How To Pack: Tried And True Tricks To Make It Easier

There was a time in my life when I was traveling so much it seemed I couldn’t unpack my bags before I had to stuff them all over again. Needless to say, through trial and error, I developed a few techniques to make the process easier and more foolproof. Since several Frisky staffers are already stressing over holiday packing, I figured I’d post a few of my tips, and, seriously, folks, we’d love to hear all of yours. After the jump, some ideas to help make packing way, way easier! Less Is More, For Real: There’s a fine line between packing light and too little, but it’s best to err on the side of less. When you’re at home, overwhelmed and obsessing, you start to imagine all these made-up scenarios where you might need this and that. But, honestly, once you’re there, you really can make less work. Let go of this fantasy that you’re going to get invited to the President’s mansion for a ball while you’re backpacking in Brazil and will need to trot out all your best, blingiest stuff. Resolve to keep it chic, elegant and simple. It’s really so much less stressful.

Additionally, the best travel tip ever is easy — avoid checking luggage, no matter what. Not only do you save yourself from having to wait for your bags, but especially because during the high-traffic holidays, luggage goes missing all the time. Sure, you’re usually reunited with it eventually, but only after a few days and sometimes not even until you get back home. It really blows and happens way more than you think. Trust me.

Bag It Up: In keeping with the less-is-more advice, you need the appropriate carry-ons. Airlines have recently significantly cracked down on restricting these, so limit yourself to two. One should be a standard carry-on that you can claim is a purse if they give you any trubs, but big enough to stuff your laptop in. The strap should be wide (more comfortable) and sturdy, and it should have lots of pockets inside so you can stay organized. Here’s what you want to carry in there:

Boarding Pass
Book or Magazine
iPod or music device
Toiletries/Makeup (more on that)
Tampons (optional, obvi)
Laptop (if you’ll need it, otherwise leave it at home!)
Sweater/Socks (it’s always alternatively too hot and too cold in the cabin)

See what’s going on here? All of your essentials are within arm’s reach, while your bag of clothes and shoes are being stowed above. Also, keeping your toiletries near you ensures no mid-flight explosions that’ll ruin your clothes. This will make your carry-on a bit heavy, but you can put it down whenever you need to. Keeping your slightly larger suitcase lighter is best because that’s the one you’ll be lifting overhead anyway. For the latter, make sure it rolls (also fab because you can pop your carry-on on top of it while you get to the gate so you’re not lugging it over your shoulder the whole way), and it must be under 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches. BUT the size requirements vary depending on the airline, so it doesn’t hurt to check online first. Buy your luggage based on the airline you fly most frequently.

Edit Your Toiletries, Like, A Lot: This whole personal hygiene situation creates the most drama for everyone because you’re tempted to just throw your whole makeup bag and all the contents of your bathroom cabinet in there and call it a day, but this is a really bad idea. For one, that whole liquids must be in three-ounce or smaller containers rule hasn’t gone away (and the TSA asserts it won’t). Also, despite popular opinion, you do not need all the stuff that lives in your shower while you’re away. Hotels provide lots of products (and even more are available upon request), and if you’re staying with friends or family then it won’t kill you or them to borrow their shampoo once. Here’s all you really need:

Toothpaste (travel-size)
Bar of soap (buy non-comedegenic and you can use for face)
Moisturizer/Acne Cream
Hair Stuff

Seriously, that’s it. You are not going to be applying a mud mask or giving yourself a “spa day” while you’re on the road. Buy some empty containers to put some of your must-haves in and throw those into one (ONE) quart-sized plastic baggie. Because some security employees consider makeup liquids, those items go in there as well to be safe. If you are all like, “Oh hell no!” and a beauty junkie, there are companies that make travel-sized skin regimens (I like Sampar’s Bon Weekend Kit), but again …. Not. Necessary.

Your Closet Stays Home: Now that the little annoying things are out of the way, here comes the easiest part of the packing equation. Obviously it goes without saying that you should check the weather where you are going and pack accordingly, but keeping that in mind, the basics remain, well, basic. The easiest way to go with less but ensure you have plenty is to pack items that stick to a neutral palette. (For me, that’s black, white, gray, and more black.) You’ll want to stick with sturdy fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily, like jersey-cotton, tweed and denim, and use the rolling technique, wherein you roll items and place them side by side, which makes them take up less room and stay wrinkle-free. Here’s what you need:

Cardigan, wrap or blazer (nice and chic for on the plane and off; this is the one you’ll store in the carry-on)
2 basic, high-end T-shirts or tops (one black, one white keeps it easy; by “high-end” I mean no holes and a flattering cut)
Underwear for each day you’re away; divide number of bras in half
Socks for each day you’re away (unless you don’t need them based on shoes)
Favorite jeans or pants (not your weekend slouchies, your work-appropriate ones)
Pajamas (one set is fine)
Bathing suit (you never know; if you’re going someplace warm)
Day-to-night dress (work/hang out/cocktail-appropriate)
Black heels
Walking shoes (boots, flats, Fit Flops, whatever …)

Again, this list will change depending on whether it’s a work trip, vacation or a journey to see family, and on how long you’re there. But you get the idea: Pack a few basic essentials that can be worn interchangeably so you can make a few different outfits. By keeping the colors neutral, no one will notice that you may have busted out the same thing twice. And while it may sound crazy to you, you seriously only need two pairs of shoes, lady. No one notices but you. No joke.