We’ve all been guilty of packing disasters. But is there such a thing as the perfect way to stuff your travel bag? AT’s style guru Melissa Hoyer shares some of her best and worst moments . . .

Well before Queensland’s Wilson Island became a serious and desirable destination du jour, a dozen friends and I took it over for what we’d tagged as a laidback, if not slightly primal, holiday idea. No smarty pants six star huts, internet access, conservative soufflés or anything served that was dripping in pan roast designer jus. None of it.

Instead, a real holiday with clean living, freshly caught fish, nature walks, hearty fireside chats and watching turtles lay an unnatural amount of eggs. Yep, a serious nirvana of natural attractions and one that I can’t wait to return to in a flash.

But unfortunately there was an elephant in the room. Or on the Fair and Fantastic Isle. Or was that on the boat that had ferried us across from the land of the great pooing bird, Heron Island, and onto Wilson atoll? That elephant was called my cumbersome burgundy-coloured Cartier cosmetics case.

No, it’s not the genuine designer article, but a mere facsimile of the real McCoy – bought at a DJs sale for a fraction of what it would’ve cost at the serious French boutique.

What I was thinking of taking a boxy, chunky beauty bag full of a million facemasks, skin scrubs, eye creams, pigmentation avoiders, four types of SPF creams, lip softeners, foundations, powders, lipsticks, eye shadows and perfumes on a remote and simple island holiday, I’m still not quite sure. The few bottles of Bollinger, yes, I could justify that to myself. But a near-entire make-up collection? All I’d be seeing were the same friendly familiar faces, morning and night, and I certainly wouldn’t be waltzing down an island red carpet, making my way from my tent to a makeshift Logies dining area.

That unfortunate beauty case incident got me thinking about the things we all take away with us when we probably know we shouldn’t. But we do. Just in case. And since my “case” did, quite seriously, end up in the water (it burst open at the cheap clasp just as we moored the boat at Wilson), the debacle became the butt of many holiday jokes that continue to this day.

Packing to go away, after the amount of practice I’ve had, is all about relevance. Unless you’re blessed with a suitcase slave or you are a sheikh of some description, you may need to forgo the frivolity of a fashion-packed, every-day-I-am-wearing-something-different case and assemble stuff that you’ll actually wear. As opposed to taking the leopard-print muumuu you’ve never worn at home but for some peculiar reason think you’ll slip on once you order a cleansing Absolut voddie martini at the Treehouse Bar at the Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree.

Likewise, a personal no-goer for me were the spiky, Sergio Rossi high heels I’d just bought from to-die-for Sydney shoe nirvana, Cosmopolitan Shoes, worn when trying to navigate the martini-fuelled walk from my hilltop room to the Lodge’s Jungle Perch bar.

The things I now avoid packing, no matter where I’m going, include anything that needs ironing, just about anything in white (unless it’s that La Perla underwear set in anticipation of some “holiday romance”), and I never take three of anything. And that means black t-shirts, underwear, bras, pants, skirts, jackets or shirts. Let’s face it. If you’re on a real holiday or journey, who the hell is going to notice you’ve worn the same black tee every second day?

The first thing I always pack is a fold-up bag, with the best and most affordable always from Longchamp. They fold down to next to nothing, but open up to give you a huge spare bag, especially if a shopping holiday is on your mind. I always pack clothes that can be rolled beforehand (avoiding unnecessary creasing), and a pashmina/cashmere or wool wrap that can double as a heavenly blanket/headrest (that actually smells like you and not the plastic bag it came in) and can also be worn as a nighttime wrap.

I’m also mad about black leggings (comfy and cute), a small mesh travel bag for stuffing all my “to-be-washed” pieces into, and, in my case, at least six pairs of shoes. Okay, okay, I’m a shoe tart at heart and would rather have six to choose from than one boringly comfy pair that’s supposed to take me on a trek near Uluru, and then onto a smart dinner at Longitude 131º. I’m sorry, but wearing the same shoes just isn’t my idea of heaven.

Some very designer-savvy mates of mine who drove up from Melbourne minded my house for a few days while I took my son to Sydney’s Northern Beaches – and they were well and truly prepared when it came to their packing. They’d gathered the lot in a big, black storage bucket. Genius! No strange nooks and crannies and zips and compartments that have become the norm in most suitcases. The bucket was like one huge drawer, with everything folded and packed as though they were at home.

“I brought three jackets with me,” said the style-minded Simone. Three? Yes, just what you’d need on 25-35 degree Sydney days, we joked after the event. “But you just don’t know where you may end up going,” she justified her indulgence. Sure. But even if you do bring three, will anyone notice if you’re wearing the same jacket – particularly as chances are the people you see each day are going to be all different?

So, the secret to sensational packing? Mmm, I think I could be onto a great business idea here. Email me at mhoyer@australiantraveller.com and perhaps I could lend a packing helping hand . . .

1. Yes, I’m a high heel chick. But of course a good, worn-in boot or walking shoe is essential – but choose one that looks smarter than a Grosby slipper.
2. Resort holidays to venues like Hayman, Bedarra, Byron at Byron, Lizard Island or Mirage at Port Douglas require two swimsuits and two cover-ups (of the kaftan variety) that can also be worn on to dinner if you trick them up with a heel or a big pair of earrings.
3. Camping or backpacking holidays need practicality (where my advice will be pretty lame), so visit a Paddy Pallin or a Kathmandu and I’m sure a well-versed camper will give you the lowdown on that one.
4. I always take a small cosmetics purse as carry-on baggage or on a car trip (with essentials like moisturiser, eye cream, lip balm, hair clip, small mirror, deodorant, and an Yves Saint Laurent’s Touch éclat concealer), so you don’t need to take your whole beauty palaver with you on the plane or car seat.
5. No matter where your seat is (okay, first class and many business class seats on the likes of Qantas, BA, Virgin and Emirates are a different story), I’ve found those inflatable neck pillows to be a total godsend.

1. Do not take the entire collection of estate jewellery or your grandma’s wedding ring – you never know where you may end up leaving it or who could knock it off.
2. It’s not a good idea to pack your bag with a hangover. How many times have you wondered why on earth the five little black dresses got a run in the Samsonite or Vuitton suitcase while you forgot essentials like bras and undies?
3. Repeat after me: you do not need five swimsuits or sarongs on a resort holiday.
4. On a colder climate trip, or if you’re already planning a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, leave the strappy shoes and frocks at home and invest in one killer overcoat that can work day and night. And get the best pair of down-filled leather gloves. If you can do it, go the Prada variety. Quality and class.

Enjoy this article?

You can find it in Issue 25 along with
loads of other great stories and tips.