Pack Like a Pro: Part 2

List, check and bundle…

In last month’s column, I talked about the joys of traveling with carry-on only, including what to pack (anything needed in transit and what you wouldn’t want lost, damaged or stolen) and how to manage your carry-on in transit.

We’re continuing with that theme and I’m joined by Ali Garland, author of the newly released e-book, Packing Made Simple: A Simple Guide to Packing Light (available on Amazon and via her website,

Choosing Clothing for Carry-on
I’ve known people who’ve traveled for more than a year with carry-on only. Even if you’re not that hardcore, packing light does have its advantages. Sure, you may not look fabulous all the time, but it’s the price to pay for being mobile. I’ve been on one week cruises where I’ve seen passengers come on board with two full suitcases each, ostensibly to have something different to wear for every occasion, including dress-up nights. While that may be okay for trips where you’re locked into one destination and don’t plan on packing and unpacking multiple times, more active travelers see the beauty in not being saddled down. Ali says that “a big part of limiting the amount of clothing you pack is being OK with wearing the same thing two or even three times without washing it. I’m not talking about underwear, just shirts, shorts, and pants. You’re the only person who will notice.” She recommends making sure everything coordinates, like jeans and neutral-colored pants. On most trips, I wear Crocs (yes, I know they’re far from stylish), but they’re great for adventure trips while protecting your feet. I even have ‘dress’ Crocs that are comfortable while being appropriate when I need to meet with clients. Obviously, if you need bulky shoes, say for hiking or business, wear them on the plane with you while tucking your casual pair in your carry-on.

When traveling to places with unpredictable weather or different climates, Ali recommends packing clothing you can layer like a jacket with a removable liner and a water resistant outer shell. Personally, I love Patagonia down-filled jackets which can compress into a tiny stuffsack and merino wool t-shirts for cooler weather.

Even if you’re traveling with checked baggage, you may want to think of packing an extra outfit into your carry-on. If your suitcase gets lost, at least you’ll have a change of clothes while you wait for it to arrive or for the 24 hour rule to kick in before you can be reimbursed for essential purchases. This is even more important if you have a special event (like a business meeting or a wedding) to go to within the first couple of days at your destination, because no insurance is going to cover the cost of buying a suit or a gown in the unfortunate event that yours goes AWOL.

Ali’s advice is: “Remember that the main focus of your trip is the travel and the vacation itself, not what you’re wearing. You want to be comfortable and practical, but you don’t need to win any best-dressed awards.”

bundlewrapping via internet

Packing with Checked Bags
“Traveling with less stuff means less weight to lug around, which gives you more freedom and flexibility, and this still holds true even if you’re checking a bag,” writes Ali. Just because someone else is carrying it through the airport and onto the plane, you’ll still have to carry it once you arrive, she says.

Ali recommends packing a week’s worth of clothing at most. Remember, hotel laundry services (or even finding a local laundromat) is always an option. I remember one African trip where we all washed our own laundry as we went, with the overland truck looking like a dry cleaner’s with clothes desperately trying to dry in the humid weather. But for that type of trip where you literally couldn’t carry anything more than what could fit in a small locker, packing multiple outfits wasn’t an option. Choosing a smaller suitcase will also force you to be more judicious with what you pack. The old axiom holds true: Take twice as much money and half as many clothes as you think you’ll need.

How to Pack
Throughout the years, I’ve experimented with lots of different ways to pack, and it all boils down to what kind of trip you’re taking and what kind of luggage you’re using.

If space isn’t a major consideration, I like using packing cubes. Not quite cubes, these are zippered fabric pouches, often with mesh panels, designed to keep your things organized. They come in different sizes, and the beauty is you can stuff your trousers/shirts in one, underwear in another, and toiletries in a third. When you get to your hotel, they move seamlessly from your suitcase to the dresser with minimal unpacking required. They’re also great for keeping dirty and clean clothes separate, or if you’re sharing a suitcase with someone, keeping clothes separate.

packing cube via internet

Then there’s the roll vs. fold & stack debate. Popular wisdom says rolled clothing takes up less space than folding (and also good if you’re using an unstructured bag like a duffel). Then again, round objects do waste the most space if you’re talking identical sizes. I’ve also tried compression bags which seem like a good idea on paper, but are a pain to prepare and encourage you to pack more than you need. Lately, I’ve been using the bundle wrap method, creating a central rectangular core (a packing cube, for instance) and then wrapping clothes around it, from least-to-most likely to wrinkle, in alternating directions, like moving around a compass. Because the clothes are wrapped and not folded, this method avoids wrinkles and creases while maximizing space. (Watch the great tutorial on bundle wrapping by NBCNews online.) On a recent trip to Bangkok, an unplanned shopping spree meant I had to take back double the amount of clothes I brought. With the bundle method, though, I managed to fit an unbelievable amount into my carry-on. yes, it was heavy as a brick, but it held together.

My last bit of packing advice is to keep a packing list and use it from one trip to the next. Over time, it gets whittled down to the true necessities and makes packing a less labor-intensive experience, especially if it’s on your computer where you can easily add items for special occasions or unusual weather.

Ali leaves this parting advice: “If you chronically over-pack, take it slow. Making a few changes with each trip will help you get used to packing lighter, and you’ll see how much stuff you bring along that you don’t really need. Before you know it, you’ll be able to pack one small bag and be on your way!”

Having visited nearly 60 countries as a travel writer and award-winning photographer, James Pham blogs about his adventures at


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