Introduction: How to Pack a Suitcase

About: teacher. writer. inventor. innovator. slacker.
This is my instructable for packing a suitcase. I used to be terrible at packing, but after a number of trips under my belt, I have learned some useful tricks of the trade - some even MacGuyver-esque tricks.

Traveling can be made a lot easier if you know how to pack. The first time I went on a seven week trip, I packed a suitcase that weighed over 85 pounds  and that didnt include my backpack. I soon learned better methods on how to pack  and as a general rule, just know that less is better.

Check out my steps and see if they can help you out.

Step 1: Step One - Make a List...and Check It Twice

Don't just run straight for the closet and start yanking things out - make a list on a sheet of notebook paper or on the computer. Think about the weather, who you will meet, what you may need and what you can easily get there when you arrive. This will save you time and frustration.

On your list -
make list of clothes, meds, toiletries, etc. I actually type mine out so I can be sure to keep a copy on my computer for the next trip.

Don't bring the economy sized shampoo that you have been using for a year - bite the bullet and spend three bucks on travel sized toothpaste, soap and shampoo. Buy more when you get there.

Make two copies of your list when you are finished - and always leave room for adding more or scratching through stuff. Then ask a friend what they think and if they think you are missing something. This may seem a little OCD, but that is okay. The better you pack, the better trip you will have.

Here is a 'pasted-in' copy of a trip I took -

Main Bag

4 pairs pants (2 columbia, 1 slacks, 1 scrubs, 1 lined khaki (at home))
5 tshirts, one scrub top, one sweatshirt, one thick wool shirt, one Columbia shirt, one china shirt
Four boxers/undies
4 pair socks

1 scarf
1 Toboggan
1 polar fleece vest
1 bottle tylenol
1 bottle Centrum Vitamins
1 roll duct tape

3 disposable razors
1 bottle Tony Cacheres seasoning
1 parka

1 Epipen
1 bottle Benadryl
1 bottles 2 oz shampoo 2 H&S
1 bottles .5 oz hand sanitizer Purell
1 stick 2.25 oz deodorant Old Spice
2 tubes 1.4 oz Aquafrest Whitening
bible commentary
pens (felt tip)
camera - dont leave it in another country

Step 2: Step Two - Lay Out Everything on the Floor or on Your Bed

Clear off your bed or your floor and lay everything out. This will help you organize things, but also help you realize just how much stuff you are planning to bring.

Step 3: Step Three - Outfits Go in One Bag Each

Take each outfit and place it into a grocery bag. Each bag will represent a day of your trip - and this helps out loads when a TSA representative asks to search your bag. Rather than dumping out fifty individual pieces of clothes, all you do is pull out five small grocery bags that are labeled. How sweet is that?

Don't just stop there - group everything and place them into grocery bags - that way everything is divided up into smaller bags. This makes finding things, repacking things and going through security loads easier. Be sure not to pack electronics in the bowels of your bag - these need to be readily accessible for going through security.

Also, be sure to pack extra bags and a heavier trash bag - that way you have something to put your dirty clothes in and/or in case something gets wet.

Put your gizmos, iPods, cameras and whatever else you have in a seperate bag. I picked up some cheap bags at an outdoor store that had a big box of unsorted bags on clearance. Be sure to put your shampoo, hand sanitizer, or any other small tube of liquid (remember airport security has limits) in a ziploc bag - not only for going through security, but also so that it doesn't leak onto your other stuff.

Step 4: Step Four - Labeling

Mark each bag with a number or a color - then on your list, make note of each item and which bag it is in. This is a great help - especially when you have a smashing headache and want to find the tylenol in your bag. Just check the list, see which bag you placed it in, and get it.

Once again, this seems a little nit-picky, but this will pay off in the long run. Keep that list on top of things.

Step 5: Step Five - Compression/Make It Smaller

In this step, I dumped the smaller bags into a large compression sack. Some people go out and buy a super-duper vacuum operated compression sack - that works if you happen to pack a vacuum with you sleeping bags or tents. I paid $20 bucks for mine and accidentally got a size too large. But it still works.

If you don't want to shell out the bucks for a compression sack, don't worry. A compression sack is just a stuff sack with some webbing that squeeze it together. I have made some in the past as follows:

Version one  normal bag or stuff sack and a belt or a strap. Pack the bag as you normally would and then squeeze it down to size. Then run the belt around the bag and fasten it so the bag can't expand back to its full size.

Version two  put your clothes in a grocery bag and then squeeze it tight  wrap once with ductape horizontally and once vertically. Be sure to pack extra bags because the ductape is sure to rip them to pieces when you unpack at the hotel or basecamp.

Some people can perfect the art of rolling clothes - this works well too - when I am going super light on a trip, I just roll my clothes and then tighten them up with a strap. This keeps them from 'growing' while I am trying to pack the next thing.

Step 6: Six - Choose Your Bag

I put 'choose the bag' as step five, because if you choose the bag on step one, you will fill it up, regardless of how big or what you need. Step back and look at the little bags that you packed. Think about what bags you have in the house and then get the bag that is the best match. Sometimes, you may want to take two smaller bags rather than one large bag. Whichever you think will be easier to carry and lug around.

If you are going to be doing a lot of walking once you arrive, I would recommend a backpack. If not, just use a small rolling suitcase, duffel or backpack. I love to use a camping style, internal frame backpack. But not always. The trip and the amount of stuff should determine which bag to use, not just because it is your favorite bag.

Step 7: Step Seven - Lay Out What You Will Wear While Traveling

What you wear the day of travel is your ace in the hole. As a general rule, don't pack your jacket - wear it. Jackets and sweaters take up tons of room in your bag, but make great pillows on a plane or a train ride. If you have lightweight clothes and one pair of jeans, wear the jeans - they take up more room as well. Don't try to wear four pairs of pants on the plane, but just wear the ones that you think are comfortable, yet a little bulky to pack compared to your others.

Always have a jacket or a shirt with good pockets - especially pockets that close, zip, velcro or whatever. You will be keeping a passport, a plane ticket, a wallet, etc. with you - despite being required to take off jackets going through security screening. Putting these things in a jacket, zipping the pockets shut, takes away the worry that they may fall out.

If you wear glasses, be sure to pack a glasses case on your person. Even if you don't plan on it, you probably will doze a little on the flight or the ride - you don't want to wake up with your glasses twisted like modern art. Keep them safe.

If you like to wear sandals like I do, but want to bring a pair of sneakers on the trip - wear the sneakers and pack the sandals. That will save you a lot of room when packing.

Step 8: Step Eight - Keep That List!

Keep your list on you - put it with your passport or your ticket or wallet. Also, keep a pen on you. As you travel, you will inevitably think of things you wished you could have brought or things that you didn't use and wish you left behind - make note of those things on your list. This will help for future trips.

Step 9: Step 9 - Tricks of the Tradeٍ

Belt - clothesline - on a trip to Cambodia, I knew we weren't going to run into a bunch of laundry mats on the trip. I bought a few travel packets of Tide so I could wash my clothes during the trip. I would wear a pair, have a pair drying and have a pair ready - I just rotated the three sets of clothes. To make sure I would have something to hang my clothes on, I made a belt using parachute cord and a belt clip. Once I arrived, I could undo the belt and hang my clothes to dry. I made two - that way my pants would fall down - and on the way back, I could use one belt to help keep things wrapped up tight for the journey home. (see pics)

Nalgene bottle - I like to put my toiletries and meds all in a nalgene bottle (or any other tough plastic water bottle). This keeps your stuff from getting crushed and you can attach it to the outside of a bag if needed with a clip of somesort.

Compression Sacks - these cut down on room considerably.

Gifts - while visiting a country, bring little knickknacks to share with people you meet along the way. Nothing beats random acts of kindness.

Photos - be sure to bring a family photo, a pic of your humble abode, the dog, your school...anything that is of your daily life - even of where you work. It is fun to share with others when you talk about where you are coming from. Plus, some people are rather shocked if you don't have a family photo on you.

Pins/Patches - I love getting patches of places where I go - these are great to trade, to give and leave your mark.

Old t-shirts - if you have a local t-shirt store, they sometimes have closeouts of shirts that are old. The one in town sells them for 2 bucks each. These are great to bring on a trip. Once you wear them once, just give them away.

Tony's - Tony's is a cajun seasoning that you use like salt. Their motto is (or was..) 'it makes good food great.' A friend of mine discovered that it can 'make bad food ok.'

Almond Joys and Little Debbies - as a general rule M&Ms and snickers have made it around the world. I haven't found a place that doesn' t have these or Coke products. Almond Joys and Little Debbies haven't been quite the globetrotters - I bring these if I am visiting ex-pats in foreign places. They really appreciate the little things that you can't get elsewhere.

Duct tape and zip ties - you never know. What room they take up is worth it. Check out 'how to's on how to make duct tape wallets or other things - this will help increase it's usefulness.

Step 10: Putting It All Together

When you pack your items in, be sure to put heavy things in first (at the bottom of the bag). If you are carrying it, this keeps it easier to balance. If it is a suitcase with wheels, this will keep it from tipping over when you try to stand it up on its own.

If you are packing sandals, put these in first. They pack flat and work best going in first or squeezing in the sides.

If you bag doesn't have a back support in it and you plan on carrying it on your back, make sure nothing is poking out to the point where it makes carrying it uncomfortable.

If you have a bag with a detachable day pack or fanny pack, try to get most of your stuff in the main bag first. That way you aren't carrying your shoes, toiletries and your camera when you take the small bag on a short excursion.

Step 11: Pre-Travel Practice

Once you pack everything, check the weight of the bag. Make sure you aren't going to pull your back out before the trip begins.

Once you pack and think it weighs okay, try carrying it one hundred feet and back. Also, go up a flight of stairs and back down. If you find either test too cumbersome, start to whittle away some more until it is comfortable enough to carry and not get yourself worn out.

If it remains comfortable even while walking with it, go back to the house and relax - you are going to have a wonderful trip....
Burning Questions: Round 6

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Burning Questions: Round 6