How to pack without a panic attack

Let’s just come right out and say it…packing sucks.  We usually go in with a good attitude, especially when it’s for a vacation as opposed to a business trip. But here’s the problem…by the time you set out to pack up your own suitcase you have probably suffered through at least 5 of the scenarios below:

  1. Stress at work. Prepping to get it all out the door and/or arranging to all have it covered while your away, still knowing that you probably will come back to an overflowing inbox and some sort of mess to sort through. It may feel good to post that out of office tagline or change your voicemail, but we all know it is a temporary feeling that will eventually lead to an avalanche upon your return.
  2. Stress at home. Most people like to clean their house before they leave because it feels good after a vacation to come home to a clean house and to continue that feeling of relaxation. No one wants to walk in and be slammed in the face with a stinky kitchen and dust bunnies that are breeding. This means we have to find the time to vacuum, take out trash and all the other annoying things we don’t feel like doing – especially laundry. It’s nice to have it all done and even if that’s a longshot we inevitably will need certain specific pieces to be washed and clean  so that we can wear them on your vacation.
  3. Stress with family. Do you think it’s fun to pack for all the little people in your family? If so you may also like root canals. What’s super fun is when you are traveling off season and discover that the swim trunks you put away last summer for little Johnny now fit like speedos and barely cover little Johnny’s little johnny. Yeah!! Now you get to go spend money on a new bathing suits, shorts and short sleeve shirts in November. Super easy to find right? Of course not.  Gap is full of sweater vests and corduroys for the holidays and Vineyard Vines will charge you extra shipping for you to order a couple of sizes to play the “What size is Johnny?” game. So fun!! Oh and that’s just Johnny. Let’s not forget about pre-teen Julie who last week wore Justice and this week only wears J.Crew. Of course you are thrilled your daughter is no longer wearing tie-dye neon sparkled spandex but now this means you have to spend $60 on a bathing suit with embroidered anchors on it. Wait! Don’t forget about your husband Jake! He is also super busy at work and if you asked him to pack himself he’d probably only bring a dry-cleaned button down, khaki shorts, and 1 or 2 pair of boxers. No sneakers, swimsuit, flip flops or any things else he really needs.
  4. Stress with all the incidentals….who is getting your mail? Do you ask the neighbor who you know will tell everyone she knows that you get lots of credit card bills? Or do you figure out how to go online and ask the post office to hold your mail? Speaking of bills are you all paid up before you leave? It’s extra fun to spend extra money before you leave just to make sure you don’t spend extra on late charges because you were desperately trying to enjoy a mojito on the beach. And who is taking out your trash cans….and bringing them in (and yes, you’ll have trash because remember you just spent all that time cleaning which included throwing out any mystery meals from the back of the fridge)? That same neighbor is going to have lots to talk about when they see all those wine bottles in your recycling?  And Shit! What about the fish? Yes, you want it to die so you don’t have to clean the tank but no you don’t want to come home to the smell of a dead fish. And the hermit crab? Forget it, the kids don’t even know if it’s alive or not now.  And the dog? What about the damn dog???? Oh and make sure you have packed everyone’s’ phone/ipad/computer chargers. And don’t forget the clear plastic baggies! That stupid $25 lip gloss you got talked into buying could be considered a liquid and become confiscated into the trash right before your eyes. Also make sure to pack up your pills because now you are old,  and pack up your husband’s pills because he’s old too. Last but not least gather all of your kids vitamins, ear drops, allergy meds because Murphy’s Law says they’ll stay healthy if you bring them but they will definitely get sick if you do not.
  5. Yeah!! Now it’s time for you! It’s only 11:00 pm and you need to leave your house by 4:30 in the morning to make your 7:30am flight. Why so early? Because you have to hope you don’t hit traffic due to random overnight construction, find a place to park your car, make it through security while your kids cry because they can’t get their shoes back on, get everyone to go the bathroom and for the love of God find the Dunkin Donuts because you are going to need that Thermos sized iced latte. So why aren’t you in the mood to take everything out of your closet and throw it all over your floor and your bed?

I get it. I really do. While I appreciate the fact that it is a luxury to go on vacation I’ve also experienced the same level of stress when going on a weekend road trip to visit friends or family. Traveling is challenging because there is a lot of prep work involving many moving parts. So by the time it gets to you the last thing you feel like doing is trying on your swimsuit and white jeans and then bursting into tears because you realize that a steady diet of wine and pizza has not worked its wonders on your body. This is where you throw in everything but the kitchen sink, 10 pairs of shoes, and shove it all in and do the sit and zip on your suitcase. You also probably make one last frantic trip to a store just to grab some new items. And of course we all do that thing where we check the weather one last time and then decide we need that one more thing that we have to try to force feed through a tiny opening, fearing that if you unzip the whole thing it will never ever again close. Oh and how about when you get slapped with the neon sticker that says HEAVY on your bag, along with a $1,368 heavy baggage fee. Eventually, you get to your destination you then stare at a bunch of random items and no idea what goes with what.

This is the beauty of my trip packing services and why it has become a favorite for my clients. At first they feel silly because they know that in a perfect world that exists in a vacuum away from all of the stressors I previously mentioned, that they could put together outfits, and accessories and pack them neatly into their case. But these are smart women who are busy and they are tired of putting themselves last on the list when it comes time to pull it all together. We chat about their trip and what their activities will be like and also how they are feeling physically and emotionally. All of those things factor in to determine just what kinds of outfits will work for you specifically for this trip. I then lay out the outfits, complete with accessories and shoes, and take pictures of each one. The beauty of this is that I still make sure you have choices. While it’s nice to plan ahead we all know how quickly the weather and/or our moods can change. In that case it’s nice to have options so that you can make a choice, but no so many that you became overwhelmed. I like to make sure most things will mix and match, and that most items can be dressed up or down. Think of it like meal planning ahead of time and then looking at pictures each night to choose what you want to eat, taking comfort in knowing the meals are all ready to go in your fridge!

Now that I’ve done all that babbling it’s probably just best to show you what I mean. Recently I helped my sister Kelly plan and pack for her annual girls trip. Kelly is a busy working mom who teaches 4th grade in the school year and tutors in the summer. Her and her husband have 2 little kids not to mention a house they are trying to sell. So before she even tried to pack she had to make arrangements to pack the kids to go stay with her in-laws for the week, send out the hermit crab, and last but not least clean for an open house that same day she was leaving. She was prepared to go out and buy some new things but I asked her to wait until I got a look at what she had. Her itinerary was a little complicated in that involved a 2 hour trip in the car, then onto a train to NYC. Once in NYC there were plans for dinner, one night at a hotel, then a VIP trip to Good Morning America. It just so happens that one of my sister’s dearest friend’s, who was joining them on their girls trip, is a 2 time Emmy winning producer for the morning show. Girlfriend is fierce and makes all the magic happen behind the scenes and it is cray-cray.  I couldn’t make the whole trip but I jumped at the chance for 24hrs in NYC and a peek behind the scenes at a show I watch every day. Following NYC the girls were renting a car and driving north to Newport Rhode Island for a couple of days, followed by a quick visit to Providence and then back to down to NYC for a party and the Good Morning America summer concert series. To say we needed to cover a few different looks was an understatement but I was excited to show Kelly just how easy I could make this for her. There is no need to reinvent yourself on vacation and feel uncomfortable, so make sure you take pieces you know that fit well, flatter you and make you feel good. My sister’s style is fairly classic and one of her best assets, (besides her perfectly perfect mane of never dyed brunette bombshell hair – yes, I’m jealous) is her very long legs. So keeping these factors in mind here is what we put together and her is how Kelly put it into action.

Packing it up at home. 

I like to lay everything out and take a picture so I can see everything they are taking. Because the  weather can be iffy lightweight jackets are an essential layer.















Also important is to keep it simple with shoes. This doesn’t mean you can’t take fabulous shoes, it just means that it’s best to pick a color and do 2 of a kind. Bringing 2 of the same color may sound silly but really it is such an important key to being able to dress the same outfit up or down for day or night. In this case we want with a classic caramel colored leather wedge and sandal and did it again with black. This same philosophy also works with metallic, gold or silver toned shoes.


The same thing goes for the clutches. These 2 smaller bags will both fit into her larger carry-on style tote bag. The black is dressier and lighter neutral color goes with everything.


What she wore….


Car and train ride up followed by rooftop happy hour at the hotel. The dress is cool and comfy for travel and the necklace adds the pop for cocktails. The jacket is perfect to combat cooler air on the train. And yes that’s me in the bottom photo looking like the dork that I am!

Dinner and drinks with friends in New York City. A simple tank in a striking color keep the focus on her and look great in pictures.

Morning VIP visit to the Good Morning America set. Our goal was for her to look polished and pulled together at 6:30 am but to keep things comfortable and simple.

Touring around Newport to check out the mansions.The off the shoulder top in this chambray fabric is a classic take on the off the shoulder trend. Flats are perfect for day and wedges can be added to take this look to dinner.

Sailing and sightseeing off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. This pink tank could go back to the navy shorts, white shorts or the white jeans.


Popping around in Providence.  This simple navy tank can go monochramtic for a romper inspired look, and paired back to white denim for cooler evening temps. The necklace choices help to dress up or down the whole look.  


Back in NYC to a party and out with friends. The wedges keep this dress feeling summery and stable for navigating the city sidewalks.

Concert in Central Park. Kelly was very unsure of this all white look but I convinced her it was fresh and chic with her dark hair and lovely tan. She thought I was nuts when I asked her to tuck the top in but I explained that in doing so she instantly looks 10 lbs thinner. Length is key in tops because you want them to hit at the narrow part of your body. If this was worn out it would hang at the widest part of her hips and make her torso look too long in proportion to the shorts.


And then it’s back home to unpack and get back to reality. You want to know something really, truly awful? My suitcase from my 24 hour trip is still on my floor in my dressing room. And yes, it’s still packed…and it’s been a couple of weeks. Shameful but true.

*Insider Tip  – Ziplocks aren’t just for sandwiches .


If versatility is your goal when you travel than accessories are your secret weapon. You could get away with one black dress, one white top, and one pair of jeans and come up with 15 different looks provided you switch up the jewelry and shoes. And although there are countless options for organizing and protecting your jewelry during travel, it’s my opinion that you can’t go wrong with classic clear baggies. The snack size work particularly well. I like the bags because I can see what’s in them quickly. I also group jewelry combinations that I know work well in the same bag. So if you are wondering what bracelet to wear with a black and gold necklace, it will already be grouped together. Done and done.

The same thing was done with Kelly’s collection of Powerbeads by Jen. Our lovely friend Jen makes these bracelets and they are the perfect compliment to so many outfits. Kelly has quite a nice collection but I put together some specific combos that would go nicely with the outfits that I put together for her trip. These combos below each got their own ziplock bag so she could easily grab one without wasting time on what went with what.

See? Packing can be painless.

To summarize:

  1. Bring lightweight layers.

  2. Bring 2 types (dressy and casual) of the same color shoe.

  3. Stick to a mix and match color palette.

  4. Make sure everything can be dressed up or down using jewelry.

  5. Stay organized with ziplock bags.

Thank you so much for reading! Need help with packing? Give me a call. This is an easy one to do virtually via phone and email if there isn’t time for an in home visit.

Oh and here is some more behind the scenes pics – the action off stage is crazy busy!



Published by suziegaffney

owner at Suzie Gaffney Styling

2 thoughts on “How to pack without a panic attack

  1. Hi Suzie! How are you?! I hope having a great summer! I could’ve used this post about two weeks ago! I suffered a few scenarios but wished up on one – paid my kids and nephew to clean the house! I gave up on my packing and literally took my entire summer wardrobe and those last minute “what if it’s cold/rains/I’m so bloated and gained 5 pounds by day three clothes!!!” I made everyone take their own small carry on suitcase and then I ran out of room in mine and jammed my stuff in the boys suitcases 😳 You would’ve had a good chuckle! I’m glad to read your post to know I’m not alone!

    See you soon! I need to think about fall and get on your schedule!

    Best, Vicky

    Victoria Stockman 973-714-4954


    1. So glad you were wise about it and you outsourced the cleaning part – makes such a difference! I’ll reach out and see if we can get together for September or October to put together fall. Summer went by so fast, hope yours was good! xo Suzie

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