From My Home to Yours: Taking the Problems Out of Packing

Martha Stewart Living, February 2009

I have been traveling an inordinate amount in the past few months. My newest book, "Martha Stewart's Cooking School" (Clarkson Potter), was published in October, and I embarked on a multicity book tour that lasted for weeks. I also made several business trips -- to California, Maine, Ireland, Poland, and even Iceland.

Because I travel so much, and to so many diverse locations in many different kinds of planes and other vehicles, I have devised my own style of packing that works well and is effective. Little is left to chance, nothing gets lost or damaged, and my clothes and other items needed for the trip are protected and can usually be worn directly from the suitcase or hanging bag. I am a good packer and a successful traveler, but I hate to pack, and I tend to leave it to the last minute, even though I know the task would be better done in advance.

The luggage I take is an important consideration: I use duffel-type bags for casual trips when I need lots of room for hiking or riding boots and bulky outdoor clothing. Because these bags are clumsy to carry, I have found some that have wheels, saving my back, arms, and shoulders.

For two- or three-day trips, I find I can usually get away with a carry-on duffel/handbag, a smaller messenger bag, and a small "wheelie" that fits into a plane's overhead compartment. I also have several good zippered garment bags that can be carried onto a plane. If I must check luggage because I need many changes of clothing, I use a rigid aluminum suitcase (I have three sizes).

Really good luggage should never be checked unless the bags can be shrink-wrapped or covered with a canvas or waterproof covering. So many bags are damaged on the automated conveyor belts: Handles are ripped off, gashes are made in canvas bags, and locks are often snapped off. Even the aluminum suitcases are occasionally dented and scuffed, though I find them remarkably sturdy.

I carry lots of electronics and cameras with me, and their attendant chargers and batteries are cumbersome and heavy. I pack each camera, each charger, and the extra batteries in resealable plastic bags. My cell phone and BlackBerry are always with me, as is my Kindle, and each uses a different charger that requires its own small bag.

My makeup and toiletries are packed in separate zippered pouches, which are then inserted into large resealable plastic bags. If I am bringing a laptop, that, too, is packed in my hand-carried duffel, which can be transported easily atop my wheelie or overnight bag.

I always watch my luggage like a hawk -- I do not let hotel bellmen whisk it away for later delivery to my room. I stay with it and insist on accompanying it to my room. In taxis and limos, I watch how it is stored so that nothing is ever crushed or damaged. Hanging bags are always hung or laid flat on top of everything else.

What's most effective about my method of packing is that it lets me pack outfits together on one hanger. Each outfit is stored and folded in a dry-cleaner-type plastic bag so that once I reach my destination, I can simply hang up my clothes and wear them without having to press them. Packing by outfit enables me to figure out, while packing, exactly which undergarments, stockings, shoes, scarves, and purses I will need. All my shoes are packed in flannel shoe bags, and I use the same type of bag for belts and evening clutches. If I am traveling with a hat or two, I use a lightweight shopping bag, so the hats won't be crushed.

I have also devised a list of essential "do not forget" items. I refer to this list so that I don't neglect to pack vitamins, a favorite tea, a couple of pieces of ribbon or waxed twine (to tie zippers closed), extra resealable plastic bags, jewelry, sunglasses, contact lenses and cleaning solutions, a hairbrush, checks, cash, and my passport.

This packing system works well and is easy to incorporate into your next trip. I hope that you will find it as useful as I do.

How to Pack a Suitcase for a Five-Day Trip
In this suitcase, there is plenty of room for nearly a week's worth of clothing. The key is to keep everything in separate and neat bundles, while making use of the built-in compartments.

1. Sweaters
To maintain the shape of my knitted tops and chunkier sweaters, I line the back of each garment with a few sheets of acid-free tissue paper before folding. These items should never be stored on hangers, either at hotels or at home; doing so can cause the fibers near the shoulders to stretch.

2. Footwear
Shoes are usually the heaviest cargo in a travel bag. To prevent them from crushing delicate clothing, I tuck them around the perimeter of the suitcase. Each pair is kept in an individual drawstring-topped shoe bag. I stuff the toes of my pumps and other dress shoes with acid-free tissue paper; socks go inside sneakers and slides.

3. Assembled Outfits
To streamline both packing and dressing on trips, I plan my outfits ahead of time, complete with shoes and accessories. I put each outfit on a single hanger (unless the top is a sweater) and wrap it in plastic.

4. Accessories
In addition to packing my shoes in pouches, I also place belts in one bag, undergarments in another, and tights and leggings in yet another. This ensures that the suitcase stays organized, even in the rare event it is searched at the airport.

Tangle-Free Chargers
These days, traveling means toting around a lot of electronics. I pack each charger separately in a labeled resealable plastic bag so everything is visible and at my fingertips.

Computer Protection
Laptops have to be taken out of their cases at airport security checkpoints, so I keep mine in a jumbo resealable bag to minimize handling. The power cord goes into a smaller bag.

Light, Easy Reading
I carry my Kindle, which lets me scan an array of books and newspapers, and my cashmere scarf with me on every trip. I also bring my toiletries (in containers that hold less than 3 ounces), a change of clothes, and my contact lens container and solution, just in case I am separated from my luggage.

Uncluttered Carryall
A messenger bag is roomy, can double as a pocketbook, and holds everything I need. I rely on a few coordinating accessories, including a large, sleek walletlike clutch by Perrin, to hold miscellaneous items.

Instant Identifier
One trip to the baggage carousel is proof enough that nearly all suitcases look alike. A bright-green ribbon tied to the handle distinguishes each of my bags from everyone else's.

Security Measure
Many luggage locks are forbidden under security regulations. So I tie the zipper pull tags on my suitcase together with a piece of waxed twine. That way, I can tell if it has been opened.

To Relax or Exercise
Comfortable, breathable clothes are always good to have on a trip. I'll wear them on the plane during a long flight or save them for an impromptu hike or workout.

How to Pack an Ensemble for Traveling
My trips are always extremely busy, so I plan what I'll wear to each event to ensure that I don't take extra clothes. With this one-outfit-per-hanger system, wrinkles are minimized, and I can hang up items as soon as I arrive.

Step 1: Hang the bottom First, you need a good dual-purpose hanger with metal clips and a secure grip. Attach a pair of jeans or pants or a skirt at the waist.

Step 2: Add the shirt
Slip the top onto the hanger, covering the bottom piece. If possible, keep all the buttons closed so that the shirt and collar will lie flat.

Step 3: Fold and wrap
Place the outfit facedown on a bed or a table. Tuck the pant legs under, creasing at the knees or in thirds. Then fold in the shirt's sleeves, and make a final fold at the bottom to fit inside the suitcase. Slip a clear plastic garment bag (you can use one from a dry cleaner) over the entire bundle, tucking in any excess plastic.


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