See the style guru's best tips for traveling light

By Alex Apatoff
December 23, 2014 05:00 PM

If you find yourself staring down one small suitcase that’s supposed to fit everything you’ll need for the next seven days (including 15 pairs of sweatpants, of course) and starting to panic, breathe easy. We’ve got PEOPLE StyleWatch contributing editor Jill Martin on hand to share her wisdom. After all, she does have her own organizational line and has penned several books on the topic, so we can count on her for truly useful (and seriously smart) packing advice. She wrote a blog for us on the topic, so pour some wine, crack open that carry-on and let’s get packing.

Courtesy Jill Martin

Skip the extra fees to check your luggage and waiting time to get your luggage and get to the beach ASAP!

Vacations are supposed to be fun, right? Then why are we always stressed out when packing time comes? Why do we feel like we have to go buy a whole new wardrobe because our closet is too overwhelming? The fact is, the perfect outfits for the perfect vacation are sitting right in your closet. If you are going away (like me) for the holiday to a warm weather location, there is a way to tackle the trip hassle-free. For me that starts with a carry-on.

Having fewer choices on vacation is key for me. In everyday life, there are so many options, so it’s almost refreshing to narrow down my options and make getting ready a snap when I arrive.

But how do you get all the looks you are going to wear into one small bag? It takes a little creativity, a little planning and maybe even a few fashion shows for your significant other or bestie. (I am going away with my boyfriend for a week to Puerto Rico, and as I pack, I try things on for him to get another opinion. What can be better than that, since he’s the one who has to look at me all day and all night! (Feel free to add Champagne in this process. Channel the fashion show Carrie put on for Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha in her bedroom. )

Courtesy Jill Martin

There are three steps to the perfect carry-on bag:

1) Pack items (in the same color scheme!) that are wrinkle free:
I usually go with all white, but all black is great too. Any neutral color works. You need a plain canvas that is flattering but also allows you to just add finishing touches. I pack white jeans, different T-shirts, a jean jacket, white or ivory dresses and a shawl. You can repeat dresses, by the way — if Princess Kate does it, you can too! It is okay to bring one party dress (not in your color scheme) for that special night out. Obviously, your bathing suits, socks and lingerie items can help fill that corner space as well.

2) Shoes: I know, I know. So many fabulous pairs and you can only pick three? Yep, you heard me. I encourage one pair of flip-flops, one pair of sneakers and one pair of heels. Pick a neutral color, preferably strappy, that will go with everything.

3) Toiletries and accessories: When packing in the past, I could never figure out the perfect way to travel with all of my necessities. Those “extras” are the key to making every outfit look unique, so this is a very important part of the process — I recommend taking three or four bold necklaces or earrings that you can throw on to spruce up an outfit. I created these bags for QVC that will hold everything and pack perfectly in your suitcase. The four pouches are compartmentalized for each different item you are traveling with (makeup, shampoo/conditioner, beach stuff, jewelry.) These are great because each pouch fits into the corner of your bag (which is often wasted space!) and the holder packs flat. Then, when you get to your location it hangs right up! You can also use Ziploc bags to achieve the same idea if you don’t want to invest in something new. Just make sure you utilize that corner space. (Obviously, your bathing suits, socks and lingerie items can help fill that empty space as well!)

Hope this helps. I have found packing light is one of the keys to a successful vacation. Happy Holidays and enjoy!

Do you follow her tips already? What’s your best packing advice?

–Alex Apatoff