Smart, Wrinkle-Free Packing of Your Luggage

How to Pack Using the "Military Roll"

Twenty-five years ago I took my first trip to Italy; two weeks of touring through Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and Capri. I had packed enough to last me two months.


The airport ticket agent said she could tell it was my ‘maiden voyage’ by the number of suitcases I lugged to the counter. There were six packed with essentials I thought I couldn’t travel without, a change of clothes with matching shoes and handbags for each day and evening, an iron, electric curlers, hair dryer, and large bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

When porters and bellhops saw me struggling towards them, bow-legged under the weight of my paraphernalia, they ran in the other direction. To get them to help me I had to bribe them with huge amounts of money. By the end of the trip I had mailed half of my stuff home.


Before my next adventure I consulted an expert, my friend Frank, a 30-year Marine Corps veteran who has traveled all over the world. He showed me a neat trick; the military roll. I’ve
used this technique ever since then and can pack two weeks’ worth of toiletries and clothes into one suitcase and a small carryon. What follows is a lesson in Packing 101.

The Military Roll

First, button and zip everything. To roll shirts, blouses and jackets, lay the garment front side down on a flat surface. Fold at the shoulders, tuck short sleeves in tight, for long sleeves fold them across the back in an x-like fashion, bring the cuffs down as if you’re going to handcuff someone. Smooth out wrinkles, tuck the bottom in and start rolling tightly toward the top.

For pants, lay the legs crease to crease. Start rolling at the cuffs and work up to the waist, keeping the roll tight. When packing skirts and dresses lay them flat, fold one side in, then the other. Roll upward from the hem. Silk items have less of a chance of wrinkling if placed in a plastic drycleaner bag, folded, rolled and packed in the suitcase last.

To pack underwear and bathing suits put two items together, fold in half, roll and place in the bottom of your suitcase; you don’t care if they get wrinkled. Tuck socks into whatever shoes you’re taking and place these around the inside edges or outside pouches.

More Packing Tips

Because most baggage handlers are former heavyweight wrestlers who love to throw things it’s a good idea to use luggage that’s made of strong, lightweight nylon that’s tear resistant.

The same goes for your clothing; it should be lightweight and wrinkle resistant. Stick with basic colors, black, white, navy, or tan as they mix and match easy.

Bring shoes that have good support and are well broken in.

In case your suitcase is lost in transit be sure to pack medications, and travel documents in your carryon.

Fill your travel kit with trial-size containers of cosmetics, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.

Because we live in a post-September 11th world security at airports, bus depots and train stations is tight and bags are searched. If sharp instruments such as scissors, tweezers, or anything that looks like a weapon is found in your carryon it will be confiscated and you might not be allowed to board. Either leave such things at home or pack them in your suitcase to be checked through. Photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport is also

Safety Tips

Document your suitcases contents and their worth. Leave one copy at home, place one in your carryon bag.

Label your bags with just your name and telephone number – not your address, someone could see it, make note of it and burglarize your house while you’re away.

If your suitcase is lost in transit, file a report before leaving the airport. If it arrives damaged, photograph it then file a report.

To guard against theft while traveling use fanny packs or neck pouches that are thin enough to fit under your clothing. Leave your valuables at home. You don’t need to bring that Rolex watch you saved for years to buy or Grandma’s priceless diamond earrings.

Over the years I’ve got the military roll down to a science – I’m now able to roll and tuck with Marine Corps precision. Something else I’ve learned about packing; when it doubt, leave it out.

Fran Folsom is a Cambridge-based freelance travel writer. Her writing has appeared in AAA Horizons, Travellady, Reminisce, the Boston Globe, New York Post, New Hampshire Telegraph, Maine Sunday Telegram, New Bedford Standard Times and other publications.

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