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By Linda Coffman 

Wind Surf, "country club casual" at seaI have a confession. I’m a pack-aholic. I’m hopelessly addicted to overburdening my husband with suitcases that barely close and bulging garment bags. The overflow from my tote bag gets stashed in his pockets.

How did I get this way? It started on our first cruise when I forgot something. My fear of forgetfulness evolved into pages of packing lists and a day-by-day schedule of wardrobe requirements. It’s worked fine for me; until last year, that is. I packed too much. Airline restrictions on allowable carry on bags and overweight baggage charges trimmed my wings and lightened my pocketbook.

What to do? It took drastic measures to cure me in time for our next vacation.

We started by selecting a cruise that didn’t require formal wear. My husband suggested a laid-back sailing adventure where a clean tee shirt is de rigueur for the Captain’s Dinner. We decided a cruise line with a nightly dress code described as “country club casual” would make us both happy; informal dresses or pant outfits for me and sport shirts and slacks for him. Jacket and tie optional.

The next step was to devise a streamlined packing strategy...

~   Make a list and stick with it. Resist the urge to toss in something “just in case”—that’s the item you surely won’t need. Tuck a copy of your list in with your documents. If your luggage is waylaid, you’ll have a record of what it contains.

~   Color coordinate your wardrobe. Select one or two colors and mix and match items. Create different looks with accessories, either from home or purchased in port. Take only two pairs of shoes; comfortable all-purpose sandals for day and dressier shoes for evening. If you must have your big, clunky athletic shoes, wear them and pack the others.

~   Shop for clothing made of lightweight microfiber. It takes up less room, sheds wrinkles, and dries quickly. In terms of comfort, microfiber wicks moisture away from the body, keeping you cool and requiring fewer clothing changes. In a pinch, wash these items in your sink and hang to dry. A hairdryer speeds the process along in record time.

~   Pack small. Undergarments and knits take only a third of the suitcase space they normally occupy when they’re compressed. Simply fill the largest size zipper top kitchen storage bags with these articles and force all the air out before zipping them shut. Plan ahead and shop for sample or small size containers of your favorite toiletry items.

~   For wrinkle free garments, leave them on their hangers, cover them with dry cleaning bags, and fold over once before placing them in the suitcase. Unpacking is a snap. With this method, there’s no need to bring along a travel iron or steamer.

~   Make souvenir shirt purchases a part of your wardrobe plan. Tee shirts can also serve as a swimsuit cover up and nightshirt. Knit sport shirts can do double duty as well; a shirt worn a short time at dinner can easily be donned the next day for touring or lounging on the ship.

~   If the ship has self-service laundry facilities you can pack lighter and wash clothes mid-cruise. Remember, other passengers have the same idea and you might encounter long lines and surly tempers. Use the ship’s laundry service instead. It’s pricier but who wants to spend valuable cruise time washing clothes?

~   Use every bit of luggage space. Women’s shoes will fit inside men’s. Stuff socks and other small items inside larger space wasters. A tote bag that folds into its own zippered pocket is handy as a shopping or beach bag and invaluable when it’s time to pack the souvenirs that are preventing your suitcase from closing.

~   Cross-pack your luggage with your travel companion. Chances are if a suitcase is missing, it’ll turn up eventually. In the meantime you’ll both have fresh clothing until it does. It goes without saying, jewelry, medicine, cameras, and travel documents should never be packed in your checked luggage. Those items and a change of underclothes belong in your carry on tote.

Last, but not least, adhere to that old traveler’s adage, “Pack your suitcase and then remove half the contents before you close it.” 

Did this work for me? Not entirely... but I’m improving.

(This story first appeared in the December 1999 issue of Cruise Travel Magazine)

Photo © M. D. Coffman

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