You have your plane tickets, your hotel reservation and your itinerary. Now comes the daunting part: packing your luggage. The temptation to overpack (or underpack) can be strong. To master common challenges and learn how to pack a suitcase, take a cue from these expert travelers.
Challenge #1: You’re a serial overpacker
Solution: Limit your luggage to a carry-on
Most experts recommend traveling with only a carry-on instead of checking a big suitcase. A carry-on’s small size restricts what you can pack, forcing you to pick versatile clothing.
Sarah Schultz, editor of the travel blog Imagine And Go, uses the capsule wardrobe concept to pack a limited number of items that she can mix and match.
“Until recently, I habitually overpacked and would get frustrated at the amount of unworn clothing and shoes,” she says. “I have a nine-day trip for both work and fun coming up, and I've created a capsule wardrobe with just three pairs of shoes and clothing that all easily fits into a carry on.”
Stock your capsule wardrobe with clothes that can work double-duty. A cardigan can dress up a pair of jeans or dress down a dress. For men, this could mean sticking to one suit with a few different shirts.
Travel productivity expert Marcey Rader takes an innovative approach to tightening her wardrobe. She packs an outfit from a subscription clothing service like Le Tote. After she wears it, she ships the outfit back to the company and journeys on with a lighter load.
Challenge #2: Keeping business clothes neat
Solution: Roll, don’t fold
“Traveling light with a collared shirt can be difficult,” says Josh Brown, who documents his world travels with his wife, Ashley, on their YouTube vlog The Way Away. “When I first started rolling my clothes for packing, I always felt like I was ruining the collar’s shape.”
Brown soon discovered a trick.
“If I folded the shirt in half lengthwise then folded the top about halfway down the shirt before rolling, there was enough material rolled up already to avoid misshaping my collar,” he says.
Challenge #3: You’re anxious about your carry-on getting gate-checked
Solution: Always use soft-sided luggage
Ashley Brown, the other half of The Way Away, noticed that hard-shelled carry-ons are frequently flagged for gate-checking. Why? Because they take up more overhead space, no matter how much you try to jam it in to the compartment.
“We’ve witnessed grown men violently bashing their carry-on luggage to try and break off the wheels,” Brown says. “Because some airlines can be so strict, many hard-shelled carry-on bags with wheels cannot fit the ever-shrinking size requirements. While we pitied the unprepared men, we felt secretly smug knowing that we were carrying a year’s worth of luggage in our squishy carry-on bags.”
Challenge #4: Your shoes take up too much space in your suitcase
Solution: Divvy up your shoes—and use them as packing cubes
Though they seem innocuous, shoe bags make packing pairs of shoes even more awkward, says Elizabeth Avery, editor of solotrekker4u.com.
“The key is to separate the pair out, one on each side of the bag,” Avery advises. “This takes up a lot less space than the conventional way of tossing a pair together in one shoe bag.”
Another tip? Wear your bulkiest shoes and limit back-ups to one pair.
For fitness fanatics, it pays to have a travel pair of sneakers.
“I bought a lightweight pair of sneakers just for travel,” says Nancy Shenker of the business travel-focused blog Bleisure Living. “They have good support but are half the weight of my regular gym shoes.”
Shenker also suggests stuffing those shoes with some of your workout clothes—running tights or shorts, tank tops and other thin pieces—to maximize your luggage space.
Challenge #5: You’re worried about your tech items getting damaged in transit
Solution: Keep them cushioned in your carry-on
“Have you ever watched a baggage handler from afar? Checked bags go through a lot of trauma,” says Nate Hake, editor of the blog Travel Lemming, who journeys with extensive tech. While Hake advises that those who have expensive equipment, particularly cameras, invest in proper protective gear, the rest of us can get away with cushioning tablets and more by wrapping them in clothes in our carry-on. He also recommends tossing in an unexpected item: garbage bags.
“[Packing a garbage bag] came in handy for me when I showed up to a destination in the middle of a festival during which the streets basically turn into a giant water fight,” he says. “I loaded my bags into the back of a pickup truck for the journey to my hotel. But before long I was the target of super soakers and revelers throwing buckets of water at me! I whipped that garbage bag out as quick as I could and though my clothes bag got soaked, I was able to save my electronics!”
Maybe you don’t expect a run-in with a water fight, but this tip will save your gear in case you’re caught in an unexpected rainstorm.