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How To Pack Like A Pro For Your Next Trip

By Erica Jimenez··  7 min read
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You just booked your tickets and hotel, you're so excited to leave on your trip... But the thought of trying to pack for two weeks is just more than you can handle. Sound familiar?

While it may be tempting to grab whatever is at the front of your closet and throw it into your suitcase, there is in fact a science to packing smartly and effectively. Keep reading to learn some brilliant tips for packing like a pro for your next trip.

Choosing the Right Bag

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1. Stick to just a carry-on if you can. 

It may seem impossible to fit a week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on, but we promise it's possible! Not only will limiting the size of your bag force to you to pack light, but you’ll get the added benefit of never losing your bag. We’ve all heard the travel nightmares of someone who gets off their plane only to find out their checked bag didn’t arrive with them. Now they’re in a new state (or country!) without so much as a fresh pair of undies. Yikes! You also won’t have to pay a baggage fee, and those can add up quickly. 

When looking for a carry-on, choose a suitcase no taller than 22 inches, with a structured shell if possible (to discourage overpacking.) There is no universal standard of what is considered “carry-on size,” but most domestic airlines like American and United limit bags to 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep. International flights are often even smaller, so double check the airline’s standards before heading out to the airport. You can even shop with a tape measure to make sure that whatever bag you choose including the wheels and pouches meets the needed dimensions.

The Wirecutter has tested 47 bags over the past five years and says the Travelpro Platinum Elite is the best suitcase for most travelers. It can pack five days’ worth of clothing and fits into most U.S. standard carry-on dimensions. It’s reasonably priced at $329.99, and has a lifetime warranty even if it’s damaged by the airlines. 

suitcase
Travelpro Platinum Elite - $329.99

2. Traveling as a couple? Stick to one bag.

Baggage fees are no joke, and they can add up quickly. If you’re flying with two bags (one for each person) and have to pay for there and then back, at $25 a bag, you’ve now added $100 to the cost of your flight. No thank you. Save yourself time, space, and heartache by limiting your and your husband’s clothes to a single bag. 

3. Have to check a bag? Put the essentials in your carry-on.

Never underestimate how terrible it would be to arrive on your trip only to find out your checked bag didn’t arrive… and you won’t have your hands on it for 24-48 hours. You could find yourself in a new country with no underwear, no contact lenses, nothing! As a precaution, always bring a carry-on if you have to check a larger bag and pack all your essentials in that bag. For example, keep your toiletries, a change of shoes, and at least one full outfit in your carry-on. At least if your checked bag is delayed, you won’t be completely high and dry.

Packing Your Clothes

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1. Choose wrinkle-resistant fabrics.

Knits (think t-shirt material), wools, and other soft fabrics will wrinkle much less than woven fabrics like those in a stiff cotton or silk shirt. Stay away from items that need to be pressed before wearing them, like dress shirts and stiff dresses, unless absolutely necessary. You want something you can pull out of your suitcase and throw on without having to run an iron over it. 

3. Use the clothing countdown.

It’s a 5-4-3-2-1 rule for a weeklong trip. Five sets of socks and underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes, and one jacket. You can update the list to suit your needs. For example, when packing for the holidays, you may want to include a nice dress for the Christmas party and an extra set of nice shoes as well. 

4. Roll what you can, fold what you can’t.

Roll your softer garments as tightly as you can. Rolling your clothes actually takes up significantly less space than folding them, but it can cause more wrinkles in stiff fabrics. Underwear, t-shirts, jeans, and knitwear won’t wrinkle when rolled tightly. Stiffer fabrics like starched cotton, dressy pants and dresses, and coats/blazers should be carefully folded.

5. Use packing cubes.

Packing cubes, or other options like packing folders, help you keep individual outfits compact and organized. While this may not be the best technique to use if you’re trying to fit everything into a carry-on, it can be great for longer trips or couples traveling together and using the same suitcase. 

packing cubes
Calpak Set of 5 Packing Cubes - $62

You can easily remove one cube at a time, so you’re not messing up your other clothes trying to find one item to wear. Packing folders, on the other hand, are great for delicate tops, dresses, and pants that you want to keep wrinkle free. They’re also great for button-up shirts on business trips.

6. Place the clothes you’ll need first on top.

In general, you should put your rolled clothes at the bottom, then pile your folded clothes on top. But remember that when you get to your destination, you’ll probably want to take a shower and change. Put your first outfit on top so you can get changed without having to take apart all your packing. Once you’re refreshed, you can tackle taking out your clothes and hanging or organizing them.

7. Invest in a hand-held steamer. 

Most hotel rooms come equipped with a standard iron (or will provide one upon request), but not every garment can be pressed with an iron. If you're bringing a nice blouse or dress, make sure to pack yourself a hand-held steamer. Just plug it and use the hot steam to melt away any wrinkles that have accumulated in your suitcase.

Packing Your Shoes

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1. Don’t bring more than three pairs.

You’ll want one pair of dressy shoes and two pairs of comfortable/functional shoes. In the summer, this may consist of one pair of sandals and a pair of tennis shoes. In the winter, you’ll probably want one pair of boots and one pair of tennis shoes or comfy walking boots as a backup. 

2. Wear your biggest pair of shoes on the plane.

Reduce the amount you need to pack into your suitcase by wearing your biggest shoes on the plane. For example, if you plan to bring a pair of knee-high boots, wear those rather than tennis shoes on the flight. 

3. Use them to store your socks.

Stuff whatever socks you’re bringing into your shoes. This will also help your shoes hold their shape as they’re packed into your suitcase. Tuck each pair inside a plastic grocery bag, then lay them together heel to toe at the bottom of your suitcase.

Packing Your Toiletries

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1. Buy a set of leak-proof travel bottles.

Travel-sized toiletries may seem like a great thing to pick up at the drugstore, but they’re way overpriced. Save your money and instead invest in a set of high-quality travel bottles. Transfer anything liquid like shampoo, face wash, and lotion to TSA-safe-sized bottles, like this set from Kitsch. 

travel bottles

Kitsch Ultimate Travel 11pc Set - $14

Remember not to fill bottles all the way. Evelyn Hannon, creator of journeywoman.com, a travel-advice website, recommends only filling your bottles to three-quarters full. “The storage department on a plane is not pressurized, so items filled all the way to the top will overflow.” She learned this the hard way after a bottle of Pepto Bismol exploded all over her clothes.

2. Never unpack your bag.

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, recommends “keeping a separate toiletry kit for traveling.” Keeping all the essentials packed in your toiletries bag means you won’t find yourself without your toothbrush or extra contact lenses when you’re in a rush packing. “Keep these items in a small pouch or box in the corner of a cabinet or drawer for easy access when packing for a trip.” 

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