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Packing Your Case: Pack Light, Pack Tight, Pack Carefully

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Here are three areas of expertise when it comes to packing to travel: frequent travelers, airline cabin staff, butlers and valets. Strangely, all seem to come up with the same advice: fold it carefully, pad it well, pack it tight.

The definitive authority on packing is Stanley Ager, who was butler to the second and third Lords St Levan. He would pack a suitcase for their lordships for a sea voyage to East Africa. If, on arrival, the clothes were not instantly ready to wear, he felt he had failed. These are heights to which few of us can aspire, but it is something to aim for.

Rules for packing a suitcase for overseas travel

' Place on a bed everything you simply have to take, pared down to the bare essentials. Then deduct 50 per cent.

' Brush clothes with a clothes brush before you pack them.

' Shirts that have been to the laundry should not be unpacked from their laundry wrappings.

' Fold clothes on a bed or on a flat table.

' Have a pile of tissue paper for padding. It is agreed generally by the experts that you simply cannot do a half-way decent job without using tissue paper. Use tissue paper to line any folds that you make and to separate garments.

' Load a suitcase in the following order: Heavy dresses should be laid towards the bottom of the case with the front facing upwards. Same with men's suits. Trousers at the bottom, with the crease towards the handle. Heavy or tweed skirts also go at the bottom. Jackets are packed next. It depends on the length of the jacket and the size of the case. In a very large suitcase you can place them with the collar facing the handle and then the jacket folded in with one centre crease. If this is not possible, lay it lengthwise across the case. Make sure the collar side faces towards the centre of the case, rather than being pressed to one side.

Wrap socks around shoes, so that the heels do not damage other goods, before wrapping them in plastic. Fold ties into their own folder of tissue paper. Use socks, gloves, handkerchiefs to fill the spaces.

Packing hanging suit bags is slightly different. If you are using a hanging bag do not believe that your clothes will, as a result, emerge unwrinkled and wearable. They will not, unless you take special care. The best way to load is with the bag laid flat, not hanging up.

Put shoes in plastic bags, one at each corner, so that they remain at the top when the bag is folded. Make sure the heels are in the corners with the toes pointing towards the handle. Hang the trousers with two folds so that you do not have a single fold across the knee. Do not fasten the jacket, but close it so that one side is about a third of the way across. Fold the sleeves up at the elbow, then pack other garments on top to hold in place.

I carry a small traveling iron which even has a steam feature. It is light, in a neat bag and takes little space. It is, in a sense, my one luxury.

When you have finished packing try closing the case. It should be as tight a fit as possible without needing excessive force. If it is too loosely packed, lay sheets of tissue paper on top to fill the gap.

Many experienced travelers lay a collapsible carry-all on the top for the inevitable excess of baggage on the return journey.

Unpack both suitcases and hanging bags, completely as soon as you arrive. If there are any wrinkles, hang your clothes on the shower rail and run a very hot bath. You only need a small amount of water. Do not bother filling the bath up. It takes less than an hour to steam the wrinkles out.

Other points

Bottles leak, powder spreads, creams escape and make too much of themselves. The only way that you can be sure that these dread happenings are not among your travel memoirs is to keep all your toiletries in a zip up plastic bag that you have tested for air tightness.

Try never to carry any glass bottles. Decant into small plastic holders wherever possible. Always carry a large bar of soap. The little tablets issued in most hotels are not suitable for the cleansing of grown-up bodies.

Try to avoid ever having to pay excess baggage rates. The costs are crippling. Airports and airlines vary in their attitudes but you can work on the basis that if your luggage is much over 10 percent of the allowed weight you are running a very large risk of being charged at excess baggage rates.

Excess baggage rates are worked on the basis of 1 per cent of the First Class full fare (not the Apex rate or any reduced fare) per kilo and this can soon add up to a horrendous amount, even when airline staff are trying their best to be helpful and minimize the cost.

Two ways around this.

Send small parcels of purchases from each port of call. If you don't mind waiting then you can send them sea mail, which makes the cost comparatively inexpensive and the risks of non-arrival ' from our experience ' minimal. If time is more critical then you can send them by air mail, although this is quite considerably more expensive.

Unaccompanied baggage (baggage sent as cargo) which is available in most but not all airports. Phone first to check.

The prices are relatively reasonable. Usually, unaccompanied baggage is sent at 50% of the normal cargo rate with a minimum charge of 10 kilos.

There are a few simple rules.

1) You must have a ticket for travel which must be produced when you deposit your luggage. The baggage can be sent to any destination listed on that ticket.

2) Unaccompanied baggage must be sent before or on the day of departure. Check when you phone but you will find if you arrive early and check in your unaccompanied baggage first at the unaccompanied baggage desk, all will be well.

3) Unaccompanied baggage is regarded as 'cargo' and is not sent from the check-in desk but, normally, from a special desk.

4) According to the regulations in the 'Air Cargo Tariff' book, subscribed to by all major airlines, unaccompanied baggage (baggage shipped as cargo) shall consist of only personal clothes and articles (including portable musical instruments, portable typewriters and portable sports equipment but excluding machinery, machine or spare parts, money, securities, jewelry, watches, plated ware, furs, films, cameras, tickets, documents, liquors, perfumes, articles of household furnishing, merchandise and salesman's samples).

The rules, as you can see, are not uncomplicated but the savings make the exercise well worth while. Especially if you can plan in advance and have the unaccompanied baggage accompany you on the same aircraft.

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