wait

And I think.

And I really question myself.

Once you can see everything the questioning becomes easy.

I’m writing this while sitting in front of my rack of possible choices for our upcoming trip. Here are the queries running through my mind right now:

  • Have I chosen too many items? Spring is always challenging to pack for given the variability in the weather, especially when you are visiting multiple countries. And most of the tops I’ve selected feature super light, technical fabrics. But I really like to test myself to ensure I travel as lightly, yet stylishly, as possible.
  • Do I really need three long sleeve white tops? Could I swap in a short sleeved white t-shirt?
  • Are two grey sweaters necessary? The cuts are quite different, but they are almost identical in terms of colour. And I have plenty of layering options so I’m not too concerned about warmth.
  • I’m wondering whether I should replace the packable down jacket with my black trench coat?
  • What do I want to wear on the flight? I know for sure that the waterfall cardigan will be in my carry-on because it is nice and cosy. And at this stage, I’m thinking that I’ll also have my leather jacket with me, in case it is chilly when we land in Prague.

I’ll let those questions rattle around for the next week – and check the weather forecasts – before I make my final decisions. I promise to post what actually made it into the bag once I’ve packed it.

What does your packing process look like? Do you spend time planning what to pack? Or do you avoid even thinking about it to the last minute? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more packing tips, check out this post from Claire. And if you’d like some help packing for your own trip to Paris, make sure you consider my new packing masterclass.

And 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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7 thoughts on “Packing For Paris – My Four Step Packing Process

  • Taste of France

    I almost posted on this topic last week! I might still do it.
    There’s a saying in French–but it also exists in Spain–that you don’t take off your sweater until the 40th of April. Yup. That would be May 10, and the days around then are known as the Ice Saints (les Saints Glaces) because there’s often a last bout of cold–even frost–before summer sets in. (I did write about the Ice Saints last year.)
    I’d pack something waterproof, as rain is nearly unavoidable in Paris and Germany in spring. Even if it’s a leather jacket.
    Bon voyage!!!

    • Janelle Post author

      Hi Catherine, please post on this topic. As far as I’m concerned the more advice and all the voices in the conversation just make it easier for every one.

      Thank you so much for the local advice. Decisions made – extra jumpers in, waterproof down jacket in. And the leather jacket hasn’t missed a trip in about 5 years, so I guess it was always in…

  • Em

    Oh nel. I’m laughing at myself right now.
    I went away for one night and had 3 pairs of shoes. 😂😂😂😂
    I’ve since been converted to the packing separators and I’m now empowered to make better choices next time
    Have a great trip

    • Janelle Post author

      Oh dear Em. Shoes are often the hardest thing to choose when packing, but I promise that it does get easier with practice. And the separators will help xx

  • Denise Linkson

    Hi Janelle For a cool climate : I bring only navy , white & beige/cream . Everything must go with everything!! 3 jeans, 2 denim ,1 navy. 4 navy or white T’s. 1 white blouse 2 jumpers cream & navy. A navy trench & a beautiful Sandro (picked up in Paris) cream fringed wrap with a sleeve . Looks very dressy !! A couple of favourite scarves (again picked up in Paris) 3 pair flat shoes 2 tan 1 navy. A tan handbag plus a tan across the body bag for a day of strolling without lugging a heavy handbag around. 2 stylish pair black trackpants for flying . I must admit I do shop a fair bit especially in Paris & do come home with double the clothes I take ! We stay in apartments so a washing machine is mandatory so I can keep my clothes clean & not be living in 4 week old jeans eeewww! My biggest problem is my cosmetics they just about fill a carry on!! Between makeup , facial creams, hair care products I really struggle with cutting back. Any suggestions??

    • Janelle Post author

      Denise, that is a stunning travel colour palette. I love that it is so trans-seasonal, and doesn’t over rely on black. While I’m not a big shopper while I’m in France (I might pick up an accessory here and there) like you, we always prefer accommodation that provides a washing machine. It allows me to travel lighter – and stops the ewww factor. I’ve also learned to budget for hotel laundry costs if our trip doesn’t allow for me to access a washing machine. Paying that cost is better for the environment and my budget than buying clean clothes!!

      You are not alone with your ‘beauty product’ travel challenge. Even when I feel like I’ve pared back to the essentials, these items still seem to take up SO much space. Decanting doesn’t work for me – I just end up with leaky bottles. But I’ve had more luck with samples and travel sized products. For our last trip, I asked my hairdresser for samples of my favourite products – I left Australia with several sachets of product, but the load diminished as time passed. I also asked the sales assistant at my favourite make-up counter for samples of the products I regularly use – that scored me a mini mascara, lipstick and eyeliner. It’s amazing where you can get with a friendly request! Pencils and wands also take up less space, so I tend to choose those options when travelling. Ditto for 2-in-1 products. The area that usually takes up the most space for me is skin care. Again, I turn to samples and travel sizes where I can find them. Or I do the exact opposite of what every personal finance blogger ever recommends and buy the smallest size possible, despite the increased ‘cost per gram’!!

      • Denise Linkson

        Janelle I do take lots of travel size lotions & potions I especially love Clarins as they are very generous with their gift packs. I think as we get older we need more 🙁 but what do you do ? We are in France/Paris so one has to look as good as we can non??? I will just keep trying to refine I guess. I must say though I do love buying French cosmetics in France as they are so generous with all their samples 🙂 . I think my hair care takes up a lot too…… oh well it certainly won’t stop my travels!!