Evelyn Hannon, founder and editor of Journeywoman.com, the largest online travel resource for women, has visited more than 60 countries and knows firsthand the joys of traveling with a single, maneuverable suitcase that doesn't weigh you down.
In her three decades of solo adventures, Hannon estimates she has never toted more than 30 pounds. Hauling the compact 18x13x8-inch black wheeled suitcase that has served her on countless overseas trips onto her dining room table, Hannon demonstrates just how she packs everything in.
1. Only pack essentials
To zero in on essentials, Hannon researches her destination (using travel forums, guidebooks, and websites) and spreads out everything she wants to take on a table. "And then you just eyeball it," she says. "Think, how many uses does each item have? What is that yellow T-shirt doing there if it doesn't match anything else on the table?" Hannon's rule of thumb: only pack pieces that serve more than one purpose, such as a skirt that transitions from day to night.
2. Use your imagination
Choose as many multi-use items as possible (a bandana becomes a napkin, cover, placemat, cleaning cloth, fashion accessory, suitcase adornment) and find clever solutions to replace cumbersome items (instead of lugging an iron, Hannon hangs her clothes in a steamy bathroom).
3. Set aside the heaviest articles
A bulky jacket or sturdy hiking boots, for example, can be worn in transit so that they don't weigh down your bags.
4. Pack heavy items on the bottom
Place weighty items, like shoes, on the bottom of the suitcase, or wedged with the soles against the sides. Hannon recommends durable shoes for walking, a comfortable but fancier pair for night and flip-flops for the beach or shower.
5. Roll your clothes
Fold clothes in half lengthwise, roll them up tightly and layer these bundles in next. Compress further by wrapping the rolls with elastic bands. Or, if garments are thin, folding two shirts or pants together in one flat package can cushion the creases and reduce wrinkles (you can also use the plastic from dry cleaning bags for this). As long as your clothes are versatile and easily washable, Hannon believes you need no more than four of each item, and she often brings older, worn-out gear she can discard along the way. Note: dark colours get the most wear.
6. Layer for warmth
Wherever possible, bring lighter clothes (a shell, long johns, extra shirts) you can layer for warmth instead of taking up space with thick, heavy clothing items.
Stuff in accessories, like a pashmina or sparkly hair clip, to jazz up a day outfit for a night out.
8. Bury your valuables
Tuck socks into shoes and undergarments into nooks and crannies, and bury any valuables deep in a mass of clothing. (Of course, you'll carry the most valuable items – ones that can't be replaced without a lot of hassle – against your skin.)
9. Wrap your toiletries
Double-bag mini versions of toiletries and distribute these crushable items on top. And throw in a few more plastic Ziploc bags for emergencies – "They're a traveler's best friend," says Hannon.
10. Test it out
Once you're finished, "Take a long walk with the bag and see how you feel," says Hannon. Too heavy? Remove anything you can just as easily buy on the road.
Of course, you can save space by packing half of what you need and buying the rest at your destination – that way, you'll truly blend into the crowd. Or if you're traveling with a friend, divide up items, such as toiletries, that you'll both need. But ultimately, practice makes perfect.