Living in a city crawling with tourists makes you fear being that tourist. It impacts my actions and packing, whether I’m working my way through every barbecue joint in Birmingham or drinking around the world at Epcot. So when I traded New York City for Paris in January for a weeklong vacation, I tried to pack mindfully. French girls are notoriously chic and carefree, which is something that American girls desperately try to emulate. (At least if the multitude of click-y articles named things like “10 Things French Girls Would Never Wear” and “5 Skin Secrets Every French Girl Knows” are any indication.) So I read all the articles, filled my biggest suitcase with my chicest gear, and regretted bringing so much stuff as I dragged it through the Charles de Gaulle Airport, onto the RER train to Les Halles, and through the streets of Sentier to my friend’s apartment door. (Did I mention that my friend has an in-unit washer and dryer, too?) In short, I could’ve packed a carryon and dropped a lot less F-bombs during my first hour in France. Here, the rules I wish I’d stuck to when packing, along with some glamorous travel photos.
1. Stick to a color story
An all-black ensemble is an easy way to stick out while visiting Napoleon III’s apartments at The Louvre.
Call it the curse of the New Yorker, but I went with a nearly all-black color palette. This was one of my only savvy packing choices. Black is easy and universally flattering. Plus, it plays well with others, like a fuchsia blazer or red flannel button-up.
2. Bring one coat and wear it on the plane
Coats are suitcase hogs and stashing one in the overhead during a flight is totally kosher. Choose wisely with a coat that’s dark and photographs well. (Accidents happen. Sometimes your friend bumps into you in front of The Tower of London and spills hot chocolate all over your ivory coat. Sometimes your friend is this story’s author.)
3. Pack a leather jacket or blazer, too
Take a master class in layering by donning a lighter piece of outerwear under your trusty coat. But pack just one! (I made the mistake of packing a leather jacket and a chunky blazer.) Pockets are essential for stashing your phone, wallet, and passport.
Keeping the important goods under your zipped coat makes it tougher for the sketchy pickpockets outside of Sacre Couer in Montmarte!
4. Carry a cross-body bag
A medium-size bag will fit travel guidebooks, brochures, and makeup for touchups, even by the gusty ice-skating rink on The Eiffel Tower.
Forget a clutch or your large tote. Give your shoulders a break while you’re exploring the city with a cross-body bag that meshes with the rest of your ensembles. Like Paris, black is always a good idea. The same goes for a zip-top bag with some inner pockets. It doesn’t hurt to fold up a small fabric tote in said cross-body if you think you’ll be doing a lot of shopping.
5. Wear a sweater on the plane
A lengthy flight calls for some comfort and a sweater is the closest thing to a sweat suit that’s acceptable to wear in transit. It’ll be a welcome guard against Seine river gusts without bulking up your look.
6. Pack only two pairs of pants
Black jeans are ideal for climbing to the top of Notre Dame and posing beside of it.
Black jeans look like black jeans. Even the nit pickiest sartorialist will have a tough time telling apart one pair from another in your Instagram pics. Wear one pair on the plane and keep the other handy in case you spill a éclair or something else delicious all over them.
7. Layer with a few T-shirts
If you really want to aim for French girl style without looking like a complete caricature, you’re allowed a pussy bow blouse. Otherwise, stick with a few plain T-shirts. You’ll def look like an American tourist if you deign to wear shirts with printed logos.
8. Don’t go crazy with dresses
A trek to the suburbs to Versailles is worth pulling on a dress and tights.
Dresses are the easiest way to look put together for little effort. Add tights and you’re done! However, they take up a lot of space in luggage. Stick to a few choices and save them for especially glamorous activities, like prancing around Marie Antoinette’s estate.
9. Pare down your jewelry
Those collar necklaces will weigh down your bag and take up valuable real estate in your suitcase, even in the nicely organized jewelry pouch. Besides, French girls are not into over-accessorizing.
10. Live in your ankle boots
Ankle boots are perfect for stomping around the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and generally, everywhere else.
Pack your comfiest pair of ankle boots. They’ll get you across cobblestones, uneven pedestrian bridges, and across centuries-old museum tile floors. Plus, they’ll work with lacey dresses for Seine dinner cruises, sweaters, and jeans. (Don’t bother with the rain boots, even if they’re the ankle boot versions that are matte and don’t look like rain boots. I packed mine and could’ve easily done without.)
11. Don’t skimp on the socks
Here’s one thing you can’t avoid. Socks will take the brunt of your wear and tear from stomping through Versailles, around the Louvre, and more. Aim for packing a pair of socks for each day and stash them inside (I had to throw away four pairs of socks after my trip.)