by Emily Wilska

They lurk on airport shuttles, trying to lug suitcases the size of Herman Miller chairs and blocking the aisle or the door (or both) in the process. They slink about San Francisco in July, shivering and blue in tank tops and shorts that do nothing to protect from the city’s frigid summertime fog. They mope around baggage carousels at airports worldwide, waiting endlessly for their luggage to come cruising past and hoping that this time it’ll be in one piece.

They’re Un-Savvy Packers, and trust me, ladies, you don’t want to be one. You don’t want to be the brunt of sneers from your fellow travelers, the butt of derisive laughter from the locals, or the victim of lackadaisical baggage handlers or glitch-ridden baggage-routing computers. Take control, Divas! Spare yourself the anguish, the annoyance, and the aching muscles: arm yourselves with some simple, painless packing techniques.

No, I’m not about to recommend bringing on your next trip worn-out underwear you can leave behind (um, eiww) or taking one pair of jeans for a two-week journey or limiting yourself to one tiny bag. Packing smart doesn’t have to mean sacrificing everything but the absolute bare necessities; it does mean choosing wisely and adding a dash of organization to the process.

So let’s get packing.

Know Your Destination

Before piling the better half of your wardrobe into a suitcase, do your homework: what will the weather be like where you’re going? How long will you be there? Will you need to dress up, or will casual duds be the order of the day? Will you have access to laundry facilities while you’re away? Does the culture of your location dictate that you should cover up, or can you safely get away with tank tops and short shorts?

On the basis of your answers to those questions, choose a few basics—shirts, sweaters, pants, skirts—that you can mix and match to create different outfits. Add a few special accessories, undergarments and socks, and one or two extra pairs of shoes. (Remember, you’ll be wearing an outfit and a pair of shoes on the plane, so be sure to count those, too.) It’ll always be tempting to take copious extras just in case, but the reality is that you won’t likely wear them. The more you take, the more you have to lug, and the less space you have for goodies to bring back home.

Pack Neatly

Once you’ve decided what you’ll bring, fold all of your clothes neatly and pack them carefully. That may sound super anal, but the truth is that it allows you to fit more in your bags and helps keep your stuff in better shape. You may even want to use packing cubes and envelopes (unsurprisingly, I adore them), which help keep clothes folded and together and help prevent wrinkles. Slip shoes into plastic bags to keep them from getting your clothes dirty. Gather together any toiletries you’ll need to bring and stash them all in a cosmetics kit or a large Ziploc bag.

Speaking of toiletries, let’s be honest here: no matter how often you wash your hair, you’re not going to use an entire bottle of shampoo in the week you’ll be gone, so leave the sucker at home. Full-size bottles take up massive amounts of space, can get seriously heavy, and are an utter pain in the ass if they leak. Transfer what you’ll need to travel-size containers and spare yourself the headaches.

If you’re bringing valuables of any kind with you—jewelry, electronics, prescription medications, and so on—DO NOT put them in a bag you plan to check. Most airlines take no responsibility for valuables that are lost or stolen from checked luggage; plus, why tempt fate? And generally speaking, be smart about what you take with you: if (like me) you can’t bear the thought of a long flight or train trip without your iPod, bring it. But leave anything that’s well and truly irreplaceable at home.

Check on Weights and Sizes

Before you finalize your packing, it’s worthwhile to check with your airline to see what the restrictions on baggage size and weight are. Airlines generally have a baggage weight limit for each passenger; if you exceed it, you may have to fork over extra cash to get your bags on board. Also be sure that any bag you plan to carry on to the plane will fit either in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you so you won’t have to worry about checking bags at the gate or drawing glares of death from your seatmates.

Revel in the Painless-ness

Packing may never be your favorite part of travel (hell, it’s not even my favorite part of travel, and I’m a geek for all of those suitcase-filling gadgets), but it also doesn’t have to be dreadful. Apply the same smarts to loading up your suitcase that you apply to planning your trip (do some research, have at least a loose plan, and be realistic); you might just find that you can spend less time dealing with your luggage and more time totally enjoying yourself. Surely that’s worth a smidge of extra effort on the packing front.

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About the Packing Diva

Emily Wilska alarmed her friends, family, and
herself by leaving behind a cushy, stable corporate
job (and all of its perks) in 2004 to start her own
company, The Organized Life. Though she does miss the
free office supplies and health care, she loves her
new life as a professional organizer.

Years spent living in apartments with classic San
Francisco (read: insufficient) storage have taught
Emily to make the best use of space, to ditch the
stuff that just ends up as clutter, and to find
creative solutions to organizing problems. Various
jobs in the independent film, start-up, and corporate
worlds taught her to hone her paper, time, and
information organizing skills. (Among the lessons
learned: No, filing will never be fun, but yes, it can
be relatively painless.) A lifelong love of travel,
and numerous trips each year, have allowed her to
master the arts of packing light, preparing well for
traveling, and making the most of time in the air or
on the road. She has never been vanquished by a
suitcase and (knock on wood) has never arrived at the
airport without her passport.

In addition to working with clients, Emily writes an
organizing tip of the week on her website, articles for a variety of
publications and sites, and a blog, I Do Not Think
That They Will Sing to Me
( She also loves speaking
to groups large and small.