TORONTO — We’re all guilty of overindulging on occasion.
Susan Foster knows the feeling. Foster is a reformed overpacker.
She used to haul a couple of big suitcases with her when she was on the lecture circuit, delivering talks about sewing and the clothing industry. But things changed when she retired and travelled for personal reasons.
Pretty soon, Foster found herself on another lecture circuit and writing books about how to organize small for even a big trip. The first edition of her book, Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler, came out in 2000.
A year or so later, the 9-11 terrorism acts in the U.S. changed air travel forever, and now more and more people are concerned about what to pack. The recent surcharge for extra bags has driven her pack-light message even further.
When she went to England for three weeks last year, she folded all she needed into a small, 56-cm-long suitcase and a carry-on that she squeezed under the seat in front of her.
“I love clothes,” she said. “I’m a fashion person, so I’m not travelling in shlumpy old clothes. And I don’t wear the same thing every day.”
Foster’s book, and her website, www.smartpacking.com, are filled with tips and pictures to help folks plan what to take on their trips.
“You have to know where you’re going, what your activities will be and what the weather will be. You pack for logical contingencies. When I went to London I knew it probably was going to rain, so I took stuff I could wear outside and be comfortable in. I didn’t pack something to have lunch with the Queen.”
Foster strongly believes in basing your travel wardrobe around a central colour. In her case it’s usually black, which tends not to show wrinkles or stains as much as other colours, but she said blue or brown also can work.”
“All my pieces are interchangeable. I might take two pairs of slacks and one jacket/blazer, and maybe four to five shirts. That’s all you need. Your suitcase is not your closet and, you know what, there’s laundry.”
Men can usually get by with a couple of pairs of pants and several shirts and ties to change things up. Women can dress up a blouse with different necklaces or other accessories or a couple of scarves, which don’t take up much room.”
“If a man changes his tie, it’s a different look,” she said.
Besides, she noted that most folks aren’t likely to be hanging around the same people day in and day out.
“No one really cares what you’re wearing,” she said. “No one’s looking. Only you.”
Shoes, of course, take up huge amounts of space. Foster advises three pairs maximum, including the ones you wear on the plane.
Cosmetics and toiletries take up a lot of weight, which can make it hard to lift that carry-on you want to squeeze into the overhead compartment.
“I’m small and I don’t have great upper-body strength. I can’t lift that fully loaded bag into the bin. I need help and it’s not the job of the nice man sitting next to me to help with my bag and it’s not the job of the flight attendant, and she’ll be the first one to tell me that.”
With the new restrictions on gels and liquids for carry-on bags, Foster advises using a solid deodorant instead of a liquid one and trying to use dry makeup instead of the liquid variety. And don’t lug a bottle of shampoo in your bag when your hotel will have bottles in the washroom for you. So it’s not your favourite brand; suck it up.
Packing well is critical. In addition to the obvious tips such as filling shoes with socks and underwear and such, Foster tells travellers to be sure to fill up all the small cavities around the wheel assembly. Some websites and travel stores also will sell small cubes that you place in your suitcase and fill with socks or underwear. When you get to your hotel, simply take the cube out and put it in the dresser drawer.
“Most people pack a half-hour before they have to leave. They just start throwing stuff in their bag. You have to take time and think carefully and select. That way you’ll have time later to go back and edit.”
Foster wouldn’t reveal how many suitcases she has at home but says she’s been collecting for some time and tries to match the right bag with the right trip.
She’s often spotted with a backpack, pretty much the largest allowable for most carry-on bags.
Foster often finds herself aghast at the sight of families at airports, surrounded by mountains of bags and boxes. “I want to say to them, ‘Are there no washing machines where you’re going?”’
In addition to schlepping so many bags, Foster points to new regulations that, make it prohibitively expensive.
“United Airlines began by charging $25 for the second bag. Then they added a charge of $15 for the first bag. And now it’s up to $50 for the second bag.”
“That would mean $65 — each way — for someone taking two bags. For a family of four, you’re talking $520 if each person was charged $65 on each leg of their trip.”