10 Insider Travel Packing Tips

Don’t let suitcase struggles weigh you down. Try these packing ideas from the pros

Picture yourself breezing through the airport with a light suitcase, confident that you packed enough for every stop on your itinerary. Traveling can be simpler when you know how to pack. If you’ve ever left unworn outfits lying at the bottom of your suitcase or forgotten to check the local weather, you might want to take a page from the travel experts.

These 10 pro packing tips could lighten your load and help you bring what you need.

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1. Make a Packing List, Check It Twice

You can have peace of mind—and the satisfaction of crossing items off—when you make a packing list.

“Use a universal and reusable packing checklist,” says Janice Moskoff, blogger at Gather and Go Travel. She suggests customizing your list a few weeks before departure based on your upcoming trip’s location and activities.
Lauren Maternowski, editor at travel and gear guide Pack Hacker, agrees. She advises checking out your destination’s weather patterns and local customs ahead of time.

“Research will make sure you have the right gear when you get there,” she notes.

Creating a packing list in advance leaves time to run by the store for any last-minute purchases. As you pack your suitcase, you can cross off each item. And be sure to do a final glance-over before heading out the door.

2. Review Airline Baggage Policies

A simple way to save money and avoid hassles? Know your airline’s baggage requirements. The weight, size and pricing policies for checked and carry-on bags can vary by airline.

Mark Morgan, co-founder of travel blog Where Are Those Morgans, recommends buying an affordable luggage scale and measuring your suitcase’s dimensions. “Baggage fees are how low-cost airlines make up the difference,” he explains.

And if you need to shed a little baggage weight, Maternowski says that every ounce counts. Her advice: Swap a pair of heavy boots for light sneakers, and squeeze shampoo into a smaller bottle. Bring an e-reader and leave the paperbacks behind.

“Find lightweight options to help cut down in small ways,” she says. Your wallet—and your shoulders—will thank you.

3. Optimize Your Carry-On

When packing your carry-on, ask yourself, “What would I bring to a deserted island?” Consider the items you can’t go without for more than a day—or even a few hours. In case of a long flight or lost luggage, your carry-on keeps necessities on hand.

Kristen Cummings, Touristish blogger, carries the essentials so her suitcase can stay closed and stored overhead. “My small daypack usually holds my purse, passport, wallet, snacks, chargers, electronic devices, a book, tickets, itineraries, gum and a water bottle—and for really long trips, a toothbrush,” she says.

In fact, Cummings travels with only a carry-on. She ditched checked bags due to rising costs and time spent at baggage claim.

She quips, “By the time luggage is coming off the baggage carousel, I have long since left the airport.”

By packing just a personal item and overhead bag, you can walk off the plane and make that dinner reservation with time to spare.

4. Dress for Success

Travel requires many decisions about where to visit, what to eat and how to get around. The last thing you need is another decision about what to wear. Maternowski suggests packing a capsule wardrobe—a selection of matching, interchangeable articles of clothing.

“It reduces the time spent deciding on an outfit in the morning,” Maternowski explains.

You can use easy math when packing your clothes. Moskoff offers a 3-to-1 ratio: three tops to one bottom and three pairs of shoes to one trip. She also packs a scarf. “It provides warmth, a pop of color and a last-minute eye cover to block out the light for a quick nap,” Moskoff says.

5. Add “Laundry” to Your Itinerary

Charles Breitbart of travel itinerary blog TripTins schedules one ordinary task for trips over a week in length: laundry.

“I have been to all corners of the world, and never have I had an issue with getting my laundry done,” Breitbart says.

He recommends not overpacking for a multi-week trip. You can save suitcase space—and outfit changes—by rewearing clothes after laundering them. Plus, visiting a laundromat could be a chance to meet the locals.

6. Stop, Drop and Roll Your Clothes

Tenured travelers swear by the “roll, don’t fold” method for packing clothes. Try gently rolling every article of clothing to avoid wrinkles and a crammed suitcase.

Morgan shares that he and his wife, Kristen, the other half of Where Are Those Morgans, rolled their clothes before departing for their 18-month honeymoon. “It sounds like an old wives’ tale,” he says. “But this is how we were able to fit everything in our backpacks.”

Another traveler hack is packing cubes. This must-have keeps clothes organized and compact. 

Cummings compares her packing cubes to dresser drawers. “One cube is for underwear, socks and swimsuits. Another is for pants and shorts. Another is for tops and dresses,” she explains. Her family also packs with different colors of cubes so their clothes stay separated and easy to identify.

7. Keep Your Toiletries TSA-Friendly

You can breeze through security by following the carry-on liquids rule: 3.4-ounce containers. One quart-sized bag. One bag per traveler.

Skip the mini-sized toiletries aisle and grab reusable travel bottles from the store instead, Morgan says. Fill the reusable bottles with your regular shampoo, conditioner and other liquids. “Repeating this process saves on plastic waste and means you can use your favorite brand on the road,” Morgan notes.

8. Expect the Unexpected

“Things may not always go according to plan, so it’s best to be prepared,” Maternowski advises. Her emergency items include motion sickness medicine and a first aid kit.

Breitbart agrees. “Going to clinics in the middle of nowhere for a simple medication just adds more anxiety to an already stressful situation,” he says.

A light rain jacket is also always in Breitbart’s daypack. “Weather is something you just can’t control when traveling,” he says.

And toss in a swimsuit—you might stumble upon a body of water, pool or hot tub. “You don’t want to miss out just because you didn’t pack something that takes up very little room in your suitcase,” Cummings says.

9. Double Up on Documents

Losing your driver’s license, passport or travel insurance while traveling can be a headache. To save yourself any trouble down the road, consider making copies or digital scans of each document and keeping them somewhere safe.

“I save copies on my cloud account with a password,” Moskoff shares. “I also send copies to a family member.”

10. Leave Space for Souvenirs

A trip is rarely complete without a memento to bring home. Whether you like new pins for your backpack, ornaments for your friends or a piece of art for your home, you can make room for future purchases as you pack.

Cummings says that she always leaves room in her suitcase or brings an extra duffel. Or she buys a duffel at her destination—a souvenir in itself.

“My favorite duffel bag purchased to hold mementos is a Thai elephant duffel bag I got at a Bangkok street market,” she says.

Sail Away Into Stress-Free Travel

If you pack like a pro, it could help you travel lighter, more easily navigate a new destination and enjoy vacation time without any stress. So think about having exactly what you need in your suitcase—no more, no less—and you can enjoy every step of the way.

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