Photo: Tim Walker

This week I have astounded myself with my sartorial flexibility says Elaine Kingett. I popped down to Brighton from London for a quick overnighter, my 32-year-old son Will was coming out of hospital after a tonsillectomy. Due to complications with his recuperation, it’s turned into a six-night stay for me, with no change of clothing. I’m a minimalist packer at the best of times. I travel a lot for work and play and said goodbye to hold luggage couple of years ago – I did a month in Greece with just cabin luggage, last year. Almost everything I may forget can be bought at the other end and gone are halcyon days of idiosyncratic local packaging. Now global brands are everywhere.

So I’ve spent every day in the same black, long dress and yes, coincidentally, it IS a kaftan. Albeit, a fine cotton, charity shop one. I could have even slept in it but I did bring something for that. On chillier days, I borrowed my son’s Levi’s, tucked the dress in and wore it as a blouse. On sunnier days, I hoicked up the sides and bunched it up under my pants. My daughter did suggest I high-tailed it to Primark for some emergency underwear but I just washed out my Intimissi every night and hung it out to dry on the balcony railings.

Elaine and her friend Larch in Brighton

It’s been a liberation – I’ve seen different friends every day so no one’s sussed my secret – and actually, I’m quite proud of my ingenuity. It’s certainly taught me a lesson about not needing to chop and change my outfit everyday. My kaftan even has a small tear from a puppy’s sharp teeth in Andalucia – I think that adds character and, as my mother would say, ‘At least black doesn’t show the dirt!’

Elaine Kingett runs creative writing holidays in Spain and Wales and workshops in London; for more information check out Write It Down. Her sandals are from Suicoke.

21 thoughts on “Less is more: making the most of a minimal travel wardrobe

  1. Congratulations Elaine firstly for your inventiveness and secondly for not panicking!!!
    Traveling is always a stressful buisness for me (and I do quite a lot),I’m gradually getting it under control but I oh so wish I could be like you,so once again congratulations.
    I hope your son has now fully recovered so his Mother can go home and wash her Kaftan!!!!

  2. Reminds me of the joys of throwing a pair of knickers & a toothbrush in my handbag for a quick inter-state bt of slap & tickle with the latest boyfriend. Hmm those days are definitely gone but I do still get a kick out of only taking a carry-on when I fly for a mini break. Somehow oddly proud of myself for being so carefree & bold. In theory that is, reality is rather different.
    I commiserate with your son having a tonsilectomy as an adult. I was 29 when they finally agreed suffering debilitating tonsilitis 5 times a year is bad. I hope he feels better soon, it’s worth it in the end. I think I’ve only had a sore throat about 5 times in total since then. Twenty years & counting…

  3. Now why can’t I find a kaftan like that? My lot in life is always seeing my sort of clothes on other people and having no idea where they got them from. I did check out Alyson’s kaftans but pleeze, the prices! I do appreciate that good workmanship equals high dollars – can you tell I spend time in the States? – but as I also appreciate books, boots and bags (and art supplies and nail polish…and spending time in the States- it’s often the bargain basement for me.

    But I’m not complaining about that. What I would complain about though is a distinct lack of dress sleeves suitable for this batwing lady! So often my delight in finding a nice ‘long’ is swiftly followed by despair when I discover that someone forgot to sew on the sleeves! Grr! I don’t necessarily want full length but just enough to hide the flappy bits. Is that such a big ask?

    But, ever the optimist, I still live in hopes while continuing to haunt the bargain basements. Wish me luck. And Elaine, you cherish that kaftan, sleeves, small tear and all!

  4. Last year my partner and I were thrilled by our success in travelling in Europe during September/October for 5 weeks with only carry-on. We were in the centre of Spain (hot), France(hot and medium) and London and northern Spain (cold). Three long sleeved t-shirts, 3 short-sleeved tops, 2 pairs linen crop pants, one pair black jeans, one black cardigan and 2 evening tops, plus Uniqlo fold up puffer jacket and Uniqlo fold up raincoat. 3 pairs undies, 2 bras, 2 pairs socks, 3 pairs shoes (one day walking sandal, one suede Arche boots, and and evening (walkable ) sandal. I even bought and fit in a travel iron in France, as hotels don’t have ironing, and two pairs of gorgeous Spanish shoes! I admit to checking in my bag on the return flights, and carrying my wares in a separate fold-up bag I’d taken. So much easier to cart on and off trains and hire cars, up hotel steps, etc. never again a large suitcase!

  5. I am always so impressed when people can do that (like you did Alyson)!
    I am not that talented–that’s for sure. In fact, at the end of a trip, I’m usually tired of all the clothes I’ve taken, and I end up not wearing them again for months!!
    I guess I’m the opposite of a minimalist—I’m a maximalist!! But I come upon it honestly. My mother (the 70+ model on my blog) is the same way..ha ha!!

    ps…I hope your son is doing okay??

  6. I admire anyone who can do that. I would spill something or sit on something or in some other way soil at least something that I was wearing. My cotton undies would never dry overnight and fitting in to a mans clothing not even an option. LOL. I try to pack light but……. The heat alone does my clothes in.

  7. Oh thanks Alyson. That’ll teach me not to speed read. I appreciate your patience with people like me who ask the most obvious or unnecessary questions. It was there all the time!
    I followed the link and guess what? Those sandals are dead ringers for my Teva sandals . Truly, take a look on the Teva website. I think I paid around £50 or less.

  8. Your story resonates with me. Last week, my son and his girlfriend were traveling when I got the call that he was in the hospital and would have emergency surgery. Within 30 minutes, my husband and I were on the road. Needless to say we didn’t bring enough clothes for what turned out to be a five night stay. What did this tooth grinder miss the most – her mouth guard! Thankfully he is home with us recovering and my teeth are none the worse.

  9. Great post. The one-bag challenge! I keep trying to go smaller and smaller. I still need the right clothes. I’ve found the right shoes — though still on the hunt for soft, packable, fantastic Winter boots. Thanks again!

  10. Hi Alyson
    I often thought prior to the trend for capsule wardrobes and minimalisiam that we pack for holiday mixing and matching. It is so liberating to not have a crammed wardrobe and we can see and enjoy our things.
    Perhaps that is the way to have the perfect wardrobe – pack the wardrobe as if we are going away for 2/3 weeks on a trip that combines all aspects of our lives – work, play, social, sleep, etc etc with limits on the items allowed per activity.
    Nice your son had a safe port to stay – doesn’t matter how old they are does it – they are still our child (ren)!

  11. You reminded me of my many trips to Paris. I always packed a black jersey dress which I wore everyday with a black
    Cardigan . I washed the dress in the sink every night and hung it over the glass shower door. By morning it was dry. Added
    a cashmere wrap for cool morning and nights. Wore a different color scarf each day which I bought from the corner vendors that livened up my basic uniform. On our last night we take a dinner cruise down the river and say good by to Paris. For this occasion I wear a long sleeve black jersey wrap dress with small heels. I wore a basic fedora hat everyday unless it rained. Then I switched to a black and white raincoat with a black rain hat. Those were such simple exciting times. I hope to Ho back again someday,

  12. I always like to read about people’s minimalist wardrobes, usually travel ones, but one thing I cannot understand about this is HOW COULD SHE TUCK THAT DRESS INTO A PAIR OF HER SON’S LEVIS? I am trying to envision it. She is lovely, as is her outfit, but please explain how she’d do this–seeing how voluminous the dress is.

    1. Love this! It’s very fine cotton – washed and re-dyed a million times. So it’s easy to twist and tuck. Looks sort of Bohemian- peasant, at least that’s what I like to think! Thanks for commenting, I so enjoy writing for Alyson and That’s Not My Age.

  13. Very commendable to take so little luggage. I’m a maximalist packer. When going on Eurostar to Paris I confine myself to a wheelie carry on bag and tote bag for make up reading material. I would like to depart with less luggage in principle but enjoy having changes of outfit and shoes. Weather tends to swing from one extreme to another so at this time of year one needs high summer clothing as well as sleeves a light waterproof jacket and closed shoes as well as sandals. Colour coding outfits plus loads of shawls and scarves and extra jewellery adds versatility. Bon voyage.

  14. “At least black doesn’t show the dirt”. It is fantastic! I look foward to reading Elaine Kingett articles despite my basic english. I find them full of wisdom and several times they show me the way to go. Thanks. However since Alyson blog posted the Joan Didion travel list ( The White Album) I have learned how to travel whit basic luggage. It works.

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