Once upon a time, I was not good at packing...at all. Of course, back in those days, there was no motivation to be an efficient packer since there were no weight limits, or charges for checked bags. I learned, the hard way that packing light is really a better option (you try hauling 4 bags around LAX by yourself and you will become a believer of traveling light).
I rarely check luggage, it just adds time to my trip (getting there early enough to check it in and waiting for it to get off the plane)--not to mention the cost or worry of someone rifling through the bag, forget it. I go carry-on almost always. I've done two trips to Europe and one to China using only a carry-on bag and it was great. So, I'm here to share some of my tips with you.
First, I choose a clothing color scheme, usually black, tan and a bright color. For an upcoming 10-day trip, I'm thinking about gray, black and coral with a pop of green. I'm traveling, so I don't take the whole closet or bathroom cabinet. Pare it down-add a couple cute accessories and I'm fine with repeating clothes. Trust me, no one cares if you wear the same shirt twice. I do wash out underwear while traveling...its easy to do in a sink and dries super fast, so why take up space? I don't usually wash the rest of the stuff-I plan on wearing each shirt/skirt twice--something I do at home without laundering in between.
Couple things before you get started--get some packing cubes/packing organizers, and plan on rolling up the clothes rather than folding them. Packing cubes are amazing. You can get them at stores like REI, but I got mine on Amazon (and my old black ones I found at Ross)--I find that the small and medium size bags work best for me, but men might like the "large" bag for slacks. I tried something new this time called a packing envelope (another Amazon purchase). UPDATE: Ikea sells packing cubes too--last I looked they were upstairs near the entrance to the cafe, very reasonable price.
Here's what I've got laid out on the bed for a 10-day trip to the midwest in the summer.
4 skirts (if I were just vacationing, I'd add pants/shorts, but this trip isn't a personal trip)
1 knit dress
6 knit tops
1 black blouse
2 pashminas (scarf)
3 pair undies
2 workout shirts
2 sports bras
2 regular bras
make up bag/flat iron
In the smallest packing cube, I rolled up my PJ's and my undies and lined them up along the bottom of the cube, I placed the two regular bras on top before zipping it up.
In the medium bag (my favorite size) I've rolled up the 6 knit shirts, 2 scarves and 1 undershirt.
Honestly, I will probably sort through these outfits and eliminate at least one and I'll be wearing one on travel day-freeing up both clothes and shoe space. Since the trip I'm packing for now isn't really about sight-seeing, I didn't leave much space for souvenirs, but I could unzip the suitcase extenders if I needed to. Also, I am not traveling with kids, which I understand is a completely different animal :)
I also have an Excel spreadsheet that I use as a planning guide for what to bring on trips. It helps me feel ready to walk out the door and know that I have everything I need (key word is need...you can always buy stuff while traveling). I'm posting both the Excel and a PDF. Its a 2-page document, where page 1 is the women's list and page 2 is a men's packing list.
Packing List-Excel (editable)
(I tried giving you a direct link to the file, but it didn't work, so just scroll down the list to find the Packing list files, alphabetical--be sure to use the "download" button, not just the "view").
Good luck with the packing and safe travels.
Part II: The ipad....my ultimate travel accessory