Cosmetics bags and suitcases for your next getaway―whether it's for a couple of days or more than a week
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Tumi suitcase
Credit: Alison Gootee

For every traveler, it seems, there's a different packing style. Some are fiends for precision, filling small suitcases with a near geometrical zeal, while others adopt the cram, sit, and zip approach. So is there a genuinely right way to pack? Turns out there is. Here, experts' trusted, time-honored packing solutions, plus how to choose the right bag for your trip.

How to Choose the Right Bag


If You're Packing for a Weekend
Go with a 22-inch-tall wheeled suitcase with a retractable handle. That is typically the largest bag allowed as a carry-on, so you’ll make it safely through security checkpoints. The following models can accommodate four days' worth of outfits, plus two pairs of shoes.

All-In-One Weekend Cosmetics Bag
For quick jaunts, you don't need to take along your entire bathroom arsenal. Take a cosmetics bag no bigger than a lunch box, and look for one that’s padded and lined with plastic, and has a handle for easy transportation. Interior zippered pockets are perfect for housing travel containers.

If You're Packing for a Week or More
Go with a 24- to 27-inch-tall wheeled suitcase with a retractable handle, which will be large enough to hold clothes for up to 10 days, along with four pairs of shoes. If you go with a bigger bag, you run the risk of exceeding the 50-pound weight limit on most domestic flights―and you'll have a heck of a time lifting it.

Expandable Cosmetics Bag for Long Trips
For longer trips, you'll need an expandable cosmetics bag with many compartments. A triple-compartment nylon cosmetics case with a center portion that has elastic straps will hold bottles in place. A detachable mesh bag is perfect for jewelry and other valuables. For shorter trips, try a bag with a compartment that snaps free and can be left at home.

How to Pack an Efficient Suitcase


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: A Woman's Guide to Business Travel (Agate, $13, 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 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 (Ten Speed Press, $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 rule 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 Great Girlfriends Getaways (National Geographic, $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. At press time, three-ounce containers stored in a one-quart clear plastic zip-top bag were permitted.)

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. 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.