Excess. Overkill. Crap. Call it what you want, it’s too much stuff, and you pack it all. Is your home in pitiful disarray as you arrange and rearrange your suitcase in a vain and futile attempt to wedge in so much that the poor, unsuspecting zippers on your Samsonite are slowly pulling open, the metal tangs feebly hanging on for dear life? Does closing your suitcase require a human sitting on it at any point? Do you frighten your children and/or pets with your offensive vocabulary and wild gesticulations as you struggle to prepare for a trip? Do you need a vacation just from the stress of PACKING for vacation?
Fear not! If you’re a compulsive overpacker or just have a hard time figuring out what’s necessary and what isn’t, there is help. These are tips I’ve found crucial, compiled after years of surrendering to the abovementioned vices and also with guidance from my mother, a 36-year veteran airline employee who has packed her bags more times than Liz Taylor’s husbands. Under her patient tutelage and through my own trials and errors, I became the Girl who packed a carryon for a 2-week European vacation. And I have more shoes than Imelda Marcos (well, almost), so if I can reform, anyone can.
1). Let’s Get Rolling
The absolute best piece of advice I learned (oddly from the messiest person I know) is pretty commonly-known but also widely-debated: rolling your clothes. I’m here to tell you: IT WORKS. From bulky blue jeans to business blazers, any garment rolled sausage-tight will not only take up less precious square inches and stack easily like a puzzle piece, but will keep your clothes miraculously wrinkle-free by eliminating the creases that regular folding can cause. An effective roll is an art form easily perfected, and you’ll be surprised how much more you can stash in your suitcase by taking advantage of those pesky corners, who’s negative space otherwise silently mocks you with it’s impossible uselessness. Take it from a skeptic - rolls are flexible, compact, tidy and kind of fun to make.
2). Shape Up
You know that travel-size aisle at the store? The one with all the cute miniature versions of your favorite shampoos and mouthwash? Be prudent. Those innocent little containers can make a big difference when you’re packing your toiletry kit. Stores like Target sell empty containers you can use for your lotion, facewash, whatever you need – skip the rounded ones and go for the flat, ergonomic-shaped bottles instead. They hold just as much liquid or gel, but their level form allows for better space around it in your bag so that other things will fit. Think practically – would you rather pack a bunch of tennis balls or a few frisbees? In many cases, skipping the pre-packaged mini-version of your hair gel and squeezing some of your own supply into one of these will enable you to take a larger amount in a more manageable way.
3). Put On Weight
No, I don’t mean have a box of donuts on your way to the airport. Tackle both chilly airplane air and space-saving issues by wearing your heaviest items. Boots, thick sweaters, jeans and layered shirts that you know you’ll wear on your trip may as well travel on your body where they won’t take up room in the luggage. It may take some extra effort at security (jacket/shoe removal), but it’ll be worth it in the end when your extremities aren’t turning blue from the frigid Boeing atmosphere at 35,000 feet and when you don’t have to sacrifice a boot-shaped equivalent of 2 days worth of clothes because you just didn’t have room in your tote bag. If you run the risk of
4). Mind the Gap(s)
All those nooks & crannies are perfect for stashing rolled-up belts, jewelry, chargers, socks, converter kits, or any other odds and ends that need a home. Ideal spots include the space between the heels of shoes (which should be at the bottom of the suitcase, heels together, facing opposite directions), pressed between the soft rolls of clothes, inside shoes and in corners.
5). Keep it Zipped
Ziploc bags will be your best friend - especially in today’s world, what with all the TSA rules and uniformed strangers’ grubby hands poking around your luggage. They’ll also help you stay organized AND help you decide what to wear each day, which will be useful when you oversleep and need to get down to the breakfast buffet before all the pastries are gone and before people pick all the good fruit out of the bowl, leaving nothing but melon. You can use them multiple ways, depending on the length of your trip and personal preference:
- OneADays: based on your itinerary, decide ahead of time what you’ll want to wear and pack the days’ outfits FLAT in a plastic bag, labeled for each day. Make sure you squeeze all the air out of the bags before you seal them: you’ll find they will stack even more compactly than if you packed clothes the normal way. If thinking that far ahead is too much to ask (like it is for me), or you just plan on mixing and matching the same clothes (which is another space-saving technique), try
- The Combo: roll your clothes and slide them tightly next to each other inside the Ziplocs, squeeze excess air out, and seal. Stack these around your bag wherever they will fit best. This is a spacesaver but it’s ALSO good for rollaboards, which are searched often and not by the daintiest of folk. If it does happen, your clothes won’t get disheveled, thereby making repacking harder than it needs to be – plus the agent will be able to see all your belongings through the plastic, you can restack them and be on your way. You don’t really want that burly guy at the end of his 10-hour shift to have his dirty hands all over your unmentionables, now do you?
6). Washing Machine? Please.
I have about 5 shirts that I really like. Like, really like. On a 2-week trip, the likelihood of me wearing them at least 3 or 4 times goes without saying. Freshness, however, unlike my enthusiasm for the garment, is temporary. So instead of packing MORE of things I won’t wear often, I pack my five shirts and a stack of dryer sheets, which I place between the folds of my clothes as I travel or sprinkle liberally around my suitcase and discard when necessary. It’s also great for shoes. Plus my luggage smells like Bounce…doesn’t get much sweeter than that!
7). If I Only Had a Brain
This is the hardest thing to teach a compulsive and habitual overpacker. If you’re going to wear something ONCE, unless it’s a wedding gown, don’t bring it. If it’s a pair of shoes that only go with ONE other thing, forget ‘em. We all want to look good when we travel (unless you don’t care how your photos come out), but the aisle of a Boeing 767 is not a runway, and neither are the streets of Rome or Bangkok or Des Moines or wherever you are going. Bring a handful of things you can easily mix and match, preferably in neutral colors.
8). Versatility is an Investment
It’s borderline crucial to bring items that have multiple uses. A shirt that looks good with jeans during the day and will translate well for evening with nicer pants, a blazer worn over it or a great necklace to give it some sparkle can get another wearing a couple days later over a long-sleeve shirt (the layered look) or on the plane ride home when you just stop caring about your appearance.
9). We All Have Our Priorities
Including shopping. Some of you out there aren’t necessarily overpackers, but somehow over the course of your vacation you feel like one because you just can’t squeeze in all the souvenirs you’ve bought for others (that you will end up keeping yourself) AND the items that came with you originally. So bring a couple garments or pairs of shoes you won’t miss too much, or that you’ve been eyeballing to throw in the Goodwill pile and just haven’t yet, wear them on the trip a couple times, and either leave them in the hotel room or just toss ‘em out at some point. Poof! Extra room in your bag for all the crap that will soon be collecting dust on shelves of relatives from coast to coast.
And for the love of all that is holy, leave the Crocs at home!