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10 strategies for packing light

Luggage has gotten much lighter and some bags are made with 360-degree spinner wheels for easy movement.

Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Luggage has gotten much lighter and some bags are made with 360-degree spinner wheels for easy movement.

Last summer, Marcia Glassman-Jaffe of Beverly became a true believer in the “less is more” theory of packing. A former travel agent and otherwise savvy traveler, Glassman-Jaffe went on a cruise in August with a big, bulky bag. “I was flying internationally, so there was no bag-check fee, and the trip required dressy clothes,” she said. After first worrying that the bag was overweight (it wasn’t), “checking it didn’t seem like a big deal.”

The airline didn’t lose her bag, but she almost wished it had, after lugging the behemoth in and out of taxis, on and off baggage carousels, and up and down the ramp of the ship. “And I didn’t even wear half of what I brought,” she said.

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“Pack light” is our mantra, and here’s why: You lose the independence of hopping onto a different flight if you’ve checked a bag through. You look like a tourist (and an attractive target to pickpockets) if you’re loaded down with bags. You lose valuable time waiting for the luggage to arrive on the carousel. And it will cost you money. Last year, the airlines collected $3.5 billion in baggage fees. Not to mention, airlines lose bags, temporarily in most cases, but it’s still a huge inconvenience.

Here are some light-packing tips from seasoned travelers.

Pick a super-light bag.  Choose the lightest, sturdiest 22-inch rolling bag you can find. Our go-to bag is a hard-shell carry-on that cost less than $60. That and a tote bag (with a small purse tucked inside), and we’re good to go.

 Choose clothes wisely.  Pack with your itinerary in mind. Plan what you will wear each day, and remember: It’s OK to repeat. You can wear jeans and black pants more than once.

Choose items you can get maximum mileage out of, following the lead of Stephen Cucchiaro of Boston, who spends 50 percent of his time traveling in his role as chief investment officer of Windhaven Investment Management. His advice: “When traveling for a week [on business] take one suit jacket with two matching pairs of pants, since pants wrinkle more easily than a jacket.”

Some folks swear by packing cubes, boards that help you fold your clothes flatly, or clothes compressors that suck the air out of your garments. We’ve never used these gadgets, but we’ve found that a mesh bag is a handy item for dirty clothes. We’ve also used a hotel dry cleaning bag for this purpose.

 Think double duty.  When you’re trying to fit, say, a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on, every item counts. Samantha Creed, a writer, actor, and production assistant based in Marshfield, has worked out a versatile, creative travel wardrobe. “I turn a tank top and high-waisted skirt into a dress, and I’ve worn a giant scarf as a skirt,” she said.

And if you do multi-sport trips, look for all-purpose sports clothing. Sports sandals made by Keen (L.L. Bean also makes a version) have been a game-changer for us; they work for light hiking and kayaking, and dry quickly, saving us the hassle of packing boots and water shoes.

 Stick to neutral colors.  You can add pops of color with scarves, jewelry, neckties, or a light sweater. A three-color palette works well (say, white, black, grey) and everything goes with everything.

 Skip the what-ifs.  You’ve packed lightly, but there’s that little voice in your head that says, “What if I go canyoning?” Ignore it. Bring exactly what you plan to wear each day and only one extra: a light rain shell.

 Pack strategically.  Lay your clothes out, including underwear, socks, and accessories. Put shoes in first (two pairs maximum, since they’re huge space hogs) and stuff socks into the toes. Stack your heaviest clothes on the bottom, and roll up everything else and put it around the edges and into the crevices of the bag. Now — unless you have physical limitations — hoist the bag over your head, as though you were putting it into the overhead bin on an airplane. Too heavy? Take things out; the goal is to manage baggage maneuvers by yourself.

 Pack your pillow.  Veteran traveler Mary Hronicek of Sudbury, whose personal best was an eight-week trip to California with only a carry-on bag and a small backpack, advocates rolling up clothes into a pillowcase. “Voila! More clothes and a clean, comfy pillow for flying!” she said. (According to the Transportation Security Administration, your pillow must fit into your carry-on — you can’t carry it separately.) Or bring an inflatable pillow for a long-haul trip, says actor and teacher Denn Wise of Canton. For women, a pashmina makes a dandy blanket.

 Limit your shoes.  Even the most committed light packer tends to go overboard on footwear. Two pairs are ideal, plus the shoes on your feet. For women, flats are a versatile option; for men loafers work for most occasions.

 What not to bring.  There’s really no reason to bring a hairdryer; even bed-and-breakfasts and budget hotels have them. And if you’re not checking a bag, you won’t be tempted to bring gigantic bottles of shampoo and conditioner. We fill our own small plastic bottles with products we use at home. Towelette versions of insect repellent, sunscreen, and facial cleansers are lightweight, spill-proof, and make it past airport security.

 And what to bring.  A copy of your passport, in case yours goes missing. A list of medicines you take (and of course, those medications). A binder clip (useful for clipping drapes that don’t close, and a dozen other things). Ear buds or earplugs (for tuning out the person sitting next to you, and for blocking out weird hotel noises when you’re trying to sleep). Bring snacks in case you’re stuck on the tarmac, or miss the chance to grab a bite between flights due to a tight connection. We have never been sorry to have a bag of trail mix or a few energy bars in our carry-on. Finally, load books, movies, and/or music on your favorite gadget to make the hours of travel fly by.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.
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