That is the question that can make the difference in whether or not you have everything you need for your vacation without feeling like a pack mule. In the appendix, you’ll find a list of clothing and essentialswe’ve compiled from our contributors. (For example, always pack a swimsuit, even if you’re going to Antarctica. You just never know when it might come in handy!) But there are other tips that can help you make the most of the space in your suitcase, prevent wrinkling or breakage, maximize your chances of having lost luggage returned to you, and more. You’ll find the best of these tips here.

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  1. Multi-purpose your fabric softener sheets.

    Packing a few fabric softener sheets in your suitcase is a great way to keep your clothes smelling fresh. They’re also said to repel mosquitoes, so tie a sheet through a belt loop when outdoors during mosquito season. They also prevent musty luggage, so place an individual sheet inside your empty backpack before storing. If you are driving and your rental car smells musty, place a sheet under the front seat.

    -Priscilla, 20-year associate, Boston

  2. Pad your breakables.

    Leave about 1/4 of your suitcase or duffel bag empty. Fill the empty space with rolls of bubble wrap and a small dispenser of tape for wrapping your gifts and souvenirs. You can also pad fragile items with a down coat (or pillow). Not only is this a great way to stay warm and comfortable on your trip, but it also keeps valuables from rolling around in your suitcase. Pack flat pieces of cardboard at the bottom of your suitcase for 8x10 group photos, postcards, or artwork. And a 6"-diameter cardboard tube can hold fragile handcrafts, rolledup prints, and other treasures.

    -Lorain, 7-time traveler, Washington

  3. Minimize, minimize, minimize!

    Fold everything neatly and arrange it by clothing type (e.g., pants, underwear, T-shirts, sweaters, etc.) on the bed. If you can’t fit it all onto a double bed, you have too much. Be ruthless: if you’re not planning to wear something at least three times, then don’t take it on your trip. If it doesn’t dry quickly and easily, don’t take it on your trip. And remember that something simple, like a lightweight scarf, is sufficient to accessorize your outfit.

    -—Sandrea, 13-time traveler, Texas

  1. Pack strategically

    To avoid wrinkling, put a complete outfit on a hanger and slip it inside a dry-cleaner bag. Lay the bags flat and fold them over each other. Unpacking is a snap! Laying clothes flat and rolling them up together avoids wrinkles and saves space in the suitcase. Place clothing in Ziploc® bags, sorted either by outfit or by category (for example, underwear or socks). Squeeze the air out to keep clothes flat and save space in the suitcase. Ziploc® bags are also handy for medications, cosmetics, wet clothing and swimsuits, photo and electrical

    -Kim, 18-year associate, Boston

  2. Increase your odds of having lost luggage returned to you.

    Make a copy of your itinerary— complete with flight numbers, destinations and hotels, and, if you are on a tour, your tour operator’s emergency contact number— and place it at the top of your suitcase. That way, the airline will know exactly where to direct it if it gets lost. Carrying a photo of your packed luggage can be an extra help in non-English-speadking countries. And in the more likely event that your luggage arrives when you do, pack your nightgown on top so you don't have to fish around for it after a tiring journey.

    -Katie, 8-year associate, Boston

“Reminds me of my safari in Africa.
Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days
we had to live on nothing but food and water.”
-W.C. Fields

  1. Plan what to bring before you pack.

    To make sure you don’t forget an essential, make a list of things you need ahead of time. Check the climate of the country you’re going to visit, and take only the lightest garments you can and still be comfortable. Layering clothing is always a good strategy when traveling.

    -Nan, Trip Leader, Burma

  2. Bring athletic bras on exotic vacations.

    Many adventure vacations, such as African safaris and rain forest adventures, involve travel on bumpy roads. Minimize any discomfort this might cause you by bringing along one or two athletic bras for those portions of the trip.

    -Debbie, 2-time traveler, California

  3. Bring duct tape and other gear that serves more than one function.

    A tourniquet can be used for non-medical purposes, i.e., to tie curtains back, open jars and bottles, and hold an ice or heating pack to sore joints and muscles. Dental floss can repair broken jewelry or hang laundry. And most popular is duct tape, which can hold suitcases together; repair eyeglasses, umbrellas, shoes, or cameras; and serve as a bandage in an emergency. To save space, wrap it around a pencil to about 1/4" in diameter. That way, you’ll always have a pencil handy, too!

    -Nancy (from Facebook) & Eugenia, 13-time traveler, California

  4. Don’t throw away those hotel shower caps!

    They can come in mighty handy. They’re ideal for wrapping shoes before packing— both on the trip you’re on and on future trips. The elastic keeps the plastic tight over the soles, to prevent them from getting your clothes dirty. Shower caps can also be used for packing moist items, such as washcloths, or to cover your camera on a rainy day. Back at home, you can use them to cover bowls or plates of food, then either rinse and reuse them or throw them away.

    -Melba, 10-time traveler, California

  5. Always carry toilet paper everywhere.

    You never know when a toilet stall will run out of paper— or never have it at all. In many countries, toilet paper often is not the custom. Before you leave for your destination, prepare ahead by winding a length of toilet paper around your fingers and packing it in your purse or fanny pack. Another idea is to take the cardboard core out of nearly-empty rolls of toilet paper and flatten them down before packing. A packet of tissues or individually packaged towelettes also work just fine. And bring hand sanitizer along, too, just in case.

    -Tina, 6-time traveler, California

  6. Dress with respect.

    Remember to respect other cultures when picking out your travel attire. Always avoid showing bare arms, knees, and midriffs in places of worship. In many countries, attire that’s permissible in urban areas becomes less so in rural ones, so plan accordingly.

    -Aziz, OAT Trip Leader, Morocco

Mary Kingsley (1862–1900)

If you ever thought you had a hard time packing, consider Mary Kingsely. It was highly unusual in the Victorian era for a sheltered, middle-class, unmarried woman to travel alone. Still, Mary maintained the proprieties. Insisting that “you have no right to go about Africa in things you would be ashamed of at home,” she waded through West African swamps and rivers in Victorian drawing room dress. That included wearing stays and awkward long skirts in the hot, humid climate while fording rivers, tipping canoes, and falling into trappers’ pits.

Excerpt from Wilder Shores: Lady Travelers of the 18th and 19th centuries. An exhibit presented by UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.