Packing Essentials for a Summer Girls’ Trip To NYC: The 5-4-3-2-1 Rule

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TME reader, Karen reached out to us on Facebook with the following dilemma: 

“In the spirit of ‘inspired by’ posts I’ve seen over the last few weeks, I thought I would submit and ask if you would consider whipping up some suggestions. A few friends and I are meeting in NYC for 4 nights (5 days) of kid-free girl bonding. We’ll be playing culinary tourists (so food baby allowance is a must) but obviously comfort and function trump everything. What basics and stand out pieces should I pack (or buy?) before heading out? Our days are likely to be spent touring (read: walking walking and more walking) while our nights will be cocktail lounges and semi-fancy dinners. My typical jeans and tees aren’t going to cut it! HELP?!”

First off, I’ll just come out and say it: I am completely jealous. How amazing does this trip sound?! A girls only getaway to NYC is the perfect way to recharge your batteries and create memories to cherish for a lifetime. And by “create memories” I don’t mean stand on a convenience store countertop at 4am and serenade the cashier with a drunken rendition of “You are My Sunshine” (because that wasn’t AT ALL what happened on my last girls’ trip to NYC) Ha..moving on…

When I read Karen’s Q, I jumped at the chance to help and maaaybe even live vicariously through her for a minute. Here’s what I discovered: 

The 5-4-3-2-1 Packing Rule

What I originally intended to be an “essentials” vacation packing list quickly became an “everything but the kitchen sink” packing list. Oops. When I turned to the internet for some much needed help I came across something that completely blew. my. mind:

The 5-4-3-2-1 packing rule.

The originator of this idea needs some sort of award. Seriously. I am in awe of all organized, analytical, left brain thinkers because my mind just does not work that way.  To say I am unorganized is an understatement and by default, packing is no exception. My method goes a little something like this: find the biggest suitcase, stuff it with everything in sight, pray it closes. Needless to say, I NEVER have what I actually need on a trip – just every pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. 

5-4-3-2-1 is SO simple and here’s how to do it: 5 tops (one lightweight jacket or raincoat, one hoodie or sweater, at least one t-shirt, at least one tank),  4 bottoms (one pair of jeans or pants, at least one pair of shorts, at least one skirt)  3 shoes (one comfortable walking sandal, one pair of  low-sling heels for evening, one pair of sneakers or flats), 2 bags ( a daytime carry all bag and small evening bag like a cross body), then 1 dress, 1 shawl, 1 hat, 1 pair of sunglasses and 1 carry-on sized sunblock. Just for fun I added in something to read + an instant camera (it’s the over-packer in me).

If you’re only going for a few days or a long weekend just narrow the list down to 4 tops, 3 bottoms, etc.

Here’s my NYC getaway wardrobe based on 5-4-3-2-1…

nyc packing list final

Clothing Items


jacket  –  Mavi Jeans ‘Samantha’ Denim Jacket at Nordstroms for $118.00.

sweater – The Kooples Striped Knit Sweater currently 40% off at $177.00 at Bloomingdales.

tee  – LNA V-Neck Strap Detail Cotton Tee, $74.00 at Nordstrom.

lace cami – Satin Lace Camisole from H&M, $24.99.

eyelet tank – Velvet by Graham and Spencer’s Eyelet Cami, $148.00 on Amazon.


jeans – Paige Denim’s Ankle Peg Skinny Jeans in optic white currently 30% off at Nordstrom for $132.30. A cheaper and very highly rated version are Articles of Society’s ‘Sarah’ Skinny Jean also at Nordstrom for $54.00.

utility shorts – KENDALL + KYLIE High Rise Pleat Shorts, $118.00 at Nordstrom. A super cute similiar striped option is Mimi Chica’s Stripe Tie Waist Shorts also at $38.00 at Nordstrom.

denim shorts – River Island Mid Blue Wash Boyfriend Shorts, $64.00 at River Island.

skirt – River Island’s Floral Print Flippy Skirt, $50.00 at River Island.


flat sandals – Calvin Klein’s ‘Caterina’ Demi Wedge Gladiator Sandal, Nordstrom $118.95.

sneakers – Dr. Scholl’s Original Collection ‘View’ Flats, Nordstrom $117.95.

heeled sandals – these Frye ‘Brielle’ Dress Sandals may be pricey ($176.00 – $248.00 on Amazon) but are a wise investment if you’re looking for a super comfortable and durable heel dress sandal.


backpack – Suede and Leather Roll Top Backpack from ASOS, $89.00.

crossover – ONE by Most Wanted Saddle Bag, $77.00 at Shopbop.


scarf – Madewell’s Sheer Weave Scarf, $44.50.

dress – Mara Hoffman’s Striped Midi available on Amazon for $198.00.

hat – Brixton’s ‘Pacific Straw Fedora, $56.00 at Nordstrom or BP’s Straw Fedora, $18.00 also at Nordstrom.

sunglasses – Karen Walker’s ‘Super Duper Thistle’ Retro Sunglasses currently 40% off for $179.98 at  Nordstrom or for a cheaper but still stylish option there is Urban Outfitter’s Festival Round Sunglasses in 5 different colors for only $14.00.

sunscreen – Clinique’s ‘Super City Block’ Oil Free Daily Protector SPF 40, $21.60 at Nordstrom.

Added Fun Stuff

reading material – The Best Things to Do in New York, Second Edition (paperback version) $14.95 on Amazon.

instant camera – Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Camera $70 at Urban Outfitters.

How to Make Your Vacation-Friendly Outfit Stand Out

If you’re looking to spice-up your standard jeans and tee look for vacation, flowy dresses and skirts are a great way to add variation to your wardrobe. I’m a BIG believer in rocking a dress or a skirt during summer months; especially when I know I’m going to be active and outdoors. As I’ve learned over the years, my body type (hippy and thick-thighed) doesn’t take kindly to most shorts and without fail, they ALWAYS ride up/cause me some chafing or both. If you can relate, make your life 10 times easier and go for that flowy dress or skirt. Add a patterned shawl or scarf (perfect for cooler evenings, too) to make your outfit stand out even more. Here are some of my favorite pieces + other must have travel essentials:


Hope this helped, Karen! Enjoy that girls’ trip.

– Jess


About Author

Meet our resident artist/fashionista, Jess. Her creative side pours into her everyday style and it's oh, so good. Not only can she dish out packing capsule wardrobes, Jess can draw the dream wardrobe to match. We love to get inspired by her artwork and we think you will, too.

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  1. Love this post! The 54321 rule is really so simple yet eye opening! I have been working on a packing list for myself and two little boys for a month and a half trip to Korea over the summer: lots of walking, sight seeing, man-handling the kids, and even my grandmother’s hundredth bday (crazy!) with tons of family I have to look decent in front of… all in constant heat and humidity. Thinking of this packing rule times three. Do you have suggestions?! I’m open to any and all- Thanks for this post of wisdom!

  2. A humble suggestion – Recommend swapping out the “flat walking sandals” with cute city sneakers or even ballet flats. NYC wreaks havoc on bare feet. Seriously, your feet will be black if you’re walking around in flat sandals all day. 🙁 Love everything else on this post. 🙂

    • Agreed–great post–but as a New Yorker sandal feet are gross. Many people are wearing the adidas superstars here with everything and you would totally fit in AND be comfortable. Also, I would nix the flowy shorter skirts–unless your aim is to have a Marilyn moment over the many, many subway grates over and over again. Unless that’s your thing… No judgement.

      • Thanks you guys, advice from true New Yorkers is invaluable! It’s been more than a minute since I’ve been there so I must have romanticized it a little too much. Very much appreciated!

  3. This is a great rule for packing even if its for a short weekend. I know for me a flying/ travel bag is a must. I love my eba tote for travel because i can literally shove everything in it for the travel portion and then still use it during the trip. And the lining is waterproof so any spills is no big deal.

  4. Do not underestimate the importance of good comfortable sneakers. Very much non sneaker girl here before I moved to NYC then that was the only thing I wore. Went back for a few day solo trip last fall and walked soooooo much and only in sneakers.

  5. This post is awesome and has me dreaming of a girls weekend sans kids! In the meantime, we are getting ready to leave for Laguna Beach for a month WITH kids. I am bound and determined to NOT OVERPACK this year. I’m hoping to fit everything I need in one normal size suitcase. Do you have a post I can read to help me figure out what to bring? Help!!

  6. Do not wear new shoes. You are going to walk everywhere and those cute sandals are going to look a lot less cute with Band Aids sticking out. My friends *always* wear new shoes when they visit and they always regret it. Also, Capri pants are the new scrunchi. You are immediately spotted as a tourist. 😉

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