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The Art Of Packing A Bag

Make no mistake; packing a bag is an art. It’s a skill that is usually only acquired after trial and error and many hours spent lugging a too-heavy suitcase through an airport. I believe that you have to have at least one awful, hernia-inducing, what-do-you-have-in-there-a-ton-of-bricks, bag-hauling experience before you realize the importance of an efficiently-packed bag.

When I studied abroad in London, I had two (huge) checked bags and one carry-on (plus a “purse” that was almost as big as said carry-on).  I was prepared for any eventuality, and it never occurred to me that not only did London have stores where I could buy clothes and toiletries, but that I would actually want to do some shopping once I got there.

That brings me to tip #1: you DO NOT need to pack everything you own. You do not even need to pack everything you might need. If it ends up being chillier than you expected, use it as an excuse to go shopping and pick up a beautiful sweater or shawl. It’ll be a souvenir and a great conversation piece when you get home. And if the sun shines the whole time, you won’t have to lug around a sweater you never wear.

Now, you’re probably thinking that if you have only one bag, you won’t have to worry about being on the too-much-stuff spectrum. When I backpacked through Europe after college, I thought the same thing. I had learned my lesson, I told myself. No more dragging multiple suitcases across continents; I would have one bag and it would hold everything I needed. Well, believe me when I tell you it is possible to over-pack a single bag.  I spent the next month shedding unnecessary items of clothing in every major city in Europe. Sweaters were left behind in Roman hostels, socks were discarded in Paris…I just didn’t need or wear half the things in my bag. And after weeks of carrying all my worldly possessions, I found I preferred having fewer wardrobe choices instead of a sore, hunched back.

So, tip #2: packing is all about strategy and versatility. This goes hand-in-hand with tip #1. You want products that will do double (or triple) duty. I’m talking comfy walking shoes that can also be dressed up; scarves that can cover a bad hair day, cover your shoulders in a church and cover your neck in a chill; and clothes that all coordinate with each other (ahem, maybe leave the random leopard-print leggings at home if they won’t work with anything else you’re bringing).

Finally, and this is a big one for me, tip #3: learn to roll your clothes. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it really does maximize space in your bag. Some people swear by packing cubes, but I’ve never used them so I can’t comment on how they work. Rolling has always worked me for me (and it’s free), so I haven’t felt the need to try anything else. Another great thing about rolling is that your clothes don’t get wrinkled (and who wants to spend their vacation ironing?). I love rolling clothes because I can fit everything I need to bring, and (usually) have plenty of space left in my bag for inevitable purchases. And anything that helps me shop is definitely a plus in my book.

What are your best packing tips?

Image via Shutterstock

  • Em Bee

    Travel for work has taught me not to pack my bag tight at home or things won’t fit when you come back. I’m pretty sure it’s because worn clothes are bulkier but that’s not science. What I do is I make sure to pack my ‘dummy hoodie’ last, which is one of the Mr’s XL ones. I take it out before I leave and am never in a hotel room sitting on my bag hoping my face wash doesn’t pop inside it’s ziploc.

    • Stephanie Spitler

      Good idea!

  • Keli Cain

    When I pack, I always think of Meg Ryan in French Kiss, where she loses her luggage but still manages to look great in the few things she has in her backpack. Lots of mix and matching basic pieces that you can add scarves or other accessessories to to change things up. I still love the idea of literally backpacking around Europe without dragging a bunch of bulky luggage around.

  • Halley Beth

    This is wonderful! I’m going on my first trip overseas this summer, and before this I had no idea how to pack my things. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Spitler

      Hope you have a great time on your trip!

  • Meg Lee Schmidt

    I TOTALLY ROLL MY CLOTHES!!! been doing it forever! truly helps save lots of room peeps!! im an expert in packing ;))

  • molls

    I just learned the magic of clothes rolling after over shopping in Paris with nothing but a carry-on bag. It’s the absolute best way to pack– I don’t know why it never occurred to me.

  • Danielle Mitchell

    I watched a video by a ‘packer to the stars’ who swore by folding into squares and then putting items into zip lock bags and kneeling on the bag as you zip lock to ensure the air is out of the bag. Apparently it saves lots of space. Its a tip I em def going to try when I go on holiday next.

    • Stephanie Spitler

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to try that. It’ll be rolling vs. ziploc bags!

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