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Packing Luggage

Luggage and Packing

Pull up a chair, get some tea, and read our expose on luggage.   This is the one article that covers the ins and outs of luggage, clothes selection, and clothes packing.  In addition, we discuss the luggage allowance provided by airlines.  It's a long read but well worth your time, although you might just want to print it out.


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Travel Advice - Travel Luggage - The whole story

One of the first challenge you encounter when preparing for a trip is deciding what to bring and what kind of travel luggage you should use. Should you economize and try to fit your travel clothes and gear in one carry-on bag or haul out the steamer trunk? We have organized what you need to know by the categories below so that you can select the ones of interest, but we recommend that your get a coffee and read all of our suggestions.

Topics  Covered

What to Bring    Packing Efficiently    Luggage options    Luggage Restrictions     Luggage Logic

What to Bring

First, sit down and examine the itinerary for your trip.

  • Consider how many days you will be gone, the climate of your destination, and the types of activities in which you will participate (for example, sightseeing, swimming, hiking, dinner at a nice restaurant, etc).

  • Then choose the clothes appropriate for these activities and begin to prepare a packing list.

That was simple, right? Now comes the hard part.

  • Look at your packing list again and start cutting.

  • We can practically guarantee that you will not wear everything you are planning to pack for the trip.

There are many ways to hone your packing list.

  •  First, consider whether you can consolidate your wardrobe by mixing and matching  outfits.

  • Do you need a fresh new outfit every day, or can you wear something more than once?

  • Do you want to wash your items while on the road or, perhaps, have them professionally cleaned?

  • And, how many pairs of shoes do you really need? (See our article on foot and shoe care.)


We recommend the following tactics to help prevent over packing:

  • Double your clothes use
    • Pack wrinkle-resistant clothes of compatible colors, mix and match, wear things more than once.

  • Bring only two pairs of shoes
    • One for dress and a comfortable pair for casual activities
    • Wear one pair and pack the other.

  • Have your clothes laundered at your destination, or hand wash what you can in the hotel sink or tub
    • Be sure to carry a traveler’s clothesline, available in most travel accessory stores.

  • Hats, umbrellas and other travel paraphernalia can be purchased inexpensively at your destination
    • They make great travel souvenirs.

  • Don’t try to pack for every travel emergency.
    • Most places have well-stocked stores with anything you will need.

  • Use sample-size toiletries
    •  Pack them in sealed plastic bags to prevent leakage.

Packing efficiently

Here are some space-saving packing tricks that we have picked up along our travels:

  • Underwear, t-shirts
    • Roll these little devils into a tube shape.
    • Stick some inside the shoes you’re packing.
    • Place the rest around the edges of the suitcase.
  • Socks
    • Ball them and stick wherever they fit
  • Casual Shirts and blouses
    • neatly fold and then roll into tube shape
  •  Dress clothes
    • Fold neatly and place between layers of plastic to prevent wrinkling.
    • Plastic sweater bags or dry-cleaning bags work great
  • Pants
    • Fold along creases, then fold in half and carefully roll into a tube shape
  • Toiletries
    • Place in plastic zip-loc bags to contain spills if they should happen
  • Sweaters
    • Fold and roll
  • Jackets
    • These take an enormous amount of space. Fold and roll the best way you can, but if you are going to an area with mild climate, try to find a lightweight nylon jacket that can be rolled in a small carrying bag (I have a great one from Nike that is engineered so that the jacket is its own bag). These jackets serve as great windbreakers, and when worn over a sweater keep you toasty on those unseasonably cold summer nights.
  • Sports coat/blazer
    • Wear them on the plane.
      • Take them off after boarding and hang or fold gently. Whatever you do, do not wear them while seated in the plane, as this will result in the blazer needing another trip to the dry cleaner, as it now will be “shapeless”
  •  Shoes
    • As mentioned previously, stuff them with balled socks or  rolled underwear.


Luggage Options

Once you have decided the items that you really need to take on your trip, you need to decide on the type of luggage that can contain your wardrobe.

Luggage comes in a variety of types for you to consider.

  • A Soft-sided, multi-compartment bag (22” x 14” x 9”) is our recommendation for best flexibility in packing. (See our article on Packing Light).

  • Bags with similar dimensions are available in a variety of carrying styles, including rollers bags and backpack bags with an internal frame that allows you to carry the bag as a backpack for long distances with little effort.

Carry-on “Roller boards” (luggage with wheels) are very convenient and easy on the shoulders.

  • Roller boards are designed to fit under airplane seats and overhead storage compartments. However, they do not hold as much as one would think.

  • The hard-sided roller board also requires packing everything in one large main compartment, which makes it less convenient to separate items for easy reach.

Small bags are not for everyone

Large duffel bags are a perennial favorite of travelers because so much stuff can be crammed into one of these beasts.

  • Most duffel designs however are not particularly easy to carry, as they are slung from the shoulder and are usually large, heavy, and bulky.

  • Look for one of the newer designs with wheels and handle that make moving this type of bag much easier (but lifting them is still an Olympian test).

  • Duffels are notorious for crushing clothes and we recommend them only for use with casual clothes.

There are people who use their business luggage for vacations so you will see many people carrying “suiters” on vacations that do not have a suit inside.

  • We consider this a significant mistake since these bags generally are large and not particularly functional for storing the clothes that you will need during casual travel.

  • We suspect that many people use "suiters" because they can hang outfits the way they do at home.

  •  Unfortunately, it is our experience that hanging your clothes in a "suiter" will usually get them more wrinkled than packing them flat or rolled in a smaller bag.

Many travelers prefer hard-sided luggage, feeling that these bags do a good job protecting their contents. In most cases this is true but purchasers of this type of luggage usually purchase a larger bag than they need.  The reason doing so is a mistake is that you will always wind up packing as much as you can fit in your luggage.

  • If you are going to purchase hard sided luggage, be sure to purchase a suitcase that has good balance and a durable set of wheels for transport.

  • In addition, check the hinges. locks  and their construction.  If either the hinges or the locking system looks flimsy, try another brand.

One caution, don’t buy a new piece of luggage to make a positive fashion statement. Bags, schmags!

  • By the time your new bag gets back home, it will look just like your old beat up bags.

  • If you must buy a new bag for your next vacation, match it with your needs, select one that is comfortable to transport, with enough room for what you need to take.

Luggage Restrictions

Due to increased security and decreasing profits, airline carriers,  are re-implementing previously ignored regulations. Here is a list to use as a guide.

  • Most air carriers now charge for luggage checked for domestic flights.  Fees vary by airline.
  • One piece of carry-on luggage can be boarded with no charge.
  • For international flights to Europe there is usually no fee for checking one bag.  The current fee for checking a  second bag  varies by carrier.
  • Usually, there is no charge for checking up to two bags to destinations throughout Asia.

Luggage Size and Weight

  • Checked luggage must be no larger in total dimension than 62 inches (the total outside dimension = length + width + height) with a maximum weight of 50 pounds.
    • Some airlines will charge a fee for bags heavier than this limit.  Other airlines will simply not accept bags in excess of 70 pounds. The charge for bags over 70 pounds can be as high as several hundred dollars.
    • Some exceptions are made for the top tier of frequent fliers.
    • Other exceptions are made by individual airlines or airport authorities in international countries.  Check with you airline to determine their specific policy.
      • Be sure to check with you airline in advance of your flight on all aspects of their luggage allowance).

  • The carry-on bag’s total outside dimension can be no larger than 40 inches (the total outside dimension = length + width+ height) with a maximum weight of 40 pounds.  Rules for what can be included in carry-on luggage changed dramatically in 2006.  See our article on what you can carry in carry-on luggage.
  •  If you are in the market for new luggage, be sure to buy a lightweight bag, rather than one whose empty weight takes up half your luggage limit.

  •  In addition, you are allowed to carry on one personal item.
    • Although the term “personal item” may vary between carriers, it usually means a purse, briefcase, or similar item that does not exceed 36 linear inches


The following is a list of commonly enforced penalties:

  • If your carry-on does not meet size or weight restrictions, the bag will, likely, be checked by the airlines
  • Bags with a total dimension of 115 inches or weighing more than 70 pounds may not accepted as checked baggage.
  • If you have more than two pieces of checked luggage per passenger you will also ring the penalty bell, which can be a significant fee  per bag.
    • Penalties for extra luggage on international flights can be higher and may involve the addition of inter-carrier penalties. Some carriers will not accept any bags beyond the maximum number allowed (regardless of what you would be willing to pay).
  • Check with the airlines that you will be flying in order to understand these penalties and avoid sticker shock.

Luggage Logic

Our approach to the issue of luggage, however, has little to do with allowances and a lot to do with comfort and ease of traveling.

  • Planning the amount of clothes that you take on vacation should not be based on the largest sized bag or how many bags you can carry (especially now that the penalty for traveling with a large piece of luggage may cost you a bundle).

  • Instead, you should plan what you need to take and select the minimum sized bag that will contain these clothes as well as provide the mobility that you need on the trip.

Perhaps more important, if you are the one who will shepherd your luggage from location to location, you might note that your outlook will greatly improve if you have only one bag to process. Conversely, if you are going on a vacation where you will never handle your bags (we have not found one of these yet) or will handle them only infrequently, then get the biggest steamer trunk and luggage collection that you can, if that will make you happy. Most mortals, however, handle their luggage numerous times on vacation and will regret loading up on luggage.

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