How to Pack for a Vacation

Education, Home & Family
on March 30, 2003

No matter how you travel, packing space is at a premium. And when you reach your destination, you want everything that you need packed, accessible, and as wrinkle-free as possible. However, you don’t want to overdo it. Savvy packers live by the creed that less is enough.

Long-time flight attendant Sharon Wingler of Willowbrook, Ill., wrote Travel Alone and Love It—and has done just that for decades. Her first packing tip is simple but often overlooked.

“Simplify. Unless you are relocating for months, you should get by with a maximum of just two small bags or one 24-inch suitcase,” Wingler says. “Each item must pass the ‘will I absolutely need this?’ test. Most anything you need can be purchased most anywhere on earth, so when in doubt, leave it out.”

Wingler says pack in layers. Put heavy, lumpy, and odd-shaped items on bottom, she says. Next, fill in low spots with underwear, bathing suits, and non-wrinkle items. Finally, put outerwear on top, but “pack long items first with the ends hanging outside the suitcase, alternating one side, then the other. Place a folded or rolled sweater or two on top, then carefully fold the ends of your long items back into the suitcase, again alternating one side, then the other,” she explains, adding that this eliminates hard fold marks.

Professional organizer Joan Kisver, owner of Work Smart in Aventura, Fla., advises travelers to make a list. “Inspect the items on the list to make sure nothing needs to be cleaned or repaired. Check off each item as it’s packed,” she says.

Wingler also offers these packing tips:

  • Fill shoes with small items or rolled socks. Wear your biggest or heaviest shoes and pack the lighter pair.
  • Take a mix-and-match wardrobe—every top should be able to be worn with every pair of pants or skirt. Base wardrobe on one basic, dark color.
  • Plan to wear each item at least twice. Take a small container of laundry detergent to rinse things with in the sink or tub.
  • Carry travel-sized toiletries or transfer your toiletries to small containers. A zip-close bag works as a toiletry kit, double-bagging it in a plastic grocery bag as a precaution against leaks.

Finally, if you’re flying, most airlines allow one carry-on bag that’s 45 linear inches (the total of the height, width, and depth of the bag), in addition to a purse, briefcase, or laptop. Check with the airline to find out its guidelines.