Fast Company asked one road warrior to pack her bag. Then we sent the suitcase to a real packing expert for inspection and rehabilitation.
Here's what happened.
The traveler: Debby Ackerman, vice president and general counsel, Southwest Airlines
Credentials: 15-plus years in the airline business
Travel résumé: In the past six months, 16 business trips
The suitcase: A standard 22-inch wheelie bag by Travelpro
Packing philosophy: "If I can't carry it on, I don't take it." She also insists on no extra work when unpacking her bag. "I prefer not to iron anything."
Packing time: 15 minutes
The expert: Judy Bruckert, director of design development, Hartmann Luggage
Credentials: In her 15-year career at Hartmann, she has repacked hundreds of bags in design and has led packing workshops for sales teams and customers.
Travel résumé: On the road one week every month
Packing philosophy: "Make use of every bit of space." And like Ackerman, she makes a point of packing to avoid wrinkled clothing.
Repacking time: 25 minutes
Bruckert's expert initial assessment upon opening Ackerman's "wrinkle-free" suitcase: "Oh my God." (Pause) "She's a dumper. She doesn't fold her clothes nice and neat. Apparently, when she gets to her destination she doesn't mind ironing."
Bruckert observes that Ackerman packed her most delicate things near the bottom of the bag, on top of the exposed soles of her shoes. "They'd not only get wrinkled on a trip," says Bruckert. "They'd potentially smell." She suggests starting with sleeping garments, exercise shorts and other less fussy items that can be easily laid flat or tucked into corners and awkward spaces. This is also a good place to slip Ackerman's phone adapter, a spare she always leaves packed in her suitcase. With wheelie bags, the trick is to make use of the empty space created by the handlebar system; create a level plane at the bottom to help maximize available space.
What to do about the shoes? Bag 'em, Bruckert says. Put most everything in bags, for that matter. Old plastic grocery bags will do for big pieces and ziplock baggies for small stuff. Bruckert packs the shoes on the top and bottom sides of the suitcase, and then slides Ackerman's Hawaiian-print toiletries bag into the nested space. Why all the bagging? "Trust me," says Bruckert. "It will save you time."
As it turns out, zipping, buttoning, and folding your clothes ultimately saves time, too. Bruckert turns to Ackerman's more delicate clothing. She zips up a pair of slacks and a skirt, refolds the pants on the crease line, and puts them into individual plastic bags. The same for an unbuttoned jacket, shell, and linen shirt. Bruckert also recommends slipping in a piece of tissue at the folds to avoid hard creases. If it were her bag, she'd also stuff tissue into her shoes to keep them "nice and crisp looking."
But all's not bad. Ackerman may not know how to pack, but she knows what to pack: the same Cole Haan brown loafers as Bruckert's.
Sidebar: Luggage to Go
Ah, the joy of luggagelessness!
These days, any number of shipping companies will pick up and deliver your bags, leaving you with two free hands to enjoy the pleasures of contemporary air travel. The question: Is it worth the steep price?
To find out, we sent three 30-pound bags from Detroit to San Francisco via competing services. We guiltily enjoyed strolling unencumbered past the masses huddled about the baggage carousel at SFO. And without all that dead weight, we took mass transit downtown, saving $25 in cab fare.
All three companies charged about $100 to ship a bag one-way to our hotel. They all allowed us to send bags without boxing them. Here's how they compared otherwise.
SkyCap International LLC
SkyCap offers the simplest online service. Register once on the Web site, and enter all the pertinent details. The system determines the approximate price of the shipment and lets you print a bar-coded shipping document, so you can leave your bag for FedEx the day before your flight. The downside: little customer service beyond a follow-up confirmation email.
Luggage Express also uses FedEx in some states, but its online system is more confusing. After entering information, you wait for an email to get a price quote and a link back to the site to set up a time for pickup. But Luggage Express does have great customer service. They faxed our hotel to alert staff to our bag's early arrival—and called later to make sure it had made the trip.
UPS doesn't encourage the luggage trade, but its express service gets the job done—and its online tracking system came in handy. Both bags shipped by FedEx were at the hotel when we got there. But no UPS bag. At 8 p.m., we checked the tracking number on the UPS site and learned it had been delivered at 10:30 that morning. Our hotel apologized profusely after finding it stashed in the luggage room.