Tips for Lighter, Better Packing

by  Paul Eisenberg | Oct 3, 2012
Packing / humonia/iStock

While packing for a Detroit trip this spring I made the tactical decision to sit on my suitcase to get it to close, in the process crushing two of the four wheels on the bottom.

The good news is that the bag still rolls on one side and I no longer try to sit on it. The bad news is that, because it's quite roomy for a carry-on, I still tend to over-pack it and don’t organize its contents as well as I should. Hence, I end up doing lots of ironing once I reach my destination.

So, as I often do, I got some help. Here now, a few tips from some packing experts on how to pack a bit lighter and better.

Remember that packing lighter is packing safer. The U.S. Department of State suggests that with a lighter suitcase “you can move more quickly and will be more likely to have a free hand. You will also be less tired and less likely to set your luggage down, leaving it unattended.”

Consider the hotel laundry. If you’re on the cusp of having to pack a second suitcase but, like me, have sworn off luggage carousels, vice president and general manager Warren Chang says “consider using a hotel’s laundry service instead of packing a second suitcase. You’ll have less to lug around, and you may even save money when factoring in checked baggage fees.”

Know your fabrics. According to Susan Foster, author of “Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler,” when you’re striving to pack light, “choose items that pack small. A thin wool or cashmere sweater packs smaller than a sweatshirt; micro-fiber slacks pack smaller than jeans; loafers pack smaller than boots. Several lighter weight layers are as warm but pack smaller than a bulky coat.”

Layer to make the TSA happy. The Transportation Security Administration notes that travelers would do well to “pack an organized carry-on using layers – a layer of clothes, layer of electronic items, layer of clothes, then a layer of shoes or other items.” A better organized bag will make it easier to see during its security x-ray, and likewise will make it easier for the TSA to explore your bag. If they do, and you find that they have somehow jumbled the contents, it might help to have a packing technique so that you can repack quickly and easily.

Have a packing technique. Travel clothing outfitter TravelSmith has a specific method when it comes to efficient – and, as a bonus, wrinkle-free – packing. Like many packing tipsters, they say to put your heaviest items (like shoes) in the bag first. After that, lay in a divider to separate the heavy items from more delicate ones – say, pants –which the company says to place “horizontally across the bag, leaving the excess length hanging over the sides. Place the first item so it falls to the left of your bag, the second item to the right, alternating directions with each item.”

After that, TravelSmith says, roll your knit items and undies into tight rolls and place those in, after which you should go back to your pants and dresses, folding them into the bag, again “alternating from left to right until they are all in the bag.”

How not to destroy a suit jacket. If you’re packing a suit jacket, TravelSmith suggests placing it in after the pants, with the intent of folding in the tail later. The company also says to place the blazer face down, not folding it through the shoulders. Frequent business traveler Kathryn Cook told me that she also likes to pack her suit jackets inside out to guard against unexpected spills and to deter wrinkling. And, if upon reaching her destination some wrinkles have crept into the fabric, she'll "hang the jacket on the back of the bathroom door in the morning and let the shower steam buff the wrinkles out."

So is packing smarter an art or science? "It's totally a science," Cook says, "because you're following the same set of rules every time –  bring only what you need and always pack it the same way. You'll only get better with practice."

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