How to Pack a Suitcase: 16 Tips and Expert Tricks for Perfectly Packed Luggage
Take the stress out of vacation prep with these handy recommendations.
Rolling your clothes, skipping interior compartments and opting for an expanding bag are a few of the ways you can pack your suitcase like a pro. (Getty Images)
While nearly everyone gets excited to go on vacation, almost no one looks forward to packing beforehand. This dreaded task is only made worse by the threat of wrinkled clothes, forgotten items and broken gear when you arrive at your destination. However, with the following tips from travel industry experts, you'll be a packing whiz in time for your next trip.
Choosing a Bag
There are many types of luggage available, from backpacks and carry-on bags to duffels and large rolling suitcases. Choosing the right bag for your trip and your needs is key to achieving packing success.
Wendy Perrin, editor of the travel-planning website WendyPerrin.com, says an over-the-shoulder bag is a great option for a casual weekend getaway, while luggage that keeps clothes wrinkle-free is ideal for business travelers. These pointers will help you pick your perfect travel bag.
- Skip interior compartments. Perrin prefers a bag without a lot of compartments or features on the inside because they take up space and add weight. "I want an empty space that I can then cram with as much stuff as I want," she says.
- Say yes to exterior pockets. Samantha Brown, host of the PBS series "Samantha Brown's Places to Love," says she prefers pockets on the periphery. "I like organization, but it shouldn't add any weight in a bag," Brown says. Pockets on the bag's exterior also make it easy to grab something inside without having to unzip the whole bag in the airport.
- Opt for an expanding bag. A bag that expands can be a lifesaver, according to Perrin. She uses an expanding bag as a carry-on on the way to her destination, then unzips the extra compartment for her return flight to hold souvenirs or other new purchases.
[Read: The Best Carry-On Luggage of 2019.]
What to Pack
Now that you've considered which bag to bring, it's time to decide which items to put inside it. Keep in mind that most airlines limit each checked bag to 50 pounds before charging additional luggage fees (on top of the initial price, if there is one). Southwest Airlines is one airline that allows up to two free checked bags (weighing 50 pounds or less) per person. You'll want to check the policy for your specific airline before your flight. Experts chime in with more advice, below.
- Assemble a "capsule collection." Emirates cabin crew member Lauren Guilfoyle recommends assembling what she calls a capsule collection of basics like black pants, white jeans, neutral T-shirts and a denim jacket. These items are easy to mix and match and can be worn multiple times, so you won't need to pack a brand-new outfit for each day.
- Wear bulky items on the plane. "Wear your bulkiest items on the plane to free up space in your luggage and keep you warm during travel," Guilfoyle says. For example, if you're going to the beach, pack your flip-flops in your bag and wear your sneakers on the plane.
- Plan your outfits. Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant and current host of the televised travel talk show "The Jet Set," recommends planning your outfits before packing. "Don't be a last-minute packer!" he says. "If you take time to plan your outfits based on your destination, you'll be able to fit more." He recommends bringing two pairs of jeans and various tops to wear with them for different looks.
- Bring a bag for laundry. Scott Keyes, CEO and founder of travel website Scott's Cheap Flights, advises bringing a separate bag – even a trash bag – for dirty laundry. "[A trash bag] is simple, compresses super small and saves you from having to mix your clean and dirty clothes," Keyes says.
- Get a compact power strip. For about $10, you can buy a power strip the size of a cellphone, according to Keyes. "These come in handy in frequent occasions when you've got multiple devices but just one outlet," he says. "They also ensure you'll always have an outlet at the airport, because even if they're all taken, most travelers are happy to let you put your power strip into an outlet they're already using."
Proven Packing Techniques
Once you determine what to pack, you'll need to figure out how to fit all of your vacation essentials in one (possibly tiny) bag. Here's what the experts say you should do to pack efficiently.
- Roll your clothes. "Rolling your clothes helps to fit more and, if done right, helps to reduce wrinkles in the clothes you've packed," Laurie says. You can even follow tidying expert Marie Kondo's method of folding clothes, which also involves rolling, when packing your suitcase.
- Fill in empty spaces. Be sure to take full advantage of all of the space within your bag. "Fill suitcase gaps with socks, belts, intimates and hair tools to create a flat surface before laying down clothing," Guilfoyle says.
- Pack phone chargers and other cords in one bag. "Cords are the one thing [that] end up all over the place when you're traveling," Laurie says. Large collections of cords are even more likely to get lost and tangled quickly when you travel with multiple people. "Keep them together and in a small container so that they don't take up much space," he says.
- Keep toiletries ready to go. To avoid the hassle of packing a toiletry bag every time you go on vacation, keep one in your closet filled with travel-size items. If you run out of an item on a trip, be sure to refill it as soon as you get home so it's ready for your next getaway. "I have my toiletries for my travel, and they're always in Ziploc bags in the carry-on in my closet," Perrin says.
Helpful Tools and Gadgets
There are an array of handy tools out there that can make the packing process less stressful. These range from in-suitcase organizers to items as simple as a plastic zip-close bag. Take a look at the must-haves experts recommend.
- Use packing cubes. Many frequent travelers like Brown swear by packing cubes, lightweight, zip-up squares that allow you to separate different types of clothing within your suitcase. Each person can have their own color and pack intimates in one square, swimwear in another, socks in a third and shirts and pants, shorts or skirts in the last. Many cubes have handles, making them easy to pull out of your bag and place inside a hotel drawer.
- Carry zip-close bags. Perrin keeps things even simpler by separating items in basic resealable, plastic bags. "I put wet toiletries in one, dry in the other and socks in one," Perrin says. "You can see everything, and you're organized. It takes up the least space and uses the least weight."
- Pack a wrinkle-release fabric spray. Not a fan of ironing? Carry a travel-size wrinkle-release spray with you. Simply spray the liquid liberally on clothes while gently stretching and smoothing the garments to eliminate creases caused by packing.
- Buy a portable luggage scale. Rather than trying to balance your luggage on your bathroom scale, hook this small affordable device onto any bag to check its weight. When you're finished, pack the scale in your suitcase so you can check the bag's weight for your return flight as well.
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