Guest Author - Emily Wilska
I recently had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe with friends, and I learned that packing smart is essential if your excursions involve, say, porting a suitcase through the narrow, cobblestone, bridge-filled streets of Venice. Even if you're not heading that far from home, though, you'll save time, frustration, and achy muscles--not to mention excess baggage fees--by being an efficient packer. Here's how.
Choose the smallest suitcase you need
Unless you're moving, traveling to one place for a month or more, or fortunate enough to have someone else to handle your luggage, using a giant suitcase will likely cause you grief. Instead, choose the smallest suitcase that will comfortably serve you for the length of your trip.
Pack with the intention to mix and match
Simple, versatile clothes in solid colors or basic prints, which you can mix and match into multiple combinations, are the way to go when traveling. As a rule of thumb, I require that everything I pack must go with at least two other things. (The exception: specialized items like my running clothes.) A basic color palate, with one neutral (like black) and a few colors, will serve you well.
Fold or roll carefully
I swear by Eagle Creek's packing cubes, which keep folded clothes contained and organized within my suitcase. I use one for tops, one for bottoms, and one for undergarments, socks, and pj's. Other smart packers (including the flight attendants and pilots profiled in the piece from the New York Times in Related Links below) opt to roll their clothes, a la George Clooney's character in Up in the Air. Regardless of the method you choose, a little bit of meticulousness here is worth the trouble, as clothes will get less wrinkled en route and finding what you need when you're ready to unpack will be much easier.
Carry on your essentials
If you're planning to check bags, be sure to also pack a carry-on that can hold your essentials. These include any and all valuables (cameras, cash, jewelry, computers, and so on), along with medications and anything else you'd need access to if your baggage was lost or delayed.
When I check luggage, I stash in my carry-on something I can use as sleepwear, a clean shirt, socks, and undergarments, and a few basic toiletries. That way if my checked bag doesn't make it to my final destination when I do, I can at least function comfortably for a day without having to buy new stuff.
Leave room to expand
Finally, it's always smart to leave room in at least one of your bags for stuff you might gather during the course of your travels. I make it a habit to reserve about 1/4 of the space in my luggage for things I know I'm going to leave behind (such as magazines I'll recycle when I'm done reading them or gifts I'll leave with the people I'm visiting) so I have space for souvenirs. If you're traveling with only one bag, pack a crushable/portable tote inside it so you'll have something for overflow on your return trip.