Packing can be stressful and overwhelming, even without the threat of spills, wrinkles and lost luggage. Travel pros know the secrets to looking great on the road—so I rounded up some of their best tricks and tips for staying clean and organized while you’re vacationing, and threw in a few of my own for good measure.
The basics of packing: What goes in when and where
The best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to packing is to set out everything you want to bring on your trip, before you even reach for your suitcase or travel bag. This will help you to see what you're bringing, and pare down so that you don't overpack. It will also allow you to be more strategic with the placement of things like shoes, accessories and toiletries.
If you're using a roller suitcase, place heavier items in the wheel-side of the bag, which will help keep the bag balanced as you sprint through the airport or negotiate subway stairs in a new city.
Speaking of heavier items! Shoes will be among the heaviest items you pack, and also the dirtiest. Shoe bags are great, but if you don't want to bother with them be sure to pack your shoes in such a way that the soles face away from your clothes. Flat-soled shoes can also be tucked around the sides and in the corners of a case to maximize space utilization (the same goes for belts).
When it comes to your most valuable items, it's always wise to pack those into whatever bag you'll keep with you at all times. Amy Plitt, Digital Editor at Conde Nast Traveler, adds, "I follow the advice of basically every sane person ever and keep anything of value—medication, jewelry, work stuff, etc.—in my carry-on. There was exactly one time that I got stuck in a foreign country without medication I need and I refuse to let it happen again. You can do double-duty by packing that stuff in a clutch you can use later on, or whatever little pouch you have on hand—Ziplocs work just as well."
Specialty packing options
Lilit Marcus, Contributing Digital Editor at Conde Nast Traveler, swears by the Go Clean range of bags from Flight 001. "They're especially great for things like muddy shoes and wet swimsuits so you don't have any cross-contamination," she says.
Plitt has her own ways of preventing spills from turning into a travel disaster, "I always pack toiletries and beauty products in their own bags separate from my clothes—I even invested in a Samsonite suitcase with a plastic zipper pouch that offers extra protection in case of leaks or spills."
Jessica Coen, who runs Flygirl, Jezebel's travel site, takes it a step further, "I don't care if your expensive titanium roll-aboard has 17 interior compartments; you can never over-organize your bag. Rummaging around and trying to find your stuff is a waste of time that usually results in a minor hurricane of your crap strewn about the hotel room. Less rummaging means less cleanup before you leave, which means more time spent out and about doing whatever it is you're there to do. (Having to seriously repack your bag before you head home is a bummer, too.) For organizing clothes and toiletries, I love Eagle Creek's stuff. Bonus: their packing folders are also great for dress shirts or garments that could benefit from being folded with extra precision and care."
Plitt is a fan of repurposing the pouches that her Glossier skincare products come in. "They work perfectly," she says, "they're like Ziploc bags lined with bubble wrap." She also uses plastic grocery bags to hold dirty laundry. I do her one better: I always bring at least two plastic grocery bags so that I can separate my dirty clothes by lights and darks—which means one less step when it comes to getting that post-vacation laundry done.
Stain removal when you’re on the road
Here's a fun one for you: Hand sanitizer, which many people toss in a purse or carry-on for use while traveling, can also do double duty as a stain remover. Weird but true! The reason for that is that hand-san contains a fairly high concentration of alcohol, which is an excellent stain remover.
CNT's Marcus also recommends individually wrapped Shout Wipes, adding, "I don't know how I lived before their existence."
Quick wrinkle fixes
Rolling clothes (i.e. folding them lengthwise and then rolling up like a yoga mat) before placing them in your suitcase is a good way to both prevent wrinkles and to maximize your packing space. Another easy way to keep clothes wrinkle-free while packed in your suitcase is to place dry cleaners' plastic or tissue in between garments.
In terms of on site de-wrinkling, Coen swears by travel-sized bottles of wrinkle releaser, "Mini-bottles of Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus are utterly indispensable. Yes, you will end up smelling like Febreze or Downy, but whatever: The spray keeps your clothes looking and smelling as fresh as possible short of actually washing or ironing anything you've packed."
If you absolutely hate the smell of those commercial wrinkle releasers, invest in a small spray bottle that can be tossed into your luggage. When you arrive at your location and need to remove creases from your clothing, hang the items, fill the bottle with water and give your clothes a light spritzing. For more stubborn wrinkles, lay the clothes on a flat surface, give them a spray and smooth them out with your hands. You'll be absolutely amazed at how far just a little mist goes in making your clothes look like they were pressed by a professional.