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Shannon Stewart Ingram

Anyone who travels the airways frequently has an opinion about packing. The big question is whether to check your bags or stick with carry-on luggage. Most business travelers want to maintain control of their bags, so they have learned to cram everything from laptop computers to a favorite pillow into a couple of carry-on items rather than surrender their luggage to airline baggage handlers. I relate to this because I am one of those travelers. Unfortunately, this creates problems. If you donapostrophet board the plane early, you may be forced to check your bag at the gate because all of the overhead compartments are full.

Travelers seem to relish forcing things into the already-jammed overheads. Recently, a heavy duffel bag fell out of a compartment onto my head during take-off. The flight attendant sat in her seat scolding everyone within ear-shot as other items – two big topcoats, a paper shopping bag and a manapostrophes briefcase - fell into the aisle. Once airborne, the flight attendant investigated to find the little bin also contained a jumbo wheelie case and a stroller. "People donapostrophet want to put the larger things under their seats," she lamented. "We try to assess how much stuff is in these compartments, but we canapostrophet monitor everyone."

For United Airlines, the solution to overcrowded cabins is to limit the number of carry-on bags you can bring into the cabin to one, unless you are a high-paying business traveler. United recently introduced this policy, using Des Moines as a test destination. Donapostrophet ask me how United plans to distinguish who is paying how much in order to qualify to bring two bags during the already confusing boarding process, but they say if youapostrophere paying a high fare, you will be able to travel with two bags.

What does this mean to those of us now relegated to one bag? First choice would be to place more trust in the airlines by checking your luggage. This is difficult for someone whose bags have been lost more than once. Not only do bags checked to Pittsburgh sometimes wind up in Venezuela, but many people have lost luggage permanently due to theft, or other suspicious circumstances. When you are sitting in a window seat before take-off watching the gum-chewing baggage crew unconsciously throwing bags onto the conveyor belt while chattering on their headsets, you canapostrophet help feeling a bit uneasy. Iapostrophem not implying that all baggage handlers are unfocused. Iapostropheve seen some conscientious handlers out there too – usually women.

Linda McCoy, Director of Travel Industry Sales for Amfac Resorts, has been a frequent traveler for over 15 years. "I refuse to schlep a heavy carry-on from my car to the far end of Terminal C at DIA, so I always check luggage," she says. "In my travels, I have lost a bag only once and that was on a flight to Greece. And I have never found the waiting time at my destination city to be too long."

If you choose not to check bags, there are several things you can do to pack everything you need for a three-day business trip into one reasonable carry-on. First, put your ego on the highest shelf in your closet. You wonapostrophet be able to take a different suit for each day, or even a different jacket. Someone may see you in the same skirt. Second, invest in a good bag. Donna Martin, National Account Manager for the North American Channels Division of Customer Insight Company in Denver, has logged hundreds of thousands of air miles. She recommends following the lead of flight attendants and investing in a good bag. "Definitely get one of the Travel-All suit carriers with wheels," she says. "They are sturdy and fit in compartments on all types of planes, as well as under the seat in front of you."

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Plan, plan, plan. Write out what you will wear to each appointment on your trip, pack accordingly, and then stick to your plan.
  • Pack simple shapes in neutral colors. Pick a color theme. Black, navy or khaki are the best basic colors.
  • Select fabrics in a blend of natural and man-made fibers.
  • Have a set of toiletries and cosmetics thatapostrophes strictly for traveling. Keep it packed in a travel cosmetic bag and store it under your bathroom sink when youapostrophere not on the road. Buy the little travel-size shampoos, conditioners and hair sprays to make your cosmetic bag as tiny as possible. Or purchase some small plastic bottles and pour your cosmetics into them.
  • Roll up your shirts and blouses. Martin says to fold them tightly then roll into a tube. They take up less space that way and, remarkably, come out with few wrinkles.
  • Keep a little bag of travel jewelry thatapostrophes always packed. I pack only costume jewelry or silver – never gold and diamonds. A married friend of mine bought a cubic zircon wedding set that she wears on the road. Even if it doesnapostrophet truly discourage thieves, you will feel better about what you might lose.

How do I pack my own carry-on for a three-day trip? I take one black business suit and, if possible, wear the jacket on the plane, with either the skirt or pants or a pair of jeans, depending on my destination plans. I take four shirts or blouses, including a silk one that can dress up my suit if necessary for the evening. A lightweight cardigan in a festive color is something I can wear alone or with a blouse. I pack one pair of jeans and one black belt. Often, I include a couple of colorful scarves and some bold jewelry (pins, necklaces, bangle bracelets).

Accessories give the simplest clothes pizazz and do not take up much room in the bag. I take one pair of low-heeled black shoes that work with pants or skirt, and a pair of sneakers (which, hopefully, you can wear on the plane). In addition, I pack a T-shirt, socks and bike shorts for exercise. Of course, the T-shirt doubles as sleepwear. I put my underwear in a Zip Loc bag for protection. Zip Locs are great for packing shoes, too. Sometimes I put everything I plan to take out on my bed, and then put half of it back into the closet.

Most hotels have hair-dryers and irons available for guests. There is also dry-cleaning service at better hotels; but you might want to throw a couple of packets of "Shout Wipes" stain remover into your cosmetic bag.

Finally, leave your laptop at home. Find a hotel that offers computers for Internet use if you absolutely must check your e-mail. Remember the professional travelerapostrophes consolation: If worse comes to worse, you can always go shopping.


Shannon Stewart Ingram is a Senior Travel Management Consultant for Consulting Strategies, Inc., based in Newport Beach, CA, and a freelance writer. She is a former regional vice president of marketing for Navigant International in Colorado and marketing manager for Walt Disney Resorts in California. She was editor of This Week Magazines in Hawaii. Her e-mail address is