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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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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Add an AirTag
The single best way to ensure you keep track of your bag at every step of your journey is with an Apple AirTag. While you’re packing your suitcase, be sure to throw one in a safe compartment. Then, once your bag has been checked in at the airport, you can travel with peace of mind and track exactly where it is.
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It could be a good idea to invest in a case for your AirTag. A simple ring attachment will work perfectly to ensure your AirTag doesn't go missing in your luggage alongside piles of clothes, shoes and toiletries.
Bring a laundry bag
You probably don’t throw your dirty clothes in with your clean clothes at home. So, why should you have to do it while you’re on vacation? That’s why packing a laundry bag makes sense.
“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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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 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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Once you've packed all of your stuff, add a luggage lock to keep your belongings secure. Regardless if you choose a combination lock or one that opens with a key, you'll want to double-check to make sure your lock of choice is TSA-compliant.
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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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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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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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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Consider packing cubes
Victoria Caldwell, owner and founder of Destinations Beyond travel agency, swears by the rule that everything must go in a pouch, bag or packing cube.
“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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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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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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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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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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