Pack Like a Ninja…a Travel Ninja

Packing is a skill you learn over time. I’ll admit, before I went to work at Pace, I used to be the guy that packed two suitcases for a vacation. I wanted to be prepared for any and every situation and I made sure I was. When I returned, I had only worn about 1/3 of what I took, and all that packing, unpacking and hauling was a waste of time. This led me to the conclusion that if I’m standing on a suitcase trying to zip it, it’s probably a bad thing.

This being said, good packing begins with a good plan. Here are my top tips for better packing, in chronological order.

Pick a color: black or brown
Q: What takes up more room than any other item in your suitcase?
A: Other colors of everything you’ve already packed.

If you wear both colors, you’ll need shirts, pants, socks, shoes and belts to match both. Women will have a hard time going with one pair of shoes, but keeping this in mind will at least help reduce “shoe creep.”

So, simplify everything by deciding whether this trip will be a brown trip or a black trip, then pack accordingly.

Pack Moderate Items
This is all about having items pull double duty. If you are packing two (or three) complete outfits per day, that exponentially increases the space you’ll use.

Guys:
pack shirts that you can wear to a meeting with slacks, then out at night with jeans (or vice versa). If you can pull off wearing the same pair of shoes day and night, even better.

Ladies:
find an outfit that is comfortable and convertible. If you need a jacket for a meeting in the day, maybe drop it for the evening to sexy it up, or swap it with a sweater to be more casual. Try to pack things that can be swapped into more than one outfit.

Yes, these jeans are dirty.

reduce, REUSE, recycle
If you’re still washing your jeans after every use, it’s time to grow up. Jeans are dirty when there’s mustard, tar, mud or blood on them. Otherwise, they are probably good to go.

I never travel with more than 1 pair of jeans. If I have 3 consecutive days of meetings with the same group, I’ll take 2 pairs of slacks, but if it’s just 2 days, I’ll wear the same pants both days. Shirts are slightly different, but they can be re-worn as long as you’re not with the same people. I’ll often wear the exact same thing traveling up as I do traveling back.

Wear Your Bulky Items
How do you get that big coat to your destination without it filling up your bag? Wear it. Women need to keep this in mind with boots, large purses and jeans. Guys, if you are taking shorts to wear with flip-flops and jeans to wear with shoes, pack the shorts/flip-flops and wear the jeans/shoes. You’ll sacrifice a little comfort, but save a lot of space.

Minimize Your Toiletries
Your toiletries can constitute a large or small amount of your bag space, depending on how you pack. Even sleazy hotels give you complimentary soap and shampoo these days. I haven’t traveled with either of those in years. If you want to take your own hairspray, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc., head to Walmart and pick up the travel size items by the pharmacy. They are all less than 4 oz. by design and a lot of popular brands are available.  If you use special salon quality products, many salon brands now offer travel sizes, or just buy the small empty travel bottles at Walmart and put your own product in them. Oh, and then hairdryers.  All hotels have hairdryers, and though some are pretty crappy, you can probably get by with them for a week.

Roll Away the Wrinkles
I learned this trick from an ex-military guy. It’s simple and brilliant, but most people don’t think of it.

Folding your clothes is bad. First, it adds more air, so clothes take up more room, so you need a bigger bag. It also adds seams to your clothes, which requires ironing.

To prove my point, here’s an example. These were the items I packed for a 4 day trip with 3 meetings and my international standard size Tumi carry-on.

Pardon the inclusion of my underwear. This blog is clearly full disclosure.

If folded, this is the finished product. Everything fits, but there’s zero room left.

Now, here are the exact same items rolled into the exact same suitcase. Notice all the extra space and the fact that you can actually see the bottom of the suitcase.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: I stack my items from largest to smallest on a flat surface.

Step 2: Fold the arms in. The goal is to make the width the right length for the roll. I use the length of my suitcase as the gauge.

Step 3: Start at the bottom, away from the collars, and begin rolling up, keeping everything smooth.

Step 4: Stick the roll in your suitcase and celebrate victory and a virtually wrinkle free trip.


When you get to your destination, pull out your shirts and pants to hang them up. You can use the drawers or live out of your suitcase for the rest of the stuff. Just be sure to check all the drawers before you depart if you decide to use them. That’s the most common place items are left in hotel rooms.

If you have other packing tips, please share them below.

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19 Responses to Pack Like a Ninja…a Travel Ninja

  1. Steven says:

    Love the entire wardrobe roll. I always roll each item individually, which is a great space saver. But this seems to be even more efficient. Will try it next trip for sure.

  2. Joy Villa says:

    Awesome blog! I travel ALOT as a musician and model, and I am going to use the rollin tips for my trip form Denmark to NYC. Cool stuff! Keep it coming!

  3. lisa says:

    My favorite trick for your toiletries is to go to Lush and get bar shampoo/conditioner/body wash. It is the best thing and you don’t have to have a crappy week of hotel hair! Enjoy

    • I use Lush Ultimate shine and I find I can go an extra day without washing my hair (i can clean up at the sink in the morning). I also use their dry shampoo (for one extra day if I’m desperate) which doubles as a deodorant!

  4. Jenny Newtson says:

    Happy to note that your logic works like mine. Several years ago I did 7 weeks in Africa with 3 pair of shoes, some food bars and light video equipment in addition to the clothes and toiletries I needed. And I did it all with carry-ons! My favorite tip is to use clear plastic zippered bags (I have a variety from curtains, sheets etc) for organizing rolled-up stuff in the bags. They last for years and can be used even when the zipper goes out. TSA can squeeze the clear bag, see the contents, and tell it’s just fabric without *actually* rummaging through my bras and underwear.

  5. Jon Arthur says:

    When I have to travel with bulk (3 suits and a tux) I FedEx everything but my laptop and delayed flight bag. Some hotels even unpack my box before I check in.
    When I travel with just my backpack I try to find a dry cleaner or laundromat with drop off and delivery service.

  6. Anon Guest says:

    So glad I found this blog!! Ingenious tips!!

  7. Vicky says:

    Stuff socks into shoes to save space. Bottles, etc. can be stuffed into boots. My husband’s shirts go into individual plastic bags with matching ties–prevents wrinkled shirts and mismatched ties.

  8. Amy Holland says:

    I tend to travel off the beat and path so I roll my clothing and then put them in a ziploc bag or dry sack. You protect the clothes from any moisture and better yet you compress them even more. Also, you can organize them later into clean and dirty bags.

  9. Grammer guy says:

    It’s beaten path. You’re welcome.

  10. Cindy says:

    Love the idea of the black or brown trip — I never thought of how much easier that would be to coordinate!

  11. April layne says:

    Since i am building my own blog site, I’m reading every blog that comes my way. Yours came to me via a Facebook share on carrying alcohol in the ziplock bag. Then I clicked around and found this one. We are going to Ecuador for a month and I have been researching capsule wardrobes, packing, what not to pack, and any tips. I will be ‘pinning’ both these hints.
    If I get my blog up and running and use them I’ll be sure to link to you. I’m not sure if that’s the correct terminology but I’m glad I found them. (Especially the alcohol one- it’s an 8 hour flight from ATL to Quito)

  12. Marie R says:

    Amazing blog, really enjoying all the great tips. What do you think of Flight001’s spacepak system?
    http://www.flight001.com/spacepak
    I came across their brick and mortar shop one day while shopping in West Hollywood. I fell in love with the brand and picked up the Avionette, which I’ve enjoyed having for several months now. The spacepak seems more practical though. Thoughts? Either way I think their stuff is adorable for travel, check it out.

    • jsbull says:

      I think the SpacePak stuff is great for organization, but it’s not at all practical to me. You still fold your clothes like normal, so you still have to iron them when you get to your destination. Then, if you use one of their sets which are like 4-5 compartments, each of those takes up space, so it’s like you’ve packed an extra 5 shirts. By rolling your clothes, you mostly avoid the re-ironing, and you haven’t added a bunch of extra material inside your suitcase.

      Flight001 can send me some to test, but I personally don’t see the advantage. You can organize just as well with extra large Ziploc bags: http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/default.aspx?browseBy=Oversize&browseByCat=NonFoodStorage

  13. Pingback: Road tripping from Geneva – Croatia, Bosnia and more | Fondoodles

  14. melinda says:

    Great blog! Me and the girl are going away next month!! Trying to just do carrryon so the rolling tip will work great! thanks alot 🙂

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