11 packing tips to pack smarter

So you’ve gone and booked a trip. Now how do you get things from point A to point B? It’s called packing and here’s a good overview of super packing tips to get you started.


1. Buy the lightest luggage.

Once I asked for a new wheelie suitcase for Christmas, and Santa delivered a beautiful, green bag. Then I picked it up and wondered, was I naughty? Surely this is filled with coal and switches. No, it was completely empty, yet would barely pass the 40-pound weight limit at the Delta counter. Soon after I donated my shiny new bag to the Salvation Army, somewhere a very strong bag lady is hauling aluminum cans in that thing.

The great thing about light luggage is, hey you can bring more of your own stuff instead of hauling around dead weight. And the added benefit of not getting bruises or tearing a ligament lugging around a 60-pound suitcase. Nobody looks cool dragging that thing up a broken escalator. Some might argue, hey those nice hardtop suitcases and heavy duty bags protect my belongings and last forever. Well if you’ve ever glanced out your plane window at typical baggage handlers you’ll realize that no luggage can last forever under such conditions.

Buy light. Don’t spend too much money. (Louis Vitton was never meant to go around a baggage claim belt)

2. One Bag. One Carry-On.

For a typical trip I always pack one bag and one carry-on. Never more than what I can manage to muscle on my own (using a luggage cart doesn’t count). Usually I travel for 1 month or more at a time and I never need more than the amount I can put in one under-the-weight-limit, checked bag and one carry-on. And yes, I agree if you are doing a short trip don’t check a bag.

It’s also so much easier to keep up with your stuff if you limit your luggage. There’s so much going on so fast when you’re traveling that one easy thing you can do for yourself is just think got my ONE bag? Check! My parents went on a European cruise and their multiple bag packing helped my Dad leave his laptop in the plastic bin at security, and my Mother to leave one of her bags at the airport in Italy. Keep it simple!

My Airport Travel and Packing Tips

3. If it doesn’t fit, it ships.

Trust me if you absolutely need more than what fits it’s often cheaper and easier to ship it in advance. Especially if you’re staying in the same country. Airport bag fees are completely out of control. Fifteen bucks to check a bag, $50 if it’s over weight, $50 for additional bags.

Traveling sans-luggage is also a wonderfully freeing experience. You airily, arrive at your destination and your stuff is happily waiting for you. I’m considering using the ship tactic more with airport check-in becoming more and more crappy. Most hotels are happy to hold your package for you and many will help you ship it back home. Just call them and ask. Having a shiny tracking number to follow your bag with is a nice change versus holding your breath when each suitcase comes out of the baggage claim.

4. Add your own compartments

This is my favorite part of packing. Why get a bag that’s weighed down with built-in compartments when you can customize the inside of your bag just for you. Any fellow, slightly OCD travel comrade will agree. I hate anything loose in the bag. Every precious item has a category and a home all its own. Not just strewn about at the whims of the baggage handler’s last toss. All toiletries and cosmetics must fit in one, shirts in another, pants, check, underwear you’ve got your space, socks, hey there you are, dirty clothes bag ready to go.

This is truly the greatest way to live out of a suitcase. You get to where you’re going, you hang your toiletries in the bathroom, you transfer your compartments to actual drawers, you go get a drink with an umbrella in it. WIN! Never again digging, gerbil-like, trying to reach the bottom of your suitcase. Repeatedly taking it all out, then putting it all back. When it’s time to move on you’ll be packed in 3 minutes, and who-knows, the guys in airport security might just salute you.

5. Choose your color.

Traveling light doesn’t go well with indecisiveness. Having your entire closet at your disposal so you can wear what you are in the mood for is unfortunately not an option. A better option is functionality and picking pieces you can wear a ton of different ways so they feel like brand new outfits. Sometimes the hardest thing comes down to the shoes. I usually look over my outfit options and make that ultimate executive decision, black or brown? Choosing a neutral base color for your overall trip wardrobe is one of the best ways to remain a savvy packer. Once that agonizing choice is made axe the stuff that doesn’t match. Choose shoes, accessories and then try it all on.

Be creative, you’re on vacation after all, and nobody knows you there. You can be anyone. How many ways can you wear that scarf? Or maybe you can buy some flair once you get to your destination. My favorite souvenirs are always wearable. Then when someone asks where did you get that scarf you can say Barcelona. Yay.

6. Now take stuff out.

Remember that last tee shirt you threw in cause there was still room. Take it out. Those shoes that only work with one outfit. Goodbye.

Always leave some white space in your suitcase for good measure. Who knows, you might find a great dress or a cool journal at your destination. How are you going to get it back if closing your suitcase becomes a team effort. Leave some room for the unknown. Recall your last beach vacation when you packed 20 sun dresses, and 5 pairs of dressy shoes, but ended up wearing a bikini and a cover-up the entire trip. You never wear everything you bring.

When in doubt take it out!

7. Pack an emergency expandable bag.

OK this slightly violates my last rule if you left room for purchases in your big suitcase, but it does have another purpose.

Sometimes you may need an extra bag for souvenirs on the way back from the trip. An even greater use for a packable expandable bag is if you decide to do a mini side trip and can leave your main bag at the hotel while you’re gone. Why haul everything for a couple days when you only need a little?(Another good solution is zip-off backpacks connected to your main bag.)

Now they make them so small and light that there’s always room to throw one in without sacrificing your perfect lightweight packing. So this item is more for the unknown, luck-favors-the-prepared, aspect of a trip. Besides you’ll look so much smarter than the lady knocking people in the face with giant paper shopping bags on the plane.

8. Two words. Travel size!

This may seem obvious to semi-professional travelers, but DO NOT bring a full-sized tube of toothpaste on your trip. That is what the dollar travel aisle is for at Target. Or for the carbon conscious get your own refillable vials and just quickly refill up for trip. Pretend you’re an elf that only needs tiny things. Mini makeup brushes, mini skin care and other toiletries work just as good as mega.

Hint: Put your checked liquids into ziplock bag. Even if the bottles say leak proof. I’m just saying.

9. Don’t pack what’s already there.

Hairdryers are suitcase hogs and the majority of hotels now come complete with one in the room, so check the hotel web site and leave it behind. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, cotton balls and Q-tips are also standard staples. Certain hotels I look forward to their products. I can smell people in Santa Monica and tell which hotel they are staying at. Beach towels also fill-up half your bag, so another good thing to check ahead of time.

10. They do laundry there!

So what you’re saying is, I don’t have to pack 37 pairs of underwear and socks for my 37 day trip? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying! Even third world countries enjoy the pleasures of clean clothes. Any extended trip should require some sort of scrubbing whether it’s a local laundromat, hotel laundry (fab but usually pricey) or the true travelers’ “washing it in the sink” technique. I use all of these methods depending upon where I am on the map. Washing in the sink has some merits. Because you really can pack incredibly light. (Beware high humidity and slow drying.)

11. Try “roughing it”

When you’re traveling you are escaping your daily routine at home. So embrace this carefree philosophy, even if it’s only temporary. Perhaps you don’t need to pack a curling iron, and a straightener. Maybe check out your makeup bag and scale down to the basics. Four different kinds of eye shadow might be overkill. Ask your stylist how to simplify your hair care routine on vaca. Decide to leave behind one step of your 17-step skin care regimen. Go for clear nail polish instead of a french manicure. Take baby steps. Who knows you might say good riddance.

12. Don’t be afraid. (bonus packing tip!)

So what if you get to the Praha and you failed to pack socks? The good news is they make them everyday. Don’t over think it. Inevitably you’ll forget something. The adventure of traveling is embracing the unexpected and reveling in it. On your quest for socks you discover a fabulous hand-made hat, dance at a street festival or stumble upon a dim-lit cafe where only true locals dine. Those are the interesting stories. Not “the tour at Notre Dame was very informative…”

Have fun packing and dreaming about your trip.
And remember, it’s just stuff.