How to Pack a Suitcase Efficiently

How to Pack a Suitcase Efficiently

Packing a suitcase is an art. Flight attendants, globetrotters, and frequent business travelers can attest. Have you ever suffered the embarrassment of being invited to a fancy restaurant when you've packed only hiking boots and sandals? Or the discomfort of shivering in a tank top, envious of those around you who thought to pack fleeces (even though it rarely snows in Florida in March)?

With ever-increasing baggage fees, and constantly shrinking carry-on space, knowing how to pack your bags efficiently can also save you money when you fly. Whether traveling by train, bus, or car, packing the right items can take the stress (and high cost!) out of travel. Minimizing the number of bags you carry helps make the journey as sweet as the destination.

Most important, you'll be secure in the knowledge that you have what you need when you unpack. It's easy when you plan ahead by following these tips.

Before You Travel

• Prepare like an athlete. See your doctor before you travel to discuss any health complaints or to get refills on medications or prescriptions for anything new you might need. For the week leading up to your departure, maintain your health and fitness: eat well, sleep well, and de-stress. Travel requires stamina. There's luggage to haul, time zones to negotiate, and you'll want to be at your calmest in case of irritations like flight delays or lost bags.

• Be a good citizen. For foreign travel, don't assume you know what paperwork or vaccinations (and proof thereof) you'll need. Check individual countries' websites or contact the U.S. State Department. Then make an appointment with your primary care doctor to make sure you're up to date on any required vaccines.

• Avoid a postage pile-up. Have a friend pick up your mail or fill out a card (or online form) to have it stopped temporarily while you're away.

• Pay your bills. This sounds obvious, but you never know when travel delays could put you behind, racking up costly late fees or harming your credit. If you don't want to pay in advance, call providers and lenders, and arrange for delayed due dates.

• Alert the bank. If you're traveling abroad, tell the banks that issue your credit and debit cards. To protect you from fraud, they might shut down your account after recognizing a sudden spate of atypical activity like purchasing several sets of skis in Switzerland, or frequenting a beer garden in Germany. Also, check with your bank to make sure that your credit card will be accepted where you are going. And remember that currency conversion fees may apply to foreign purchases; you may want or need to use particular credit cards to avoid such unnecessary fees. Be aware that you'll likely get the best conversion rates simply by taking cash from a local bank machine with your normal debit card.

• Let the loved ones know. Give your itinerary and contact information to loved ones. They may need to reach you in case of an emergency (or to let you know you won the lottery!).

Planning and Prep

• Make a list. And then, check it twice. You can probably wait to decide if you'll take the yellow shirt or the blue, but some items are nonnegotiable. Avoid that sickening feeling of remembering something crucial just as the plane is taxiing down the runway. Eyeglasses, contact lenses, passports and visas, medicines, hostess gifts, and work-related documents top the list of forgotten items.

• Don't wait until the last minute! If you're furiously throwing things into bags at midnight before your 5:00 a.m. flight, you may wind up in Paris with a camp lantern. Instead, start packing a week in advance. Leave your suitcase open in a corner of the room, and stash items you have multiples of, like socks, underwear, and dental floss. (Keep your packing list and a pen nearby.)

• Check the weather. Even if we can't fully predict conditions, in this age of advanced technology, you'll be able to gauge likely temperatures. Why drag a winter coat if Amsterdam will be enjoying a warm spring?

• Survival of the fittest. Plan so you'll always have food and water at hand. It's true that you can't carry more than 3 fluid ounces of liquid through airport security, but you can carry an empty water bottle to refill on the other side. Bring a granola bar, nuts, or other small snack that will keep to help maintain your blood sugar levels.

• Wear it; don't carry it. Yes, you'll have to take off heavy shoes and jackets going through airport security, but it's a huge space-saver payoff. Once aboard a plane or train, you can stash your heavy coat overhead or under the seat.

• Color coordinate. Pack clothes that match. Bring coats and jackets in neutral colors, and have every top match every bottom. Save pizzazz for accessories.

Get Packing: The Hand Luggage

• Keep essentials close. Carry medicines, a light wrap or jacket, travel documents, make-up, a pair each of clean socks and underwear, credit cards, and money in a large purse or backpack (along with your snacks and water). And don't let it out of your sight!

• When asleep, loop the strap around your feet. Once you're off the plane, never hand it to a porter or valet. Think of it this way: If all your luggage were lost but this piece, could you get through a week in a strange place?

• Save your screen. Tuck laptops and tablets into your hand luggage, when possible. You'll have to present these at security, so try not to have to dig deep. If you don't need a laptop on the trip, and you're checking a bag, pack it in the middle of your soft clothing.

Get Packing: The Big Bag

• Roll 'em! Roll everything. It's the most efficient way to use space and the best packing method for avoiding wrinkles. You can even roll a suit by actually turning the jacket inside out, folding it in half lengthwise, then folding it in half, top to bottom, and rolling. For pants, lay them out as you would hang them up. Fold dress shirts the way they're boxed at the dry cleaner; place the shirts on the top part of the pants, then fold the pants over the shirts. Another way to keep shirts wrinkle-free is to fold them into thirds from outside to inside, with the sleeves folded in. Next, fold the shirt into roughly 3- to 5-inch sections, working upward, until the collar is on top. Once you've rolled everything, set it aside.

• The shoes fit. Line sides of the case with shoes, putting each one in a shoe bag or gallon-size zip-top bag. Stuff rolled-up socks, scarves, neckties, and underwear inside them. If your shoes are smelly, try following the instructions in Banish Odors and Keep Shoes Smelling Fresh.

• Go heavy duty. Line the bottom with jeans, canvas coats, and other heavy rolls. This will help if the suitcase won't close and compressing is needed.

• Layer it on. Continue layering on and filling in cracks with medium-heavy items, such as jackets.

• Lighten up. Move on to lighter items, such as knits, shirts, lingerie, and pajamas.

• Keep it dry. Pack any nonessential toiletries in side pockets, making sure they're sealed in zip-top bags in case of leaks.

• Cut the cord. Don't take a hairdryer unless you know your host or hotel doesn't have one to lend. If you need one, invest in a small travel version and tuck it, along with any other appliances such as shavers or curling irons, into cracks between clothes rolls.

• Sheathe your jewelry. Never travel with expensive jewelry. There's too much value in such small items, and the threat of loss or theft is too real. For the jewelry you do pack, place each item in a separate zip-top bag, lay out a pillowcase, and space the bags out within the pillowcase. Roll the pillowcase and pack it in your pajama and lingerie layer.