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Tired of forgetting essential items or barely zipping your bulging suitcase shut before you head out on the road? Use these awesome packing tips to help you travel smarter, more efficiently, and with confidence.
1. Make a list (and tick it off twice)
One of the best ways to pack efficiently is to start with a packing list. That way, you can methodically go through everything you need, and account for it before you zip up your suitcase, duffel, or weekend bag.
Ideally, this shouldn’t be a simple piece of paper that you discard when you are finished. Make sure it includes the following categories:
- Wardrobe (including sleep and underwear)
- Personal hygiene
- Essential work tools (e.g. laptop)
- Activity gear (if you are into hiking, rappel, or fishing and need specific equipment for it)
Then, tick off everything once as you put it into the suitcase. At the end of the trip, tick it off again as you repack it.
Read more and download our free packing list printables:
2. Check the weather
It is impossible to predict every significant climate event that can occur during your trip. For many of us, these surprises are what make travel worth it.
Yet, it’s one thing to have to cancel a beach day and a different one altogether if you are left woefully unprepared for the coming weather.
You should check the weather forecast about three days before the start of your trip. At this point, they tend to be reasonably accurate.
This is a must if you travel during spring or fall when seasons can change rapidly and sharply. But even during the summer, an unexpected cold front may leave you shivering during your city tours or struggling to stay dry.
3. Check your airline’s baggage policy
And double-check the rate you bought! If you are splurging on a full-price ticket in a traditional airline, you will probably have between 15 and 25 kg to play around with when packing.
On the other hand, budget airlines are notorious for slapping extra fees for extra suitcases or limiting carry-on size further than the accepted standard.
Even the regular airlines are now offering cheaper “discounted rate” specials that may not include the right to check-in luggage. By verifying your rate conditions in advance, you can get together with one of your travel mates and bundle your stuff into one suitcase.
4. Streamline your wardrobe
To be prepared for every possible scenario, it’s very easy to overpack. During your trip, you are more likely to want to be comfortable, which may leave you with a lot of dressier options unused.
Several systems are used to prevent this – from detailed per-day wardrobe lists, to “packing only half of what you think you need”. A good middle-point is the 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule. This states that a one-week trip only needs:
- 6 pairs of underwear
- 5 pairs of socks
- 4 tops
- 3 bottoms
- 2 pairs of shoes
- 1 hat
If you are traveling for longer than a week, you may need to add one top and an extra set of underwear, but you should also try to book somewhere with access to a laundromat.
5. Color-match the wardrobe
If you are heading towards a beach destination or a major city, you may be okay with letting go of dress codes for a few days. However, some trips require paying a bit more attention to appearances.
If you have to attend a conference, give one lecture, or engage in culinary tourism, orange cargo pants and a teak top will look out of place.
If you follow the 6,5,4,3,2,1 rule, you may be tempted to add extra items and accessories that match one top or are required for one pair of shoes.
Instead, try to color-match your wardrobe as you select it. You don’t need to wear blacks throughout the trip either: just choose two basic colors that go well together, and make sure all accessories match one of them.
6. Divide into sections
A common problem during multi-city trips is that you immediately unpack everything every time you check in to a new place. Then, you repack it and repeat the process at your next destination.
Usually, by the end of the trip, this will have ruined even the most efficient packing system, and you will have left half your socks behind.
Instead, divide what you will wear on each leg of the trip and layer each “section” separately. Place the last destination at the bottom. Keep each section separate using dry cleaning bags, packing cubes, or even sheets of crepe paper.
7. Try a military roll for cotton and light fabrics
The most efficient way to compress light fabrics (such as cotton or linen) is to use a military roll or “ranger roll”. Then, arrange them horizontally along the bottom of your suitcase.
To do this, try:
- Laying your t-shirts as flat as possible over a table, facing up
- Fold the bottom of the t-shirt outwards, 3 inches from the edge, to create a cuff
- Fold the left third of the t-shirt on top of the other two thirds
- Fold the left sleeve in the opposite direction
- Repeat the process with the right-third and right sleeve
- Starting from the collar, roll the t-shirt as tightly as possible
- Use the cuff at the bottom edge to hold the roll
8. Fold your denim and sweaters
The “military roll” works great for thin fabrics, but it can quickly get unmanageable for your jeans, thick pants, or sweaters. In these cases, it’s best to fold them as flat as possible at the deep end of your suitcase.
For long pants or dresses, you can also try the “lasagna method”: extend the heaviest piece over the floor of your suitcase as much as possible, leaving the ends hanging outside. Then, spread the next article in the opposite direction. Finally, fold each piece’s ends inwards and flatten them as much as possible to create room for your rolls.
9. Use the inside of your shoes
If you are not wearing your trekking boots or trainers on the plane, there’s no reason to waste all that space. Instead, use it to squeeze in a few extra items, especially the fragile ones that you want to protect.
Place medication boxes, jewelry, cufflinks, or even ceramic or glass souvenirs inside your boots to surround them with a thick cushioned layer.
10. Arrange your shoes smartly
Even if you take advantage of their internal space, shoes can be bulky and take up a lot of room. Make sure to arrange them in the most convenient way possible:
- First, place them inside a laundry or even a Ziploc bag to protect your other clothes
- Arrange flip flops or sandals against the walls of your suitcase
- Trainers and boots should be bundled heel-to-toe
11. Place heavier items closer to the wheels
When we think of the bottom of a suitcase, we mostly picture it wide open on top of a table and think of the side closest to the back shell. However, during most of your trip, your suitcase will be standing or rolling on its wheels.
As you move it around, gravity will slowly shift the heavier items closer to the ground. Once you arrive at the hotel, you may find your carefully folded clothes are all now wrinkled at the bottom. Avoid this by putting your heaviest items (shoes, laptop, denim) close to the wheel side.
12. Add a “beach pack”
It’s impossible to prepare for any possible side trip or excursion during your trip. However, it can be incredibly frustrating to find yourself without the needed gear for an unexpected trip to the pool during a vacation.
Fortunately, this is one thing you can prepare for without adding more than 2 pounds to your total weight. Carefully roll a bathing suit and either a beach shirt or an oversized t-shirt inside a toiletries bag. Anything else you may need for the beach (like sunscreen) can be bought at your destination.
13. Invest in travel bottles
Even if you plan to check in your suitcase, most regular-sized personal hygiene items tend to be heavy and bulky. On the other hand, the small “travel-sized” versions are frequently overpriced and unavailable for every brand and scent.
Instead, invest in a set of reusable travel bottles, and carry only what you will realistically use. Remember that, unless you have a pretty severe skin allergy, you can generally buy hand cream or sanitizer once you reach your final destination.
14. Use pill organisers to arrange your small items
Small jewelry items, cream samples, and even spare foreign coins from a previous trip are often unceremoniously tossed inside a travel bag. Upon arrival, you may find that your necklaces have tangled, or you may need to waste some time fishing for the earrings you want to wear.
Instead, recycle alternative containers to keep everything organized. Those “7-day” pill boxes are great for earrings and coins.
Meanwhile, larger items such as necklaces, Q-tips, or hairpins will fit in most pill bottles or even in a hard shell sunglasses case.
Read more: How to Pack Necklaces
15. Leave your “first-night” kit on top
Few experiences can be as frustrating as finalizing a late-check in following a red-eye flight. Sweaty, tired, and eager to catch some sleep before you can finally begin your real vacation, only to find you still need to dig through your suitcase for your pajamas and toothbrush.
You can avoid this by leaving a small “first night kit” right on top of your suitcase. It should contain the bare essentials for that first night. Everything else can be dealt with the following morning, after breakfast.
16. Use clothing as padding for your bottles
Whether you want to bring back a souvenir or need a nice gift for your hosts overseas, wine and spirits often feel like a risky memento to bring.
If you don’t pack it correctly, you could make your entire wardrobe smell like a distillery. Meanwhile, being overly cautious will take up room and extra weight from your allotment.
Styrofoam bottle sleeves are rarely enough to keep a bottle safe. Ideally, you should also complement this with a layer of bubble wrap. If you can’t find any, try to place your bottles between your rolled t-shirts and with a few thicker sweaters at the back.
Try to ensure they will be at the absolute center of your suitcase and that there won’t be any hard bags or cases immediately around them.
Read more: How to pack wine bottles in a suitcase
17. Add an empty tote
Whether you need to transport your laundry discreetly to a local laundromat or want to take an unexpected one-day trip, a big tote bag will allow you to carry items that won’t fit on a regular backpack purse or fanny pack.
It’s always a good idea to pack an empty fabric tote before you leave home. They weigh almost nothing and take up virtually no space, but they can make your life easier.
18. Keep an extra t-shirt and underwear in your carry on
Realistically, it is very rare for luggage to get lost entirely. However, the likelihood of it simply arriving on the next flight, or a couple of days behind you, are much higher.
Sure, the rules may specify some compensation, but it may take a couple of days to claim it – and depending on the time of your arrival, you may still need to reuse the underwear you flew in.
It’s best to include an extra set of undies, socks, and a T-shirt somewhere in your carry-on. If possible, try to have some essential personal hygiene items: a small deodorant bar, an extra tampon, or some moist towelettes can go a long way.
19. Squeeze the air out of any large bottles
If you can’t avoid carrying a large bottle of sunblock, or a special ointment or cream, try as best as possible not to pack any air with it.
This will not only occupy extra space: because of the changes in air pressure at the luggage compartment, these bottles can burst and mess up all surrounding clothes.
Prevent this by squeezing out as much air as possible before packing them. If you can unscrew the cap, you can also cut up a small square out of a plastic bag, and use it to cover the bottle’s neck. Then, screw the cap back on.
20. Add a few dryer sheets around old clothes
Even if they are freshly washed, some clothes can hold up odors more than others. Last-season sweaters and hiking boots are widespread culprits.
Once you place them inside a suitcase, they can quickly leave that smell behind and pass it on to your other clothes. Prevent this by throwing a scented dryer sheet next to them inside the same plastic bag or between layers in your “lasagna” arrangement.
Packing Tips Summary
No matter where your trip is and for how long, packing shouldn’t have to be a stressful affair. A little know-how, innovation, and investment can go a long when it comes to making your luggage safe and accounted for.
These packing tips offer practical solutions to many of the challenges that come with packing a range of items. Use them to help you pack with confidence so that you can arrive at your destination and instantly focus your energy on what matters: having a great time!
You Might Also Like to Read
- How to Pack Shoes in a Suitcase for Travel – 8 Smart & Easy Tips
- How to Pack Bras for Travel: 10 Smart & Easy Tips
- How to Pack Dirty Clothes While Traveling – 10 Smart Tips
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer and strategist who has traveled to 30 countries and counting to date.