While I don’t travel with my Marines seabag (also known as a duffel bag) anymore, packing remains one of those things I learned in the Marines that still serves me well. Here are my best practices.
Before you begin to pack, read the rules. First and foremost are the parameters set forth by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on what you are permitted to carry onboard and what you are permitted to place in checked baggage. Just stand outside security at the international airport in Louisville, which is home of the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Factory and you will find many of those mini souvenir bats in the trash. People didn’t read the rules.
Also, investigate what will be available at your destination. Is there going to be an iron or blow dryer in the hotel room? What about laundry facilities? These tips can make a big difference on what you bring and how you pack it.
The Shoe Question
Let’s assume you are going on a standard 3-day business trip. Perhaps the biggest challenge is shoes. Fewer is better, but I generally travel with three pairs: dress shoes, casual shoes, and sneakers for exercise. (Many people can make do with two of those three options, but I don’t. So, I am already giving up some space.) Whatever number of shoes you finally pack, they are great for storage! If you use shoe trees at home, take them out; stuff your shoes with socks, underwear, and maybe even your exercise shorts. This is one of the best room-saving tips there is.
Folding Your Business Attire
This means a dress shirt, tie and jacket. Best case here is to get the shirts commercially laundered, pressed with light starch, and then folded with creased sleeves. Leave them in the wrapping from the cleaners and all you will have to do is iron out the big creases using the iron at the hotel. Sometimes you can fold your suit jacket and place it on top of everything in the suitcase, but often the better solution is to carry it on and place it in the overhead.
Evenly Distribute Your Bags
Whether you are on a longer trip by yourself or with family, spread everything out. Resist the temptation to have a suitcase for you and one for your kids. While that may be easier, it is also a recipe for disaster should one of them get lost. In cases where we have multiple suitcases making the trip, we lay out all the clothes we’re bringing and put some from each person into every suitcase.
On big vacations, like a week-long family ski trip, we'll send a box of some of our ski clothes and equipment ahead and have it waiting for us at the hotel. This guarantees that bulky but essential gear is there when we need it; and considering airline baggage fees, it might be cheaper to send something FedEx Ground than to bring it on the plane.
The Art of Layering Your Bag
The first layer of my bag is always the shoes and the toiletry kit. A note about the toiletry kit: I have one I use at home and another I use on the road and they never meet. This lesson I learned in the Marine Corps, where we had a “go” bag, which was a bag we could grab and go on a short-notice deployment.
In and around the shoes on this first layer are the t-shirts, exercise shorts and underwear—all those small things that can be crammed in to fill the gaps. Rolling is key here. It yields a compressed garment with minimal wrinkles and fits items into the nooks and crannies.
On top of that base layer will go my dress trousers (folded in half) and dress shirts. You may fold these into each other to give each a bit of cushion and make the crease from the fold less severe. Move one to each side of the bag to avoid a big lump in the middle.
The final layer might be your dress coat, a sweater or some kind of jacket.
When it comes to luggage, you get what you pay for. My Marine Corps luggage was some of the most durable, and I still use some of it. Pack it full and it could take a beating during travel. You may not need military spec, but cheap is not good when it comes to luggage. You want something made of strong materials that is solidly put together. Pouches and compartments are essential, too. They allow you to access important items like a passport or a boarding pass when you need them.
Hit the Road
If you are like most Americans, you will be traveling with luggage in the next month or so. A well-thought-out plan will ensure that you arrive ready for all your activities. Write up a checklist of all your planned activities and the exact things you will need to wear or bring for each. For example, don’t just think “exercise gear.” Actually list the socks, t-shirts, shorts, and sneakers you will need to bring.
In developing your packing strategy, plan for the worst and hope for the best. You cannot go wrong.
What are your best practices for packing?
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