In our family, my husband is the one who counts our frequent-flier miles, books the plane reservations, tracks down hotel and rental-car deals, prints out driving directions, and makes sure the station wagon, iPods, portable DVD player, camera, and camcorder are all juiced.
In return, I pack.
Initially, this was an equitable arrangement. After all, who has more baggage than babies on the go?Since travel was part of the plan for us and our two kids, I read up on how to stuff a suitcase by rolling clothes, sticking socks inside shoes, and layering with tissue paper to ward off wrinkles. It all made sense but seemed needlessly intricate, a recipe for a soufflé when what I was after was Shake ’N’ Bake—which is how I discovered the Plastic Bag School of Packing.
My six-step approach is fast, allows for overpacking, lets kids find their own things, and, if you ask me, is the only sane way to live out of a suitcase—just be sure to keep all plastic bags away from toddlers.
1. Create a movable underwear drawer. Stash essentials, including socks and swimwear, in separate large Ziplocs according to category. This way there’s no furious rummaging—and you can see when you’re about to run out.
2. Pretend you’re a Gap employee. Neatly fold shirts, pants, and pajamas—no packing cubes or other gizmos necessary. But for bulky items, consider clear plastic compression bags sold by luggage companies like Eagle Creek. These are simply heavy-duty Ziplocs: insert item, roll out air, seal—and gain up to 80 percent more space. Who knew you could deflate a sweatshirt?
3. Don’t let your shoes stomp on your clothes. Recycle grocery sacks as footwear bags. And while you’re at it, put sandwich bags to use protecting the family Dopp kit from leaky bottles. (Of course, you also have to bag your liquid and gel carry-ons; for the latest toiletry laws, see www.tsa.gov.)
4. Save the garment bag for business trips. Cover dressy clothes with dry-cleaning; bags and loosely fold (I even leave the hangers in place). Pack last. Guaranteed: no rumples on arrival!
5. Wash later. Stow dirty clothes in featherweight cotton totes with shoulder straps that you can hang from doorknobs. Plastic laundry sacks nabbed from hotels also work well, especially for end-of-the-trip wet bathing suits.
6. Take a tip from the army. If you want to pack a lot of gear, go with a duffel. To eke out still more room, literally drop your load: stuff settles.
As for all the other rules, I say bag ’em.
With its built-in backpack and pockets galore, this vest by Itfitz (888/483-4891; ultimatepack.com; $90 for adult and kid sizes) lets you shoulder pounds of travel toys, art supplies, cameras, and snacks—and the ingenious design distributes the weight evenly and comfortably. So what if you look like a family of fishermen?