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Six Simple Tricks for Winter Packing

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Packing difficulties (Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Justin Horrocks)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 21, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, clothing and gear, holiday, Kate Sitarz, packing, United, winter.

For many travelers, winter means finding a way to pack bulky clothes, puffy jackets, and all the necessary cold-weather accessories into a bag. Instead of stomping on your luggage or sitting on it for hours, waiting for the clothes to magically compact themselves, follow these basic tips for easier, hassle-free packing.

You may even find yourself able to fit everything in a carry-on bag, saving yourself from checked-bag fees and the possibility of the airlines losing your luggage.

Think layers. Cold weather doesn't necessarily mean you have to pack lots of bulky clothing or invest in expensive coats and sweaters. Those who spend a lot of time outdoors know the most effective way to trap body heat is to wear several thin layers of clothing.

Your first layer should be loose-fitting and preferably not cotton, as it traps moisture and doesn't keep you warm. Polyester, wool, or silk are good first-layer choices. Fleece and wool make solid second layers and your final layer should be a waterproof or wind-resistant jacket. Dressing in layers makes it easy to control your temperature as you move outside to inside and vice versa.

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Pack items that perform double-duty. Going neutral with larger items like sweaters and coats will allow you to use them several times. If you're planning on spending most of your time indoors, you don't have to worry that you're wearing the same sweater every day, as you'll probably end up removing that layer once you're inside. Scarves not only keep you warm, but offer an easy way to dress up and add color to an outfit. You can also use them as a small blanket on the plane. Save color for items that take up less space, like your first-layer, lightweight shirts.

Strategically pack your bag. Bundle your clothing by placing smaller items on top of the bulkiest ones and rolling them together. Rolling saves space and can help items from getting completely wrinkled. Packing thinner clothing that you can layer gives you more room to take a variety of options, rather than just a couple of thick sweaters.

Don't forget items that cover your extremities! Use the space inside your packed shoes to store rolled-up socks and other small items. Wool or polyester blend socks are essential. A hat and gloves also offer a lot of warmth and can fit in your jacket pockets. These items don't take up much space, but they'll prevent heat from easily escaping and keep you toasty whenever you have to venture outside.

Invest in space-saving bags. If you have to take bulky clothing along, these plastic bags are inexpensive, reusable, and can immensely reduce the volume of your belongings by pushing all of the air out of the bag. This means you'll spend less time figuring out how to get your suitcase to close and more time figuring out what you can fit in all your extra space. These bags work best when wrinkling isn't an issue, as with sweaters, jackets, and fleece. The plastic also offers protection from any liquids you don't want landing on your clothes. A three-piece travel bag set costs around $10.

Wear your bulkiest (and heaviest) clothes onboard. Whether or not it's cold where you're departing from, it may be so where you're landing. By wearing your jacket and boots onboard, you'll free up loads of room in your bags for other items. You can also stuff mittens, a scarf, and a hat in the pockets of your jacket. Don't worry about roasting like a rotisserie chicken, you can always take your coat off once you're in your seat.

Still worried about your bag's weight even without the heavy items? Stick it on your bathroom scale for a decent estimate.

Consider shipping ski equipment and holiday gifts. For those traveling during the holidays, gift cards make easily transportable presents, but if you have larger items, you may want to consider shipping them via UPS, FedEx, the USPS, or another carrier. No matter what you're shipping, plan to send items earlier rather than later to save money and to ensure your package arrives on time.

Shipping a 20-pound package from Los Angeles, California, to Burlington, Vermont, on USPS starts at about $26 and takes eight days to arrive. UPS charges start at $27 for the same services. The cost quickly rises to $87 via USPS and $181 via UPS for overnight shipping. When sending items overseas, make sure you know what items the country restricts and fill out all the necessary customs forms. USPS offers flat rate options for large boxes starting around $50 for countries outside of North America. Skiers should also consider renting equipment from a local ski shop at their destination; it's a great way to avoid packing or shipping items and gives you the chance to test out the latest models.

As you pack, keep these ideas in mind, but don't be afraid to get creative and remember you can usually find someplace to wash your clothes, even if it's a hotel sink.

If you happen to be traveling with several companions on a United flight, look into the airline's $249 annual baggage subscription that allows up to eight people to check two bags each. If you're looking for ways to avoid extra fees altogether, check out the Best Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees.

As for our veteran winter travelers, do you have any tips for packing during the winter months? Do you have special tricks you use when packing unweildy items? Share them with fellow travelers below!

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