Pack Like a Pro: Suitcase Tips from a Certified British Butler
Mr. Oceanographer and I have reduced the drama of packing a suitcase to a fairly efficient twenty minutes. That includes toiletry-wrangling and a shirt-folding ceremony that oftentimes finishes with a dab to the eyes because they’re just so damned pretty when they’re stacked.
“We should work at JCPenney,” he’ll mention.
I correct him: “You have your PhD now. They’ll probably let you fold clothes at Banana Republic.”
Of course, if you’re traveling by car and don’t have weight and space limitations for packing, you’re only constrained by the size of the vehicle and therefore can spend some time and be as inclusive as you like. But when you have a flight to catch, here are some strategies and products that can help you pack quickly and efficiently.
- Limit yourself to one carry-on bag. In 2015, airlines took in $3.8 billion in luggage fees, most of it for overweight baggage. Apparently screwing the unaware packer has become very profitable. As an example, Delta will charge $25 for a 50-pound bag while a 51-pound bag will cost $100. You can avoid these fees by researching your airline’s carry-on size requirements and skipping the luggage check-in altogether. If you cannot avoid checking luggage, have a scale to weigh it while you are still at home to avoid last minute chaos.
- Maximize your personal item allocation. Along with a carry-on bag, you’re allowed a personal item. Typically, that’s something that can be pushed under the seat in front of you and can be as large as a tote, a computer bag, or a book bag. Don’t waste that space with something small if you’re otherwise struggling to bring what you need.
- Packing cubes are your friend. Available from numerous manufacturers, these self-contained bags help keep things of one type or size together so you’re not forced to rummage through a chaotic bag of loose items. We have several sets of these bags, finding them to be perfect for underwear, t-shirts, and socks. But these babies are the real magic – perfect for dress shirts and pants (and if you’re a real packing geek you can use the enclosed plastic sheet as a folding board). The bags are washable, nearly weightless, and the smaller style is perfect for the treasure trove of cables, chargers, and electrical junk we all seem to carry.
- Toiletries are the dark night of the soul. If you check luggage, there’s a strong temptation to pack full-size bottles of everything you have sitting on the bathroom counter. This takes up unnecessary space, and liquid toiletries are easy to underestimate weight-wise, so use caution. A better option is to use travel-size toiletries, but that can get very expensive, so it pays to keep and refill the smaller containers. For a premium option, you can buy reusable silicone travel bottles like these or these.
- Your boots were made for walking. Shoes (especially men’s) are notoriously difficult to pack, so wear your biggest space-takers on your flight. Then when packing your smaller shoes, change the game by filling the space inside of them with socks, belts, and even ties. While not entirely necessary, you can use these sacks to protect your clothes from shoe stank, and they can double as separate toiletry bags since they have an impervious inner lining.
- Make your mother proud. Pack a laundry bag in a suitcase pocket. References to storing dirty clothes in a clean suitcase can be found in religious texts throughout the known world. And since you won’t want an unwashed ball of dirty clothes that won’t fit back into your suitcase, loosely fold them as you add them to your laundry sack.
- Pack like a princess. Rumor has it that the British royal family never travels without a set of dark mourning clothes in case they have to go to a sudden funeral. You may not want to go so far as to pack mourning clothes, but why not apply that principle to a cube or two and have a pre-packed set of clothes (and a few toiletries) that are permanent residents of your suitcase? That way half the work may very well be done before you even begin!
Photos by James Fischer and Christian Briseño
Editor's note: Want more tips from our resident British butler? Thanks to his training and certification at Ditchley Park Butler Valet School, James is a wealth of information on clothing care, home organization, tea, and so much more. Let us know in the comments below, and we can pick his brain for future posts.