By Gretchen Healey

I recently caught up with Marta Rabins, the Managing Director of Ponte Travels. Ponte is a tour operator specializing in responsible, purposeful travel that works to build personal connections and improve the quality of life in the countries they visit. Rabins’ policy: Smart travelers pack light, ensure that everything they pack ‘goes’ with everything else, and find a way to leave room for little treasures.

GH: Tell me about your background - you've worked in both fashion and travel which makes you uniquely qualified to give packing advice. How does your experience in these fields influence your packing?

MR: Before co-founding Ponte Travels, I was a website editor and marketing copywriter for Nordstrom. I used to write style guides so I learned how to choose pieces that not only looked good but fit my lifestyle and personality. When you add travel to the mix, everything must also work well together, be comfortable, washable and need no ironing! 

GH: Where did you travel most recently and for how long?

MR: I just returned from five weeks in India, and before that I traveled for five weeks in southern Africa including Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

GH: How did you pack for those trips? Did you learn anything from one to the next?

MR: For the Africa trip I took a soft-sided backpack with a zip-off day pack which was essential for getting around by small plane. Most safari camps include laundry, so having a selection of cotton pants and knit tops, with a lightweight jacket, and my Tilley hat were perfect for hot days and cool mornings. I've learned that the fewer clothes you take, the fewer choices you have to make when you're in a hurry to get dressed in the morning!

For my travels to India I took a soft-sided bag on wheels, as well as my over-the-shoulder carry on with my laptop and a change of clothes. India is a shopper's paradise so I pack extra light, knowing that I can get great clothes there. I've also learned to love color and interesting prints and I try to avoid dressing in monotones.

I always have layers, a jacket, a long-sleeved drip-dry travel shirt, a lightweight sweater and a knit dress that looks good on its own or over pants/leggings — especially in conservative countries where it's best to cover shoulders and knees. Another must is good walking shoes which could be colored trainers (never white) or a comfort brand, and jeweled sandals that I can wear for day or evening that look a bit dressier. I'm also a big fan of traveling with a pair of Toms which are perfect for hot climates.

GH: Do you use a list for packing?

MR: Not for clothes, but definitely for all the other things I'm likely to forget—like outlet adapters, camera batteries, a Steri Pen (for making tap water safe to drink), sunscreen, insect repellant, vitamins, etc.

GH: What are your top 'can't live without' items that go with you everywhere?

MR: For clothes it would have to be black yoga pants for long haul flights, which I can dress up or down with a washable silk tunic or tee-shirt, and a brightly colored scarf. Other essentials are a money belt and a medical kit (with everything from cold tablets to anti-malarials).

GH: How do you pack for a trip that visits multiple climates?

MR: I just make sure I've got layers, plus long underwear. High-tech, lightweight fabrics that keep you cool in the heat and warm in the cold are great to add into the mix. I avoid bulky layers and wool, which I don't find comfortable.

GH: Do you have any luggage pieces you swear by?

MR: A zip-topped canvas 'tea' bag that carried home the extra 20 pounds of textiles, books and gifts that I bought in India – purchased in the bazaar in Jaipur for 100 rupees ($1.60).

GH: Carry on or checked luggage?

MR: For domestic non-stop flights I usually carry on a small roller bag. Otherwise I check my wheeled bag and just carry on a gym-sized shoulder bag with my laptop and other essentials.

GH: Any tips or tricks?

MR: I always use those special plastic bags that compress clothes to save on space and I carry a travel clothesline and some packets of Woolite. I don't bring or wear flashy jewelry, just something simple, and then buy special pieces on my trip. Jewelry is my favorite thing to shop for as it always represents a time and place and it's easy to carry.

GH: What about a journey that visits multiple venues - such as a cosmopolitan city as well as an adventure locale?

MR: I think about clothes that can serve a dual purpose, like khaki pants you can wear on a hike or with a nice top and scarf in the city. And for men, adding a tailored, no-iron, button-down shirt to a pair of jeans will suffice almost anywhere.

GH: Where is your next adventure?

MR: My next trip will be a getaway to Spain with my husband, followed by an adventure travel conference in Ireland. Essentials for that trip will be soft-stretch denim jeans (that feel more like leggings), a raincoat and sturdy, waterproof trainers for day hikes in Ireland—and a knit dress and comfortable flats I can wear out to dinner.

Rabins recommends, “the fewer clothes you take, the fewer choices you have to make when you're in a hurry to get dressed!”

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