How to Pack for Travel

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You can't take it all with you—but a lot of travelers try. They prepare for trips like chipmunks bracing for winter, gathering their portable possessions and stuffing them into every open pouch. Savvy pack rats strive for something different. Traveling right, they say, means traveling light.

"It's a self-assurance thing," says Anne McAlpin, author of Pack It Up, a guide to proper packing. "People feel they need to have everything with them, but they don't."

For a two-week vacation, McAlpin brings everything she needs in her carry-ons: two pairs of pants, a dress, a skirt, a blazer, five shirts, socks, two pairs of shoes, and toiletries. Of course, she's a professional. So we don't recommend that you try this at home. Wait until you go away. While you're at it, here are some other tips from the pros:

  • Make a list. Check it twice. Two weeks before you travel, write down everything you think you'll need. Then line those items up in order of importance so you can weed out all but the essentials.
  • Suppress your inner Imelda Marcos. More than three pairs of shoes is excessive. Pack all shoes in one suitcase, stuff them with socks, and wrap in plastic bags. Check the bag; shoes are heavy.
  • Roll your knits to save space. But don't roll your cottons—they wrinkle. Cover them, instead, in a plastic dry cleaning bag without advertising (ink can run off).
  • Sort by weight. Heavy items on the bottom, lighter items on top.
  • Stick to two basic colors. McAlpin likes khaki and black: Khaki goes with everything, and black looks great at night.
  • Do your own laundry. Bring a pack of biodegradable soap to hand wash socks, underwear, and T-shirts.
  • Save your chopsticks. They're good for dialing dirty phones and hanging small hand-washed items out to dry.
  • Tag your bag. Attach neon stickers or bright ribbons to your suitcase; they'll stand out in a crowd. But don't put your address on your bags (why advertise that you're out of town?). Write your name and phone number instead.
  • Don't lug gargantuan luggage. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's largest suitcase stands more than 13 feet tall. But, McAlpin says, you should be able to get by with a 20-inch rolling carry-on and a shoulder tote bag.

Illustration by Melinda Beck

This article was first published in March 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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