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Packing Less can be Fashionably More when Preparing Your Suitcase

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You there – you know who you are. You think you know everything there is to know about how to pack a  suitcase?

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When you travel, do you bring a pile of luggage that would make Joan Collins blush?  Perhaps you fret about surviving without a full closet, so you fit as much as possible into a mammoth case.   Soon you’re suffering from sore arms and an aching back, swearing next time will be different.   If so, you may be overpacking.

Like stacking extra snacks in your shopping cart on an empty, growling stomach, packing can end up a compulsive exercise.  Gnawed by uncertainty, you grab things off the shelves “just in case” and load your suitcase with items you never use.  What a waste!  I’ve found you can live for months with just one well-packed suitcase.  So, before you throw everything in but the kitchen sink, read the tips below and give overpacking the heave-ho.

It’s a drag. As if we needed another reason to pare down, this year many airlines have added extra baggage-handling fees.  We can be happy we are still going somewhere, but the recession is hitting us in sneaky jabs to our wallets.

You may as well save yourself chiropractic fees as well, so avoid lugging a suitcase that is too big and heavy for you to carry (try carrying it up a few stairs, not just picking it up vertically and setting it back down).  Unless you are going on a very specific trip like a safari where you will need camping gear, food, etc., a medium-sized suitcase and a shoulder bag should be enough for you.

Divide and conquer. Pack your shoulder bag first.  Make sure it has wheels and will fit in an overhead compartment as carry-on baggage.  It’ll sit nicely on top of your main suitcase as you drag it through the airport.   Then once you check your suitcase, put your carry-on on the ground, pop up the handle, and pull it.  Put heavy things like your laptop, magazines/books, or large camera inside.  Your shoulders will thank you on long hauls between terminals.

Contingency Plan. If you go to Buffalo, there’s a chance your checked bag will surface in San Jose, so it’s best to keep medicines and make-up with you.  In the rolling shoulder bag, stash your daily must-haves (remembering to separate your gels and liquids and place them in a zip-lock bag for security).  Make sure your bottles (100ml or less) are twist-tops or sealed with a strong bit of tape– pop-top bottles tend to open with changes in temperature or pressure.  Also, throw in a spare pair of undies in case you are held over somewhere due to inclement weather or random freak volcanic eruptions.

The main event. Like a pinata full of brussel sprouts, a poorly-packed suitcase is bound to disappoint.  Pulling out a dress that worked well for you at home, you cry, I don’t want to wear that!  I recommend taking a look at the fashions of your destination, either in local shopping guides or fashion websites.   I always bring a dress (not too formal, but not a sundress) and a leather jacket.  These two things will get you through almost any event, party, nightclub, etc.

Multiple pairs of jeans add weight and bulk, so pick out your favorite pair and trade the others for skirts instead.  Skirts are lighter to carry and can be warmed up with leggings or tights.  However, you should check the local rules on skirts, since some countries have religious protocol for visiting their halls of worship.  Avoid mini-skirts in Muslim countries– duh.  Scarves and jewelry keep your outfits from looking repetitive so pack more of these for variety on long trips.

Pyramid Scheme. Bring your bottom-most garments in greatest supply.  That is, bring plenty of underwear, thin cotton T-shirts, and tights/leggings.  Try not to bring heavy cotton T-shirts since they take too long to dry after hand-washing.  Use light cotton instead.  You’ll need some versatile long-sleeved shirts and then a few pieces of outerwear.  One warm, comfy sweater or fleece and one rainjacket will do you just fine.  Make sure to keep these in the outer pocket of your suitcase or in your shoulder bag so you can grab them out easily.

Use and re-use. Bring washing powder in packets and/or a small bottle of liquid (delicates) detergent.  Wash your underwear and T-shirts when you first arrive at a hotel, wring them well and give them a shot with a hairdryer to get them drying faster.  Leave the fan on in the bathroom for a little while or hang in a ventilated area for eco-friendly drying.  Of course, your hotel may offer laundry service, too.  Wash your things often and reuse them, and you can live indefinitely out of your suitcase.

Get the party started. Liven up a quiet evening with a few unnecessary but highly-portable extras.  A must-have for me is a wine-bottle opener (or beer tab, as you like).  I always bring face masks and nail kits on girlfriend getaways for a bit of on-the-spot pampering.  Touring a city, you’ll walk as much as 20,000 steps in a day, so why not measure your paces with a pedometer?  If you and your travel buddy both carry them, you can compare at the end of the day and perhaps spark competition for the following day.

Room for Improvement. To make more room for your souvenirs and purchases, purchase vacuum bags or try tight-rolling your T-shirts.  I recommend using dollar-store mesh bags to keep your smaller items like your undies and socks compartmentalized.

Safe and Secure. Maintaining an organized day-bag can keep you safer, since digging for things and looking frazzled causes you to appear vulnerable.  Separate your money and keep some in your purse and some on your body.  Finally, tuck copies of your passport and driver’s license into your suitcase and your carry-on in case of loss.

It’s true you can’t take all your belongings with you, but remember that this preparation is the prologue to any trip—so stop stressing and enjoy the building excitement.  Best of luck and happy packing!

photos: iStock and Amazon

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