How to Pack a Suitcase


Tackle the Task With Wrinkle-Free Style

Someday, we'll all have household robots to pack for us while we relax with cocktails. Until that day, packing is a necessary evil if you want to leave home. It's tempting to throw stuff in a bag and call it a day, but that just makes unpacking a bigger hassle than it needs to be. Take the time to do it right, with a careful and methodical system.

Step One: Gather the Suspects

Packing a suitcase is a little like shopping for produce. Before you can decide what to pick, you have to thoroughly examine all the options. Pull out all the items that may be useful for the trip and lay them on your bed. Mentally walking through your itinerary will help you focus on each stop and activity, giving you a chance to remember that, oh yeah, you're planning to stop at the beach on your drive up the coast, so you should probably bring sandals and a hat. Think through your trip one day at a time, selecting pieces as you go and moving them into a pile.

Step Two: Cull the Herd

Put away everything you've decided against bringing, and lay out all the pieces you've selected again. Look for anything redundant that you can cut. Do you really need two pairs of dark jeans? Could you make do with two sweaters instead of three? Unless you don't mind toting tons of luggage, pare down your choices to include only things that you really need.

Step Three: Start With Shoes

They take up a lot of room, so organize your footwear first. Wrap individual shoes in plastic to protect your clothing from touching whatever yucky stuff is clinging to the soles. Arrange shoes one at a time in the bottom of the suitcase. Tuck rolled socks or underwear into the shoes to maximize space.

Step Four: Consider Your Options

Here's where some controversy comes in. Some travelers swear by rolling their clothes, while others are proud folders. Still others pack individual outfits into packing cubes. All those methods are valid, so choose the one that's best for you and your travel plans.

If you're going on a business trip and need to look neat and presentable, you might want to try the "burrito method." Arrange your clothing in a single, flat layer on the bed. Roll a few T-shirts or your PJs (basically, the things that you're least worried about wrinkling) and place them in the center of the pile. Carefully fold the stacked clothing up around the rolled fabric on the top of the pile, like you're folding up a burrito, and gently lift the bundle up and into your suitcase. This method minimizes wrinkles because nothing is folded with sharp corners or tight rolling.

The burrito method takes time, though, because you need to carefully lay out each garment and smooth out the wrinkles. If you're in a hurry, or if you're packing only casual stuff that can withstand a little wrinkling, individually rolling each piece of clothing and tucking them into your suitcase is a method that works just fine.

Step Five: Add Toiletries

Use the same packing technique that you used with your clothing to organize your lotion, shampoo, makeup and other necessities. First, be ruthless about what you decide to bring. Pour small amounts of body wash and hair products into travel-sized containers and pare down your makeup collection to only the things that you really use every day. (If you don't wear false lashes at home, you're probably not going to wear them on vacation, either.)

How much stuff you're bringing, and what bags you have on hand, determine how you should tackle this job. Ideally, you'll pack makeup in a pouch with lots of padded pockets and divided sections to keep things from moving around and breaking. If you're a makeup minimalist—or if you have a nice, roomy toiletries bag—tuck your containers of shampoo, lotion, etc., into this bag too. Or if you need more room, organize them into a separate zipping bag. But first, wrap each item in a separate plastic baggie to minimize the mess if anything spills or breaks.

Nestle the stored toiletries into the top of your clothing stack. This tends to work a little better if you use a few smaller bags, because they'll more easily fit into the spaces between your clothing and the side of the suitcase.

Step Six: Make Adjustments (Or Admire Your Work)

Have any extra room? Great, tuck a few scarves or a little pouch of jewelry in there. But if everything's exploding out of the bag, pull it all out and start again. You might need to cut a pair of shoes, or try folding the pieces more tightly.