Top Ten Tips for Packing Luggage

Flying somewhere? Taking a road trip? Studying abroad or finally taking that vacation? Trying to find room for your favorite sweatshirt or maybe those Christmas presents? Wherever you are heading and whatever you are bringing, these ten tips will help to take the stress and frustration out of packing and unpacking. As a perpetual mover and traveler, I have sharpened my organizational skills and have been called “Mary Poppins” (remember the lamp she pulled out of her small upholstered bag?) on more than one occasion. I am proud to say that I have never been charged fees for overweight luggage and friends/family are always surprised how much I manage to squeeze in seemingly small spaces. Thus, I give to you my tried and true tips on how to pack wisely and make room for those extra pair of shoes you really don’t want to leave behind.

1. The Great Divide. I always begin packing by laying my suitcases or bags on the bed. Now comes the hard part – I separate items into two piles: carry-on vs. checked baggage. I like to think of it as separating items that you would cry about losing or damaging vs. items that you would not. Let’s err on the side of caution and put your valuable (cry-able) items in your carry-on.

2. Keep calm and carry on. Here is what I recommend keeping in your carry-on…jewelry, special gifts, iPod, e-reader, computer, etc. You should also bring all of the chargers for items that you carry on. The rule of thumb is to keep all electronic devices with their chargers. Important papers or documents needed for business meetings and materials or schoolwork should make the carry on list as well. If you still have room to spare, add the heaviest (non-liquid) items into your carry on. It is extremely rare to be asked to weigh your carry-on luggage.

3. Pop quiz: liquid or not a liquid? Most of us are pretty used to this by now, but you have to keep liquids in mind early on when packing. This means obvious items like shampoo, toothpaste, and wine to less obvious items like jams, salsa, and snow globes. True story. I once saw a mom who had to discard the beautiful snow globe she bought into one of those large airport graveyards. You know, the ones filled with water bottles and toiletries larger 3 ounces. It was a sad scene and one I hope to not witness again. There are specific exceptions to liquid rule; medications, formulas, and baby food. The last two are permissible as long as you are also carrying on, you know – a baby.

4. Toiletries, not Toilet Trees. Now you can move on to your check-in bags and it is time to pack those toiletry items that don’t fit or are larger than 3 ounces. I am a big fan of hanging organized toiletry bags with compartments of various sizes, like this one from L.L.Bean. They actually call it a Personal Organizer and it comes in a variety or colors and sizes. The toiletries that I make the effort to pack are my favorites and there is nothing that I dread more than opening up a suitcase to find my clothes stained by a broken bottle of perfume or shoes covered in face wash. Tighten all of your toiletry lids or, better yet, unscrew the lids and cover each opening with a small piece of plastic wrap and then screw the lids back on.

5. Olive oil and other dangerous liquids. Place other liquid items in large Zip-Loc bags. A friend of mine bought an expensive bottle of olive oil in Italy and when he picked up his suitcase from Baggage Claim it was dripping with the delicious stuff. Glass and oil ruined nearly everything. Try to pack a few extra Zip-Loc bags for the return trip in case such magical bags are not found in your destination of choice (like Italy).

6. Weight problems and solutions. If you have two pieces of luggage to check-in (like I usually do), start by putting the heaviest items in the smaller of the two. Fill the smaller one up first. Shoes, jeans, jackets, and your toiletries are heavy and should go in first. This tip has allowed me to bring home a ton over the years without ever going over the weight limit. You want to be sure before you get to the airport that your luggage is not over the weight restrictions. Thankfully, some smarty pants invented a product to help you do just that. The electronic luggage scale. You no longer have to try and weigh your luggage on a bathroom scale or lift each piece up yourself and try to guestimate the weight. A clever electronic luggage scale, like this one from Eat Smart products, clips onto the handle of your bag or suitcase. You simply lift up and the scale will register the weight. Voila! These kinds of scales are lightweight and you can just throw it into your luggage to use on your return trip. You can even opt to change the measurements from pounds to kilograms – a real lifesaver when traveling back from a country using the metric system.

7. Wrap it up. Chances are you have something fragile or breakable to pack. Find your thickest clothing (jeans, sweaters, hoodies) or a towel if you are bringing one to wrap valuable and breakable items in. Roll up some of your other clothing and lay one layer of clothing at the bottom of your bags/suitcases. Then, start putting the heaviest items you have wrapped up in next – toward the end of the suitcase – the end with the wheels. The heaviest items always shift to the bottom anyways and doing so will keep things from moving around too much.

8. Yes, my precious. Don’t waste any precious space…there is always extra room inside shoes and don’t bother with a half empty bottle of shampoo. Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes; I always do. I have been known to wear boots, a parka, and a hat on flights. In July. Not really, but you get the point. If you are in need of space, wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane. Rock a sweatshirt and scarf if you need to. I have also been known to have a sweatshirt within a sweatshirt or a hoodie within a coat. Bend the rules.

The absolute best way to save precious space in your suitcase is to roll your clothes. Cross my heart, this is only way you are going to squeeze that must-have souvenir in your suitcase at the end of your trip. Rolling your clothes up (everything from shirt and sweaters to socks and underwear) also keeps clothes relatively wrinkle-free. No hard creases from folding or cramming clothes in at the last second!

9. Do as Goldilocks would do. When it comes to buying luggage it really is important to try several kinds on for size. Some people prefer only luggage with wheels, others like a large duffle bag or backpack. You may decide you like the hard shell luggage more than fabric covered ones or vice versa. Take your time and take them for a little test run. My luggage requirements are as follows; sturdy frame, lightweight (no use wasting poundage here), and must have wheels that turn in every direction when the suitcase is standing up. You may want to shop around and find an uncommon pattern or color, which will be easy to spot at Baggage Claim. If you set your sights on (or already have) plain black luggage like the majority of travelers, do yourself a favor and get some eye-catching luggage tags. You can find unique luggage tags just about anywhere in stores and online or can fashion your very own.

10. So fresh and so clean. Sticking a dryer sheet in your luggage will help keep your belongings smelling lovely. They are also great to put inside your shoes, especially if you are following my advice and shoving other items in there to save space. I tend to keep a dryer sheet in each piece of my luggage even when I am not using them so that they smell fresh when I do need them. While you’re at it, print out these handy dandy tips and keep with your luggage as a quick reference for your next trip.

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