How to Pack

These tips will help you travel more comfortably, easily, and fully equipped.


Two-bag limit, please. Many experienced travelers live by a simple rule: Take only what you can carry yourself. So even if you're piling the family into the minivan and have room for five bags per person, you'll be much happier if you limit yourself to two bags per person. One bag should be large enough to hold the majority of your stuff; this is the bag destined for the trunk or cargo hold. The other bag needs room for a change of clothes, valuables and documents you can't afford to lose, as well as things you can use to pass the time.

Note: See the page "The Carry-on Lifestyle" for more detailed information about packing for airline travel without the potential delays of checking your luggage.

The 5 Principles of Packing

Follow these simple rules to ensure that you and your stuff arrive in style.

1. Prepare a list. Each member of the family must have a packing list. A list helps you weed out things you don't need, and ensures that you don't forget something you do need (or leave it behind on the way home).

2. Divide and conquer. If you decide to live by the two-bag limit, select one change of clothes plus your "can't lose" items and set them aside for your smaller bag. Everything else will have to fit into your larger bag.

3. Bag it. Use zipper-type freezer bags to corral small items, particularly leakables like shampoo. Also neatly fold and bag clothes with colors that run if they get wet -- few pieces of luggage are truly waterproof.

4. Use tissue paper. If you are particularly worried about wrinkles, place sheets of white tissue paper between layers of clothes.

5. Don't overpack. A well-packed bag will be full, but not bulging out of shape.

1. Begin by laying out your clothes. Button all buttons and zip all zippers, with the exception of tailored jackets, which should be left unbuttoned.

Lay long-sleeve shirts face down, then fold as shown to minimize wrinkling.

2. Fold shirts and blouses by laying them face down, then folding the arms back at the shoulder seam. Fold the arms back on themselves at the midpoint of the back. Fold the sides in to meet in the middle. Fold up about one-third of the shirt, then fold up again to just below the collar.

T-shirts can be stacked and rolled to provide cushioning for more fragile items.

3. Roll T-shirts to act as cushions for other items. First stack the shirts. Then fold them toward the middle and roll up from the bottom.

4. Turn tailored jackets inside-out, then fold them lengthwise and horizontally in thirds.

5. Roll up socks or hose and place them inside shoes, then bag each shoe.

6. Place underwear and lingerie in mesh or plastic bags.

The goal in packing a suitcase is to fill it completely so that clothes don't slide over one another and cause wrinkling. If you're planning on taking home a fair load of souvenirs, consider leaving space in your bag and filling the gaps with crumpled tissue paper. Two other options: Buy an expandable suitcase or pack a lightweight foldable bag to tote your stuff home.

The Right Way to Pack
Put pants and dresses in first, then fold over atop other clothes.
  • Lay dresses or slacks inside the suitcase with the lower portions draped over the edges. Line the sides of the suitcase with belts.
  • Place a layer of folded items that can be allowed to wrinkle (such as sweatshirts and T-shirts) on top of the first layer.
  • Bagged items and a toiletry kit go in next.
  • Layers of folded shirts, blouses, sweaters, shorts, and the like rest atop the bagged goods. If you are packing a tailored jacket, turn it inside-out. Fold it lengthwise first, then into thirds.
  • Finally, fold pant legs over clothes in the case. Put bagged shoes and other hard items (like the steamer shown here) along the outside edge of the case.

Looking like an overgrown gym bag, duffles are gaining in popularity. Some are even large enough to sport wheels.

The most efficient way to pack a duffle is to mimic its cylinder-shaped interior. Lay out shirts, slacks, and the like in a single layer, then roll into a loose cylinder, with bagged items in the center.

Pack bulky or hard items at the ends of the main compartment, or in accessory areas on the outside of the bag.

If you plan to fly and want to spend less time in the airports, experienced travelers recommend packing only carry-on luggage. This means limiting yourself to two bags, and one of those must be quite small.

Since September 11, 2001, airline rules have changed from allowing two carry-on bags per person to one plus a small personal bag, which could mean a handbag, a briefcase, or a laptop computer.

Both carry-on bags must be small enough to fit into the overhead bins or underseat storage areas. Many rolling bags, garment bags, and duffels fit these size requirements, but check with your airline carrier to be certain. Most of the time you can rely on the rule of sevens. That is, your packed bag must be no larger than 7 inches x 14 inches x 21 inches. Some airlines say that the three measurements must not exceed 45 inches total. Either way, check with your airline before you get to the airport.

When packing carry-on luggage, try to pack in such a way that airline personnel will be able to look through your bag, and even remove its contents, without causing major disruption. For example, consider packing undergarments and other small items in small zippered bags, and don't pack the case so tightly that the bag will close only if the contents are in one precise configuration. Otherwise, you may find yourself at the airport, with no time to spare, trying to fit everything back in.

Also keep in mind that no knives or other sharp objects (such as scissors) of any size are allowed in carry-on luggage, and all electronic items -- from cell phones to cameras to handheld games -- are being scrutinized carefully, and could delay your passage through security checkpoints.

The carry-on mindset. Carry-on travelers tend to be a creative lot. They find ways to make do with less. Some examples:

  • Limit yourself to two or three changes of clothes. This means laundering clothes on the road if you are planning a long trip.
  • Buy travel sizes. Most good-sized travel or luggage stores stock travel sizes of items like umbrellas, toothbrushes, and so on. Also keep an eye out for sample sizes of toothpaste and other toiletries.
  • Coordinate colors. Stick to one or two colors when choosing a wardrobe. A navy blazer can look businesslike with dress slacks or casual with blue jeans.
  • Don't carry what you can buy. Don't pack stuff you can find or buy at your destination. Examples: Soap and shampoo (provided by most lodgings), hair dryer (check with your hotel), extra film, groceries and snacks, pool towels, iron (check with your hotel), extra sunscreen.
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