Packing and preparing your luggage for an upcoming trip can be daunting. You definitely don’t want to forget anything at home but the idea of exceeding your airline’s baggage weight limit can also make you think twice about throwing just anything into your suitcase. Then, of course, there’s the issue of wrinkles — the last thing you want is to spend half your vacation pulling out the hotel ironing board every time you need a fresh shirt.
In order to help you iron out the optimal packing practices in time for your next trip, we spoke to a handful of travel professionals and etiquette coaches to get their insights on the very best ways to pack your suitcase — and the products that will help you master the art of packing.
Whether you’re packing a carry-on for a quick domestic trip or you’re hoping to fit everything you need for a two-week trip abroad, read on if you want to master the art of packing a suitcase once and for all.
Write — and stick to — a packing list
It doesn’t matter if you can pack a suitcase in 10 minutes flat or it takes you days to finish packing all those last-minute essentials, creating a packing list is the easiest way to afford some peace of mind.
“In addition to helping you not forget anything, a packing list also prevents you from double-packing items that you may have already packed at the bottom of your suitcase,” says Phil Dengler, founder of The Vacationer.
Julia Esteve Boyd, international etiquette and protocol consultant and founder of The Etiquette Consultant, also suggests taking the packing list with you. This is useful when packing for the return trip so nothing is left behind. It’s also useful should luggage be lost or damaged for insurance purposes.
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You can make a packing list with the Notes app on your iPhone — but a pen and paper can sometimes offer a more visual and easy-to-follow guide. The Knock Knock Pack This! Pad will help you to make sure you have all your bases covered, even if you’re not entirely sure of what you should be packing.
Gather everything before getting started
Rather than sprinkling in your items here and there as you think of them, Boyd strongly advises gathering all the items you intend to pack together before even beginning to place them in your suitcase. She suggests having them all folded, rolled or ready to drape so that you can space out all items properly and efficiently.
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While you’re gathering everything, be sure to keep in mind the size of your bag. You don’t want to over-gather and then ultimately struggle with the impossible task of fitting everything inside. Conversely, you don’t want to underestimate how much space you have. While you’re not ready to put your belongings in your bag just yet, keep your luggage handy so you can reference it for size. In our testing, Away’s The Medium bag took the title as the best overall checked suitcase thanks to its fantastic internal organization and compression as well as a durable exterior.
Bring a laundry bag
“I pack a laundry bag for my dirty clothes before doing anything else,” says Dengler. “There is nothing worse than mixing dirty clothes with clean clothes, and it is often not possible nor desirable to do laundry on vacation.”
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A simple trash bag will do, but there are many large laundry bags made out of strong material like nylon that’ll last much longer — and are more sustainable — than a disposable bag.
Place larger items in your bag first
“You’ll want to pack the larger items first, such as jackets, trousers, dresses and shirts,” says Boyd. “Instead of folding them it really helps to place them around the sides of the bottom of the case with any excess fabric draping outside.”
The other smaller items can then be placed in the middle on top. The longer larger items can then be folded over to cover everything else that’s inside and hold it all neatly in place.
“Jackets can be folded lengthwise or in half, but attention should be paid to sleeves and collars to avoid crushing them,” says Boyd. “You’ll also want to place the heavier items at the bottom end of the case, as it will be easier to wheel and pull.”
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If you’re packing heavy items first, you’ll want to make sure that your bag doesn’t exceed the weight limit of the airline you’re flying with. Do your research to see how much your bag can weigh and then use a digital luggage scale like this one from Etekcity before leaving home to make sure you’re not charged extra for an overweight bag.
Pack your toiletries at the top
“Everything you need on the first day or two of your trip should be packed towards the top of your suitcase,” says Dengler. “Otherwise, you will have to dig through all of your other clothes and potentially create wrinkles that were otherwise not there.”
This is especially true with your toiletry bag, medication and any other items that you know you’ll be looking for as soon as you check in to your hotel. Ensuring all these day-to-day essentials sit at the very top will allow you to grab what you need without disturbing your other items.
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This set of three toiletry bags is the perfect option to pack at the top of your suitcase. If you’re stopping overnight on a layover and need to access your toiletries without disturbing anything else, they’ll be easy to grab with this clear design. The set has more than 7,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.
Tight on space? Roll your clothes rather than folding them
Properly rolling your clothing is essential to getting the most out of your luggage space. Consider using this technique when initially packing your suitcase as well as when you put dirty clothes in your laundry bag.
“I find that rolling my clothes also means fewer wrinkles than when folding them,” says Dengler. “Finally, I recommend using rubber bands to keep your rolled clothes tight and secure!”
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You can use simple rubber bands to keep smaller items rolled properly, but you might want to invest in a set of cheap silicone bands if you have clothing items crafted from more delicate fabrics like wool or silk.
Fold seam-to-seam when possible
When folding sweaters and jackets, Boyd suggests putting them on a flat surface, top side down, and placing one or two fingers on the side of the neckline as a guide for where to fold the item inwards, then repeat on the other side. Smooth out the item and sleeves with your hands then grab the hem and bring it upwards to the neck to fold it.
“This method allows garments to be folded once, twice or rolled depending on fabric and/or space,” explains Boyd.
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Not a folding pro yet? Not a problem. With a little help from this folding board at home, your clothes will look uniform in no time. The durable board can easily fold thin, medium and thick clothing such as pajamas, long-sleeved shirts, dresses and more.
Use tissue paper between delicate items
If you want to ensure your delicate items arrive without any color rubbing or piling, Boyd suggests using silk paper or fine tissue paper inside and between items. This method is not necessary for all garments but could be worth extending the extra effort for materials like wool or cashmere.
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This pack of acid-free tissue paper was made for long-term storage, so it’ll do just fine with your delicate or wrinkle-prone garments.
Consider packing cubes
“Packing cubes ensure that everything is contained,” she explains. “It was a total game changer once I purchased enough packing cubes to fit every single item in my suitcase”
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“All of my current packing cubes are Eagle Creek,” says Caldwell. “I’ve had them for over five years and they’re still going strong!”
Try to remember where you pack what
There is nothing worse than forgetting the order in which you packed your clothing. “I put the order that I packed each type of clothing on my packing list,” explains Dengler. “That allows me to quickly identify where each item is packed so I do not have to pull all of my clothes out at once to find it.”
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This set of eight contains not only packing cubes for clothes, but dedicated spaces for keeping your other belongings. Place your largest items in the traditional packing cubes and then stay organized with a dedicated toiletry bag, shoe bag, sock bag and laundry bag.
Avoid packing too many pairs of shoes
Always pack the minimum number of shoes as possible for your itinerary, says Dengler. Unless they are sandals or flip-flops, shoes take up a lot of valuable luggage space. They also can’t be folded, so packing becomes even more difficult. Additionally, you should wear your largest pair of shoes when flying — for example, wear hiking boots on the plane if you’re going on a hiking trip.
“Shoes should be clean before packing and can be placed around the edges of the case,” adds Boyd. “I also recommend using fabric shoe bags for high heels to avoid damaging any delicate fabrics.”
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The YAMIU Travel Shoe Bag comes as a set of two or a set of four and makes packing extra footwear so much more sanitary. The shoe bags are waterproof and can easily be thrown in the washing machine after your trip.
Pack expensive items in your carry-on
“I also suggest that you never pack very expensive items such as jewelry in your suitcase,” points out Boyd. “You should always have these types of items in your carry-on. It’s much safer than sticking it in your checked baggage.”
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Packing your jewelry in a travel-specific box is not only great for staying organized and keeping your items untangled, but it will also ensure your most valuable items are safe and accounted for throughout your entire trip.
Consider dryer sheets for added freshness
If you want your clothes to remain fresh and ready to wear when you land, Caldwell recommends adding a dryer sheet to your packing cubes prior to zipping them up. This will ensure your items arrive smelling fresh — even if you usually store your suitcase in your basement or garage.
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Looking for a more eco-friendly and sustainable dryer sheet to throw in your suitcase? The Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Dryer Sheets are made from essential oils and offer a much more natural scent than traditional brands.
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