Don't forget your pashmina

Observations on summer

Pick up any one of the dozens of women's magazines on sale this month and you will be assaulted without fail by the same article in each. It is essential that every July issue carry an article about What to Pack for Your Summer Holidays. Every year every magazine repeats this feature, and every year the advice is exactly the same. The process is not a boring necessity. Oh no. It is an "art". And those who perfect the art will be so much happier on their travels.

Three staple edicts emerge across the board. Take a pashmina: it will double as a blanket. (Note: it might help to be two foot five.) Remember to moisturise copiously during your flight. (Does anyone really do this? More importantly, would you want to be sitting next to them?) Wrap your leakable toiletry items in a plastic bag. (Genius! Who'd have thought it?)

Of all the top tips in the world, those on how to load your luggage must be among the most irritating. Surely it is simple: select clothing; cram case; rebuke self later for forgotten/surplus items. Evidently women absolutely must spare themselves the embarrassment of the third bit.

The word "capsule" is the mantra of the paranoid packer: the more items that match, the more outfits you will have despite having packed very little. Multi-purpose garments get triple capsule points (sarong which works as skirt and jaunty headscarf, belts that can be worn as earrings, and so on). Ideally you should be able to get 25 outfits out of three pieces of clothing. God forbid you take 25 things and wear only three.

The latest additions to the world of perfect packing are specially purchased accessories - not hats that double as handbags or sandals which also dispense sun cream, but your essential travelling paraphernalia. Having to remember to take all these extra items seems to defeat the object of trying to do the minimal capsule thing, but never mind. Designer torches, special mail-order miniature first aid kits, embroidered laundry bags, embossed luggage tags, vanity cases, portable iPod speakers, neck pillows, travel hairdryers, special portable candles, traveller's companion notebooks, mobile backgammon. If you purchased all the accessories recommended in one article I read, the cost would be £1,628.84.

And that is before you have packed any clothes. Not that you should be taking that many, remember. Indeed, it is a wonder that Louis Vuitton lugga-holics like Coleen McLoughlin and Victoria Beckham are held up as aspirational fashionable travellers, with their airport carts weighed down with trunks. Surely they would be getting it right if they didn't take anything at all?

Another worrying trend: the truly space-conscious can now get their clothes vacuum-packed. Even Vogue recommends a cigarette-packet-sized item that turns out to be a T-shirt shrink-wrapped to oblivion. What next? Someone to do it all for you? The personal packer. Or, better still, someone to go on holiday on your behalf to spare you the hassle - not to mention the potential for suffering the mortifying shame of overpacking.

This article first appeared in the 13 June 2005 issue of the New Statesman, G8 protest: how far should you go?