How to pack a perfect suitcase

woman guest suitcase
Expert advice to pack the best suitcase. / Thinkstock

Packing has to be more than just jamming a bunch of wrinkled clothes into an old duffel bag. As prices for checked bags creep upward (it can cost anywhere between $25 to $175 if your suitcase is overweight), knowing how to get where you’re going with as little bulk as possible is vital to making your trip as pleasant as it can be.

Donna Smallin Kuper knows a thing or two about tight spaces (and organizational wizardry). She’s the author of “The One Minute Organizer,” and a recent convert to the nomadic tribe of RV enthusiasts (she’s gone cross-country and has plans for several stops in 2014.) Kuper says that wrinkles must be out of the question when space is tight. “I don’t own an iron anymore,” she admits, adding that all of the outfits she packed into her RV were wrinkle-resistant. “When you’re selecting outfits, think about what can you roll up and then unroll with virutally no wrinkles,” she suggests.

If you can’t avoid bringing a blazer or a dress shirt that may wrinkle while packed in a suitcase, Kuper’s solution is to use the plastic from the dry cleaner’s to line the inside and outside of the piece of clothing. “What happens is that the plastic bag helps prevent it from creasing,” she says. “The fabric rolls around the plastic so it’s good enough so that you can get where you’re going and immediately hang those items and you’ll be fine.”

When it comes to a love of shoes, Kuper says to start with weight and go from there. “I usually wear my heaviest shoes. If I plan to bring boots, I’m going to wear them on my travel days because they take up so much room,” she says.

Patrick Smith’s love of travel extends beyond his job as a pilot. He’s been to more than 80 countries worldwide and recently authored a book, “Ask the Pilot,” based on his blog of the same name. Smith approaches travel with the perspective that’s inspiring to anyone who has wrestled with increased security, baggage fees and long lines:  ”Airplanes are more than just a means to an end, it’s a part of the journey,” he says, acknowledging that this carefree attitude is a harder sell now that flying can be a bummer.

As with any pilot, Smith has love for the small, neat roller bag he brings with him — and inside is evidence of his black-belt packing experience. He says he has packing down to an art, getting ready for a 10 day, multi-country trip in 25 minutes. His advice starts with the gadgets that ultimately rule our lives: chargers, USB cables, headphones and the like.

“I did an inventory on all the stuff that I carry with me now that I didn’t carry with me 10 years ago and it’s startling,” he says. “These things are supposed to make life easier, but they make packing difficult.”

For travelers looking to make sure they don’t end up on a gorgeous beach unable to take a selfie, Smith suggests keeping all of the technological amenities in one pouch, and to buy a second version of any tech accessories so that you can have one pouch with everything ready to go.

He said/she said advice from Patrick Smith and Donna Smallin Kuper:

He said:

  • Always travel with a few plastic bags, in case something needs waterproofing, or to transport muddy shoes back home.
  • Smith always brings a length of clothesline and some clothes pins in any bag so that he can easily wash and dry his lightweight clothing. “I never bring jeans. I always bring nylon or other synthetic pants, especially if I’m traveling to warmer, harsher travel environments where you’re going to be out and hot and maybe getting dirty.”
  • Err on the casual side. “You can’t squish up a shoe, but you do have to sacrifice space for how you want to look and what you want to wear.”
  • Be prepared. “I want to be prepared for certain contingencies, but not necessarily fashion contingencies,” Smith says. In his regular travel, Smith never leaves home without a supply of Cipro, the antibiotic. “If you come down with some sort of stomach bug, and Cipro doesn’t cure it in 12 hours, nothing will.”

She said:

  • Invest in a carry-on that’s the maximum size allotted by airlines, so that you can fill it to capacity to avoid baggage fees. Avoid checking a bag at all costs, Kuper says. “If you have to check a bag, do make sure you have with you anything that you might possibly need, in case you get stuck at the airport.”
  • Choose a color scheme for your outfits, starting with your shoes, because they are the most bulky item. “That way everything you bring can mix and match and you don’t need as many things.”
  • Kuper suggests that travelers invest in space bags, so that it’s possible to make clothing items lie as flat as possible. “What’s great about these things is that the way you get the air out is that you roll the air out of the bag.” Plus, on the way home, you can use them as laundry bags.
  • Instead of bringing your finest perfume (and having to dump it at the security checkpoint) Kuper says to douse a cotton swab in your favorite scent and then put it in a ziplock bag. It won’t last forever, but it will mean you don’t have to worry about the threat of a leaky bottle (or a wasted one).
  • A tip for those traveling with kids: ”You can pack their outfits in large ziplock bags, and write their names on them. That way, you can pack a whole outfit for them, so that when you get where you’re going you can pull out one bag and know that you have a complete outift that you can dress your kid in.”

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