Best Ways To Pack A Suitcase & Packing Tips for Travel
I am the daughter of a flight attendant. As such, I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world. Growing up, my mom only had one rule when traveling: Pack light. I was responsible for carrying my own luggage anywhere we traveled. I learned early on the best and most effective ways to pack a suitcase (Hint: not like this!)
I admit though, that when I’m packing for a road trip, I’m a bit, well, sloppy. I pack too many bags and pack too many things. However, when planning for a week in Europe? I’m a pro with efficiently packed suitcases! One smallish roller-board suitcase and a decent-size carry on, and I’m good to go. And I pack my suitcase using top tips from the pros. I feel confident in my ability to best pack a suitcase for big trips!
We never checked luggage when we traveled growing up. My mom knew too many people who lost checked luggage that was never found. If I couldn’t carry it myself and make it fit in the overhead bin, I couldn’t bring it. Truly, on long-haul trips, I consider myself a pretty good packer. And I love sharing my tips on the best ways to pack a suitcase with anyone who will listen. If you’d like in on my secrets, read on.
Five Best Practices for Packing a Suitcase
- Use all available space. One of my favorite tips is to pack socks or underwear inside your shoes. My running sneakers can each accommodate three pairs of socks or five pairs of underwear. I make sure to stuff each shoe full because otherwise it’s wasted space if I leave the insides empty!
- Plan your outfits. My rule is one pair of pants for every two days of travel, and one new shirt per day. I always throw in a dress or two for fancier occasions. If we are going to a beach or a pool, I require two bathing suits be packed per kid, so the kids always have one that is dry to put on. Plan on one pair of comfortable walking shoes, one pair of flats or heels, and the shoes you travel in. Pack underwear for each day and a pair of socks for each day.
- Less is more when it comes to toiletries. I’ve traveled Europe with friends who have brought hair dryers, straightening irons, full-sized bath and body products and more makeup than I could wear in a year. Think strategically here to save space.
Staying in a hotel? Skip the hair dryer, the hotel room will have one you can use. Spending a lot of days poolside or camping? Skip the full makeup bag and stick with a pared-down look, using just tinted moisturizer and waterproof mascara. But don’t forget your sunscreen.
Bring a brush and one hair tool, max (I must admit: I never leave my straightener at home!) Wind hair bands around brush handles, so they are easy to find. Bring the smallest containers of soap and shampoo possible (three ounces or less). You can always buy more at your destination. Liquids should always be capped tightly, bagged and packed in your carry-on. You do not want to arrive at your destination with your clothing covered in shampoo from an exploded bottle.
- Plan your carry-on essentials. Always take your toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry on. I like to brush my teeth just after I arrive, especially if it’s a long flight! Or after a long car trip, nothing beats how refreshed a clean mouth will make you feel! Other items you need to keep in your carry-on include: a phone charger, reading materials, your contact case and solution or glasses if you need them, your wallet, lip balm and hand sanitizer.
I also always keep travel-sized baby wipes or disinfectant wipes in my bag so I can sanitize surfaces before and after I use them.
- Pack a mesh laundry bag for dirty clothes. This is another one of my favorite tips for packing a suitcase, borrowed from a well-traveled friend. I always bring a large mesh laundry bag with us on trips. I hang it off the handles of a drawer or dresser in the hotel room, and then let everyone in the family throw their dirty clothes in there, to keep them easily separated from clean clothes.
This way, my kids aren’t wondering which underwear they wore yesterday or which shirts they’ve spilled ketchup on. (I can’t figure out how this is confusing, but anyway.) When it’s time to pack to go home, I remove the clean clothes from my own suitcase and combine them with my husband’s in his suitcase and then pack the dirty clothes bag into my suitcase. When I get home, I’m ready to do laundry and know that all the other suitcases can go straight to our bedrooms for unpacking. It saves me so much time!
Best Packing Practices: How to Maximize Your Space
My mom and her flight attendant friends all agree: the best way to pack your suitcase is by rolling your clothing. This allows you to fit the maximum amount of clothing possible in a standard roller-board suitcase.
- Begin by folding your shirts as normal. Tuck the arms behind the back of the shirt and then fold the shirt in half.
- Starting from the folded edge, roll your shirt as tightly as possible. Wedge it tightly into your suitcase.
- Repeat with all remaining shirts.
- Pants should be folded in half lengthwise, legs together. Then roll from the waistband down to the hems as tightly as you are able.
This also keeps your clothing as wrinkle-free as possible while you’re in transit somewhere.
Additional Tips and Tricks for the Best Way to Pack Your Suitcase
Through the years, my mom has told me stories of friends she’s traveled with, and the amount of luggage she has seen people schlep across airports world–wide. She stresses to me over and over again her most prized best packing tip: pack lightly! Not only will it save you money, but it will also save you time when you get to your destination. Because checking a bag means having to wait at baggage claim.
Learning the Hard Way: The Importance of an Efficiently Packed Suitcase
When I traveled to Taiwan three years ago, I had to check my suitcase when leaving the country. Not only did I have to pay $60 to check my suitcase, but I also had to wait an extra 45 minutes after I deplaned and was ready to go home, because there were delays with the baggage crew unloading the plane. I cursed myself for buying too many souvenirs!
My mom shook her head when I returned and said, “Did you pack an extra bag in your suitcase when you left that could have held your carry-on and your souvenirs, so you wouldn’t have had to check your bag?” I shook my head, having ignored one of her best suitcase-packing tips. She always packs a large reusable tote in her suitcase, folded and stored empty. When she is leaving a destination, she can then pull that bag out, place her carry-on or purse in it and allow space for souvenirs that didn’t fit in her roller-board. Ugh. Don’t you hate when your mom is right?
Bon Voyage! A Final Tip for a Well-Packed Suitcase
The last packing tip I will leave you with is to always zip your suitcase with the zippers to the top. I know this sounds silly, but I have watched so many people through the years go to get something out of their roller-boards upon arrival at their destination and its contents shifted in the air, so all the items fell out when they unzipped the suitcase from the bottom. Heed my best packing tip: always zip your suitcase with the pull at the top, so you can make sure nothing falls out when you go to open it.
Sometimes, you only learn by first making a mistake yourself. However, it usually helps to think things through and take someone’s seasoned advice if you can.