Squeezing it in: Pros give tips on packing

November 24, 1996|By Margaret DeBord Ansley | Margaret DeBord Ansley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Choosing what to take on a trip and what to leave behind can baffle the most frequent of travelers. Yet there is no wrong method of packing a suitcase, according to travel expert Sharon Wingler.

Twenty-six years of flying as an attendant have transformed Wingler into one savvy packer. In her book "Travel Alone & Love It," Wingler advises readers on efficient preparation that includes forethought and making lists.

"When you're thinking about what clothes to take," Wingler says, "there are two main considerations: climate and culture."

Wingler suggests travelers pack a small, conservative wardrobe that can be layered and dressed up or down with lavish accessories. Keep in mind that black takes you anywhere and therefore choose coordinating separates. Knits often work best for women.

Don't pack too much

To prevent over-packing, Wingler advises beginning a list well in advance of "D-day (departure)." Include everything you would like to take. Then spread these items over a large surface like a bed or floor. She suggests that travelers ask, "Is there anything I could leave behind? Is there anything I'm forgetting?"

Travel guru and PBS-TV personality Rick Steves concurs that less is better. Traveling three months out of the year to update his series of guidebooks has taught Steves to develop a packing philosophy with a focus on good sense and humor.

"You can't travel heavy, happy and cheap," says Steves in his book "Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door." "Pick two," he insists.

Steves advises leaving behind items that you will use infrequently, and forget about packing "for the worst scenario," i.e., a heavy coat in case it gets cold. "Think in terms of what you can do without -- not what will be handy on your trip," he suggests.

One way to pare down essentials like underwear, says Steves, is to wash what you take. Another is to pack only enough toiletries to begin the trip. This way, he says, he can pack the same way no matter what the length of his trip. And, he adds, "I have the perfect excuse to go into a Bulgarian department store, shop around and pick up something I think might be toothpaste."

Pilot's shortcuts

Similar shortcuts in packing serve USAir Capt. Bill Lacey well on jaunts an average of 160 days a year. Lacey's top priority in packing is to reduce suitcase weight. In doing so, he first checks the weather at his destinations to determine whether he needs foul-weather gear. Then he reviews his itinerary to determine how much time he will have on each overnight and whether he can plan to stay in or go out. With this information, he decides what to take. If any of his articles do not fit into his regulation rolling suitcase or flight bag, they don't go.

Lacey advises business travelers to evaluate their amount of leisure time in each destination: "If you're not going to have much time on an overnight, then don't pack for it."

A typical trip for Lacey lasts four days. He keeps his starched, white uniform shirts looking pressed by leaving them on the hanger and in their plastic dry-cleaning bags. He folds the arms of each shirt across the front and then folds each shirt down into thirds. When he arrives in his hotel room, he shakes them out and hangs them. Amazingly, they remain unwrinkled, he says.

To further prevent wrinkles, Lacey packs heavy items on the bottom of his suitcase and lighter items on top. That way, "The heavy items don't work themselves down," he adds.

Packing for warm destinations automatically lightens your load, according to travel consultant Linda Philipp, simply because the attire doesn't take up much space. Still, cumbersome beach equipment such as snorkeling and scuba gear can create havoc for vacationers, especially families.

Philipp's position at Carlson Universal Travel takes her to warm climates an average of six times a year. Her two daughters, 8-year-old Samantha and 16-year-old Schelley, often accompany her, and she asks them to pack and carry their own two bags. Two of these suitcases contain the girls' casual beachwear and gear. The other two protect dressy day and evening clothes. "That way," says Philipp, "[the kids] don't continually dig through the nice stuff to get to the play stuff."

While toting two bags per child may not appear to lighten your load, it is more efficient not to have to search or straighten or repack the contents. The bags don't have to be oversized -- just large enough to accommodate necessities. Small, lightweight duffel bags usually suffice for play gear.

Philipp employs a similar technique when traveling with her husband, Scott: She packs a separate suitcase for each type of hotel they plan to stay in. If the couple spends two nights in an economy hotel and three nights in a luxury hotel, they know they will require a slightly different wardrobe for each setting.

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