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suitcase packingEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Last week, we explained how old nylons, ratty towels and empty egg cartons can be converted into useful travel gear. (Check out Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash if you missed it.) But our ideas were just the tip of the garbage heap.

We asked our readers to weigh in with their own thoughts about how to transform trash into travel treasure — and you responded. One of our favorite tips came from member lynclarke, who wrote:

“Save that big oversized shopping bag from one of the ‘good’ [department] stores. Put it in the front flap of your suitcase. It will be an instant raincoat for yourself or your suitcase. [Also], save those ‘Mylar’ mailing envelopes which seem to be the rage these days. Make sure your travel documents, receipts, reservations, all important papers and ALL ELECTRONICS are wrapped in one. There is nothing more discouraging [than] to find your carry-on bag will be stored underbelly in one of the small planes BUT right now it is sitting on the tarmac in the pouring rain.”

I’m also a fan of reusing those simple plastic grocery bags that always seem to proliferate in my kitchen. They’re ideal for padding fragile items, separating dirty laundry from the rest of my clothes, and wrapping up wet swimsuits or muddy hiking boots.

How do you put your trash to good use when you travel? Weigh in on our message boards or leave a comment below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

My dream suitcase is a perfectly arranged kit complete with clothes rolled just right — as to unfurl with nary a wrinkle — and everything in its place; I’ve never achieved this. My real suitcase usually looks like a raccoon’s been rifling through it, and I often lose things like jewelry or toiletries within the rumples of my balled-up clothes.

Consequently, I’m intrigued by luggage organizers. Products like space bags and packing cubes promise a perfectly packed bag. But do they deliver? Try one for yourself. Subscribe to our blog by Tuesday, October 18 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for a chance to win this set of Packing Cubes and Travel Shoe Bags found exclusively at GreatUsefulStuff.com (if you’re already a subscriber, you’re automatically entered to win):

packing aids



The following is an overview of three common packing aids. How do you organize your suitcase? Share your strategy in the comments!

Compression Sacks & Space Bags
Last month, I reviewed the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sac, a space-saving bag that compresses its contents by allowing air to be pushed out from inside the bag. The verdict? The bag did what it was supposed to do: it squashed a large pile of clothes into a tight, heavy chunk of clothes, creating a good deal of extra space in my suitcase. But when I arrived in my destination, my clothes were, as I had suspected, very prune-like. And while the compression sack makes clothes less voluminous, it certainly won’t help you beat airline weight limits for baggage.

Packing Cubes & Organizers
You can buy packing folders and cubes, toiletry kits, and shoe bags from virtually any travel supply store. These serve to separate your provisions into manageable compartments, and prevent wrinkles and spills. We recommend these products for travelers embarking on multi-destination itineraries that involve lots of unpacking and repacking. But don’t overdo it. Although packing cubes and kits promote organization, they won’t help you fit more stuff into your bag.

Plastic Bags
A simple plastic grocery bag makes an excellent suitcase organizer. It’s free, you can label it and it’s wonderfully lightweight. The downside: A suitcase filled with lumpy plastic bags won’t win any beauty contests. For more ideas like this, read 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash.

– written by Caroline Costello

world map travel travelerWhile I’m not sure I’d call myself a “lazy traveler,” I do like to keep things as simple as possible. After countless road trips and plane rides, I’ve developed a few tips and strategies that will make your next trip more comfortable. These tips work for short or long trips and do not require a degree in rocket science in order to apply them to your travel style.

1. Wear slip-on shoes. Whether you are working your way through airport security or headed out on a long road trip, slip-on shoes make life much more relaxing. At the airport you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking up the security line because he’s untying his shoes. Just make sure you have clean, hole-free socks — and ladies, if it’s summertime, we recommend a fresh pedicure.

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

2. Books and e-readers are nice, but audio books are better. Carrying an iPod or mp3 player is much easier than lugging around a book or Kindle. On our last flight, my husband and I actually shared headphones, each using one earbud, in order to finish up a book we’d both been listening to in the car via my mp3 player. It was a riveting storyline and our two-hour flight was over in no time.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

3. Always pack a hat. Having a hat is essential to comfortable travel. It not only warms your head, but if necessary it can also be used to cool the neck by tucking hair up into it. Hats shield the eyes from outdoor glare, and can block the light if you’re trying to catch a few Z’s at an airport or on a bus. And if you haven’t washed your hair in a few days? A hat hides a multitude of sins.

Another Reason You Should Always Pack a Hat

4. Bring bills. This one may seem irrelevant in the age of ATM’s and credit cards, but I find it’s always nice to have a little traveling cash on hand in order to tip the cab driver or buy a sweet treat from a street vendor. You might even discover a cool little cash-only restaurant — yes, these establishments still exist, and the smaller the town, the more likely that you’ll stumble across one. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on the world’s best eggs Benedict just because you didn’t have a little cash in your pocket.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

5. Keep headache medicine and antacids readily available. No matter how laid-back you are about traveling, there’s bound to be something that causes a little headache or upset stomach along the way. Travel usually comes with a change in diet, which can be tough on the digestive system, and lack of sleep or dehydration can result in a headache. It’s better to be prepared than to have to track down a $10 aspirin in the airport or at a tourist trap.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold

– written by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, a journalist and freelance writer from Northern Colorado. She is also the Mayor of HeidiTown.com, a blog about Colorado events and festivals.

sun hat suitcase vacation travelEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Last week, we blogged about a nifty new suitcase that beats baggage fees — and gave readers a chance to win it by submitting their smartest packing tips. More than 500 people weighed in, offering a wealth of practical, travel-tested advice.

We discovered that our readers are avid proponents of doing laundry midway through their trips, rolling clothes rather than folding and using compression bags to squeeze a few extra outfits into their carry-on. (We also decided that we might not want to sit next to a few of you on the plane, based on how many times you apparently re-wear your clothes before washing!)

It was almost impossible to pick just one reader to win the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase, but in the end our favorite tip came from a reader named Bruce:

“Always bring a hat [even] if you think you won’t need one. In the hotel, place it on the nightstand and empty your keys, wallet, passport, etc. into it before bed. When you get up (or God forbid if you need to leave in a hurry due to fire, or some other emergency) you’ll already know where everything is — secure and ALL in ONE place, and so won’t have to search around to make sure you haven’t left something essential behind!”

While Bruce is our big winner, we’ve also got something cool for the rest of the travelers who played along: a special coupon code from the folks at CarryOn Free that readers can use for the next two weeks to get 10 percent off any product in the company’s store. Just enter discount code P092811 during check-out.

We couldn’t resist sharing a few other creative tips out of the hundreds we received:

“Scan your passport, passport photos and paper tickets (if not the [electronic] type). Store this … in your Web-based e-mail account. You can also store the details of your emergency ‘lost card’ telephone numbers in your Web-based e-mail account so you know who to contact if your credit card or ATM card is lost or stolen. This way, even if you lose everything, you have immediate access [to] your all important information.” — Dan Freeman

“For women who love perfume — I tear out the paper perfume samples from the fashion magazines and trim them to just the width of the folded scent sample; they last forever, [and] take up/add minimal space and weight.” — Martha Meier

“I have seen very expensive plastic padded sleeves for sale to carry bottle wines. I have been bringing wine and liquor bottles from all over the world using two pairs of socks (putting the bottle inside the socks, it gets protected by four layers), then inside a regular plastic supermarket bag, and then a T-shirt wrapped around. Then I place the bottle in the center of the suitcase. I never had a broken bottle.” — Angel

For more indispensable packing advice, check out Packing Tips from Our Readers.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

To put it mildly, my packing skills leave something to be desired. According to our Packing Personality Quiz, I’m a “Systematic Suitcase Stuffer.” I pack for a trip by trying to shove most of the things I own into a suitcase. This strategy doesn’t get me too far.

Enter the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sac. I’ve wanted to try travel compression sacks, also known as Space Bags, for ages. They’re airtight, space-saving bags that compress your items by allowing most of the air inside the bag to be pushed or sucked out. Some bags, like most Space Bags, require a vacuum nozzle for air removal. Other brands, such as the Eagle Creek bags I purchased, don’t need a vacuum; these are more useful for travelers who won’t have access to vacuums in their destinations.

The list price for the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sacs is $20; however, I paid $17.99 for it on Amazon.com. My set came with one small and one medium bag. Here’s the product:

eagle creek bag



I’m traveling to Europe for 10 days, so I need a lot of clothes. Here’s what my suitcase looked like before I used the compression sack. You’re looking at a bag packed with eight shirts, two jackets, one dress and one raincoat:

Suitcase packing clothes



I folded everything in a sort-of neat fashion and slid the clothes into the large compression sack. According to the instructions on the package, you have to “roll to expel air and compress.” The bag is designed so that air gets pushed out when the bag is rolled. As I twisted and rolled, I could hear the air shooting out of the far end of the bag. Toward the end of the rolling process, things got a little difficult, and I had to use my knees (and a coworker’s knees) to push out the remaining air.

rolling compression sack



I’m impressed with the results. My clothes are condensed into a tight bundle, and now I have tons of space left in my suitcase.

 Compression Sac Results



There are, however, two things you should keep in mind when using compression bags. First, I get the feeling that my clothes are going to be as wrinkled as raisins by the time I arrive at my hotel. Second, this bundle of clothes is like a brick — it’s very heavy. Watch out for airline weight limits when packing with compression sacks.

Have you packed with a compression sack? Would you try it?


– written by Caroline Costello

family plane airplane sleep parents childEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Between the lack of legroom, the desert-like air and that annoying little kid practicing his soccer kick against the back of your seat, it’s tough to get comfortable on a plane. And being too hot or too cold only makes things worse. In Five Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane, Caroline Costello writes:

“Fliers must brave a multitude of temperature changes throughout their journeys. There’s the sweat-inducing jog through the sunny airport terminal, the warm 20 minutes while the plane sits on the tarmac pre-take-off and that in-flight arctic chill (against which paper-thin airline blankets do nothing). Layers are a traveler’s best weapon against such varying conditions. Furthermore, the more apparel you tie around your waist or throw over your shoulders, the fewer clothing items you need to ball up and stuff into your suitcase.”

With airplane blankets going the way of the dodo (especially on domestic flights), bringing an extra layer is vital for travelers who tend to get chilly as soon as the plane takes off. Just remember that some of these layers, such as coats or suit jackets, will need to be taken off when you go through airport security.

A scarf is another must-pack item for many travelers. Not only can it help keep you warm in a chilly airplane cabin, but it can also serve a number of other purposes, according to reader Pat Van Alstyne: “It can be a pillow if rolled up … it can be placed over your eyes [and] it can ward off foul odors if held under the nose. … (I also place a small dab of perfume on scarf to help with foul smells. One little dab does it!)”

See what else you should — and shouldn’t — wear on a plane.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase pack packing clothes overflowEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

While creases are a common consequence of stuffing shirts and pants into a suitcase for hours on end, that doesn’t mean you need to consign yourself to the ironing board the moment you arrive at your hotel. In Four Signs You Have a Packing Problem, we recommend the following tips for avoiding wrinkles:

“Before your trip, lay your clothes out ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need — but don’t actually put them into your bag until shortly before you’re ready to depart. That way you’ll minimize the time they spend scrunched up in your suitcase. On the other end of your trip, be sure to hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive in your hotel. (If they’re looking a little rumpled, hang them in the bathroom while you take a shower — the hot, moist air will relax away most minor wrinkles.)”

Letting your clothes hang out while you shower is almost as effective as ironing — but with a lot less work for you.

To further ward off wrinkles, choose your clothing wisely. Linen and cotton garments are most prone to creases; animal fibers (like wool) and synthetic fabrics (nylon, polyester) are less so. And knitted garments tend to fare better than woven ones. These days, travel supply companies like Magellan’s and TravelSmith offer wrinkle-resistant clothing in a wide range of styles and prices.

Tell us how you keep your clothes wrinkle-free in the comments below — and don’t forget to check out our solutions to the Five Worst Packing Problems.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

luggageEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

We’re hitting the road in a new era of air travel, when excessive airline baggage fees have forced untold passengers to pack the kitchen sink into a carry-on and haul it onto the plane. The result? I don’t think I’ve boarded a single flight in the past year without hearing the airline staff announce that the overhead bins are full and some passengers will need to gate check their bags.

This announcement moves me to clutch my bag fearfully. In my carry-on, I pack a variety of things I intend to use during the flight — especially if it’s a long one — like books, snacks, hand sanitizer, magazines, even a pillow. I don’t want to gate check my carry-on bag, ever. But, if I’m last in line to board and I’m left with no choice to but to say goodbye to my precious rolling suitcase — there’s a simple solution.

Writes Ed Hewitt: “You never know if they’re going to start taking your stuff from you at the end of the gangway, so my recommendation is to pack a small bag inside your larger bag in case you are forced to check your carry-on. This way you can take your most valuable (and most easily stolen) items, and put them in a small bag you can keep at your feet if necessary.”

Put together a bag within a bag — a sort of nesting doll suitcase. Just pack the essentials you know you might need on the plane (including things like vital medications or anything else that you absolutely can’t be without) in a smaller sack like a purse or a plastic grocery bag, so that you can easily remove it in case your suitcase is taken away at the gate.

For more tips like this, read Seven Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly.

– written by Caroline Costello

stress travel stressed out traveler businessman suitcaseCountdown to departure: three days. Before I board a flight to Vancouver on Thursday, I have to finish packing, call my credit card company, do laundry, print boarding passes, clean out the fridge, confirm my reservations … so many details, so little time!

Am I curled up, knees to chest, in a stress-induced stupor? Not exactly. I’ve adopted a few strategies for handling the pre-trip panic phase:

1. Make a list — or several.
This weekend, I jotted down a clothing inventory for each day of my trip, a more general packing list (medications, umbrella, etc.) and a list of everything I had to do before I left. Having everything laid out in writing helped me get organized … and gave me the satisfaction of whittling down my mountain of tasks one by one. (Our handy interactive packing list can help with this step.)

2. Start early.
Dumping drawers on the floor in search of your passport hours before your departure is, to put it mildly, poor planning. I headed off last-minute panic attacks by starting the packing process several days before my flight. As it happened, I discovered that my passport was indeed where I left it — score! — but that I was missing a few other odds and ends. Luckily, I still have a couple of days to run to the store. Crisis averted.

3. Have a plan.
As Ed Hewitt points out in 10 Things to Do Before You Travel, the first day of a trip is often the most nerve-wracking as you figure out how to get around an unfamiliar new place. He suggests making a plan before you leave: “Sketch out a walk near your digs, which can help you get oriented as well as shake off travel fatigue and jet lag. Also, check out any nearby amenities — like a rooftop lounge nearby, a balcony with a choice view or a heated pool for maximum chill-out at the end of a harried travel day.”

As for me, I looked up public transportation options from the airport to where I’m staying, so I know exactly where to go once my plane touches down. And I’ve scribbed down a few yummy-sounding neighborhood restaurants for that first night’s dinner.

4. Let go.
Once you’ve taken care of all the important stuff (the passport is packed now, right? RIGHT?), try not to waste too much energy on the rest. Slow down, take a deep breath and focus your fevered brain on how much fun you’ll have on your trip, rather than all the tiny little details you might have forgotten.

If you’re looking for me on Thursday, I’ll be in one of those airport massage chairs — having my last few twinges of travel tension gently rubbed away.

What do you do to reduce pre-trip stress?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

man mountain lake view happy success arms raisedClose your eyes and picture the perfect traveler. Would she be toting the finest-quality luggage, speak a dozen foreign languages fluently and have a magical knack for never getting lost?

If you don’t resemble this paragon of travel perfection, don’t fret. I’d argue that the qualities that make for successful and memorable trips are much more mundane — and can be developed by any traveler.

Useful: The ability to read a map.
Essential: The ability to chill out when you inevitably get lost.

Sure, your companions will thank you if you have a knack for deciphering a subway map or navigating a flawless route from Point A to Point B. But even with a map, even with a handheld GPS, even with “you can’t miss it” directions from the guy at the local newspaper stand … I promise that sooner or later, you will wander off course. How you respond to getting lost spells the difference between a sour afternoon of arguing with your spouse over who’s to blame and a serendipitous detour to a place you might never have found otherwise.

Useful: A good bag.
Essential: A good packing strategy.

While I’d never minimize the value of a sturdy, well-constructed suitcase, what’s more important is what you put into it — and what you don’t. Even a “Miracle Bag” can’t save you from overweight fees if you’re a chronic overpacker, or help you remember the umbrella you always seem to leave at home in the closet. Forget buying some $400 piece of luggage and instead invest a little time in improving your packing strategy: create a packing list that you can customize for each trip, and think back over your last few vacations to evaluate which items you really could’ve left at home.

Useful: A stomach of steel.
Essential: An open mind (and a stockpile of Tums, just in case).

If you’ve ever eyed a steaming plate of mystery meat with trepidation, you might have wished you were one of those travelers with an ironclad stomach — like the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain, who munches his way through the street food of the world with almost nary a taste of food poisoning. But according to Bourdain, it’s not his biology but his sense of adventure that keeps him from getting sick on the road: “My crew — who are more careful and fussy about street food, get sick more often — almost invariably from the hotel buffet or Western-style businesses,” he told WebMD. While I encourage travelers to take reasonable precautions (see our Food Safety Tips for ideas), don’t let fear get in the way of trying those unique local delicacies.

Useful: Fluency in a second (or third, or fourth…) language.
Essential: Fluency in the universal language of hand signals and smiles.

According to a report in the New York Times last year, only 9 percent of Americans speak a language besides English. Guess that explains the sheer number of Yanks bumbling around the world asking, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Knowing the local language can ease your trip in countless ways, which is why I’d always recommend learning as many basic vocabulary words as you can before a trip. (Hint: “Restroom” should be one of them.) But keep in mind that when you hit a language barrier, you can often convey just as much — if not more — with a simple smile.

Which qualities would you add to this list?

– written by Sarah Schlichter