The ultimate list of packing tips to pack your luggage and carry-on like a pro and travel with ease!
Looking forward to your next vacation?
Well, you've got to pack for it before you can enjoy it.
Read til the end for bonus questions answered!
Life She Lives Travel Tips: Packing Edition
Packing is a frustrating part of any trip or vacation. One second you're counting down the days until you leave, the next… departure is tomorrow and you're so not ready.
I'd like to think that I have mastered the art of packing over the last handful of years. I used to be awful, but after making frequent trips to and from our home in the Caribbean, and after several stressful packing episodes, I forced myself to be more efficient with my luggage.
…yet I'll be honest, something still inevitably lands in my husband's bag at the last minute.
No matter how much stuff you think you need to bring on your next trip, you can learn to pack smart and ultimately have easier (and lighter) travels.
Here are some of my favorite travel packing hacks!
Packing for Travel List
1. Use a packing list
Even if you don't start the actual packing process until the night before you depart, you should start creating a packing list days, even weeks in advance. This eliminates or decreases the odds of you forgetting something you need.
When you're done packing, review your list to make sure you didn't miss anything. We tend to cross things off as we go and then make last minute adjustments, so there's always a chance that you took something out and forgot to replace it.
2. Pack your essentials and valuables in your carry-on
Please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and make sure you pack your essentials and anything of value in your carry-on. This includes your passport and other forms of identification, cash and credit cards, jewelry, electronics such as cameras and laptops, and anything else you would hate to lose.
If your luggage gets lost and doesn't make it to your destination, or if someone in TSA happens to go through your belongings, you may not see your important possessions again (sorry, but it does happen).
A family member of mine recently packed her jewelry in her checked luggage in a very last minute, rushed decision; something she would never do when thinking clearly. What are the odds that the one time I do this, something happens? Well, something happened. Her entire bag was stolen from the luggage belt and away walked several precious, irreplaceable items.
Don't chance it; pack your valuables in your carry-on, and pack the things you wouldn't be heartbroken about losing in your checked luggage.
You should also be sure to pack anything you may want to use during your trip, such as comfort items or entertainment.
My Travel Essentials for my Carry-on
The following items will always be on my carry-on packing list!
- Passport (obviously)
- Wallet, Cash & Credit Cards
- Comfy Socks
- Book and/or Magazines
- Backup USB Charger
- Laptop, iPad or Tablet
- Hand Lotion
- Gum or Mints
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toothbrush & Toothpaste
- Jewelry and Other Valuables
- Spare Change of Clothes
3. Put your liquids and electronics at the top of your carry-on
I used to travel with two laptops, a big SLR camera, and of course my Ziplock of liquids. It was a nightmare trying to get through security. This was before I got Global Entry and got TSA pre-approval.
Always put your liquids, electronics and anything else that has to come out of your bag at security in an easy to access spot in your carry-on. This is so you don't have to go digging, hold up the line, and ultimately leave security a stressed out and sweaty mess.
4. Pack at least one spare outfit in your carry-on
If you've not yet been a victim of lost or late luggage, congrats. But don't assume that it can't happen to you.
I always pack at least one full day outfit, one set of pajamas and a few pairs of spare underwear in my carry-on.
Well, what if my bag is delayed or doesn't make it at all? I don't want to be stuck in the same clothes I just traveled in for hours, even days longer than I need to. Gross. I also don't want to have to buy anything if I can avoid it. Don't get me wrong, love to shop, but I want to shop when I want to shop; I don't want to be forced into shopping.
Bring some backup clothes in your carry-on; you never know what could happen!
5. Check your airline's baggage requirements in advance & weigh your bag before you go to the airport
While most airlines allow 50lbs domestically, you don't want to run into a black sheep that allows less, or find that you could have packed more.
Once you know the allowance and are all packed, weigh your bag before leaving for the airport using a home scale. Just weigh yourself first, then weigh yourself again while holding the bag. Do the math to determine what you are carrying. Don't just plop your bag on the scale because it may not be as accurate or stable.
I am telling you first-hand, it SUCKS to be that person at check-in needing to reorganize your luggage on the floor of the airport. It SUCKS to have to jam extra weight into your carry-on and it's a total bummer to have to throw away full-sized toiletries to lighten your load. Avoid the sacrifice by knowing the weight before you leave.
6. Use packing cubes
Packing cubes have CHANGED MY LIFE.
Seriously, I can't go anywhere without them, even an overnighter. They keep me crazy organized and they make cramming all my stuff into my bag so much easier.
I like to organize my cubes by type of clothing; one for underwear, socks and bras, one for sleep and fitness wear, one for pants or other bottom-half items, and one for top-half items or dresses. Of course, you can organize in a way that makes sense for your packing style so that when you need to find something, you know where it is.
7. Roll your clothes
Tightly rolling your clothing rather than folding will take up way less space. Roll each item, even your underwear, and pack them neatly in your packing cubes.
Rolling helps to prevent the wrinkles and creases that can happen with folding, and it's a more efficient use of space.
Just be sure you are neat and not rolling will-nilly so you don't get wrinkles.
8. Stack and observe
I like to make piles of my clothes organized by type in the week(s) leading up to my travels, adding and removing (most importantly) items as I go. This helps me visualize how much I have before it actually makes it into the bag.
Really Katie, how many pairs of black leggings do you actually need?
It's easy to forget that you already packed something when you put things directly into your bag or cubes, so stacking and assessing can be really helpful. I always end up piling more than what is realistic and trim down until I determine what makes the final cut.
9. Pack less, way less
This goes hand-in-hand with the stack and observe portion. We, as humans, are so guilty of overpacking.
Think about what you wear on a regular basis, by season, and pack what you will actually wear while traveling, depending on the weather and temperate of your destination. If you haven't worn that dress, like… ever, do you really think you'll wear it on this trip?
Pack less than you think you need, because you most likely will only wear half of what makes it in your bag.
10. Take advantage of your personal item allowance
It was only after moving abroad that I realized how poorly I was packing my carry-on luggage. And how much space I wasn't using.
Travelers are allowed one personal item and one piece of carry-on luggage. The mistakes are made when you don't use your personal item wisely.
I used to carry a backpack and a purse, my purse being my personal item. I now carry a backpack and a roller bag, my backpack being my personal item, with my purse stuffed in my backpack. Yes, backpacks and large tote bags that fit under the seat in front of you do count as a personal item.
If you don't mind the added weight during your travels, take advantage of these allowances so you have more room for all of your belongings, and so you can have what you need accessible during your flight. You may even find that you don't need to check a bag after all.
11. Always pack your liquids in a waterproof bag
In both your carry-on ('cause you have to) and your luggage. If you plan to bring any kind of liquid in your checked bag, keep them in a large Ziplock or a toiletry bag.
When that cabin pressure changes, bottles DO explode. Let's avoid having to wash all that shampoo out of your sweaters when you land.
12. Wrap delicates in your clothing
You may not be traveling to your destination with anything delicate, but you may pick up a few souvenirs to take home. I have purchased pretty dishes and other breakables while abroad on numerous occasions.
I like to wrap anything fragile inside my clothing and put it toward the center of the bag. This way, if I am using a soft-top piece of luggage, I don't risk getting it crushed had my items been placed at the top of the bag.
13. Travel in your bulkiest shoes and clothes
I know, you want to be comfortable while you're en route, so wearing your bulkiest shoes may not be your first choice, especially during winter months. However, this will lighten up your luggage AND leave room for more items.
Wear the bulkiest shoes and pack some comfy socks or slides to change into once you're settled in. It may not be cold where you are departing from, but wear that jacket anyway because it will take up so much room in your luggage! Store it in your overhead bin or under your seat.
14. Leave space in your luggage and pack under the weight requirements
For a couple of reasons. One, you may purchase something while you're away. You'll need a way to come back with it, right? You will need space in your bag AND the extra pounds if you're flying.
Second, returning baggage is never packed as well as departing baggage. I don't know why this is, especially when you don't buy anything, but for some reason, my bags are always way harder to pack when I am traveling home.
Leave some wiggle room.
15. Tag your luggage with something unique
Don't opt for the paper luggage tags at check-in; get a colorful and unique luggage tag, especially if you're carrying all black bags. This way, when it comes time to collect your luggage, you can spot it with no problem.
It also helps prevent others from misidentifying your bag as their own.
I like to tie a colorful ribbon around the handle of my luggage so I can easily locate it on the belt.
16. Bring an extra bag
…and totes, ziplocks, grocery/trash bags… you won't regret it.
If you plan to shop til you drop on your trip, you may want to pack a suitcase inside your suitcase. Say what?
When we were living abroad, we never shopped because $$$
So, when we came back to the U.S. for a visit, we would often pack a suitcase inside a suitcase, so that we would have a bag available on our return flight for all our new goods.
All you have to do is pack the smaller bag with your clothes and then put that bag inside a bigger bag.
If that's too extreme for you, and if you plan on skipping the carry-on or personal item on your first leg, a spare tote or backpack would work perfectly for your trip home.
17. Do laundry while traveling
I have only ONCE worn every item that I packed for a trip. I went to Cuba and carefully mapped out the exact number of day outfits, personal items and sleepwear that I would need and actually stuck to it.
Other than that, I always overpack. Without fail. I can't help it.
If you're like me and tend to pack more than you need, keep in mind that in most cases, you can wash your clothes at some point during your trip.
If you're staying at a hotel, an AirBnB or some other type of vacation rental, your accommodations will most likely have laundry facilities. If not, you may be able to find a local laundromat nearby.
Pack half of the outfits you think you need, and do a load of laundry part way through your trip. Pack a small packet of laundry detergent or hit up a local convenience store upon arrival. And if you need to, wash in your sink and hang dry!
Also, bring a laundry bag to keep your dirty stuff separate from your clean stuff!
18. Don't wait until the last minute
(I'm talking to you, dear husband of mine!)
Rather than rushing to stuff everything in your bag the night before you leave, or worse, hours before, start organizing your clothing and personal items in advance. This saves you unnecessary stress, and will keep you from forgetting any of your essentials.
My husband got dropped off at the airport a handful of years ago, only to realize that his passport was still back home in his nightstand. His friend had to speed back to get it for him and then return to the airport in time for him to check in for his flight.
Hate to say it but, lists and planning, my friend… lists and planning.
Here are some frequently asked packing questions answered:
Can you bring makeup on a plane?
Yasss queen, as long as your liquids (such as foundation and perfume) are 3.4 oz or less.
I always pack my makeup in my carry-on; too expensive to risk losing, and I want it on-hand should my bag not make it to my destination.
How do you travel with just a carry-on?
First, by understanding that you always need less than you think you need. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle, even if it is just temporarily, is the best way to travel light.
By following several of the tips provided above, you can get away with just a carry-on. This includes doing laundry, rolling your clothes and packing them in cubes to save space, and taking advantage of your personal item allowance.
When should you start packing for a trip?
It is my humble opinion that you should start packing at least a week in advance, and more if you are traveling for more than 7 to 10 days.
What should I pack for an overseas trip?
Your overseas essentials should include your passport, obviously, the correct currency (assuming the exchange rate is better locally than it is at your destination, any necessary medications, guides and maps, a book of common phrases if you don't speak the local language, comfortable footwear and more.
What are the rules for packing for a flight?
There are several and they vary by airline. You should visit your airline's website before travel to ensure that you meet the proper weight and baggage requirements to avoid issue before departure.
Liquids are one of the more strict TSA rules. You can bring a quart-sized bag containing liquids, gels, creams, pastes and aerosols in your carry-on bag, but the containers may only be 3.4 ounces each. Anything larger must go in your checked bag.
You can get a comprehensive list of what you can bring on an airplane on the TSA wesbite.