How to Pack a Suitcase

I've had a few people ask how I manage to avoid checking any bags during most of my travels.  Since I am now in the process of packing for Jordan, I can share some of my tips as I put them into practice. I am packing for a one week trip across the globe and I have everything tucked in one suitcase small enough for the overhead bin.  My only other bag is a small tote bag, which will be my second allowable "personal item" on the plane.  Here's how I do it:

1.  I am a geeky, practical traveler.  If I can get away with bringing only one pair of shoes - the shoes I wear on the plane - I'll do it.  I happen to need one pair of nicer shoes for dinners on this trip, and I've chosen simple black flats.  They are thin, flat and pack easily.  Everyone in my group will see me wear each of the three pairs of pants I am bringing twice, and they'll see me wear the same long black skirt more than once I'm sure.  I have packed a variety of totally boring, plain layers - essentially a stack of tee shirts, mostly gray and black, and a couple of sweaters.  On a trip like this, the word fashionable does not enter my mind.  The word of the day is always practical, practical, practical.  No extra jewelry - I only take what I wear - no extra anything.  I have enough outfits for each day and not much beyond that.

2.  Toiletries and other personal items are packed to be as flat as possible.  One plastic ziploc for liquids, not jammed tight, but able to lay flat, one flat zipper pouch with my pill box, band-aids, immodium, etc.  One flat zipper pouch with minimal makeup, a few ponytail holders & barrettes and my toothbrush.  One flat pouch filled with tampons & whatnot because - pardon my divulging TMI here - my body tends to go haywire when I careen it out of its routine this dramatically. Because all of these smaller bags & pouches lie fairly flat, they fit nicely into my suitcase on top of all my clothes.  Eagle Creek and Tepper Jackson both have great travel accessories.

3.  I also save things like socks and tank tops for the tiny pockets of space that always open up after I've packed my clothes.  There are little "holes" all over, and these smaller items enable me to use every bit of available space in my suitcase.

4.  In my second allowable - albeit smaller - carry-on bag, I'll have my camera, pens, wallet, journal, book and glasses.

5.  My plan of action in case I go crazy at the markets in Amman is twofold:  my suitcase expands, and if I have to check it coming home because I've purchased so many fabulous treasures, then that's fine (but in the meantime, I'll savor not having to wait for my bag after we land in Amman).  I'm also taking a second, larger tote bag - which packs totally flat in my suitcase - to carry whatever I can carry on the plane (I got this one from Papaya.)  Between the extra space in my suitcase and the large tote bag, I should be able to go at least a little bit crazy at the markets even if it means I'll have to check a bag on the way home.

6.  After having shared all of this, I have to say I'm not totally rigid.  On my trip to New Zealand last year, my friends requested a number of items from the states that couldn't easily be found down there.  I managed to get a bottle of tequila, three bottles of red wine, three bottles of hot sauce, shaving cream and toothpaste across the Pacific intact thanks to bubble wrap and socks.  I then brought three bottles of wine back home with me and again, nothing was broken.

In a nutshell, I let go of having a wide variety of choices for myself when I travel.  I bring things that can be mixed and matched and leave all the extras behind - no extra purses, shoes, jewelry or outfits.  I'm totally OK being a great big dork, especially when I travel.  Geeky, practical, plain - that's my motto when I'm getting on a plane.

Class dismissed.

Christine Mason Miller

Santa Barbara, CA

Writer * Artist * Storyteller * Guide