Packing Tips, Lesson One

August 15, 2007

in Luggage, Packing, Travel

I am busily packing — not for a trip mind you, for a move across Germany. Nevertheless, I am filling up suitcases, which got me thinking about the best way to pack a suitcase.

My favorite suitcase to pack is a Timberland wheeled convertible backpack. When I got it, it was carry-on size, but since then carry-on dimensions have decreased. The best thing about this suitcase, which has now seen better days, is that it is tombstone-shaped. It is exactly the shape of a medium-large shirt. And so I place my shirts in this suitcase, one on top of the other, tucking in long tails and folding arms across the chest. I lost count of how many shirts I fit in there today, but I would guess at least 30.

There seem to be two schools of packing: flat and roll. The roll school believes that rolling your clothes keeps them from getting wrinkled and that rolls take up less space. I used to be a roller, but these days I am a flat packer, as this seems to work better with most of my large suitcases. Flat packing is ideal if you are only dealing with clothes or other textiles; once you have to fit oddly shaped things in (shoes, toiletries, etc.), the gently rising tide that is flat packing floats everything higher, making your suitcase harder to zip closed. Trying to work with other items generally means more folding, which leads to more wrinkles that most try to avoid. Further, every fold in one item of clothing prevents another from fitting into the suitcase.

I don’t believe it really matters which school you follow; the most important thing is that by becoming practiced at one method or the other, knowing well your suitcase and the items you are going to put in it, you will find packing, unpacking, and finding/digging on the fly much easier.

In my cursory search of the two methods (trying in vain to find my original inspiration), I came across this amusing video from the International Institute of Modern Butlers (no, I cannot believe such a thing exists either) about packing flat to reduce folds. I never take so much care packing my travel wardrobe, but the principles are essentially the same. I believe, however, this video was produced before TSA began wreaking havoc with suitcase contents. I imagine today it is much harder to have your suits arrive in pristine condition, because you know TSA’s gonna be suspicious of all that tissue paper . . .

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dana 08.17.07 at 7:23 pm

I myself usually go for the extremely tightly folded into little bitty squares and then stacked approach, but this works better for smaller, rectangular suitcases, which is better for traveling, not moving.

I knew a person who used the modular packing approach, using the big sized Ziploc bags for shirts, skirts, etc. and small ones for undies, socks, and toiletries. She’d put a few shirts or whatever per bag, squeeze all the air out, and then put all the bags in the suitcase, on the theory that then they could move too much, and if TSA went through her suitcase, they could see everything without having to actually touch her stuff and mess it up. Then again, this seemed like a huge pain in the butt, and I doubt it did much to avoid wrinkles.

I have seen other things that are made specifically for this kind of packing, though, with bigger sizes for flatter folded shirts and pants. Here they are: packing cubes.

2 poetloverrebelspy 08.17.07 at 8:55 pm

Here I was certain you’d comment on modern-day butlers, because something about that made me think of you’d find them novel, Dana!

3 Dana 08.17.07 at 9:09 pm

Well, I certainly wouldn’t object to having a butler, but what I really want is a chef. If I never had to worry about food preparation again, I’d be very happy.

4 poetloverrebelspy 08.19.07 at 8:25 pm

The idea of a modern butler reminds me of this service that you blogged about here. Well, that and Mr. Belvedere.

5 akdmyers 08.20.07 at 5:11 pm

My mom is the most obsessively neat packer anyone has ever met, and she totally uses tissue paper to help reduce wrinkles. I don’t know how successful this method is, because she still usually winds up spraying most of her clothes to get the wrinkles out, but I do know that she’s never had any trouble with TSA over the tissue paper.

I usually fold or roll things as tightly as possible because it makes it easier to squeeze things around the weird contours of my suitcase created by the pull-out handle and make the most of every available bit of space.

6 Nora Rocket 08.29.07 at 10:44 pm

Have you seen the pack-a-palooza at I love that guy! He advocates bundle wrapping.

I pack a single zip-around backpack (Mountainsmith’s Ramble, which looks and acts less “I’m a backpacker!”) with the aid of packing cubes. Swear by them: you can shuffle out only what you need and keep the suitcase tidy at all times. Oh and, I roll some items and flat fold others, depending on the item.

Linked you on my blarg, P.L.R.S, by the by…loving this project of yours!

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