Trip to Anywhere

How to Pack for Travel

Checked baggage fees, tight airline bins and long waits at the luggage carousel are just a few reasons it pays to pack light. If your flight is canceled or delayed, having your bag in hand can be the difference between getting on with your travels or being stuck at the airport. And who hasn’t brought multiple outfits and three extra pairs of shoes along only to spend most of your vacation in a bathing suit and flip-flops?

Whether you’re going on a three-day business trip or preparing for a two-month outdoor adventure, here are some guidelines for maximizing suitcase space, minimizing your load and cutting down on wrinkles.


The bigger your suitcase, the more you will put into it. The simplest way to limit your pack-rat habit is to buy a hard-sided suitcase no taller than 22 inches, with a structured shell, so you can’t squeeze in any extras. While there is no universal carry-on bag size, many domestic airlines, including American, Delta and United, restrict bags to 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 9 inches deep. The size is often even smaller for international flights. (Shop with a tape measure if you want to make sure your bag — including wheels and outer pouches — meets a specific dimension.)

Many frequent fliers interviewed for this article said they favored the Rimowa Salsa Deluxe, about $500. “It moves well through airports, fits in most regional jet overhead bins and meets the standards of even more exacting European and Asian airline rules,” said Gary Leff, who writes the travel blog View From the Wing and is a founder of Mr. Leff spent more than 130 nights on the road last year and flew more than 200,000 miles. A review of 31 bags by The Wirecutter, a product recommendations site owned by The New York Times Company, found the soft-sided Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22-Inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter, about $250, to be the best carry-on roller for most travelers.


“Think twice about everything you want to put in your bag,” said Ben Nickel-D’Andrea, who writes about flying first-class with his husband, Jon Nickel-D’Andrea, at No Mas Coach, part of the BoardingArea blogger network. Last month the jet-setting couple flew to Morocco for nine days with only their carry-ons and backpacks. “Fully get rid of the ‘just in case I need it’ category,” the couple added in an email sent from the airport. “If and when you need it, you can buy it.”


If you need a mantra to help streamline your wardrobe, use the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” rule for a week long trip, limiting yourself to no more than five sets of socks and underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat. The list can be modified to suit your needs, with a swimsuit and exercise gear or a suit jacket and dress thrown in, depending on the trip.

The decluttering guru Marie Kondo rarely exceeds a week’s worth of clothes. If she is away longer than a week, she wrote in an email, “I will make time to do laundry.” Her bag — a Rimowa — typically includes two pairs of shoes (a pair for work and another low-heeled pair for casual occasions), two sets of pajamas, underwear for each day, and an extra jacket and dress, “just in case my work clothes get dirty,” she said.


Many road warriors recommend rolling your clothes in order to maximize space and minimize wrinkles. Some like packing cubes to keep their outfits ordered. Others prefer the more exacting bundle technique, which involves carefully wrapping each article of clothing around a central core, with underwear and T-shirts at the center and large, tailored items like blazers and dresses as the outermost layer. Whatever your method, the goal should be to fill every inch of space.

For example, footwear should be stuffed with socks and packed heel to toe at the bottom of the bag and enclosed (a plastic shopping bag will do) to protect your clothes from dirt. Rolled-up T-shirts, shorts and jeans make for a good base for stiffer garments like blazers and dress shirts, which can be bundled or folded on top.

For trips that involve the beach or being out in the sun, I like to start with a layer of rolled clothes. Then I place my wide-brimmed hat smack in the middle of the suitcase, filling the center with small items like tights or underwear, and adding more clothes around the sides of the hat so it stays snug.


“Toiletries should always be placed on top in a clear bag since you never know when T.S.A. might be interested in looking,” said Matthew Klint, a frequent flier and the award expert at Live and Let’s Fly. “In some airports, like any in the U.K., toiletries will be inevitably closely scrutinized. Thus, it is vital to keep them easily reachable and easily separated from your other items.”


“I recommend keeping a separate toiletry kit for traveling,” Ms. Kondo said. “This saves time that would otherwise be spent unpacking and repacking everyday use items.” A second set of bathroom products also ensures that you don’t leave behind a toothbrush or contact lens case that you might use the morning of takeoff, she noted. “Keep these items in a small pouch or box in the corner of a cabinet or drawer for easy access when packing for a trip.” To avoid overstuffing your clear, quart-size toiletry kit, consider all-in-one options like BB creams, which combine foundation, moisturizer and sunblock. And to prevent leakage, double up that plastic bag.


Cribs, car seats and other baby gear are often provided at hotels or available for rent. Any extra cash you may spend will be offset by what you save in checked bag fees and hassle. You can buy extra formula, suntan lotion and Cheerios when you arrive. Diapers are one exception; you’ll want more, not less, on hand when your flight is delayed.

Another must-have on board: a change of clothes for the child and yourself. That way you’ll have options when she spills juice all over you. To reduce your load while keeping the kids entertained, load up your phone or tablet with movies and games. And for toddlers who are too young to sit through an in-flight movie and too old to nap in your lap, Play-Doh is a godsend.

This article originally appeared on the New York Times. Hero Image courtesy of NYT.

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