Streamlining your suitcase: Tips for overcoming packing and travel pitfalls

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Do you chronically overpack? Do you shudder at the thought of trying to zip your suitcase shut?

Fear not! We have lots of tips from travel experts to help you get to your destination with everything you need (and nothing you don’t). The first step to choosing the right luggage.

“Everyone can do a carry-on for the weekend,” says Anne McAlpin, who works for AAA Oregon and is the author of “Pack It Up: Travel Smart, Pack Light.”

Pack It Up Travel Tips

Pack It Up Travel Tips by Anne McAlpin. (7/14/2014)

A 22-inch roller suitcase will work for most airlines.Even if you plan to check an additional bag, packing your carry-on with care is key, she says. “Whatever you have to have for the first three days needs to be in your carry-on.”

A firm believer in the less-is-more mentality, Ms. McAlpin packs for a week and does laundry when necessary by transforming a gallon-sized Ziploc bag into a makeshift washing machine. She recommends packing one nice outfit that can be worn twice and keeping everything else casual and comfortable.

Allison Cooper, founder and CEO of the Project Motherhood NYC blog, uses a similar approach when packing for children.

“Make sure you pack your kids one memorable outfit,”says Ms. Cooper, a Richland native now based in New York City. “Other than that, just pack things they can play in.”

For kids and adults, it‘‍s best to leave valuable apparel and accessories at home.

Packing basics in a coordinating color scheme and adding multipurpose accessories to the mix will increase your wardrobe‘‍s flexibility. A pashmina scarf, for example, can be a shawl in the evening, a towel at the beach and a blanket on a plane, says Tracy Christoph, a Boston-based JetBlue flight attendant with more than 20 years of experience.

Another way to save space: roll or bundle your clothing. Ms. McAlpin combines these techniques in her “inter-layer” method of folding and separates clothes from heavier items such as shoes, belts and toiletries with a place mat. Watch a tutorial of her method in the video at left.

Packing freshly laundered garments in plastic dry cleaner bags keeps creases at bay, and covering shoes with a shower cap protects footwear. A few dryer sheets keeps everything smelling fresh. 

Ziploc bags are essential for keeping smaller items organized. But before placing jewelry in them, string necklaces through a straw, place rings in daily pill containers and push earrings through buttonholes to keep pairs together.

Instead of paying a premium price for travel-sized toiletries, fill reusable silicone bottles with your favorite products.

“Don’‍t throw a new bottle of anything into your bag,” says Ms. McAlpin. An aircraft‘‍s changing pressure can lead to spills. 

Once at the airport, it’‍s important to be familiar with -- and adhere to -- the Transportation Security Administration’‍s guidelines. Ms. Christoph recommends not wearing jewelry until you have cleared security and placing toiletries in a separate transparent cosmetics bag. While travelers younger than 12 and older than 75 are not required by TSA to remove their shoes at security, Ms. McAlpin advises those who must slip them off to wear socks to avoid direct contact with airport floors. 

Filling a backpack with travel essentials will help ensure a smooth flight. (Backup plan: Use a smart phone to take pictures of all important documents, especially when traveling internationally, in case hard copies are misplaced.) Ms. Cooper avoids mid-trip meltdowns by packing treats and technology for her 5-year-old son.

 “We go straight for the tablet when it comes to traveling,” she says, adding that coloring and reading apps for iPads and similar devices are cleaner and more compact than their traditional counterparts. 

When traveling by car, she shapes her family’‍s itinerary around her son‘‍s nap schedule and researches places to stop ahead of time.Bring a jump rope along on road trips to use to release excess energy during driving breaks, Ms. McAlpin says.

In the end, the most important travel tip to remember is to stay away from stress. Vacation, after all, is about unwinding and taking a break.

Review TSA guidelines at and learn more about Allison Cooper‘‍s Project Motherhood NYC blog at More packing tips from Anne McAlpin are at

Mary Hornak: or 412-263-1494.

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