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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 7, 2007

Packing for travel

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Think ahead and stick to the essentials.

JON ORQUE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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When traveling, a carefully packed suitcase becomes a microcosm of our life. We reduce what's important to a single bag. Choosing what to take — and perhaps more critically, what to leave behind — requires a great deal of thought, self-searching and self-discipline.

After 40 years of serious travel, I have learned never to pack more than I can run with. I imagine wheeling my bag down a cobbled street in County Cork or lifting it on and off vaporetto water buses in Venice. I even do practice runs up and down our (extremely steep) driveway.

As I am packing, I also think about those people on the airplane who block the aisles as they struggle to get a too-large carry-on into the overhead bin. I never want to be one of those people, requiring assistance and inconveniencing everyone else.

I have learned to pack everything I need into one 22-inch carry-on bag, although I check it, because of the limitations of overhead bins. I also carry a medium-sized handbag with lots of pockets and a backpack or small carry-on bag. These will work for a weekend on Maui or a five-week art retreat in Italy.

One way I save space in my suitcase is to wear as much as possible on the plane. I'm always cold in airports and planes, anyway.

I begin the packing process with a list, divided into categories: clothes, shoes, toiletries, medicines, miscellaneous. This travels with me in my suitcase — helpful when repacking to avoid leaving anything behind.

I discipline myself by visualizing an entire day on the trip and dressing myself for each stage. I lay out the outfits, including underwear and accessories. After thinking through several days like this, I make sure that items can be mixed and matched. Anything that matches only one other thing stays home.

To allow space for purchases, about one-third of the items I pack don't come home. I give them away. Giving away clothes in Bagan, Myanmar, felt really good.

Gotta go. I have to pack for my trip to Turkey.



  • When a suit is a necessity, pack it first (see diagram) and pack all other items on top of it, wrapping the sleeves and pant legs around everything as the last step. This will help everything else stay in place, as well as keep the suit as wrinkle-free as possible. Wrapping it in tissue can also help to prevent wrinkles.

  • When shopping for travel clothes, look for high-tech microfibers, especially for socks and underwear. Cotton and wool, while comfy, can take ages to dry, while after washing, microfiber will be ready to repack the next day.

  • A reversible belt — black on one side and brown on the other — is ideal for travel. Although belts don't take up much space, they can quickly add weight to a suitcase.

  • A mini-compass and Swiss army knife make great travel companions (but not in your carry-on), even if the destination is a city rather than a wilderness experience.


  • Build your wardrobe around a single neutral color. Black, navy, gray, tan and brown all are ideal for travel.

  • Shoes are the most critical item you will pack. Never buy new shoes just before a trip. Allow at least a few months to break in potential travel shoes. If at all in doubt, stick with your tried and true travel shoes even if they don't look that great. Stress fractures can ruin a trip.

  • Never, never, never pack more than three pairs of shoes (and that includes slippers).

  • Many frequent fliers recommend packing two-thirds tops and one-third bottoms, as people tend to look at the top of your body most of the time and won't notice if you're wearing the same skirt or pants every day.

  • Shop for fabrics that pack well and still look chic. Summer-weight wool, micro modal, Tencel and cotton blends are great for travel. Try crushing an item in your hand. If it springs back, it's probably a good travel fabric.

  • For cold-weather travel, plan to layer thin, lightweight garments rather than taking anything bulky. Patagonia Capilene or silk underwear is ideal for layering.

  • Don't take anything that goes with only one other thing in your suitcase.

  • Scarves (pareus, shawls) can be a chic traveler's best friend. They can be worn around the neck, as a belt, as a shawl or on the head, or even double as a robe or beach wrap. Choose bright colors to jazz up your neutral wardrobe. If you're insecure about how to tie them, pop into Hermés and get a lesson or ask for their helpful book on how to tie a scarf.

  • Belts and costume jewelry can also give your outfits a lift, and they can be tucked into tiny corners of your suitcase.

  • Seriously consider taking a dress and/or skirt. You can get awfully bored with pants by the end of a long trip, and skirts feel much more feminine, especially in the evenings.

  • Packing tissue paper between layers in your suitcase can help eliminate creases. Some people pack their clothes in plastic bags or zip-closure bags.


  • The restrictions on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage have actually helped a lot of us pare down our toiletries. I used to think I had to take my favorite shampoo, moisturizer, night cream, etc., on every trip. I am so over that. Many hotels, inns and B&Bs have amenities that work just fine. Or:

  • Most Longs Drugs stores have an entire wall of travel-size toiletries. Better yet, visit your favorite cosmetics counter and ask for sample packets. Those little flat packets can last up to five days if you poke a tiny puka (with a safety pin) into a corner and squeeze out the product rather than tearing off the top and making it one-time pau.

  • Multitask your makeup. Lots of products can work for lips, eyes and cheeks.

  • See if you like any of the fragrances that come in a solid form. Pocket-size perfumes from Bulgari, Stella McCartney, Michael Kors and Chanel take only a tiny amount of space and certainly won't spill.

  • Hair dryers, irons and adapters are available in a surprising number of rooms now. If you know where you're staying, check online or e-mail them before you pack this bulky stuff.


  • Do not pack valuables such as passports, cash, credit cards, tickets or documents. These should go on your person, under your clothes, in a security wallet.

  • Pack half your prescription medicines in your handbag and half in your suitcase so if you lose one bag, you still have some medicine.

  • Make sure you take photocopies of prescriptions for medicines and contacts or eyeglasses. Keep these on your person, with an extra copy in your handbag or your traveling companion's safe place.

  • Before you leave, make photocopies of your passport, credit cards, bank information, medical insurance and physician's phone numbers. Include information on who to call if your vital documents are lost or stolen.

  • A good night's sleep is critical when traveling, so take along whatever you need to ensure you have one.

  • An inflatable travel pillow can help on the plane.

  • Your own pillowcase, spritzed with a favorite fragrance, can transport you to your own bed.

  • Earplugs and a sleep mask can be insomnia busters.

  • A candle in your favorite fragrance can provide soothing aromatherapy.

  • Plan to do some laundry yourself. Hotel laundry prices are often outrageous. I always travel with a little plastic jar of Forever New laundry powder (sold at Macy's and Neiman Marcus).

  • Inflatable hangers keep hand-washed clothes neat.

  • Especially if you are traveling to a place with food that is unfamiliar to you, take a few snack bars as backups.

    Some other things I find helpful on trips:

  • Plastic zip-closure bags.

  • Over-the-counter diarrhea medicine.

  • A Swiss army knife and a pocket flashlight.

  • Extra cards for my digital camera.

  • A mini sewing kit and safety pins.

  • Hand sanitizer (they come in tiny bottles now).

    Reach Paula Rath at paularath@aol.com.

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