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Is Your Luggage a Mess? Welcome to the Fold


Samsonite, the luggage manufacturer, held a contest recently offering prizes to travelers who sent in the best tip for packing. The first-place winner was a Fulton, N.Y., woman who suggested mixing family clothing in each suitcase carried on the trip. The idea is that if one suitcase gets lost on a flight, everyone will still have something clean to wear.

At its worst, packing for a trip is no more than a petty annoyance. But who wants to start a vacation hassled, upset and grumbling?

Entire books have been written on the subject, the latest called "The Packing Book" by Judith Gilford (Ten Speed Press, $ 7.95). She teaches packing courses at a Berkeley, Calif., bookstore and insists you can pack everything you need for a two-week trip in a suitcase small enough to stow in an airplane overhead compartment. Just plan to do a little hand laundry every night before climbing into bed.

You might think business travelers would have it comparatively easy, because they only have to pack office wear. Far from it. A summer trip to chilly San Francisco demands heavier clothing than a meeting in sweltering New Orleans. For San Francisco, you probably will want to take along a light rain coat for foggy nights. Will it fit in your suitcase? For New Orleans, where the sweat drips profusely, consider packing a shirt or blouse for daytime wear--for every day you are gone--and a fresh one for dinner at the city's superb restaurants. How many shirts is that? Decisions, decisions.

Every traveler faces many variables, which must be taken into account when choosing what to pack:

* How long will you be gone? A short trip, of course, is easier to pack for. You can toss everything you need into a suitcase and not worry it will be too heavy. But when you plan to be gone more than a week or two, you have to start thinking about items of clothing that wear well over several days. Silk is light, and it seems to hold up much better in repeated wearings than cotton. I've invested in several silk shirts at my wife's suggestion. Jeans are heavy, but I wore a pair for a week of sightseeing in Italy recently without feeling too shabby.

* Are you bound for a single destination--where you can empty your suitcase into a closet or dresser until it's time to return home? Or will you keep on the move and never really unpack? If you expect to live out of your suitcase, you probably don't want to use such space-saving packing techniques as stuffing belts, socks and underwear into your shoes. Unstuffing and restuffing becomes too much of a hassle on a daily basis. Think in terms of easy access. I stack shirts on one side of the suitcase, pants on the other and line the bag with underwear and socks. I know where to reach for what I want.

* What kind of trip are you taking? A cruise to Alaska, a hiking holiday in the mountains, a motor-coach tour of Europe, a romp at the beach, a visit with old friends or family? Each getaway requires a different wardrobe, and you may want to check ahead to determine what to take to avoid problems.

In recent years, dress has become increasingly casual in the United States, Europe and elsewhere--a trend that is making packing easier. I seldom pack a tie anymore unless I know I'll need one for a spiffy event such as an anniversary dinner with my wife. The other day I phoned a restaurant to ask if a jacket and tie were required. "No," came the reply. "We are in the food business, not the clothing business."

* How are you getting there? If you are driving, you can stuff the trunk with as much paraphernalia as you think you will need. If you are flying, you have to trim back to one or two bags per person.

* Do you enjoy doing hand laundry? In her book, Gilford notes that people who travel light can expect to be washing out their clothing often. Yuck!


Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to pack for your vacation. Here are some suggestions that may make it easier:

* Don't wait until the last minute. I'm sure this sounds like compulsive behavior, but I generally am finished packing two or three days before my trip--the longer the trip, the sooner I've packed. Any time you leave home for several days, lots of things have to be done at the last minute (such as watering the house plants), but packing isn't one of them. I go out of town on an average of twice a month, and I've found there's much less stress to the departure when I'm not folding shirts and trousers while a taxi waits outside.

Also, I'm less likely to forget something.

* Pack a smaller, soft-sided carry-on bag inside your larger suitcase. This is the second-place winning tip in the Samsonite contest. My wife and I pack an extra bag all the time. We fill it--as the contestant suggested--with vacation souvenirs. We tend to buy handmade folk-art objects, which can be wrapped and stuffed in the bag for safe carrying.

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