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6 Suggestions for Packing Like a Pro

Article by Leena Kim 05.24.2019

Bring this. Leave that. Four frequent travelers offer their tried-and-true advice to help us distill the absolute essentials you should pack, and the things you can leave at home.

Long before Marie Kondo and her gospel of extreme organization became a sensation, the concept of efficient packing has always filled some with existential dread — that compulsive need to lay out each outfit and try it on, the exasperation of having to edit an overstuffed suitcase, the fear of having left out something important (Charger? Toothbrush? Umbrella?). But with the right guidelines, the process doesn’t need to be so stressful. Below are six useful tips from experienced travelers to help you master the art of packing, once and for all.

1. In Praise of the Carry-on

There are travelers who will religiously stick to carry-on luggage only, no matter how lengthy their trip may be. While this might not be an option for everyone, going this route does offer many benefits: You are forced to streamline your clothes to accommodate smaller spaces, you’ll never have an issue with airlines losing baggage, and you’ll drastically cut time upon arrival while others wait endlessly for their suitcase to come down that conveyer belt.

“If possible, never check a bag. It only leads to more time wasted while waiting when you could be enjoying your trip or getting work done,” says Darren Crumpton, director of sales and marketing for The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, who travels about one week a month. “I order an Uber the minute I arrive at the gate. With no bag checked, I can immediately hit the ground running.”

Business travelers especially know the value in carrying on, as tight schedules don’t often allow for time spent waiting at baggage claim — not to mention the nightmare of lost luggage. “My carry-on consists of everything I need,” says Lisa Holladay, vice president and global brand leader for The Ritz-Carlton. “I never check bags except when I’m coming home from a vacation and I’ve shopped.”

When packing for work, keep in mind that a suit is a suit and two are typically enough. Wear one on the plane with a t-shirt or casual shirt and pack the other. To avoid creases, keep your packed hanging garments in dry cleaning plastic and consider wrapping your folded shirts in plastic as well, Crumpton suggests.

2. Contingency Plans

Those who do opt to check luggage should have some form of a carry-on bag stocked with what-if reinforcements, as well as a travel outfit that can transition from the airplane to the real world. “Once, over 10 years ago, I was playing in a classical concerto concert in a small Italian town in the winter.  My suitcase was lost for two days and I ended up wearing the outfit I traveled in for the performance,” says Tina Guo, a cellist and composer who travels for up to six months at a time while touring. “Luckily for me, it was freezing inside the beautiful ancient Cathedral so my actual gown wouldn’t have worked anyway — the audience was literally in parkas.”

And if you’re flying with valuable items, always bring them on the plane with you to avoid loss or damage. “My 1880 Gand & Bernardel cello requires his own seat on the plane,” Guo says. “If I’m traveling with a bigger production, my gear and costumes usually go separately with my tech and the crew in their own road cases, but never Cello Guo, he always goes with me.” 

3. Choosing the Right Items

To maximize space in your suitcase, a bit of preparation can go a long way. “I plan in my head several days before hand so that when it comes to packing, it goes fairly quickly,” says Ciara Hurley-Stewart, head of retail marketing and partnerships for Asprey. “Two dresses, two tops, one skirt, one jacket and one pair of trousers usually works. And a tailored coat instantly makes any outfit elegant.”

A streamlined suitcase need not mean you can’t have any fun with your outfits. “Dresses are great as they are lightweight and versatile. Jewelry can change daywear into evening wear as can a pair of Roger Vivier or Aquazzura heels,” Hurley-Stewart says.  

For business travel, Crumpton suggests going as minimal as possible. “Pack items with versatility in mind, like dress pants you can wear to a meeting or out for the evenings and one or two blazers, which can work with any outfit,” he says. “And always include running shoes and workout clothes.  They can easily be rolled up and carried in a backpack, along with other essentials at hand — an apple, bottled water, nutrition bar, crossword puzzle, book, and Peter Millar pullover or cashmere sweater.”

4. Roll and Fold

The jury is still out on which method is most effective for both conserving space in your suitcase. Rolling works best for clothes more immune to wrinkles, like workout pants, jeans, knitwear, and t-shirts, while clothes made of stiffer fabric (blazers, starched cotton, dress pants, silk, linen) should be folded. As for their placement in the suitcase, rolled items go first, stacked on top with the folded ones, with small pieces like swimwear, undergarments and socks filling up empty nooks. To go a step further in becoming a packing pro, get a few packing cubes. They will make unpacking a much more pleasant experience, as you can go from check-in straight to the beach without having to dig in your suitcase to find your bathing suit. 

5. Streamline Your Wardrobe

If you’re having trouble editing your vacation wardrobe, try packing everything you’d like to take — then remove half of it. “At home, my closet is organized by garment type and color, and I do the same while traveling,” Guo says. “It is easier to mix and match neutral tones so most of my travel clothes are easily worn together.”  

To further minimize your packing time, try permanently storing a separate set of essential toiletries in your luggage, a tip that was espoused by Marie Kondo in The New York Times. With a designated second kit, you’re saving time packing and unpacking your regulation-sized liquids, and if your flight is in the morning, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to add your toothbrush to your suitcase after its use.

“I always pack two days prior to departure to avoid the stress the night before,” Crumpton says. “I want a great night’s sleep and I typically depart first thing in the morning to avoid any weather, crowds and potential airline delays.” 

6. Know Your Essentials

No matter where your travels take you, try to find a bit of peace along the way by bringing along things that spark joy and provide comfort.

“The pieces I take everywhere are my running shoes, iPhone, wedding band, ear plugs and a cashmere eye mask,” Holladay says. “I love to listen to podcasts in the air, so high-quality headphones are a must, too.”

For Hurley-Stewart, it’s the little things that can make a big difference while on the road. “My must-have item is a cross body bag that is not only elegant enough to wear to meetings but also practical as it holds my passport and phones. I also always make sure that I have my hair blow dried before any trip and keep a refillable bottle of water on hand.”

And when it comes to travel mishaps, a good attitude can go a long way towards staying sane, Holladay says. “Don’t stress over what you can’t control, such as bad weather and delayed flights.” But if you didn’t pack perfectly, not to worry — the concierge at your destination will be happy to assist you track down any forgotten items.

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