Most people don’t put much thought into packing before they travel. Often, travelers pack their luggage the night before the trip—and things can get ugly quickly.
A 2019 New Trunk Club survey revealed that 65% of Americans aren’t packing their suitcases as efficiently as they could. You can save a lot of stress by maximizing the space and minimizing the weight of your suitcase–especially if you travel often.
Today, you will discover expert advice on the best way to pack your luggage to save time and effort while preparing for your trip.
- How to Pack Clothes in Your Suitcase
- How to Pack Shoes in Your Suitcase
- How to Pack Accessories and Breakables in Your Suitcase
- How to Pack Toiletries in Your Suitcase
- Tools to Help You Pack Your Suitcase More Efficiently
Keep These TSA Packing Guidelines in Mind Before You Start Packing:
- Follow the 3-1-1 rule for liquids, gels, and aerosols in your carry-on luggage (3.4 oz or less per container; 1-quart size in a clear, plastic, zip bag; 1 bag per passenger)
- Review the list of prohibited items
- Ensure any suitcase locks are TSA approved
- Check your airline’s luggage size and weight restrictions
Start with a packing list. A packing list can serve as a reminder of what not to forget while also helping you to avoid overpacking.
Download a couple of packing lists and modify them to create a personalized list that you can use over and over again. Take inspiration from both minimalist lists and exhaustive lists to find your happy medium.
Here are a few general suitcase-packing rules you should follow to speed up the process:
1. Narrow Down Your Must-Haves
Half the battle of packing is determining what is essential to take with you. Limit yourself to five pairs of pants if you’re going on a ten-day trip, including a few pairs of jeans and a few pairs of shorts. Lay it all out in front of you, and then get rid of one or two pairs that are similar to one another.
2. Arrange Your Clothes Carefully Using Your Favorite Packing Technique
Learning the best packing technique for a suitcase or other type of luggage is essential. Here are 3 techniques to consider:
This is the most basic method of packing your clothes into your suitcase. Lay out all your folded clothes. Then place soft clothes, which are the most flexible, at the bottom of your suitcase.
Stack your longer clothing items, such as pants and long-sleeved shirts, on top of your soft clothes.
Finally, place collared shirts, sunglasses, and other accessories that require gentle handling on top so they don’t get squished by bulkier items.
Rolling your clothes can help you save space and prevent wrinkles. It’s a great method if you’re traveling with a duffle bag or backpack and want to fill all the nooks and crannies. It lends itself well to casual clothes and fabrics such as denim, knits, and synthetic fabrics.
Watch the video below to see how to properly roll your clothes.
Bundle Packing Clothes
Bundle packing your clothes is an alternative technique to rolling your clothes. Instead of rolling, neatly wrap smaller clothing items inside of larger ones to create a bundle. This is a good method if you’re traveling with a suitcase or a flat-laying bag.
This method also serves as an easy way to organize pre-planned outfits. Watch the video below to see how it’s done.
PRO TIP: For easy access, place the items you will use the most on top. You won’t have to mess up your neatly packed suitcase every time you need to retrieve an item, and you’ll conserve space by keeping it strategically arranged. Take advantage of outside pockets or easy-access zipper pockets to store small, frequently used items.
3. Pack Wrinkle-Resistant Fabric
If possible, pack clothing that is less likely to wrinkle. For example, jeans won’t wrinkle as much as slacks.
Avoid packing anything made from fabric like linen or rayon, as these fabrics wrinkle easily.
Consider taking a few pairs of yoga pants in addition to jeans. Yoga pants rarely wrinkle, can be dressed up easily, and take up just a few inches of space.
You can also take a travel size bottle of wrinkle release spray for wrinkle emergencies.
PRO TIP! Did you know that potato chip companies leave the excess air in chip bags to prevent broken chips during transportation? Use this same method to prevent wrinkles in your dress pants by placing them in a zip bag with a little bit of air, which will cushion them from other items.
4. Keep Clothes in Place with Dry Cleaning Bags
Most clothes, no matter the material, are a bit slippery. Slip dry cleaning bags between each layer of clothing to eliminate any slippage or movement during travel.
By keeping your clothing and other items firmly in place, you’ll maximize your suitcase space and discover extra nooks and crannies where you can stash additional cargo.
5. Toss in an Extra Bag for Laundry
It’s easy to forget about needing to store your dirty clothes while you travel. Separate your dirty laundry from the rest of your clothes by placing it in a separate plastic or fabric laundry bag with a zipper that keeps in smells.
Shoes are often the most difficult item to pack because they are bulky, oddly shaped, and can leave dirt or grime on your clothes. Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane, if possible, and pack lighter shoes in your suitcase.
Here are more tips for packing shoes in your suitcase while saving space in the process.
1. Respect the Rule of Threes
Consider the rule of threes when packing shoes:
- Pack one pair of sandals/slippers
- Pack one pair of comfortable sneakers
- Pack one pair of “fancy” shoes for the evening
2. Fill Your Shoes with Smaller Items
Your shoes are a sneaky space to pack small accessories and valuables. You can easily stuff items like chargers, glasses, and socks inside your shoes to save some space here and there.
3. Place Shoes in Individual Bags
Pack your shoes into individual shoe bags, fabric bags, or plastic bags inside your suitcase. This will prevent any dirt from staining your clothes or other shoes. You’ll be thankful for these bags if you happen to walk through a puddle or muddy up your sneakers while traveling.
Travel bloggers Roger and Anna Timbrook go into detail about how to pack every type of shoe in their blog post "How to Pack Shoes Like a Pro (Sneakers, Boots, High Heels, and More)."
You don’t have to leave your jewelry or fragile items behind. Here are a couple of tips for getting these items from point A to point B successfully.
1. Utilize a Jewelry Organizer for Accessories
Accessories can be quite difficult to pack, so consider investing in a travel jewelry organizer to keep necklaces untangled and other items secured. Store these items in a separate bag or small compartment of your suitcase to ensure they stay in place. The last thing you want is to have to dig through your suitcase while fearing that you’ve lost something.
2. Wrap Your Clothes Around Breakables
Thoroughly wrap any fragile items that are at risk of breaking. An easy way to do this in a pinch is to wrap breakable items in the clothes you’re already planning on taking on your trip, like a soft cotton T-shirt. Secure these items firmly in your suitcase so they won’t be able to bounce around.
Consider packing breakables in your carry-on luggage to ensure you have control over how much your bag is tossed around.
An important question that may be on your mind is how you can lighten your luggage. The best place to start is with your makeup, toiletries, and beauty products.
Pack only the items you’ll truly need and those you won’t be able to purchase at your destination. Look for travel size versions of any essentials.
Also follow the tips below.
1. Follow the 3-1-1 Rule for Liquids in Your Carry-On Luggage
TSA requires all air travelers to follow the 3-1-1 Rule when it comes to packing liquids in their carry-on bag:
- (“3”) Each liquid must be in a 3.4-ounce (or smaller) container
- (“1”) You must place all containers inside one clear, quart-sized plastic bag
- (“1”) You are only allowed one plastic bag
You can purchase travel size containers at general merchandise retail stores or online. Travel writer Jessica Macdonald shares the 9 best TSA-approved travel bottles and toiletry bags on the Trip Savvy blog.
2. Never Pack Full Bottles
You are allowed to pack items in containers larger than 3.4 ounces (or 100 milliliters) as long as you place it in your checked luggage.
TSA recommends that you avoid fully filled bottles. The storage compartment where your luggage is kept during a flight is not pressurized. That means there’s a good chance of your bottles popping open and overflowing all over your clothes during the flight.
Keep all your bottles three-quarters filled with liquid in order to avoid having your clothes ruined.
3. Pack Toiletries in Sealed Bags
One of the biggest reasons why people are afraid to pack toiletries is the fear of liquids spilling. To avoid sticky, gooey explosions in your suitcase, pack every bottle separately in a sealed bag.
4. Bring Multi-Purpose Toiletries
The best way to pack toiletries in your luggage is to choose multi-purpose toiletries in smaller sizes. Multi-purpose shampoos and soaps usually come in small packages, which means you’ll be able to save a ton of space.
Not only that, but with multi-purpose soap, you’ll be able to wash your hands, shoes, and clothes without spending money on three different products.
There are many packing tools that can make the packing process easier. Below, we’ll explain what packing cubes, garment folders, compression bags, and luggage scales can do for you.
1. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are soft plastic boxes with a zip lock that allows you to separate your various garments into different compartments. They’re usually see-through, which makes it easy to identify which cube contains which clothes.
Want one? Check the price of packing cubes on Amazon.
2. Garment Folders
Garment folders are plastic bags designed to fit neatly around your more sensitive textiles, such as silk dresses and cotton suits. They’re a great way to ensure that your clothes arrive wrinkle-free at your destination so you’re ready for your business meeting or gala.
Want one? Check the price of garment folders on Amazon.
3. Compression Bags
Compression bags are plastic bags with an added vacuum-packing feature. They’ll enable you to sort your clothes into appropriate compartments and remove any excess air so they take up less space. Compression bags are perfect for when you want to travel light or are short on storage space.
Want one? Check the price of compression bags on Amazon.
4. Portable Luggage Scale
Use a luggage scale to weigh checked bags before you leave and before you return home. This portable tool can save you both time and money at the airport while ensuring you follow your airline’s weight requirements.
Want one? Check the price of luggage scales on Amazon.
Get Your Ultimate Guide to International Travel
Now that you know how to pack a suitcase efficiently, what should you do next?
You can start by downloading our Ultimate Guide to International Travel. The guide will help you plan your trip, prepare your documentation, and book your accommodations with little hassle.
Traveling on a strict budget? Download the Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel for additional money-saving tips from real expert travelers.