Packing Made Easy
Have you ever struggled to manage multiple suitcases while enviously eyeing a traveler with one simple carry-on zip past you toward security? If you answered yes, you might be a chronic overpacker. And though overpacking isn’t a crime, it definitely has its consequences.
Extra baggage costs differ per airline, but most charge $50+ a pop. Not only will you add unnecessary costs to your travel expenses, you’ll have to bring all of that luggage with you throughout your trip, schlepping it from train station to taxi to hotel.
Other reasons you might want to avoid overpacking? In European countries, cars are smaller, so if you plan on renting a car, all those bags might not fit in the trunk. In places like France or Italy, many boutique hotels and older apartment buildings don’t have elevators. And who wants to carry several suitcases up five flights of stairs to get to the Airbnb?
When it comes to easy and enjoyable traveling, less is more. Here’s how to save space when packing.
Invest in a New Carry-On
Suitcase technology has come a long way, with more manufacturers using lightweight fabrics and incorporating high-tech details, so if you can’t remember the last time you bought luggage, why not find a new perfect piece? Gliding wheels that can move in any direction, USB chargers, digital scales and location-tracking are a few must-have amenities for the modern-day suitcase.
Although luggage is not cheap, brands like Away are using top-notch materials to make thoughtful travel bags that won’t break the bank. Outlet stores like Off Saks Fifth Avenue and TJ Maxx are other great places to shop for affordable suitcases.
Bring along a tape measure when shopping to ensure that the carry-on is compact enough. There isn’t a universal size standard for carry-ons, but many domestic airlines (like American and Delta) allow bags that are no bigger than 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 9 inches deep.
Make Time to Pack
Don’t wait until it’s almost time to leave for the airport to pack your bag; set aside an ample amount of time, about an hour, to get it right. This way you can be mindful of your clothing decisions and fold items precisely. (More advice on this later.)
After placing the open carry-on flat on the floor, check the pockets and discard any remnants or receipts from previous trips, so there’s nothing in the way of fitting everything in. You'll want to lay the carry-on flat, so that you can easily organize your items inside and fill every inch of the space.
Select Items that Spark Joy
Marie Kondo, the organization guru and best-selling author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” believes that you should surround yourself with items that spark joy. Apply this thought process to packing, too. Choose clothing that you love and will want to wear. Arrange everything on a flat open surface, like your bed, by category, placing all the pants in one pile, all the shirts in another, and so on and so forth. Streamline your wardrobe and pick items that are mix and matchable.
If you’re going on a five day trip, follow the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” rule and pack five pairs of underwear and socks, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one purse. Kondo recommends never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, no matter how long your trip. If you’re staying for more than a week, she suggests making time to do laundry. Throw in a versatile dress and jacket and you should have plenty of clothing. If you love a piece, but it’s valuable and you would be upset if it got lost, leave it at home.
Consider Clothing Materials
Every fabric is different. Bulky sweaters, full skirts and maxi dresses can quickly fill up a carry-on. Denim is a heavier material than cotton, so consider its weight when deciding how many pairs of jeans to bring. Thigh-high boots will take up more room than booties, and pumps require more space than flats.
If the cozy sweater and boots spark joy, incorporate them into your plane outfit. Select your outfit before you pack and wear the heavy items—such as jewelry—on the flight. It’s a good idea to carry expensive jewelry with you in your purse rather than carry-on. When you arrive at your destination, store it in the hotel safe.
Fold Clothing Carefully
Follow Marie Kondo’s folding technique and meticulously fold all of the clothes you plan to bring. Lay each piece on a flat surface like a kitchen table or large dresser. Run your hands over the fabric, like an iron, ensuring that there are no bubbles or creases. Fold into tight rectangles and stack or place side by side until you’re ready to fill the suitcase.
It’s beneficial to have everything neatly folded before placing clothing inside the suitcase. This allows the packer to arrange items like a Tetris game, ensures that you start organized, and makes unpacking a cinch.
Fill Every Inch of Space
It’s essential to fill every nook and cranny of the suitcase. Pack footwear like you would find it in a shoebox, heal to toe. Stuff the soles with socks or a dirty laundry bag. Place heavy items like shoes and hair tools at the bottom of the suitcase. Drape clothing around these items.
Don’t let a single inch of space go unused; maximizing what you have available is key.
Figure Out Your Preferred Packing Method
Packing and organization experts recommend different methods as the best way to pack. Experiment with their suggestions to figure out which works best for you. For example, Kondo prefers to fold clothing, while some swear by rolling clothing into tight cylinders. Others recommend investing in compression bags and vacuum sealing clothing into compressed packets.
The bundling technique involves lying all your clothes flat, with parts hanging out of the suitcase, like the bottom half of a pair of pants, then folding each item on top of the other. The most wrinkle-prone item should be on the outside of the bundle so it’s not folded, but simply draped over the other clothing.
Coordinate with Travel Companions
If you’re traveling with family or friends for a special occasion like a wedding, coordinate your packing with them. For example, if you’re bringing shampoo and conditioner, have your sister pack face wash and body lotion. Only one curling iron, outlet converter and sunscreen needs to be packed.
If you’re staying in a hotel, it should have basic toiletries and a blowdryer, so take that into consideration as well.
Shop the Toiletry Travel Aisle
Never travel with full-sized toiletries. Not only will they be confiscated from your carry-on, but they simply take up too much space. Head to the travel aisle at Target and purchase smaller sizes of your favorite deodorant, mouthwash and body wash.
All liquids carried on to a flight must be 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or smaller. Any items over 3.4 ounces will be discarded by security.
Keep Liquids on Top
Pack the aforementioned liquid toiletries in a clear ziplock baggie and place it on top of your suitcase. If you have to open the suitcase to get through security, you’ll be able to easily access the toiletries.
I just traveled to the U.K., where makeup items such as lipgloss and mascara are considered liquid, so depending on where you’re traveling, you might want to keep makeup in an easily accessible side pocket.
Leave Behind Unnecessary Gear
From carseats to cribs, traveling with children requires a lot of stuff. Call your hotel or check with your host to see if they have baby gear for rent; it’s often cheaper to rent than it is to travel with it.
Technology can also be heavy and bulky; do you really need your laptop, iPad and Kindle? If you’re going on a vacation, leave the laptop at home, so you won’t be tempted to work. And keep kids entertained on flights with an iPod stocked with movies and games.
Keep Necessities Packed
If you travel frequently, always keep a toiletry bag packed and ready to go. Stock it with any and all essentials, like (travel-size) toothpaste and a toothbrush, contact solution and a small container of sunscreen.
When it comes time to pack, you simply have to grab the pouch and place it on top of your suitcase.
Make a To-Pack List
If you procrastinate on packing and always end up forgetting something, sit down, weeks before your trip, and quickly type up a packing list. Note everything from workout leggings to iPhone chargers.
When it comes time to pack for your next trip, print the list and refer to it to ensure you don’t forget anything.
Master an Outfit Plan
Assess all the events and activities on your travel itinerary, and pre-plan the exact outfit for each — clothes, shoes, accessories, everything. (Though it's best to choose versatile accessories that will go with a bunch of looks.) This is especially important if you’re going on a trip for a special celebration, be it a birthday or wedding.
And don't forget to choose items that you are excited to wear — then all you have to do is throw them on and you’re ready to enjoy the destination. No stress, no hassle, no problem.