It can feel like a game of Tetris trying to pack everything you need for a trip into limited luggage space. Shoes must be left behind. Pairs of underwear must be counted. Compromises must be made. In the winter around the holidays, that balancing act between what you want to bring vs. what you can gets more challenging, particularly if you’re toting gifts.
Presumably, you’re not Santa, equipped with a magic bag that fits everything. We talked to Declutter DC founder Jenny Albertini, a professional organizer and Washington’s first certified KonMari Method consultant, about the best strategy for traveling with presents as a mere mortal.
Get organized and make a list
Don’t pull a “Home Alone” and leave precious cargo behind. The holidays can get chaotic, making it easier to forget things you meant to pack, particularly items that you don’t normally travel with, like gifts. Albertini recommends going on the offense against forgetfulness by getting organized ahead of the trip.
“I make a list of who I am seeing and what I am bringing,” she says.
Organize it by those two categories. Then cross each line off as you pack.
Ship gifts to your destination
A move particularly helpful for people giving larger items is to have the gift delivered to the place you’re visiting (if your host or hotel allows it, of course).
“If it stresses you out to check a bag, what you want to do is pre-mail something to your destination,” Albertini says. “Then you don’t have to take them with you.”
Make sure you don’t order gifts so early that they’re taking up space at your host’s place too long.
Wrap at your destination, not before
If you have a bunch of gifts to give, don’t wrap them all up in ornate boxes before you travel. You may end up ripping your wrapping paper, losing bows or looking like that mouse, Gus, in “Cinderella” who tried to carry too many kernels of corn. Instead, Albertini recommends you leave the final assembly for the final destination.
Swap boxes and wrapping paper for gift bags
Make your life easier by skipping cardboard or paper gift boxes, opting instead for Albertini’s suggestion: bags. “Gift bags are already folded,” she says. “You can just put those in the bottom of your suitcase.”
If you’re set on putting your items in boxes, keep them folded flat and stored at the bottom of your suitcase like you would bags, until you arrive at your destination (see above).
Pack only the wrapping paper you need, and skip the scissors
If using boxes, don’t pack a whole roll of wrapping paper with you. That roll is too inconveniently shaped for you to be toting through the airport, train station or bus depot. Albertini recommends pre-cutting your gift wrap, measuring out exactly how much paper you’ll need for presents (with maybe a few extra squares as backup) and stashing them flat in your suitcase.
But you don’t need to take every gift-wrapping accessory. Source some of your tools at your destination.
“I’ve never been to a house or hotel that didn’t have a pair of scissors,” Albertini says. “What people often don’t share with you is tape.”
With that in mind, throw a roll of Scotch tape, ribbons or bows and name cards in your carry-on before you leave the house, and plan on borrowing scissors later.
Consider experiential gifts over things
Albertini, in her overall job, helps clients toss a lot of stuff — that is, clutter or items in their lives that don’t spark joy. Similarly, more is not always more when it comes to gifts.
“Excess tends to stress people out as opposed to fewer, more thoughtful gifts that do resonate,” she says. “What would bring them joy? Start with being intentional with what you’re getting. Prioritize that.”
Instead of contributing to loved ones’ junk drawers, give them something that won’t take up space, like an experiential gift. Albertini suggests ideas like movie or museum tickets, presenting them in a thoughtfully made card. You’ll have more room in your suitcase, less paper waste from wrap, and a present that won’t collect dust on the recipient’s shelf.