08/07/2012 08:36 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Packing For Travel: How Losing My Luggage Made Me Re-Think How I Pack

I have never been a good traveler. Flying scares me. Hotel rooms (and lobbies) never seem quite right for my three loud, energetic and hyper boys. Of course, I love to experience new places and cultures and most of all, I love to shop in new locales. I could write a separate article about the amazing style and fashion I have experienced thanks to my travels.

So when a recent opportunity called for my husband to work from a satellite office in New York City, I had an excuse to visit Manhattan. But, just as soon as we booked and confirmed our hotel, the panic and stress set in. I began to worry immediately about the flight (we need five seats together), the hotel (must have a mini kitchen), and of course, the dreaded packing.

Packing for the children isn't too bad, but when it comes to my own packing, I have been forced to learn the hard way. I now know that less really is more, and I learned that lesson on this very trip.

I began to pack my clothing for this New York trip when my kids were sound asleep. I always like peace and quiet when I have to plan my wardrobe. My first packing mistake used to be that I was neither realistic nor practical. In my mind, I imagine that I will wear my new leather Elie Tahari jacket to a nice romantic dinner. I seem to forget that my husband and I are so tired when our children fall asleep that we barely make it through room service in our pajamas.

Likewise, I often decide that a trip is the perfect opportunity to wear my never-worn items, like my new Marc Jacobs sundress. Not a smart idea, especially when I forget to pack the only bra that works with said dress. To make a short story long, I have to admit that prior to this Manhattan trip, I often packed as though I was traveling solo to a spa retreat, Paris fashion week or a romantic getaway.

Overpacked and under-slept, my husband, three children and I began the road to the airport that would ultimately (hopefully) land us safely in New York City. I am a fearful flier -- I will give my children anything to keep them occupied during the flight. As the kids ingested every morsel of candy imaginable, I tried to remain calm and stared at my watch. As soon as we landed, the chaos began. The kids were hungry (again), thirsty and had to use the restroom. So, I let my husband take care of the baggage claim duties. This, I believe, is the moment that changed everything.

My husband and I have different versions of this story. All I know is that when we arrived at the hotel and began unpacking our clothes, my bag was nowhere to be found. After calling the taxi company, front desk and bell man, I was ready to just go home (or never speak to my husband again).

We spoke to airline representatives who assured us that they would have a tracking number for my missing bag within 24-72 hours. I gasped: 24 to 72 hours seemed like an eternity. After coming to terms with the reality that my bag and beloved belongings were nowhere in our vicinity, my husband took care of the kids and I took a taxi to Bloomingdales. Normally, this would be the perfect set-up for shopping: No kids, a huge department store and an apologetic husband. But, under these circumstances, I was not in the mood to do my usual damage. Two hours later, I left the store with a black skirt, a black tank top, a pair of jeans and two comfortable t-shirts. I also found a plain grey sweater, in case the evenings got cool. My New York City wardrobe would now be a far cry from romantic or glamorous. However, looking back, I will say that I wore every piece I bought, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the old adage really is true: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Though I was furious at the time, I learned a great deal from the experience. Apart from knowing not to trust my husband with the baggage, I also learned that packing for a trip should be based on need, reality and practicality. I was on a family trip and realized quickly that I didn't actually need more than a few staple pieces that could be worn interchangeably. The illusion of candlelit dinners on a family vacation are just that -- an illusion. As I look back at my photos from this trip, I am shocked to say that I think I looked pretty good. I am surprised, but happy to know that just a few items of clothing can often make up a whole wardrobe. Did I miss my Ferragamo flats? Yes, of course. Would I really have worn them? Probably not.

Learn from my lesson: Next time you start to pack, and begin to fantasize about your perfect outfit(s) during your elegant dinner, take a step back and really look at the people you are traveling with, the weather forecast and the itinerary. Take inventory of the clothes you have selected, and I bet -- if you are honest with yourself -- you can remove at least a quarter of what you've picked. Save your new dress for a true romantic getaway. And, just think, the more clothes you take out of your bag, the more empty space you will have for all those new purchases you make.