Making the Most of Your Luggage

Dear Travel IQ: Packing is the bane of my life. I can never fit everything I need into my bags and I never have everything I need when I arrive. I feel like I should go without any luggage and just buy what I need when I get to my destination. Help!

Signed: Equipaje in Charlotte, NC

Dear Equipaje:

Photo by anaa yooIt’s the night before your plane departs for some wonderful and exotic vacation locale. A suitcase sits splayed open on the floor and scattered across the bed are heaps of shirts, socks, an assortment of trousers, maybe an evening gown. A small pile of electronics sits in the corner of the room, and adjacent, about eight pairs of shoes taunting you. Panic sets in and you wonder what on earth you are really supposed to be taking on this trip and how you will ever fit it all in.

Packing is certainly one of the least exciting and most stress-inducing aspects of traveling, but it doesn’t have to result in you curled up in the fetal position amongst your clothes. In fact, packing can actually be quite a pleasant task, but you have to know how to make the most out of your luggage.

Photo by Casey FleserBig suitcase

If you’re a regular vacationer going on a trip longer than three days, you will most likely be using a suitcase. Obviously, this is a matter of personal preference, and some travelers always prefer the backpack method, while others hate carrying all their stuff heaped on their backs. If you like the idea of a smooth rolling suitcase, be sure to utilize it well:

  • Pack your clothes flat. Make sure that they are as flat as possible. Rolling doesn’t work very well with suitcases and ends up leaving everything all wrinkly. Instead, pack flat and make sure that you compress things down as you go, eliminating excess air.
  • Use the small bits of space. Cramming socks and undies into small corners can utilize extra space well.
  • Stuff your shoes. This may sound ridiculous, but stuffing your shoes with socks and undies is a real space-saver.
  • Use the pockets. So many travelers fail to use those handy pockets that come standard on the inside and outside of your suitcase. You’d be surprised how much fits here.

Photo by Garry KnightBackpack

You might be the type of traveler that prefers to be mobile, or maybe you’re headed somewhere less connected and want to be on-the-go easily. There is an art to packing your rucksack perfectly to utilize space and weight.

  • Lightest to heaviest. Ergonomically, it is safest to put the lighter items at the bottom of the pack and heavier stuff at the top. This allows the pack to be top heavy so that you bear more of the weight down onto your hips, rather than pulling on your shoulders.
  • Roll, roll, roll. Rolling your clothes makes most sense because of the conical shape of a backpack.
  • Stuff, stuff, stuff. When you get packed about midway down into your pack, stop and shake the bag, allowing items to settle down in. Once the pack is full, push from the top and stuff extra items down into the sides.
  • Use outer attachments. If you have a raincoat or jacket, or even a sleeping bag, you can attach it to the outside of the pack by rolling it up and fastening it on using straps or bungee cords.

Photo by Gaby AvHand luggage

For short trips these days, it’s tempting to skip a bigger bag altogether, especially since many airlines are now charging fees for checked luggage. Going the hand-luggage-only route is only a good idea for short trips of two or three days.

  • Condense toiletries. Security regulations stipulate that liquids must be in tiny containers. Get a travel-sized set of toiletry bottles and refill them with your shampoos and soaps at home before the trip.
  • Know the limits. If you’re flying, you need to check your airline’s regulations carefully lest you be turned back. Double check the size of the suitcase and whether you’re allowed an extra briefcase or purse.
  • Use that second bag. If you are allowed a second bag, use it wisely. Stuff as many extras, like books, laptop, electronics and accessories here, saving the most space in your small suitcase for clothing and shoes.

General packing tips

No matter which type of luggage you choose, everyone can benefit from remembering a few basic tips that will make their packing lives easier.

  • Pare down. This cannot be stressed enough. No matter how much you think you need that extra pair of shoes, 99 percent of the time, you don’t. Same goes for extra toiletries and bulky clothing items like sweaters and electronic devices.
  • Mix and match. This basic method of packing is useful for every type of trip. Choose clothes that you can mix and match to make different outfits, leaving you with plenty of options but less overall to carry. For example, instead of packing three different dresses or suits, stick with one casual pair of pants and three shirts to match them with. Opt for separates, like skirts and pants, rather than matchy outfits.
  • Get an e-reader. Carrying books and magazines is a really outmoded, not to mention heavy form of travel entertainment. With an e-reader, you can have numerous books and magazines at your disposal in one small device. Going for an iPad will allow you to leave your laptop at home, too.

About the author: Megan Eaves

Travel writer and wanderluster, Megan Eaves is the author of two travel guidebooks and runs the Irish travel website Having traveled to 25 countries and lived in four, she is an expert on Ireland, China and the American Southwest, where she grew up, and also often writes about her adventures around Europe, especially London, where she is currently living.

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