How to Pack, Clean, and Care for Your Clothes When you Travel

Master these tips, and you'll look good for every leg of your next journey.

Traveling should be fun: you get to break out of your regular routine and soak in some new sights, ideally someplace nice. But the logistics can be a serious pain in the ass, especially when it comes to packing and taking good care of your clothes.

How exactly do you cram a suit into a carry-on, anyway? What about your nice cashmere sweater – you want to bring it, but you don't want it to get roughed up while you move from point A to point B.

Make things a little easier the next time you hop a plane by practicing these sartorial travel tips, from what to pack in the first place to how to handle your wardrobe on the road – that way, your travels can be less stressful and more memorable.

Pack the Right Stuff

Realize you’ve packed all the wrong stuff one day into your week-long trip sucks. Maybe you didn’t check the weather and brought nothing but button downs for 100°+ heat. Or you thought you could slide by with a duffel full of t-shirts, but have been looking like a schmuck at dinner every night. Whatever the situation, a little prior planning can save you a lot of discomfort.

Firstly, you’re going to want to stay away from high-maintenance stuff, or anything that wrinkles too easily. Whenever possible, pack durable fabrics that can stand to take a beating in your bag, but still look decent when you need to get dressed.

Secondly, stick to a single color scheme. No matter how long your trip, packing items that you can mix, match, and re-wear will make your life a hell of a lot easier. You can’t go wrong with neutrals – black is pretty much your wardrobe jack-of-all-trades and looks nice no matter the occasion. Navy is a close second.

Finally, anticipate whether you’ll need any special materials, like suit hangers or shoe trees. If you’re packing a suit for a wedding, throwing it on your buddy’s living room floor as soon you arrive isn’t going to do much for your look. Plan ahead.

Pack the Right Way

An empty suitcase is essentially like a giant puzzle, challenging you to get creative. And no one wants to be the guy who rolls in with seven suitcases or incurs one of those judgmental “overweight” fees at the airport. Besides, knowing how to pack in the most efficient way possible will not only save you space, but will also keep your clothes in better condition.

As a general rule of thumb, always pack shoes on the bottom and stuff them with socks and rolled up ties to keep them from getting crushed under the weight of all your other stuff. That way, the ties will stay nice and protected, too.

Most of the time, rolling your clothes, as opposed to folding them, will save space and help to keep things wrinkle free. Keyword: most. Delicate items should actually be delicately folded and laid flat across the width of your bag—you never want to cram your cashmere.

When it comes to your suits, you’ll have to get a little craftier. Start by turning the jacket inside out, keeping the sleeves on the inside – the inner lining, which is now on the outside, will help to protect the part people actually see from any wrinkles. Next, fold the jacket in half, right along the back center seam. Then fold in half again. Lay the jacket on the bottom of your bag (just not under the shoes) along the full length of the suitcase to help keep it wrinkle-free. Pants will usually hold up just fine if rolled nicely.

Learn to Do On-the-Road Laundry

When you’re gone for an extended period of time, doing laundry is going to become inevitable. Even if you're not going on a month-long backpacking tour, though, it's good to prepare for some occasional cleaning. That way, if you spill a cocktail onto your favorite shirt on day one, you can give it a scrub right away rather than letting the stain set in for the rest of your trip. So you're going to have to get comfortable with the idea of doing laundry in a sink.

Of course, the first thing you'll need is detergent – make sure to pack the good stuff. If your clothes aren’t actually dirty, but are wrinkled because you didn't follow our advice above, most hotels will have an iron on hand. No iron? No problem. Hang your suits and shirts on the shower rod, turn the heat up full blast and shut the bathroom door. After about fifteen minutes, the steam from the shower should take care of any rumples.

The only major caveat here is that you’ll have to plan on drying time. Hang drying clothes usually takes longer than most people think – a pair of heavy jeans, on one extreme of the spectrum, can take a couple days to fully dry on their own. Thinner pieces will obviously take less time, but it's still something you need to plan on.

To speed the process along, lay a towel down on the floor, place your washed garment over it, and then roll both the towel and the garment up, squeezing tightly as you go – that'll wring some of the water out without straining your clothes. After that, you've just got to hang it up and play the waiting game.

For nicer items, remember that dry clean only rules still apply on the road. If you spill on the only suit you brought, you’re going to have to spring for the hotel dry cleaning service. And try to be less clumsy next time.

And that's all there is to it. Pack smartly, come prepared, and don't be afraid of a little cleaning while you're on the road – that way, you'll look sharp as you're cruising through your trip.

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