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The art of packing a suitcase

Samyukta Bhowmick | December 08, 2005

It's always fun to go away on holiday. What isn't fun are the peripheries that come with it -- booking your itinerary, the rush for cheap tickets, trying to find a hotel room in some obscure Spanish town, and of course, packing. 

There is one thing you can do that will bypass all other problems when it comes to the latter -- get someone else to do it for you. If this doesn't work, here are some other tips. First, lay out all the clothes you want to take so you know exactly what you have to fit into the suitcase.

Be realistic -- you know that if the clothes you've laid out have covered your bedroom floor, the landing outside, and have even gone halfway down the stairs, you're probably not going to be able to fit it into the suitcase. Be strong -- discard the fripperies. 

After you've done this, it's like a military manoeuvre. You need a strategy, and you can't be afraid to make sacrifices. Remember to pack anything you need for the plane -- contact lens cases, facewash or toothbrushes for instance -- and any valuables into your carry-on bag.

It sometimes also makes a lot of sense to carry a change of clothing, if your suitcase makes it to another destination than you. (If you're travelling with someone else, try and put some of your clothing into their bag and some of their clothing into your bag to minimise risk). 

Also, try to carry anything liquid that could possibly spill and ruin all your clothes either in your handbag, or else wrap it up very tight in a plastic bag, and put it between soft things like towels or cotton balls in your suitcase. Not your cashmere jumper though -- that might tempt fate.

The one vital tip that's always helped me out when I'm panicking two hours before I have to catch a flight is to roll. Rolling your clothes helps to save space, and also keeps out wrinkles. You need to roll the clothes tightly, and you can even lay them into each other, a T-shirt into a long-sleeved shirt, for instance.

Now, when you start packing the suitcase, the first thing you have to do, obviously, is to lay out anything at the bottom that you haven't rolled. I always put my jeans and other trousers at the very bottom, and flatten them out completely -- although some prefer to roll them also.

I usually put my shoes in next, wrapped in shoe bags or plastic (some people like to pack things into their shoes as well), and then layer and fit tops after that. If you're laying shirts flat, shirt sleeves should be folded inward. Small things should be tucked into empty spaces -- any empty space will make things roll around in your suitcase, and you won't be able to recognise anything when you open your suitcase again.

Any big books are also better off at the bottom -- and don't forget these altogether, otherwise you'll be faced with a perfectly packed suitcase and then nowhere to put your Guide to Every Single Thing You Could Ever Possibly Want to See in Rome... And Some Things You Don't. If you're like me, much swearing, jumping on said suitcase and breaking things against walls will follow -- won't really change anything though.

If you're packing for a business trip, or need some formal dresses, it's always better to take them in a separate garment bag. That way they won't wrinkle, and most can be folded on top of your clothes in your suitcase. It'll also save space.

This is one tip that always gets thrown around, but one I've never been able to put to the test (if you can, please tell me how). The trick, if you like to shop, is to fill up some of your bags with clothes that are on their last legs.

The point being, apparently, that you can always throw them away if you need to make more space for things you've bought. This has never worked for me, I'm not sure whether it's because I shop too much or because I can never throw clothes away. My tip is, if you know you're going to shop, to carry an extra duffel bag in your suitcase (remember the airline rules about how much weight they allow each passenger, though).

If you're still struggling, it's best to keep a few things in mind. Kicking your suitcase never helps. Sitting on it, on the other hand, sometimes does. Also remember that if you can't lift it up yourself, it's probably not a great idea to take it.

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