How to pack for a long holiday

In two weeks’ time I’m heading off to my family in Australia for a five week stay. If you’re lucky you’re off to the beach, the bush or your family home in the next week or two as well; and trust me when I say the sooner you start planning what you’re going to pack, the better.

I’m not an excellent packer but a couple of recent trips (and forever struggling to control the contents of my mom’s suitcase whenever she comes to visit) forced me to become a little more sensible about it. I also became pretty good at eliminating what I don’t need and remembering to take the things I really do need. I’ll go through my process systematically, hopefully it can help you too!

how to pack for a long trip

Decide what you don’t need to take

Sounds ridiculous, but eliminating things you don’t need to pack is a great place to start.

For international trips it’s not worth taking things like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion along. It’s too heavy (you’re looking at up to 1.5kg for standard sizes of those four products) and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something you can use in the first supermarket you step into.

Heading to an island? You can buy things like hats, sarongs and beach towels once you’re there – chances are good you might not even bring it all back with you. Trust the girl that once couriered back an entire suitcase filled with themed junk from Bali. I was super inspired by all the Buddha paraphernalia and bright fabrics and island-style dresses (among other things) but I ended up throwing/giving 80% of it away.

I know that I’ll get away with using some of my mom’s skincare so I won’t take all the extra little bits.  We’re the same shoe size too, and my sister and I are a similar clothing size so if an occasion pops up that I haven’t packed for I can liberate something from one of their closets.


My biggest mistake when packing clothes is taking things along that I never usually wear. I’m assuming there’s a portion of my brain that reckons I’ll love that floral blouse more in a different location. Spoiler: I never do.

Pack items you feel comfortable in, and keep the colours as neutral as possible. 90% of my wardrobe is black, grey, navy and white, so this is easy for me. Try on lesser-worn items – like swimwear you dug out of your closet – before you pack them to ensure they fit properly.

Be clever with underwear – keep it basic and pack comfy stuff that you can throw in the washing machine. Ensure that you have the right bras for the tops and dresses you pack.


Comfort is key, and unless you’re going on an adventurous expedition you don’t need more than a couple of pairs. Shoes take up loads of space and they’re heavy too, so don’t pack a pair for every possible scenario. For my trip I’m taking one pair of flip flops, one pair of prettier sandals and my trainers. I’m not even pretending that I’m going to wear heels – I always return with them unworn.


We’ve already covered that nobody is lugging around an extra kg’s worth of shower products – aside from saving space and weight, it’s a great excuse to try some new products.

Allocate a medium sized makeup bag and stick to it. Foundation, concealer, one eyeshadow palette (I promise you’ll be fine with one), blush, highlighter, bronzer, mascara, eyeliner and a couple of lip products. When in doubt, pack your most-used products. This is another area where I’ve often packed random products that I never otherwise use. Another spoiler: I return with them still unused.

I wrote a post just over a year ago about packing cosmetics for a trip, so click here if you’d like to read about that in more detail.

To travel-size or not to travel-size

I love travel-sized and miniature product as much as the next girl, but they’re not always feasible. A 10ml face cream is going to last you about two weeks, for example – if you’re staying longer than that you might as well pack a full size.

A travel-sized hair dryer and styler does come in very handy at this stage, and I’m taking a Slim Sonic toothbrush instead of my regular electric toothbrush (that also needs a charger and a brush head cover). The Slim Sonic works with one AAA battery so there’s no recharging, and when its in the protective case it’s about twice the size of a tube of mascara.

If you have travel-sized perfumes, now is a great time to put them to use. I usually just take one ‘special’ perfume and wear it day and night. It also leaves you a gap if you happen to bump into a perfume display in duty free or a post-Chrismas sale.

Hand Luggage

If you’re flying, you’re going to want to pack some smart hand luggage for yourself. My stepdad (a pilot) insists that you should always have a change of clothes – including underwear – in your hand luggage. This way you’ll have something to wear should your luggage get lost or delayed (worst case) or a fresh outfit to change into at the end of your flight (which is the more ideal scenario).

I like having my ipad with me for entertainment (music & books, mostly) as well as a folder with whatever documents I might need when I land. I also always have lip balm and a moisturiser handy, as well as chewing gum.

On my last international trip I used a backpack as hand luggage instead of a ‘regular’ bag for the first time and I doubt I’ll ever use anything else again. Having two free hands to navigate luggage, trolleys and everything else is a total win.

Watch your weight

I’m not talking about the ice-creams you’ll be munching on, but rather the weight of your luggage. The price per kg when you’re overweight can quickly put a damper on your holiday budget, while it’s super affordable to rather book an entire extra suitcase. Last time I did this SAA charged a negligible R500 per additional 23kg piece.

If you’re a good packer please share your secrets with the rest of us in the comments section!

C x




  1. Dec 8, 2015 / 3:26 PM

    Your points are spot on!! As a reasonably well traveled person I feel it’s only in my last trip that I packed really well.
    I stuck with lots of clothing layers, monochrome colors, made fancy with different scarves, thankfully when in snow, wearing snow boots everyday is possible. Keeping my wardrobe simple meant having tonnes of space to buy at my destination.
    I also swear by buying products at the place too – a big plus is you get to try a brand that you ordinarily might not.
    Oh and YES(!!!) to the backpack, I’m always swayed by how nice the wheelie carry on cases are but they are incredibly difficult to try get into the over-head bins.

    • Chantelle Bester
      Dec 8, 2015 / 4:34 PM

      Totally agree with you – most of us do some shopping while away, might as well start with the essentials. And the backpack might not be the most stylish option but it’s a game changer!

  2. bianca
    Dec 9, 2015 / 1:38 PM

    I LOVE posts like this! I am going abroad for 10 days only and I’ve been building and editing my list for months. It really helps if you are (and stay!) focused. My biggest space saver is rolling clothes. I never believed it but it actually is way more effective than folding and layering clothing. Game changer! I agree with you in packing monochrome coloured clothing too. My wardrobe is predominantly black, grey and white so it makes outfits a breeze. Safe travels and enjoy your holiday.

  3. Dec 9, 2015 / 2:15 PM

    My usual holiday destination is Thailand and one other South East Asian Country. We usually go through Thailand first, so I don’t take many clothes, since I buy a lot there. I like to take travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion. Face skincare I sometimes take sachets or sample sizes, if they will last me the full trip. And makeup is basic, since I am gonna spend enough time in Sephora anyway! I never take heels, I never wear them, and I always end up buying a pair or two there. I usually go with only a hand luggage size bag filled (inside my big bag) and then I come back with a full big bag, hand luggage bag and a buy a bag there! Haha!

  4. Deidre
    Dec 9, 2015 / 3:16 PM

    This is one of my favourite posts. I consider myself well-travelled, and packing for the trip is probably more exciting than the travelling to the destination.

    Rolling up clothing – oh yes. This definitely works. Takes up minimal amount of space in your suitcase and keeps everything relatively crease-free. Roll up socks, underwear etc., and stuff them in your shoes or sandals.

    Agree on the small suitcase that fits into another larger size suitcase – it works. Done so many times. When you shop and bring home all sorts of goodies you cannot resist, voila! you have a spare suitcase.

    Sarongs and shawls double up as a blanket in the aircraft when the aircon gets too breezy. It can also shield you from the hot sun at the beach and of course adds colour and chic to your monochrome holiday wear. When packing for the return flight, I wrap all my delicate, fragile items in them for extra protection during the flight.

    On the backpack issue, I thought that was the best travel item, but when I visited Argentina, some unsavoury character unzipped the backpack while I was walking in a crowded street, and stole a very nice (and my favourite) white run/walk for life blue and white rain jacket :-(. From that day on, I decided against backpacks. Went out and bought myself a cross-body bag with lots of compartments for all my money, passport, cell phone, chewing gum, pen, cosmetic essentials, sarong and can even stuff in a small bottle of water! That way I can keep an eye on the bag at all times. But if you’re happier with a backpack, then that’s your choice. I feel in control when I can see (and feel) my bag.

    Happy travels Chantelle. Australia’s great.

  5. Dec 9, 2015 / 3:30 PM

    Loved loved LOVED this post Chantelle. I’m a terrible packer. We travel very often on weekends away to family and friends back home, and I would’ve thought after two years of packing an overnight at least twice a month would make me an expert by now. Yah well, I’m nowhere near expert level. I keep forgetting important stuff like my glasses or a power plug for my straightner / hair dryer. Your tip about starting with what I don’t need sounds like my saving grace.
    I’m also a big fan of a backpack, I don’t care that I look like a lost 8 year old. It especially works for excursions and tourist activities on your holiday, then your hands and arms are free to handle your camera and what else.
    Enjoy your trip, hope to see bits of pieces of it on Instagram or in a traveling post next year. Enjoy!! xx

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