Cramming an Inordinate Amount of Stuff into a Bag

I’m a packing machine. I could stuff an elephant into a matchbox if I had to. Packing for me is like playing Tetris; everything must fit just right for it to work. This skill is necessary for a chronic over packer like myself.

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Monday I’m off on my Go with Oh Euro tour for a month. This presents a couple of packing issues: duration and cold weather. It is tempting to pack a million outfits for that amount of time, and cold weather means sweaters, coats, boots, and other bulky items. My goal is to have one checked bag and one carry on bag. No problem, right? We’ll see about that.

Check out this time-lapse video of how I crammed a ridiculously large amount of stuff into an one average-sized suitcase.

I do have packing non-negotiables, but this isn’t a post about streamlining your packing list. It’s about cramming as many things as you can into your suitcase without breaking the zipper. Here’s my packing strategy:

Step 1:

Lay everything that you will be taking. Separate into categories: pants, shirts, dresses, sweaters, coats/jackets, shoes/boots, undergarments, etc. Make sure you pull an outfit to place in your carry on bag in case your bag is delayed or lost.

Step 2:

Roll the pants, shirts, dresses, and thin sweaters. These items will take up less room if rolled and be less wrinkled when you unpack.

Step 3:

It’s advisable to wear bulkier items (coats, boots, sweaters) so they don’t have to be packed, but if that’s not feasible or you have additional of those items, lay them flat in the bottom of the suitcase. I like to keep the coat open and use it as a kind of shell for the rest of my items.

Step 4:

Start placing the larger rolled items along the sides of the suitcase.

Black Patent Shoes on a Suitcase

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Step 5:

Place the smaller items on top of the larger items, and fill in the open areas along the suitcase sides. You could also place those smaller items in space saver bags like these. They work pretty well, and can also be used to pack wet swimsuits or separate dirty clothes from the clean ones on your trip home. If you have anything that is fragile, they can be rolled within the smaller items for additional protection.

Step 6:

Place your larger shoes/boots in the middle of the suitcase, with the heavier ones closest to the wheels. There’s nothing worse than a top-heavy suitcase that falls over when stood upright. Sometimes I put my shoes in a one large bag to keep them from moving around too much. I can then use the bag for dirty clothes along the way. Don’t forget to use the valuable space inside the shoes! Socks, underwear, scarves, jewelry, PJs, swimsuits, all can be stuffed inside the shoes.

Step 7:

If I have a sweater, jacket, or other bulky item left, I place it around my toiletry bag to help protect my make-up and perfume from breaking.

Step 8:

Fill in any open spaces with the smaller leftover items. Don’t forget about those outside zipper pockets. Again, you’ll want to keep the heaver items toward the bottom of the pockets to keep the suitcase from being top heavy.

Suitcases

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Extras:

• When I’m traveling with another person and unable to get everything into one bag, I  divide all of our stuff between two bags. I don’t just put his stuff in one and my stuff in another. That way if one of the bags gets lost, both of us at least have some stuff. For instance, if there are six sweaters between the two of us, three go in one bag and three go in the other. Same with underwear, socks, jeans, shoes, toiletries. Everything! My motto is expect the best, but plan for the worst.

• Not only should you pack a change of clothes in your carry on, but also pack anything that is expensive or hard to replace. Things like medicine, nice jewelry, and electronics should always be carried on.

• Once your bags are packed, don’t forget to weigh them. There are gadgets that are made for weighing suitcases, but I just use my home scale. Weigh yourself first. Then pick up the bag and weigh yourself again. Subtract the two numbers, and you have the weight of your bag. It’s an easy way to eliminate the surprise of an excess bag fee.

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I use this basic method for any size bag. Not only am I able to get the most out of my space, but also I rarely need to iron. I might, however, need to use a chiropractor and various massage techniques after carrying all those heavy bags.

Don’t forget to follow along on my Euro tour through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram {LeahTravels}, and Pinterest. I’m needing your great tips and outlandish dares. Read more about how you can send me those and also win prizes here. You’ll also find the skinny on how you can be the 2013 Go with Oh guest blogger.

Happy packing, y’all!

 

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40 Comments
  • Jody
    November 4, 2012

    I enjoyed the packing video, I too can put alot of stuff into one average sized bag, when you travel, you learn and it’s a learned experience. Enjoy our trip, will wait for the pictures and commentary

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      It’s an art, isn’t it, Jody? I’ve gotten much better over the years, and yes, experience and practice goes a long way.

  • Tiana Kai
    November 4, 2012

    Well done! Have a great time ladies!

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      Thank you, Tiana. I’m sure we will!

  • lola dimarco
    November 4, 2012

    i’m about to put all my crap in my suitcase too. wish me luck. i don’t believe i’m as much of an expert packer as you!

    see you tuesday Travel PIC! xo – lola

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      I’ll teach you my ways, Miss Lola.

  • Traveling Ted
    November 4, 2012

    Great tips and have a mahvelous time!

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      I know you usually probably travel with a backpack, Ted, so that means a lot. 🙂

  • Anita Mac
    November 4, 2012

    Don’t forget – leave space for the extras you buy along the way!!!

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      I’ve got a plan for that, although she doesn’t know it yet. I’m leaving all my purchases with Mrs. O in England. She’s coming to see me after Christmas and always brings an empty suitcase to the US to take home her own purchases. It’s kismet! Ha!

  • @mrsoaroundworld
    November 4, 2012

    You brave girl. There is no way I could spend a month somewhere with a single suitcase – I was proud of myself when I managed to get stuff for 4 days inside a carry-on – that was a proud moment! I am an OK packer, but Mr O is the master!

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      I was proud of myself for doing a carry on only to Spain, too. I also did it to Dallas and Denver. I just know that I’ll have to drag everything with me through airports and train stations, so can’t have both hands on a suitcase plus my backpack. It would be absolute madness!

      Mr. O will have to teach me some of his tricks.

  • Jackie D
    November 4, 2012

    One hurdle down — now the next issue will be lugging that thing around! Haha, good luck. I’m looking forward to reading about your travels!

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      You’re telling me, Jackie. I’m gonna have big muscles when I get home!

  • Sara Robles
    November 4, 2012

    Waooo! Well done Leah! I’d also need to know about the pre-selection of stuff before packing, I’d love to know how you do it!

    • Leah Travels
      November 4, 2012

      For long trips like this one, there’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason. Short trips are outfit-centric. Sorry, Sara, but I’m not much help. 🙂

  • Kieu
    November 4, 2012

    Hahaha.. just watched your video over a glass of wine while packing. Girl!!!.. you can stuff! Drinking always help to focus, right? Lol. See you girls a a couple days!

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      Great minds, girl! I’ll see you in PRAGUE!!! Tell Gerard that he better get extra memory cards for that camera. Lola and I are photo hogs. 🙂

  • Jeff @ GoTravelzing
    November 4, 2012

    Great video. How did you do the time lapse?

    Do you have off road wheels on that bag to get over the cobblestones?

    Have a great trip!

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      I should probably rent a moving dolly to carry my suitcase along the cobblestones, Jeff. I’ll add that to my to-do list. On second thought, I should just hire someone to shadow me the entire time. I edited the video in iMovie. It’s a breeze…love that program. I’m finally figuring it all out.

  • Emily in Chile
    November 4, 2012

    I’ve found that the problem then becomes that you’re TOO good at fitting lots into the suitcase. It all fits perfectly, but it weighs 100 pounds thanks to your super skills!

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      You are so right, Emily. I’m going to spend a fortune in baggage fees and subsequent doctor bills. Ha!

  • Craig Zabransky
    November 4, 2012

    great video, i started watching it and thought… when will she get a beer… and then there it was.. your tips are great too. but one question, do you unpack completely in each stop… it seems like a load of packing / unpacking on the road with so much in a suitcase.

    and have fun with Lola in Europe. Vaya con dios.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      Normally I’m not a beer drinker, but I’ve been working on it seeing that I’m headed to Prague. Packing/Moving = Beer

      I don’t ever unpack unless I’m staying 4-5 days in a place, and even then I don’t completely unpack. I know where everything is because of how I stack things. I don’t claim to be great at many things, but I have to toot my horn when it comes to packing a lot of shit into a bag. 🙂

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    November 5, 2012

    The part I don’t like about overpacking is having to dig through everything when I want to find something, and having to squeeze in anything new that I buy. For those (obviously lazy) reasons, I tend to be a minimalist packer 🙂 Have fun in Europe!

    • Leah Travels
      November 5, 2012

      That makes total sense to me, Scott, but I’m far more vain than I am lazy, and that’s really saying something. Hahaha!

  • The World Wanderer
    November 5, 2012

    Your extra tips are ones I always use. 🙂 Packing for a month is not easy, I did it for Africa, and I was pretty stressed, plus it was my first time using a backpack. But, it looks like you did a good job over there. Enjoy your travels!

    • Leah Travels
      November 13, 2012

      You did a great job with your packing for Africa. I was impressed as I don’t think I could ever do it.

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)
    November 6, 2012

    Great tips, I use many of those. And great idea on the time lapse video! Now did I detect a nose picking “event”?? I must watch again in slo-mo! lol

    • Leah Travels
      November 13, 2012

      A nose picking event? I’m not sure…I was drunk when I filmed that. Haha…you know, it was about 9:00 am. 😉

  • Francesca
    November 7, 2012

    I love how you had to go get a beer in the middle of packing 🙂

    I’ve never had a real problem with (over)packing, but now I’m thinking I should follow these directions past step 1. The laying out of the clothes is about as organized as my packing gets. All great, detailed tips!

    • Leah Travels
      November 13, 2012

      And don’t forget the wine, Francesca! It certainly helps to be organized…I should follow my own directions more.

  • Pola (@jettingaround)
    November 10, 2012

    Nice video and tips, Leah! I have to say I never roll clothes, but I am a stickler fol folding them nicely and as thinly as possible.

    • Leah Travels
      November 12, 2012

      Haha! Yes, thin is in. I don’t roll thick stuff normally, but for the most part it’s worked for me.

  • WOW! I thought I was good at packing! You’ve got some solid tips here. I’ll have to use them when we pack for our next big trip to India! I think my favorite tip is stuffing things into shoes. I wear a size 14 so that’s a lot of wasted suitcase space otherwise 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      March 8, 2013

      A size 14? Hell, you could stuff a sleeping bag into those!

  • EASY TRAVELER
    August 16, 2014

    My travel pack weighs seven [7] pounds. I can go anywhere with it and I frequently do. Yes I hand wash. No I don’t do heavy manual labor dealing with luggage. For those of you who yearn for a challenging physical workout, learn the art of trash compaction here!
    OR…..

    If you are by now a very tired and over worked traveler learn the art of ultralight packing! Less really is more! You won’t miss a thing or two or three. Lay it out and cut and cull. Do it again. “Will I really use that?” “I really like that [fill in the blank] and I paid a lot for it and it just simply HAS to go on this trip!” “Wow! Look at that prestigious logo on that lovely thing! ” “That’s my favorite [fill in the blank] and I know it weighs a ton BUT I gotta have it!”

    Pack light. Have fun on your trip. Don’t work harder on vacation than you do at home. Come back rested and refreshed. Skip the headache of too much baggage!

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