It started with the shoes. A pair of brand new, sky-high peep toe stilettos to be exact. "I was going to Los Angeles for a conference, then for Boston internal meetings and then to Amherst for more internal meetings," says entrepreneur-investor-blogger Hitha Palepu, her voice rising. "After one day of walking around the conference floor in Los Angeles my feet were dead. I switched to the other pair of shoes I brought, but they were a pair of brown booties that did not go with any of my outfits. No one minded—but I did."
Hitha is a packing guru. But she wasn't always. At the time, she was working as the only female at a pharmaceutical startup and flying to a new conference every other week. NBD if you have a Steve Jobs-inspired uniform, but a hassle if you're a twenty-something eager to show off your personal style while still looking professional. Hitha realized she needed to get serious about what she put in her bag.
"When you are limited by a 22 by 14 by 9 inch box, it can be really scary to think about who you want to be in ten items of clothing. But over time you learn to reach for your power pieces, the ones make you feel great."
Ready to boost your packing game? Hitha shared her top tips so you never end up packing wrong ever again.
To Maximize Carry On Liquids,Ditch The Baggy
Pick up a proper quart sized plastic bag made specifically for carrying liquid items. They'll expand on the side letting you fit more than in a ziploc, they're reusable and they're TSA approved. Reusable bags also less likely to rip, meaning you won't open your suitcase and find a shampoo stain on your only meeting-appropriate blouse.
Pack Your Shoes First
Shoes are a linchpin of a good outfit and a good mood. After Hitha packed the wrong pair of stilettos for a conference, she swore she'd never again put only new shoes in her bag. The key is to pick a neutral pair that go with all the other pieces in your case. And if you must pack multiples, best to keep it around two pairs total.
Invest In A Hard Suitcase
If you're used to shoving everything into a soft suitcase until it bursts at the seams, the idea of intentionally limiting your space with a hard suitcase might seem counter-intuitive. But if you get one with four wheels, they're easier to carry, lighter and maintain their shape. That means you never have to be that traveler who can't smush their suitcase into the overhead bin.
Know How You Want To Feel And Pack Accordingly
Each trip has a different set of necessities. For vacation, pack the things that will help you unwind and are appropriate for where you're going. If you're dealing with a sad family issue, pack what's comfortable, and feel free to wear your security blanket. Going to an office off-site? Choose confidence-inducing clothing that will make you feel like your best, go-getter self.
Keep Shoes In Shoe Bag, Not Just In Suitcase
Not only does it make them easier to pack, it also prevents them from mucking up your clothing. Because we don't really want to know what our soles traversed on the streets of NYC.
Consider The Travel Steamer
There's nothing worse than pulling out the outfit you'd planned to wear to dinner, only to find it etched with wrinkles and not an iron in sight. Hitha carries a travel steamer for just this reason. "I'm terrible at ironing. I once ironed a hole through a blouse before a job interview!" It also can be used to rehydrate after a long flight, because who would say no to a mini-facial?
Invest In A Carry On That Fits It All In
Hitha recommends a range of different carry ons depending on where you're going and what you'll be doing when you get there. For longer business trips, she loves Lo & Sons OMG bag, which slips over your suitcase handles, has a shoe pocket and a simple, classic shape you can take into a meeting. For mixed business-leisure trips, she opts for the Kuyana classic leather tote, which transitions from the boardroom to the bar with ease. And for family vacations, she grabs her Dagne Dover 365 backpack which lets her stash away her laptop, organize toys for her two-year-old son and has a sweat-wicking back.
Make Your Airline Work For You
Pick an airline and get a loyalty card—even if you're at lowest tier possible, it's easier to get into economy or comfort class for not that much money. After traveling around the country Hitha is convinced there is no such thing as a perfect airline, you've just got to focus on service. Her favorites are Delta, Alaskan, Virgin America and Jet Blue. If you do get stuck on a horrible flight where you barely have space to shove your backpack under the seat, remind yourself you’re just in this flying tin can for a limited time. You can refresh yourself with a travel-steamer facial afterwards.
Save Space In Your Bag For Children
While car trips are easier to manage with kids, you shouldn't stop traveling because there's a little one in tow. "Since having my son, I've had to sacrifice are the amount of things that I bring for myself. I pack an iphone, toys, clothes and diapers," Hitha says. To keep her son entertained on long flights she also recognizes the utility of toys, plus a well-timed piece of candy.
Not Every Tip Will Work For You
Packing obsessives can debate rolling versus folding clothes for days, but that's besides the point. "Sometimes I roll, sometimes I fold—it's about doing what’s right for you in the moment," Hitha says. More important is having an arsenal of tricks that you can swap in and out depending on the concerns of your upcoming trip. Hitha just published her first book last March, The Art of Packing and while it has something for everyone, she realizes it skews female-centric. "There's lots about shoes!"