Take your loaded bag for a test run

Should I lock my suitcase when I fly?

You may if you use a Transportation Security Administration-approved lock. To see which locks qualify, go to www.tsa.gov and search for "locks."

What happens if my lock is cut off?

You should return your lock to the manufacturer and ask for a refund if it's one of the TSA-approved locks. If it's something you bought at the drugstore, you probably are out of luck.

Should I pack my laptop in my luggage or risk going through security?

Don't pack your laptop or any other electronic equipment in your baggage unless you absolutely can't manage it in a carry-on. That's because those items may walk away (there's always fingerpointing between the TSA and the airlines), and most airlines do not cover the loss of these electronic devices.

What if I want to bring back some liquor in my luggage?

Don't. You can't carry it through security in your carry-on luggage, and it's apt to disappear in your suitcase or, worse, break. See if it can be shipped, or try to find it at home.

What's a packing cube, and why do I need one?

You don't need one. You probably need two or three. Packing cubes are zippered pouches (cube is a bit of a misnomer) that keep your suitcase organized. They're great for separating categories of clothing; one cube might hold socks and undergarments; another might hold scarves, belts, slippers, hankies; another might hold shirts or sweaters. Each is packed separately and then placed in the suitcase; when you get where you're going, you simply remove the cube and place it in a drawer. Things don't get scattered around. I swear by them. They're available at luggage stores. Large plastic zip-top plastic bags are a cheaper, though not as durable, alternative.

How can I stop myself from overpacking?

Pack your bag, then roll it around the block with you. Lift it into the trunk of your car a couple of times. And if you can do that easily, you're fine. If not, take half the stuff out. The biggest culprit: shoes. Try to limit yourself. Also, forget about robes (hotels often have them, or you can take a thinnish sweat suit to wear when sleeping or answering the door) and other bulky items. (Hair dryers increasingly are offered).

How can I keep my stuff from looking like a big rumpled mess?

See packing cubes (left). See Susan Foster's www.smartpacking.com for other tips. Pack clothing that doesn't wrinkle (leave the linen at home). And don't take too much of it, which means coordinating your outfits. It helps to make a list of the outfits you have for each day.

How do I make room for all the cool stuff I buy?

Unless you're going on a cruise, take your oldest but still presentable clothing and leave it behind -- you know, the stuff that hangs in the back of the closet. You won't miss it and someone else may benefit from it. Plus you'll have more closet space when you get home.

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