(This post was originally begun in mid-2016… I’ve been meaning to post it all this time! Yikes!)
In early May of 2016, I was lucky enough to do something I have dreamed about for a long time: visit Japan! 💖 There were many things I wanted to do and see, but something that always remained in the forefront of my mind was my strong interest in lolita fashion. Shopping in Tokyo seemed like an obvious and essential part of the trip. Considering my travel companions and our shared interests, perusing clothing and accessories was assured.
Another important question became “what should I wear?” There are some for whom the answer “lolita fashion of course!” is an immediate response. Not so for me.
When I travel, I typically pack the minimum possible, always trying to fit my things into a smaller and smaller bag. I don’t enjoy dragging a heavy suitcase behind me or worrying where it’s going to fit. I rarely check luggage when flying, preferring to carry on what I must have. I feel secure enough without planning for every possible need, and I don’t mind improvising if plans change. I typically bring clothing that folds up to a small packet and doesn’t require ironing. (I’m also not a fan of space bags or packing cubes, although I know there are travelers who swear by them.) For these reasons, I rarely wear lolita when traveling.
Japan, however… to not wear the fashion I love so much in the place it originated… that seemed like a poor choice. So I set about to reconcile two somewhat-opposing desires: wear lolita fashion and bring minimal luggage.
Planning, Planning, and More Planning
I considered my goals for the trip. I knew that I’d be bringing things home with me, as I aimed to purchase clothing and other items, so it was important that I have enough room in my suitcases. Also essential: avoid airline overage charges related to baggage size, weight, and quantity. To do so, I needed to determine what must be packed versus what could be purchased at our destination.
The suitcases were my first step, mostly because my selection depended on what I already owned: a carry-on, a backpack, and a collapsible duffel bag. The collapsible duffel bag was purchased years ago to take to a doll-related event, and it has come in handy several times since. It fits nicely in the bottom of my suitcase, folded up into a pouch about as big as a folded pair of jeans, but when expanded it is large and durable, without running afoul of airline luggage policies. The duffel allowed plenty of space to bring souvenirs/etc. home.
That meant that the rest of my things needed to fit in the suitcase and backpack. Our trip involved 10 full days at our destination, not including the in-air travel time for our flights. Even though I hoped to buy frilly clothes in Tokyo that I could wear immediately, I planned for 10 days of outfits based solely on what I brought with me. I was very lucky to have access to laundry facilities during the trip; that made it much easier. (I’m not a big fan of washing things in a hotel sink; etc. My garments never seem to dry in time or launder well that way.) In fact, the neighborhood laundromat became a staple of Japan that we took full advantage of on this trip and the next!
As I wasn’t sure of the weather, I selected a jumperskirt, a short-sleeved one-piece, a skirt, a long-sleeved blouse, a blouse with detachable sleeves, and a bolero to coordinate during the trip. I packed a pair of pink lolita flats and a pair of low-heeled ankle boots, as I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking. Although some people recommend wearing one’s petticoat on the plane to save space in luggage, I packed mine in the zippered mesh pocket located on the lid of the suitcase. It compacted just fine! On the plane I wore a comfortable non-lolita dress that I thought would be easy to sleep in.
In Practice and Thoughts for Next Time
(I didn’t know it at the time I started writing this article, but I went back the next year and was able to test some of my “planned improvements”, and they worked! I’ve done the same since then.)
The carry-on suitcase and backpack have been my traveling companions for years, and they worked just as well on this trip. I think what really mattered in this case was that I was familiar with them; I know their dimensions, pockets, and the right angle to roll the suitcase! (That’s what always trips me up when I help pull someone else’s wheeled suitcase!) We absolutely used the duffel, which we didn’t have any issues checking. An exciting bonus was that it was long enough to fit umbrellas! There was plenty of rain and some of the umbrellas/parasols we bought were too cute to abandon unless we had to. They survived the return flight just fine because they’d been cushioned with clothing.
I slightly underestimated just how much clothing I’d be buying… and when reviewing, decided I would have been better off if I’d packed fewer items initially. (I never even wore the long-sleeved blouse or the skirt… I should have been more honest with myself about the coordinates I prefer to wear when given an option.) This varies for everyone, but I found plenty of new-to-me things to purchase, especially at secondhand shops. On our next trip, I packed fewer lolita clothing items (a blouse, jumperskirt, cardigan, and one-piece) and made stopping at Closet Child a priority upon arrival. I also didn’t pack accessories (hair accessories or jewelry) on the subsequent trip; I bought things when I found them and didn’t worry too much if I’d have worn something differently had I been at home. We were so busy with activities—museums, excursions to cultural sites, and meeting friends—that I found I was too occupied to fret over a bracelet or bow. I certainly restocked during the days we were there!
On a separate trip that also involved lolita fashion, we traveled somewhere with fewer laundry options and no clothes shopping, I packed an additional jumperskirt, two cardigans, and two short-sleeved cutsews. I did not bring a skirt, bolero, or a long-sleeved blouse. Having two jumperskirts, a one-piece, a blouse with detachable sleeves, two short-sleeved cutsews, two cardigans gave me plenty of options for a trip slightly under a week. I was able to do some spot-cleaning, airing, and ironing to keep my clothes from looking or feeling “dirty”, but this might not be possible for everyone depending on the climate. If it’s too hot, too cold, or too dusty/gritty, it may not be possible to wear a limited wardrobe comfortably. That’s one of the reasons I don’t wear lolita every time I travel; I value a smaller suitcase over a full selection of clothes.
I realized that I needed to pack my camera in a slightly more easy-to-access part of my backpack, even though it’s very snug at the bottom. Some airports require that larger cameras are removed entirely from the case during security.
We got a lot of use out of laundromats and looked forward to them for the next trip. Even if we stayed somewhere with a washing machine, if the laundromat had a drier it was often beneficial to take the wet clothes over for a tumble if they could stand it. Sometimes there was too much humidity for air-drying to be prompt. When the temperature soared and threatened to roast us, having freshly-washed clothes felt like a luxury!
I didn’t follow a particular packing procedure (such as cubes, rolling, unique folding styles, etc.) for the suitcase… I tend to visualize the upright suitcase and aim for weight-distribution when it’s being rolled. I like to have shoes and heavier items near the “spine” of the handle and down by the wheels. I tuck grooming items (hairbrushes, etc.) along the sides and fill in spaces between shoes with small clothing items, with the goal of creating a flat layer that I can stack folded garments on top of. I use my suitcase’s built-in straps to help corral garments and winch a taller pile down to a shorter height, and I have more success with this if the item on top is roughly the size of the suitcase opening; I think of it like a tarp on a flat-bed truck! It worked just as well with lolita clothing as it does with anything else, and I was happy to find I didn’t unpack the most wrinkly stack of clothing in the universe.
With the ubiquity of 100-yen shops and convenience stores, as well as the novelty of 💕being in Japan with all the fun sparkly things💕, on our next trip I packed very few toiletries and consumable items. We purchased what we needed, and either left things behind or brought them home as “souvenirs”. When we purchased laundry detergent, we left what remained in the apartment for the next occupant or the property owner. When we needed first aid items, we brought the extra bandages and dressings home in the duffel bag. Buying cosmetics felt particularly thrilling despite the risk that they might not play nice with my skin; some of the packaging is so pretty that I couldn’t resist! ✨ Doing this wouldn’t necessarily be enjoyable or useful to everyone, but it made things easier for us.
A Note or Two in Closing
My traveling method won’t work for everyone. I’m related to a few people who can’t imagine not checking a large suitcase both ways and some others who can’t relax if they don’t have layers that accommodate all possible weather at their destination. I received peace of mind because I didn’t have to worry about how to physically carry my luggage (even the duffel is not so huge that my husband and I can’t maneuver it on trains or buses) and whether I’d be charged extra fees. We stayed in populated areas of Japan that made it possible to buy toiletries without spending a fortune and use laundromats.
I was, however, happy to find that it was possible to pack and wear lolita (including bringing clothing home) without requiring huge bags and strategy-related devices like packing cubes. It made me feel more confident about packing the clothes I enjoy wearing, and I’ve taken a few initiatives to wear them on other trips! ✈️
I’ve shared my thoughts here in the hopes that someone else may find it useful! Bon voyage! 🗼