The Best Way to Pack a Suitcase

Experts reveal their trusted, time-honored solutions.

  • Theresa O’Rourke

Your Clothes

Step 1: Gather all the garments you anticipate needing. Then put half of them back. Select clothes in the same color family, packing more tops than bottoms. For a five-day trip, you’ll likely need five shirts, two pairs of slacks or jeans, and one skirt, says Kathleen Ameche, author of The Woman Road Warrior ($15, amazon.com). The average 22-inch check-in bag fits roughly two pairs of jeans, three sweaters, two dresses, and five shirts.
 
 Step 2: Choose knits, wools, and cottons. These fabrics tend to resist wrinkles and are versatile (some garments can do double duty, like yoga pants that moonlight as pajamas).
 
 Step 3: Roll softer garments and fold stiffer ones. Underwear, T-shirts, jeans, cotton pants, and knitwear won’t wrinkle when rolled tightly, says Judy Gilford, author of The Packing Book ($13, amazon.com). Stiffer fabrics, such as starched cotton shirts, blazers, dressy pants, and skirts, should be carefully folded.
 
 Step 4: Arrange rolled items in the bottom of the bag. Think of your suitcase as a three-layer cake. The suitcase is the icing; the rolled items make up the first layer.
 
 Step 5: Place folded garments next. For your (cream filling) middle layer, start with the longest items, like skirts and slacks. Stack the garments on top of each other, alternating waists with hems. Position the pile flush with the suitcase, draping leftover fabric over the opposite end. (This conserves space since thick waistbands won’t be piled on top of one another.) Wrap the draping ends of the pile into the center. Next, lay collars of shorter items, like shirts, at the hinge with the ends over the handles. Fold the collars and ends over once and fold the arms in.
 
 Step 6: Cover the pile with a dry-cleaning bag. It’s like Botox for your clothes. Because of the bag’s slippery surface, folded clothes don’t stay in one place long enough for creases to set. Easy upgrade: Place a bag between each layer of clothing. To get to a certain layer easily, simply pull the ends of the bag up on either side.
 
 Step 7: Top the pile with the clothes you’ll need first. Anything goes with your top layer―a bathing suit or pajamas.
 
 Step 8: Snake belts around the perimeter of the bag. This cradles your three layers.

  

Your Shoes

Step 1: Follow the rules of three. Consider one casual sandal or loafer, sneakers, and an evening shoe to be your holy trinity. “Because of their shapes and heels, shoes take up the most room,” says Marybeth Bond, author of 50 Best Girlfriends Getaways ($16, amazon.com). Wear the heaviest pair and pack the other two.
 
 Step 2: Stuff shoes with sunglasses and electronics chargers, says Anita Dunham-Potter, a cruise columnist for MSNBC.com.
 
 Step 3: Slip shoes into one-gallon-size resealable bags. Then set them along the sides of the bag, says Gilford.
 
 

Your Beauty Products

Step 1: Opt for travel-size multitaskers. Choose a tinted moisturizer that serves as foundation, a soap, and shampoo in one, and wipes that clean hands and face. (If you’re flying with a carry-on, check current regulations for liquids at tsa.gov.)
 
 Step 2: Fill empty bottles with your favorite brands. Evelyn Hannon, creator of journeywoman.com, a travel-advice website, swears by Japonesque’s Gotta Go Weekend Travel Bag ($20, amazon.com). A mere four inches high by four inches wide, it’s stocked with eight clear containers for lotions, contact-lens solution, and the like. Fill them three-quarters full. “The storage department on a plane is not pressurized, so items filled all the way to the top will overflow,” says Bond, who learned that the hard way when a sample of Pepto-Bismol exploded all over her clothes.
 
 Step 3: Protect your belongings from ugly mishaps. Denise Boyd, a flight attendant for JetBlue, slips socks over her coarsely bristled brushes that “can tear into clothes and cause snags.”
 
 Step 4: Group similar products in sealed resealable bags. Designate one sack for your cosmetics, one for your hair products, and one for skin-related items. Tuck the bags in the side corners of your suitcase or in a zippered outside pocket.

  

Your Jewelry

Stow inexpensive pieces in a seven day plastic pillbox. Or store them in a 35-millimeter film container lined with tissue. If you must take precious gems, wear them during your travels to reduce the risk of loss or theft, suggests Gilford.
 
 

Your Breakables

Wrap fragile items in sturdy clothing. Place them in the center of your bag surrounded by a buffer, says Laura McHolm of NorthStar Moving, a Los Angeles–based company that relocates 5,000 people (and their precious porcelain) each year. If you’re carting liquor bottles, secure them in the bottom center of your bag.
 
 

Your Dirty Laundry

Shrink it. Jessica Ellis, a graphic designer who travels between New York City and Chicago every other week, piles clothing into Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor bags ($10 to $26, rei.com). “Zipper them, and they take out 80 percent of the volume.” Warning: This can have wrinkly consequences, so if the clothes don’t yet require laundering, lay them flat and place fabric-softener sheets between them. Consider your fresh-smelling clothes a welcome-home present.