Does your suitcase look like this? If so, you're in need of a packing makeover ... and soon, before you try to get that bag through an airport screener. - Mail Tribune photo illustration / Bob Pennell

Leader of the Pack

They're everywhere Anne McAlpin goes — travelers lugging too many, overstuffed suitcases that slow security lines and get even a dream vacation off to a stressful start.

So for more than 15 years, McAlpin, of Jacksonville, has offered tips to smooth travelers' ways and keep their packed clothes from looking rumpled when they arrive.

"If you want to get away from it all, don't take it all with you," she repeats as a perky sort of mantra.

However, McAlpin has developed advice for travelers to figure out what they really need when they are on the go and how to fit it all in.

It's all in her book and DVD package, "Pack it Up: The Essential Guide to Organized Travel," and she has appeared on Oprah, Rachel Ray's new talk show, Today and CNN to talk up her tips.

She also offers presentations at travel accessory stores, such as Travel Essentials in Ashland, and AAA offices around the country, where her book and travel products are sold.

Here are some of McAlpin's top tips to help you pack a better bag wherever you're headed this summer.

  • Start with the shoes and other bulky, heavy items. Fit them across the bottom of the suit case, into the bumps and grooves formed by the extendable handle. Then tuck in soft, small items like socks and underwear. McAlpin packs underwear in resealable plastic bags, "so security doesn't handle your undies. I like that and I think they do, too."
  • Top off the heavy layer of lumpy, bumpy things with a packing board to create a flat surface to lay clothes on. McAlpin sells packing boards printed with packing lists and colorful replicas of steamer trunk labels, but anything thin, stiff and flat, such as an oversize placemat, will work, she says in her book.
  • Fold pants and skirts along natural creases and lay them across the suitcase with the waistband against one edge and the bottoms extending over the opposite edge. With each item, alternate which side of the suitcase gets the waistband.
  • Button shirts, blouses, jackets or blazers and slide them into plastic dry-cleaner bags with no printing on them and bring the sleeves to the front of the item, smoothed along their natural creases. Lay the bagged items into the suitcase with the shoulders near the hinges and the bottom of the garments extending out the top of the suitcase.
  • Roll all knit items tightly. Fold sleeves to the back and roll T-shirts from the bottom. The tighter you roll, the less things wrinkle, McAlpin promises. Place these rolls on top of the layered clothing.
  • Wrap the extended ends of the layered clothing up and over the rolled items so everything is securely packed with no sharp creases that will leave wrinkles in the wrong places.

Bags packed in this manner are easy to pull outfits from and travelers can lift out the packing board to reach the bottom layer with minimum disturbance, McAlpin said.

Lynn Scalzi, of Ashland, was eager to try out the tips and products McAlpin showcased at a workshop at Travel Essentials last week.

"I got so much information here all in one place," Scalzi said. "Especially the packing and learning how to do it so things aren't wrinkled."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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