16 travel packing tips for your next adventure

There’s nothing like heading off on your next big adventure. But first, you’ve got to pack your bags.

For some travelers, packing is a breeze. But for others, choosing the right clothes, packing toiletries and adding one more outfit or pair of shoes—just in case—can make the days leading up to a trip more stressful than necessary.

Here are 16 pro packing tips that could lighten your load and help you bring what you need—and nothing you don’t.

Key takeaways

  • Eligible Capital One cardholders can earn extra miles and enjoy smart booking features when booking hotels, flights and rental cars through Capital One Travel.
  • Bringing items from a packing list that are wrinkle-resistant and wardrobe capsule-friendly helps minimize luggage. For longer trips, you can also plan for laundry days.
  • Consider saving digital copies of important documents like your passport and ID on your mobile device as backup.

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2. Make a packing list

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. That way, you’ll have time to pick up any additional items—including clothes, accessories or toiletries—you may need for your trip.

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.

3. Review airline baggage policies

A simple way to save money and avoid hassles? Know your airline’s baggage requirements to avoid unnecessary fees. 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.

A person measures their suitcase for packing.

4. Choose luggage wisely before you start packing

Many people choose the size of their luggage—or the number of bags—based on the length of their trip. But rather than basing your luggage choices on the trip timeline, consider the destination and itinerary.

It may be possible to bring a single carry-on if you’re heading somewhere warm and wearing sandals, lightweight clothing and swimwear. But if you’re planning a rugged wilderness trip, you may need a larger bag to pack a bulky coat, boots and outdoor gear.

5. Opt for wrinkle-free fabrics

Most people don’t want to pull out an ironing board while on vacation. You could reach for wrinkle-proof fabrics while packing and avoid thin knits, linen and linen blends. Wrinkle-resistant fabrics include: 

  • Wool
  • Cashmere
  • Denim
  • Thicker jersey or cotton knits
  • Spandex
  • Polyester
  • Lyocell

If you do want an all-linen look for a tropical getaway, consider packing a mini iron or steamer to make getting ready on the go easier.

6. Get creative with multitasking clothing

An easy way to pack fewer items? Look for clothes, accessories and toiletries that can multitask.

An oversized scarf can double as a blanket or pillow on the plane. A lightweight button-down could work for a business conference or as a swimsuit cover-up. The same goes for toiletries—like a shampoo that doubles as a body wash or a lip tint that also works as blush.

7. Plan outfits strategically

Make the most of your travel wardrobe by strategizing outfits, rather than throwing random items into your suitcase.

Every traveler has their own packing method. But Maternowski suggests taking a minimalistic approach and packing a capsule wardrobe—a selection of matching, interchangeable articles of clothing. “It reduces the time spent deciding on an outfit in the morning,” she 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.

8. Optimize your packing methods

After planning your outfits, the next step is to pack. Many 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, 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. 

Kristen Cummings, Touristish blogger, 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 are easy to identify.

Clothes fit best when they’re rolled up in a suitcase.

9. Wear your bulkiest clothing on the plane

Try to wear your bulkiest clothing items on the plane. That way, you leave plenty of room in your suitcase for other necessities. And if wearing a jacket for the entire flight sounds uncomfortable, don’t worry. You can usually put your coat in the overhead compartment.

10. Pack essentials in your carry-on

When packing your carry-on, 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 also keeps necessities on hand.

Cummings 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.

11. Take advantage of your personal item

Many airlines allow you to bring a personal item alongside your carry-on—but check your airline’s policy first. If a personal item is allowed, consider taking a larger backpack instead of a small purse, pillow or laptop bag. Your personal item could hold electronics, snacks and other in-flight essentials like scarves, compression socks or headphones.

12. Plan for dirty clothes—add laundry to your itinerary

Before zipping up your suitcase, you could grab a few plastic bags to stash dirty laundry. Hotel laundry bags can also store worn clothes or dirty shoes until you’re able to wash them.

And if you’re traveling for over a week, Charles Breitbart of travel itinerary blog TripTins recommends scheduling one ordinary task: 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 multiweek 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.

13. Make sure your toiletries are TSA-approved

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 minisized 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,” he notes.

And if you’re traveling with liquid toiletries, reduce the risk of spills by placing a square of plastic wrap beneath the lids.

Someone pours toiletry liquids into travel-sized bottles.

14. Have a dedicated travel toiletry bag

Speaking of toiletries, you may consider stocking a travel toiletry bag with essentials to avoid forgetting something while packing. You can store it in your suitcase to make sure it doesn’t get left behind in the back of your bathroom cabinet.

Remember to refill the bottles before each trip—or as soon as you get back—so you don’t run out. Also include basic first aid supplies like bandages, allergy medicine, pain relievers and itch relief creams.

15. Make copies of important documents

Losing your driver’s license, passport or travel insurance while on vacation 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.”

16. 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.

You can also leave room in your travel budget for souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones.

Travel packing tips in a nutshell

Whether you’re planning an international excursion or a quick weekend getaway, these packing tips can make traveling simpler and more manageable. And if you’re ready to make the most of your next trip, learn more about a travel rewards credit card from Capital One.

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