Packing the smart way

You know you shouldn't do it. You tell yourself it will never happen again. You've learned your lesson. Next time will be different.

And then? Those good intentions fizzle. And you're back at it: Hauling heavy luggage that turns you from a happy traveler into a beast burdened by your possessions.

You've packed loads of clothes you don't need, and you're stuck waiting for your luggage, hauling heavy bags all over the place or rooting around in your carry-on for the one thing that you cannot find.

"Most people do overpack," said Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale's fashion director. She doesn't.

Here's why: Solomon has a system (as do other successful travel packers).

Whether it's a weekend getaway in the car or the trip of a lifetime overseas, some basic guidelines can eliminate the hassle of too much stuff.

"Make it very, very simple. Otherwise, your back will regret it. Your feet will regret it. Everything will regret it," Solomon said.

Choose one basic color

"Pick a palette. A basic, like black. Add two colors. Stick to it!" said Solomon, for instance, "black, white and red. Period."

Gregg Andrews, a Nordstrom national fashion director, agreed: "You need to think about looks that are strongly color coordinated. What is your neutral? Is it black? Is it brown? Is it navy? Then play off it. Pop it with other bright colors, so it all makes sense."

While this advice is geared largely to women, the main culprits when it comes to overpacking, men, too, can benefit from most of these guidelines.

Pack a few versatile basics

"If you can only wear something one way, one time, don't pack it," Andrews said. "It's about how many outfits you can make with a few pieces, that's the key to great packing."

Solomon's musts are a basic black dress, one pair of black trousers "that fit you sensationally" and a black cocktail dress. If it's coat weather, a lined Burberry-style classic trench in black or tan can work in any setting, "including evening," she said.

Those few pieces with some tops, accessories and shoes -- a max of one dressy pair, sneakers, flats and flip-flops -- "will take you through a month, and you'll always look very cool and chic," Solomon said.

Men also will want to limit themselves to clothes that do double (or triple) duty and pare to two pairs of shoes, plus flip-flops.

Let accessories change the look

"Costume jewelry is very important. Shoes are very important ... the ultimate touch," said Nicole Fischelis, Macy's fashion director. She also suggests a standout belt or a "bold" jewelry statement, either a single piece or an armload of bangle bracelets.

Solomon said a cardigan or jacket in the accent color is one way to ensure "you're not dull."

Solomon recommends leaving expensive jewelry at home, but if you do take it, wear it continuously, never pack it, and don't leave it unattended. "I have been robbed in expensive hotel rooms," she said. Store it in the hotel safe.

Avoid wrinkles

Skillful packers of both genders choose jersey and knits that can be rolled up rather than folded. Or put clothes in dry-cleaner bags before layering flat in luggage.

Frugal fashion blogger Kathryn Finney ( swears by vacuum space-saver bags that she buys online, on sale or at Target.

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