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Packing a Suitcase

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 20 June/July 1994

Before you can pack properly for a trip, you need to determine your priorities. For a business trip or a formal event such as a wedding, you'll want to keep clothes in perfect, crease-free condition. But if you're packing for a hike in the mountains or a drive down the California coast, you might tolerate a few wrinkles in exchange for an extra pair of walking shoes squeezed into your baggage. Experiment with the following packing methods until you find the one that best suits your travel style.

Hanging
For the most foolproof wrinkle-free packing, suits and blouses should be stuffed with tissue and encased in dry-cleaning bags before going into a travel garment bag. The tissue keeps the fabrics from crushing, and the plastic reduces friction so clothes can settle into their natural shape. Pack everything else -- shoes, toiletries, books, papers, valuables -- in a separate carry-on bag.

Layering
Instead of using tissue paper to stuff clothing, try layering garments over one another so each layer pads the next. For example, begin with a pair of pants folded over the bar of a hanger, then hang a sweater around it. A silk shirt can go over that, and a jacket over the shirt. Slip on a plastic dry-cleaning bag last, and place the whole thing in a garment bag; or fold, and set into a duffel.

Overlapping
Keep delicate clothes from wrinkling by folding them around cushiony items like sweaters and knit shirts. Place the top half of a pair of pants in your suitcase, for example, smooth a sweater over that, and fold the pant legs up over the sweater. Never fold clothes more times than is necessary to fit them in a bag -- once across the middle should be enough for most sweaters and blouses.

Rolling
Fill the corners of suitcases and duffels with clothes rolled into little sausages. This way you can distribute lots of items evenly throughout a small bag. This method saves the most space but is best for casual clothing -- blouses or blazers will rumple.

Toiletries
To avoid leaks caused by pressure changes during air travel, fill travel-size plastic bottles partway, squeeze out excess air, and cap them, creating a vacuum. Then double-bag them, first in a cosmetics bag or large resealable plastic bag, then in a plastic shopping bag. Never pack toiletries in the same bag with clothes -- a single spill can cause great damage. Along with toiletries, your carry-on bag should hold your jewelry and other valuables; eyewear; a travel first-aid kit; travel documents; maps; and reading material.

Shoes
To protect shoes from scuffing and being crushed, stuff them with tissue or socks, and slip them into fabric show bags or plastic bags.

Do You Know?
If you run out of space in your bag before you've packed everything, there's a way to get more in: Drop the bag on the floor a few times, then open it -- things will have settled, and you'll find extra room.

Comments (48)

  • FitnessCherie 6 Jul, 2012

    I wanted to know the brand too...I somehow found it on google! It's spelled MUJI. Hope this helps!

  • Jan23 22 Jun, 2012

    This is not the same packing segment that was shown on your 20 Things You Need to Know that was aired recently.

  • Jan23 22 Jun, 2012

    I wanted to buy some of the travel bags featured on the show but can't find them on the web site. Sounded like "moo-gee". Can you help me?

    Also I used the compression bags to pack on a recent trip to the Mediterrean. I used them for underwear, swimwear and other things that could get wrinkled. At the end I could have used another bag for dirty clothes so I would have room for souvenirs. They worked wonderfully!

  • mamapeck 25 Oct, 2010

    I take clothes I don't want any longer and leave them behind for the hotel staff. I might do laundry once or twice so I don't have to pack as much.This leaves me space for my purchases. I also take samples and small toiletry items and leave behind any I haven't used by the last day. I fill shoes with small items. I pack light weight clothes to save space and weight in the suitcase. I use a camelback

  • mdeal38 25 Oct, 2010

    I went on a trip to Spain and decided to use a few of those bags where you suck the air out .....BAD IDEA! By the time i got to Spain the bags had expanded and caused the zipper to bust. I had to leave half the stuff that i brought there because i couldnt fit them all in my suitcase. I dont think i will ever do that again.

  • mdeal38 25 Oct, 2010

    I went on a trip to Spain and decided to use a few of those bags where you suck the air out .....BAD IDEA! By the time i got to Spain the bags had expanded and caused the zipper to bust. I had to leave half the stuff that i brought there because i couldnt fit them all in my suitcase. I dont think i will ever do that again.

  • mdeal38 25 Oct, 2010

    I went on a trip to Spain and decided to use a few of those bags where you suck the air out .....BAD IDEA! By the time i got to Spain the bags had expanded and caused the zipper to bust. I had to leave half the stuff that i brought there because i couldnt fit them all in my suitcase. I dont think i will ever do that again.

  • SusanFitz 25 Oct, 2010

    I have been traveling once a month for 20 years. Things always wrinkle so I plan to steam out wrinkles with hot shower in bathrm and fan off, as soon as I can unpack. I try for one suit that has a skirt and pants. I always need running shoes and other running clothes. I wear suit, sweater, biggest shoes on plane and take small backpack and purse. I gave up trying to pack for carryon when I realized I no longer wanted to give up exercise on the road and needed those running shoes

  • MrsWildweasel 25 Oct, 2010

    I actually do what the army taught me and I roll everything, put my underwear, socks and bras all in separate ziplock bags. I also do this with t-shirts, nightwear, etc. You can get alot in your luggage by doing this. I have a separate thing for my cosmetics etc and anything that has a potential to leak also gets put in a separate ziplock.

  • LostAcre 25 Oct, 2010

    toiletries in carry on - what era are you living in -- if EVERYTHING you need for a long trip is doable in tiny 2oz bottles that will all fit into a one quart plastic ziplock, then you're all set. Good luck

  • IzziGirl 10 Mar, 2010

    I've learned the hard way to always bring a change of clothes on the plane. A few times, I've tried to get away with only bringing a small purse on the plane, and those are always the flights where my luggage is lost, there's an unexpected layover, or I spill coffee on myself. Never stuff your carry-on, so you can throw your purse in or some duty-free goodies. It should also have a toothbrush, hairbrush, compact solid perfume, travel febreeze, loose powder, hand sanitizer, lotion,

  • gwegg 8 Mar, 2010

    From the example, ilt looks like everything is folded more than once -- shirts, tshirts. What gives?

  • stampinglyon 8 Mar, 2010

    Stuff shoes with undies, and anything else that will fit. If clothes wrinkle, don't worry just hang in the hot shower. I travel a lot and think the vacum packs are so much better, you can fit more in the bag. If I packed as above I would never fit everything in the case

  • stampinglyon 8 Mar, 2010

    Stuff shoes with undies, and anything else that will fit. If clothes wrinkle, don't worry just hang in the hot shower. I travel a lot and think the vacum packs are so much better, you can fit more in the bag. If I packed as above I would never fit everything in the case

  • wordsnob 7 Mar, 2010

    Bundle wrapping is superior to each of the methods described here. I've used it for years, biz and personal trips. The best travel site ever is onebag.com, where you'll see a diagram

  • LostAcre 6 Mar, 2010

    unless you can absolutely live with under 3 oz. the advice about toiletries in carryon is out of date

  • LindenBlossom 6 Mar, 2010

    Love the tip about dropping the case to create more room - I'm going to give that one a try next time!

  • Orah 5 Mar, 2010

    When on vacation I like to buy clothing where I vacation. You find items befitting the season you are there. You come back with a useful reminder of your trip.

  • Mzmurf 5 Mar, 2010

    Our newspaper comes in a very thin plastic bag that is tube-shaped and just right for a shoe. They protect your clothing, last long enough for most trips and weigh nothing. I share NanaKeegan's concern about weight also. I find that the "travel" clothes are just as heavy as others. Lighweight silks work really well and the wrinkles fall out overnight. Also, thin wool sweaters are almost as warm as thick cotton ones and can be layered.

  • Shirley61455 5 Mar, 2010

    Any prescription medication you need should also be packed in your carry-on bag, in its original container with the Rx label. Then if your luggage is lost or mis-directed, you still have your heart/blood pressure/diabetic/etc. medications with you.

  • melcorrell 5 Mar, 2010

    This may have been good advice in 1994 when it was first printed but unless your toiletries are in bottles of 3.4 oz or smaller will all fit in one 1qt closed zip lock bag, you will have to put them in your checked luggage or throw them away at security.

  • NataEgas 5 Mar, 2010

    Current security travel restrictions make the toiletry advice difficult to achieve.

  • NanaKeegan 5 Mar, 2010

    This is a helpful article about packing within a space but how about the newest concern: packing for minimum weight? Any suggestions, ideas? It seems everytime we travel the weight limit changes (decreases) depending on what country we are going to visit. Thanks!

  • Lauren_De_Haan 5 Mar, 2010

    Kdanalakis: I'm not sure about the suitcase in the picture but Longchamp has some similar. Their bags are great because they hold a lot and when you're done they just fold up!

  • Dinamm11 5 Mar, 2010

    Correction again on the 3-1-1 liquid requirement. Each bottle can contain as much as 3.4 oz (100 ml) - see tsa.gov. Also, the article suggested packing your toiletries in a separate bag from your clothes. If you are flying and may be gone for a while, all of your toiletries cannot be carried in your carry-on and checking a second bag can get expensive and cumbersome when traveling. Just make sure that thinner liquids are packed in extra water tight plastic bags. I've never had a problem.

  • Brickhorse 5 Mar, 2010

    I use the Wardrobe Capsule method, to pick 2 neutrals and to make sure every item goes with every other item, so packing sparingly still provides for many wardrobe changes. Before leaving, declutter what isn't needed. Scarves add color. Works for me!

  • kdanalakis 5 Mar, 2010

    Help! Where can i find the suitcase that Martha is showing in the above article? I love it!

  • nora_tj 20 Oct, 2009

    When I visit family on the east coast, I send clothes a week ahead via UPS

  • nora_tj 20 Oct, 2009

    When I visit family on the east coast, I send clothes a week ahead via UPS

  • LoseThatGirl 20 Oct, 2009

    I pack my shoes in the bottom corner of my suitcase -- the one that will still be the lowest point of my case when I'm pulling it my the handle. That way, the heavy shoes don't crush other items in transit. I also use plenty of Ziploc bags to pack items -- why splash out on expensive packing containers for the inside of your case when Ziploc bags of various sizes do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. Great for packing underwear all together, socks all together.

  • lindagaines 3 Nov, 2008

    Always carry your Rx medicine in your carry on or purse. I was glad I had my medicine in my carry on when my suitcase decided to take a separate vacation to another state. The airline got it back to me in one day, but it could have been worse.

  • wezbo 27 Oct, 2008

    And as my husband is always prone to remind me: you are going on a trip, not moving house... That's when I secretly edit his choices. Dump the worst baggy T's and slip in the one good shirt he looks so great in.

  • SusanMeredithChambers 26 Oct, 2008

    Bravo on the old undies, socks and t-shirt idea!!! I don't bring any expensive jewellry or clothes when I travel. Would be tragic if anything was lost or stolen on a trip. I want to enjoy myself.

  • SusanMeredithChambers 26 Oct, 2008

    Bravo on the old undies, socks and t-shirt idea!!! I don't bring any expensive jewellry or clothes when I travel. Would be tragic if anything was lost or stolen on a trip. I want to enjoy myself.

  • mommadog 26 Oct, 2008

    This is great info, but you need to keep in mind that bags are now weighed and you will pay fees over 50 lbs. per bag. You will pay even more for your 2nd bag now. If you know far enough ahead of time you may want to ship some of your things ahead of you.

  • Syb 26 Oct, 2008

    We should all be good citizens when we travel and leaving your garbage in other peoples yards is not being a good citizen. As any good hiker knows if you pack it in then you need to pack it out. Leave only your footprints and treasure your memories.

  • happystamper 26 Oct, 2008

    Martha probably doesn't do this, but for a long trip I will save underwear that's ready to be thrown out--but OK for just one more wearing. Once I've worn it on the trip, it goes in the trash. If I want sleepwear, I pack an old t shirt and do the same thing. It doesn't save room on the trip out but you have more room to bring home anything you might buy.

  • boscoinbarrie 26 Oct, 2008

    anyone tried the "packing cubes that the college kids use in there back packs I can fit about 6 outfits (rolled all in one) in each and it is really great if they ever check your bags at customs they can remove and unzip each one and they fit neatly back into your case... we just returned from a week in walt disney world and each of us only needed a carry on!! ( and that is with 2 extra pairs of shoes too!) I found them on the Heys travel site and they are worth every penny!

  • loisa 26 Oct, 2008

    If you go to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.gov) and click on the For Travelers link and then the 3-1-1 For Carry-ons link under the Things You Should Know heading, you will see what the regulations for carrying on liquids is. The maximum is 3 oz. each.

  • Sharret42 26 Oct, 2008

    IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Your liquids can only be a maximum of 2 oz each and have to fit into a quart-size plastic baggie so the security personnel at airports can see them. Another use for plastic dry cleaning bags I've used is to drape them over my house plants in the tub while I'm traveling. It makes a clever "greenhouse" and your plants will be thriving when you return (7-10 days).

  • Junenurse 26 Oct, 2008

    Remember your medicines. Plastic bags, etc. If possible, pill containers labeled with the day of the week can have that days' necessary medicines all in each one.

  • ShoppingBagLady 26 Oct, 2008

    I love the idea of tossing socks

  • Wadika 26 Oct, 2008

    Not only is the "dropping the bag " idea one that works, but the visual of Martha getting desperate with an item that just wouldn't fit and banging the bag on the floor, then realizing she could fit it in afterward. Now that's comedy!!

  • cathrynmb 26 Oct, 2008

    The plastic dry-cleaning bag trick really works, I've done that before with great results. Another space-saver: pack ratty and worn-out socks or underwear and just toss them after wearing. I left a trail of socks and undies all across Asia 2 years ago, LOL!

  • grandmaca 26 Oct, 2008

    This is all true except with the new rules for carry on you have to be careful with the sizes since everything has to be in 3oz or less size containers all in 1 quart size ziplock.

  • Tryingsomethingnew 26 Oct, 2008

    I travel back and forth across the Atlantic all the time, and with airlines raising luggage fees, these ideas are spot on!

  • nana777ing 14 Aug, 2008

    Really good tips. Thanks

  • mmmmmartha 26 Jan, 2008

    Fantastic...I need this to pack for Hawaii!!!

    Thanks!