Packing a suitcase might seem simple enough—but learning a few key strategies can mean the difference between a stressful journey and a streamlined one. Checked baggage fees, weight restrictions, delays, cancellations, and crazy waits at the luggage carousel are just a few reasons why packing light is so popular these days. Whether you’re headed for a three-day business trip or a month-long expedition, knowing the best ways to minimize your load, maximize your suitcase space and pack efficiently will smooth most of the wrinkles out of your next trip.
The larger your suitcase, the more you’ll be tempted to stuff into it. Stop yourself from overpacking by limiting yourself to a suitcase no taller than 22 inches, with hard sides and a structured shell. Bear in mind that even a carry-on that’s well within the airline’s size limits can easily become oversized if you use expanding features, or stuff every compartment.
Jot down a packing list several days before your trip to give yourself time to grab any last-minute items. Make sure you have enough room for the absolute essentials, then be extremely selective with the rest of it. Your suitcase is like an exclusive VIP nightclub, and you’re the hard-nosed bouncer there to keep the riff-raff out. Think twice about every single thing you let into your bag. The more you can leave behind, the better. Eliminate the “just in case I need it” category entirely. If you do end up needing it, you can always buy it at your destination.
Packing for a weeklong trip is as easy as 5-4-3-2-1. Limit yourself to no more than five pairs of socks and undergarments, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes, and one hat. This rule can obviously be adjusted depending on your needs. For example, you can swap out the hat for a swimsuit, fancy dress, or suit jacket.
Once you’ve laid out everything you need, start by packing your heaviest items first. Place them toward the side of the suitcase with the wheels, which is the bottom of the suitcase when it’s standing upright. This ensures your suitcase isn’t top-heavy, and your items won’t tumble around as much in your case either.
The best way to fit all your items into one bag? Make a game of it! Your aim is to fill every inch of space.
How you decide to pack your clothing items in your suitcase is entirely up to you, but there are several strategies favored by seasoned travelers.
Keep your travel bathroom products and other daily essentials packed at all times, and start living out of your toiletry bag before departure. This will ensure that you don’t leave behind any essentials you might need on the morning of your flight, like your toothbrush or contact lens supplies. Streamline your personal products as much as possible. A BB cream, for example, is an all-in-one product which replaces moisturizer, foundation, and sunscreen. Always pack toiletries in a clear bag, and rest the bag on top of your belongings. You never know when security might be compelled to scrutinize your stuff, so you’re better off keeping liquids easily reachable and separate from your other items. If you’re using ziplock bags, you might want to double up to prevent leaks.
If you have young children, spending a little extra to rent or buy what you need when you arrive beats forking over cash for checked baggage fees and added hassle. Car seats, cribs, and other baby gear are usually available to rent at hotels, and you can buy snacks, formula, and sunscreen at your destination. The only exception? Diapers. Pack more than you think you need, and then some. You never know when your flight will be delayed.
Label your suitcase with your name, email, phone number, and the address of your destination so the airline can reach you if your luggage gets lost. Label your carry-on too—you never know if you’ll have to gate check it in the event of a sold-out flight. It’s also a good idea to tuck a piece of paper with your address inside your bag too, just in case your luggage tag falls off. If your suitcase is black, just like pretty much everyone else’s, add a colorful ribbon or fancy duct tape to the handle. This way, nobody will mistake your black bag for theirs on the baggage carousel.
Once your bag is fully packed, carry it by the handle for a while. Try rolling it down the street and hauling it up and down the stairs. This will give you a preview of what it will feel like to actually travel with your suitcase. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or exhausted, that’s a sign that you might need to lighten your load.
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