Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, May 10, 1999

Packing light is right

by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Over packing can weigh you
down, but the right stuff will keep
you light on your feet for
trekking about this summer

By Tim Ryan


THERE'S no question about it: overpacking heads the list of biggest mistakes made by tourists and other travelers. There's an art to traveling light and living for an indefinite period of time out of a single, carry-on-sized bag. That's right: one bag.

The key isn't just your selection of luggage -- the airlines have strict rules about carry-ons -- but what you choose to bring. How often have you returned from a trip with clothes you didn't need?

Since the art of packing is not as simple as it sounds, the travel savvy folks at Magellan's -- a major source of travel supplies -- have put together an instruction booklet: "How to Pack for Your Whole Trip in One Small Bag," written by Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr.

"Overpacking won't ruin your trip, like having your money stolen or getting caught in a revolution," says John McManus, Magellan's president. "But it will weigh you down, putting you at the mercy of your possessions."

According to McManus there are several advantages to packing light:

Bullet Security: If you don't give your suitcase to the airline, it can't be misrouted, lost or stolen;

Bullet Mobility: You don't have to arrive at the airport as early for departure, or wait at the luggage carousel after arrival. You also can more easily deal with delayed flights and missed connections since you can take alternate flights without worrying about what will happen to your luggage;

Bullet Economics: You don't have to pay porters to carry your luggage for you. And you also can take public transportation, rather than taxis where sometimes you have to pay extra for luggage.

Even if you're convinced light is right, what exactly do you take?

The first step toward traveling light is bag selection. You have to consider the airlines' carry-on limits and about how easy the bag will be to transport since you'll be carrying it more than the airlines.

Sure, there are different styles of luggage for different styles of trips such as a trip to Europe, when a roll-aboard bag is good; or Kona, when a travel pack or duffel might do the job. The goal isn't to see how much stuff you can bring on board the plane but learning to manage happily with a single bag of modest size.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
A special compression sack slims two jackets
to an inch thickness.

McManus suggests buying a bag of the best quality you can afford. Look for one designed for optimal packing: that means more available space in a small package. The bag should have three main compartments, with the zippers on at least two of them designed to completely free up three sides of the bag (so it can be opened flat). The compartments should have internal tie-down straps, so the contents can be prevented from shifting and wrinkling. And the bag should be made of nylon, have sturdy, lockable zippers and fittings to accommodate a shoulder strap.

(Avoid leather bags: they're susceptible to mold and mildew.)

Look for a bag with soft sides -- they conform better to both their contents and the places you might stow them -- and strong construction. Wheeled luggage sets you free by letting the bag do the moving work for you. (Avoid the leash kind because they tend to wobble and fall over.)

Bag of choice

So what's my favorite?

Hands down, Magellan's 19-inch Ballistic Rolling Upright Bag, $265, with a lifetime warranty.

I've used it for day trips to a neighbor island, a week in San Francisco, even an overnight camping trip on Oahu. I've run with it through airports to catch a plane (it never tipped over) thrown it into the trunks of cars and cabs atop tires and jacks and sharp tools (no tears) and even lived out of it without unpacking. It's very organized.

This under-seat carry-on is made of 1050 denier Ballistic Nylon that's tear, abrasion and puncture resistant; the lightweight "honeycomb" frame seems indestructible and remembers its original shape after being crunched by a baggage handler.

The ball-bearing, in-line skate wheels are strong, and low to the ground preventing tipping over. There's even an expansion zipper which adds another inch of extra space to the main compartment; the zippers are reliable; a push-button, locking square-shank handle is easy to use, and locks in up-and-down positions now required by airlines. Adjustable hanging straps allow you to carry other small bags hanging off the front. There's also a handy zippered organized pocket in front.

Total dimensions? 42.5 inches -- 19-by-14-by-9.5 -- so it's easily within the airlines' 45-inch rule. If you need a bit more room, Magellan's $295 22-inch Ballistic Rolling Upright Bag measures 45 inches -- 22-by-14-by-9.

Packing it in

So how do you pack it with a week's worth of clothes?

Author Dunn's packing commandments: Thou shalt take half the clothes you plan to pack; Thou shalt mix and match; Thou shalt layer; and Thou shalt do laundry at the hotel.

Lay out on your bed everything you imagine you'll need for your trip. Then put half of it back in the closet and drawers.

Take clothing that's color coordinated so everything goes with everything else. Pick a main neutral color and a complimentary color. (Dark colors don't show dirt as much as lighter colors.)

You can make your wardrobe more versatile and less bulky by layering, Dunn says. A basic outfit for women can be a skirt or pants and blouse. Then when the weather turns cool or for evening add warm layers like a sweater and blazer. This way you avoid lugging a bulky coat. (Ideally, your jacket is reversible and water resistant.)

T-shirts are a good choice because they pack small and dry quickly after washing. They're also a good start for layering.

Laundry is the real secret to traveling with a single suitcase. If you don't carry a month's worth of socks, shirts and underwear, you'll have to do the laundry every few days. Take along a portable clothes line for drying in the hotel bathroom or outside.

Specially designed underwear packs thin and dries fast so just two can be enough to take you around the world.

Bulky clothes can be worn instead of filling your suitcase with them. Stuff shoes with rolled socks, underwear or whatever fits. Pack belts straight -- not coiled -- around the edges of your suitcase.

(If you can bear the shame of tattered shirts, you can even take old clothes that you plan to discard anyway. This could cut down on laundry and create extra room in your suitcase on your return trip when you likely have souvenirs to stow.)

There are also packing accessories to help shrink your load further.

The Pack-Mate creates up to 75 percent more space by removing the air before you pack a heavy sweater or jacket. Just place bulky items in the Pack-Mate's triple-laminated plastic bag, then roll the air out through its one-way valve to flatten the bag, creating an amazing amount of new-found space. One set includes one medium (14-by-191/2) and one large (18-by-271/2) reusable bag.

Organizer pouches are flat, rectangular, multi-compartmented, nylon bags with zipper or Velcro closures. They sometimes have see-through mesh panels, and are great for avoiding a cluttered mess in your bag. Organize your belongings into categories, then store them in the pouches.

Eagle Creek makes particularly good pouches. Its Pack-It Folders come in various sizes ($19.95 to $29.95). Just fold and stack your clothing using the special folding board (full instructions printed on it), slip your neat stack inside the mesh Pack-It, close snugly and stash in your suitcase. The 15-incher holds five shirts, three pairs of pants, and two pairs of shorts.

There's even a Pack-It Sac with a pleated bottom to stand upright on counters and hang-up clips to hold after-shave, shampoo and perfume bottles; $8.45.

What about toiletries?

One of my favorites is David Somersets Shaving Oil, which comes in a one-ounce size and takes the place of bulky shaving cream cans. Just massage three drops into your wet skin and shave. The oil contains aloe vera, tea tree oil, and menthol; $15.85 in men's and women's versions.

The Retractable Razor -- 3 inches long, $6.85 -- looks just like a lipstick tube. But when you twist the bottom, the blade emerges from the plastic case and clicks into place. It retracts when you're done. You can refill it with your favorite easy-to-find twin blade.

Packing light takes planning but it's worth the trip.

Rules governing the size of carry-ons are changing as each airline sets its own standard

Airlines are getting serious about restricting the number and size of bags they're allowing to be carried on their planes, such that they've added "sizer" boxes in boarding areas.

The measurements vary in size from airline to airline. It all leads to the conclusion that in the near future, the current industry-standard carry-on, the rolling 22-inch upright, may become a check-in bag.

Generally speaking, airlines allow carry-on bags with a total dimension of 45 inches; that's length plus width plus height.

Unfortunately, each airline has its own constantly changing rules of carry-on dimensions. And the limits sometimes are based on weight, not size. Enforcement is generally at the whims of gate personnel.

In July 1998, the FAA revised Advisory Circular 121-29, requiring FAA certified air carriers to have a detailed carry-on baggage program. The regulation allows airlines to cite FAA authority when refusing to allow oversize bags aboard flights.

By late 1998, some American carriers installed sizing templates at security stations, making it impossible for luggage exceeding the dimensions of the template opening to enter the X-ray scanners.

Aloha and Hawaiian airlines allow bags measuring 9-by-14-by-22 inches.

Of the large carriers, United is one of the most restrictive airlines, offering a 14-by-9-inch opening; Delta's is 16-by-10 inches; Southwest is the most generous, at 17-by-11 inches.

But for now, the "45-inch" rule will satisfy most dimension-based regulations.


Bare essentials

Here's a checklist for a week's worth of clothing for summer travel that can be packed into a 19-by-22-inch bag, such as Magellan's Ballistic Rolling Upright Bag, shown here:

Bullet 5 shirts
Bullet 4 pairs of pants, including "convertibles" that can be converted to shorts
Bullet 2 pairs of shorts
Bullet Windbreaker
Bullet Sweatshirt
Bullet 4 pairs of socks
Bullet Dress shoes
Bullet Cashmere dress jacket
Bullet 2 pairs of underwear
Bullet Hat
Bullet Toiletries: contact lens cases and fluids; shampoo, collapsible brush; mini toothbrush; tooth paste; 1 ounce bottle of shaving oil; glass case; sun block
Bullet Other: Mini flashlight, Swiss Army Knife, Sony Discman and eight compact discs, compact clock radio, light umbrella, two inflatable hangers

Here's a recommendation for women:

Bullet Little black dress for evenings
Bullet Two pairs dark jeans
Bullet Three dark T-shirts or knit shirts
Bullet Fresh socks and undies for each day (men can wear the same undies if they want to, but we don't want to)
Bullet One convertible bra
Bullet One light sweater or jacket
Bullet One swimsuit
Bullet One skirt
Bullet One small evening bag
Bullet One carryall day bag with a shoulder strap
Bullet One pair dress shoes
Bullet One pair walking shoes
Bullet Rubber slipper for hotel room
Bullet Nylon duffel bag for returning with more than you brought. (You'll carry less if you mail purchases home.)
Bullet Toiletries: Mini makeup (Save up those sample products that some cosmetics companies give away with purchases, especially foundation), prescription medication, contact lenses and solutions, hair conditioner. Use mini shampoos, moisturizers provided by hotels.
Bullet Other: Swiss army knife with corkscrew

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