Let’s face it, packing your suitcase is one of the least exciting things to do when you’re going on holiday. Not to mention how difficult it is to fit everything in, and how easy it is to unpack it all when you’re only grabbing out a t-shirt and shorts.
We’ll try to make it easier for you. We’ve flown thousands of miles and lived out of our bags for months at a time.
In this extensive guide, we’ll share our best travel packing tips for how to pack a suitcase to maximize space that we always follow. These are tried and true recommendations we can’t live without.
Travel Packing Tips
There’s no single way to pack a suitcase, but following these travel packing tips will enable you to fit way more in your bags, reduce weight and have a more enjoyable trip overall.
1. Fold AND Roll Clothes to Save Space in Luggage
Rolling clothing to save space is the oldest trick in the book. Some still argue that folding takes up less space, but the general consensus is that rolling definitely helps. It might just come down to the fact that rolled clothing can be squeezed into smaller spaces and corners than folded clothes.
How to Roll Clothes for Packing
The best way to roll clothes for packing is to fold the garment into a rectangle first before tightly rolling it into a cylinder the width of your packing cube. This will ensure a snug fit, minimize wrinkles when packing clothes and keep things organized.
2. Use Packing Cubes
We used to think there was no need for packing cubes. We were so wrong! You’ll be surprised at how much you can squeeze into these cubes and you can easily separate out your t-shirts, pants, underwear etc.
This makes it so much easier to find items rather than rummaging through your suitcase trying to find ‘that’ t-shirt. It also means keeping things organised and tidy.
We’ve travelled for up to 6-months at a time living out of our suitcase using a couple of sets of these affordable Bagail packing cubes from Amazon and they’ve been perfect. They’ve lasted for years and the quality is top notch, especially for the price you pay.
We recommend them to all our friends and family – they’re probably the best value packing cubes you can buy right now. Sure there are lighter and more durable options but the cost doesn’t
The next best alternative would be the Amazon Basics packing cubes which we found to be very similar and well constructed, however, slightly more expensive for what you get.
3. Use a Lightweight Suitcase
It’s easy to forget your suitcase takes up part of your weight allowance. The lighter your suitcase, the heavier the items you bring can be. When packing for air travel on budget airlines, you’ll need to be even more conscious of this due to strict weight limits.
Opt for a lightweight suitcase or even consider a large backpack (although we wouldn’t recommend a duffel bag). This is often preferred if moving from place to place every few days or if you’re travelling to somewhere remote with gravel roads where lugging around a wheely bag may get tricky and damage the wheels.
When choosing a suitcase, we recommend one that has 360 degree wheels and a hard outer case, as well as sticking to the best, most popular brands. American Tourister and Samsonite make the best rolling luggage available, whilst AmazonBasics is a great, lightweight and affordable option.
Best Suitcase: Samsonite Freeform
Best Budget Suitcase: Amazon Basics 21″ (honestly, this is perfect for most people)
Best Hard Luggage Set: Samsonite Winfield 2
4. Create a Travel Packing List
Spend five minutes writing down all the items you need to bring, and this packing tip will save you so much time and stress in the long run. It’s so easy to forget the little things like a phone charger, pen or a hairbrush.
Creating a structured packing process is essential. Write everything down and tick the items off your travel packing checklist once you’ve packed them. You can even prepare multiple packing lists for various types of trips. For example, we have different packing lists for snow trips compared to beach holidays.
5. Pack Travel-Sized Toiletries
Liquids tend to be quite dense and heavy, so only packing what you need will free up both storage space and weight in your bag. It’s a great idea to pack toiletries after transferring the liquids into smaller bottles.
A pack of four bottles is enough to last one month of holidays for two people. We’d fill them with shampoo, body wash, conditioner and body moisturiser.
For trips longer than a month, we’d still carry these around. Many hotels and hostels provide you with a small bottle of shampoo and soap, so we’d save these and fill our bottles when required.
There are heaps on Amazon to choose from and they’re super affordable and well worth the investment. These ones look awesome and are the perfect size (four 100ml bottles) – we’d buy them if we didn’t already have some!
Just remember the TSA liquid’s rule (many international governments also follow this rule) if you plan to bring them on your carry-on – don’t bring any greater than 100ml.
6. Leave Half the Clothing You’ve Packed at Home
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of overpacking every time, even for full-time travel with 40L of luggage space. One of our favourite travel packing tips is, once you’ve created a packing list, remove half of the clothing items on there. If you pack something as a ‘just in case’, you’re probably not going to use it.
7. Pack Travel-Sized Towels
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but the Sea to Summit Drylite Travel Towel changed my life. It takes up a fraction of the space of a regular microfibre travel towel and folds down to the size of my hand!
Towels take up so much space in your bag, so opt for a travel towel. Make sure you pick one that absorbs water well and doesn’t smell after multiple uses.
8. Utilise Unused Space When Packing a Suitcase
Shoes are the biggest culprits of unused space in your suitcase. Store socks in your shoes, or whatever else you can find that fits.
If you’re planning on bringing a collared shirt and a belt, roll the belt up to fit inside of the collar. It’ll help the collar to keep its shape while in transit and prevent wrinkles.
Pile all of your bras on top of each other, lining up the cups. Fold a bra in half down the middle, and store a few socks between the cups. Not only are you saving space, but it’ll also help the cups keep their shape.
9. Reduce Shoes in Your Luggage
Shoes are incredibly bulky items and can be awkward shapes to pack.
Limiting the number of shoes should be your first point of call to maximize suitcase space – they just take up too much room. All you really need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes and some sandals.
Ditch the heels. Especially if you’ll likely be out and about during the day, then go straight out to a restaurant and bar at night. Instead, choose a nice sandal you can wear all day and night.
Best Travel Shoes
There are two pairs of comfortable shoes I swear by for both holiday and everyday use. Birkenstocks (I have the Arizonas) and Adidas Ultraboosts (we have the men’s 4.0 and the women’s 22). They’re both unisex as well which is a bonus.
10. Pack Dryer Sheets For Dirty Laundry
Put dryer sheets in your dirty laundry bag to keep your clothing from smelling, especially if you’re unable to do your washing for a week or more. The sheets take up virtually no space in your checked luggage.
11. Pack Travel-Size Makeup in Your Suitcase
When travelling full-time I need to cut down my beauty products significantly, opting for a very lean kit allowing for more space in my checked bag.
Fortunately, a lot of brands offer their most popular products in smaller packaging that is convenient for travel. Here are some of my favourites:
- Tarte Tarteist Mascara – A great mascara in a small size.
- Benefit Roller Liner – Thin and accurate eyeliner that is absolutely tiny.
- Benefit Lip and Cheek Stain – Benetint is my favourite colour for a light blush or tinted lips
- Tarte Tarteist Palette – Blush, bronzer & highlighter in one
- Mario Badescu Facial Spray – A refreshing, must-have facial spray for anyone travelling for long hours. 100% game changer.
- Sponge Blender – Switch out your foundation brush, concealer brush, setting brush, face brush and more. This is the ultimate travel makeup tool.
- Biore UV Aqua Rich Sunscreen – The only sunscreen we’ve found that feels like it isn’t there. It’s super thin and doesn’t leave your face greasy, plus the SPF is legit.
12. Use Zip Lock and Plastic Bags for Storage
You’ll never know when these will come in handy; whether you need a place to keep wet swimwear, dirty laundry or leaking toiletries a plastic bag always comes in handy.
13. Ditch the Umbrella or Bulky Raincoat
Umbrellas and big raincoats are bulky. Ditch these and buy a light, pocketable raincoat. Don’t be fooled by a jacket advertising ‘water resistance’ as this will only withstand showers. Instead, make sure you’ve got something waterproof.
For anyone looking for a cheap, lightweight AND waterproof rain jacket the Marmot Precip Rain Jacket for Women and for Men are undoubtedly the best value rain jackets you can buy. At under $100 and under 300g nothing comes close.
We’ve found the brand Marmot to be great for waterproof raincoats. Even better, they’re pocketable so they take up barely any room and are convenient to carry around during the day. Great for both hot, humid weather and for colder weather, they’re easy to layer underneath.
14. Pack Two Full Outfits in Your Carry On Luggage for Air Travel
Fingers crossed your luggage doesn’t go missing, but if it does happen, you’ll be prepared. If you’ve got space, pack your bathing suit, another pair of shoes and plenty of underwear too. Be sure to pack all your chargers and tech equipment as well.
15. Pack an International Travel Adaptor
Travel adapters are bulky to pack, especially if you’re travelling to multiple countries with different power outlets.
Our Belkin one is our favourite as it has two USB ports to charge our phone and two powerpoints. We’ve found this Joomfeen Travel Adapter to be a lot more practical though. It’s smaller and has retractable pins which prevent any damage and makes it an easier shape to pack.
We recommend checking the voltage of your destination countries beforehand as this may affect the adapter you should buy.
16. Bring an Empty Water Bottle in Your Carry-On Bag
Once you’re through customs, buying water is incredibly overpriced. One of our favourite travel packing tips is to bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up before getting on the plane.
Hydroflask makes the best water bottles for travel. We love ours, they are extremely durable, packable and keep drinks warm or cold thanks to the insulation. The only issue is the weight, a tradeoff ultralight travellers may not wish to make.
Our favourite is the wide-mouth Hydroflask with straw. It’s the most convenient and keeps drinks warm/cold for hours.
Some of the more sustainable travellers we’ve met have opted for the Grayl GeoPress which allows them to drink tap water anywhere in the world and filter it quickly in the bottle.
17. Consolidate Chargers With a GAN Charger
GAN chargers are a life changing innovation that now allow travellers to charge multiple, high-powered devices from one charger.
Our favourite for most people is this Amazon Basics 2-Port GAN Charger. It offers two ports, one with enough power to charge your cellphone and another high-powered port for charging a laptop.
We have a lot of high-powered devices so we use this more powerful Anker GAN Charger which is an absolute beast.
18. Pack Shoes in Shower Caps
You never know what’s on the underside of your shoes so don’t let this touch your suitcase. Instead, place shoes in shower caps (these are sometimes provided in your hotel room) or simply opt for a plastic bag.
19. Choose Multi-Purpose Items
It is efficient to pack items that can serve multiple purposes, so you can cut back on what you have to bring. This will help free up extra space for other items and stay under your weight limit.
There will be an upfront cost if you don’t already own these items, but it’s totally worth it if you’re looking to maximise your baggage space and pack your suitcase efficiently.
Sarong: Great to wear to the beach, use a picnic blanket or for covering up when visiting a temple. A lightweight sarong will get a lot of use on your trip.
Snap-lock bags: make your bag leak-proof from toiletries, keep small items from getting lost, store dirty laundry and store shoes to keep the soles off your clothes. You can even attempt to use them as compression cubes.
Paper clip: keep your travel documents together but also use it to get your sim card out of your phone.
Bulldog Clips: keep your travel documents together and use them to cover your razor and toothbrush.
Safety pins: these come in handy to mend clothing, attach wet laundry and remove a splinter. I use these to pin a secret pocket to the inside of my pants so I have money available in an emergency.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has so many uses. A moisturiser, lip balm, sunburn relief, leave-in hair conditioner, and even shaving cream. A little goes a long way so you won’t need to pack much at all.
20. Build a Travel First Aid Kit
This is probably the only item in your suitcase that you hope you’ll never have to use, but you should definitely have on hand. I know I was glad when I injured myself on a hike in New Zealand!
We’ve built up our own first aid kit to ensure we only brought the absolute essentials. However, there are plenty of options you can buy online.
This First Aid Only First Aid Kit is a great option for people looking for something they can buy once without needing to buy individual items. Just bear in mind, it may contain a few extra items that you may not need (you can always take them out)
To save money and maximise space in your bags, we’d recommend you make one up and only take what you need. Our kit doesn’t take up much room at about 7” x 5” x 3”.
This is what’s inside ours:
- Medications: Ibuprofen, paracetamol, imodium, sore throat lozenges, antihistamines and cold/flu tablets
- Antiseptic cream for cuts/grazes
- Antihistamine cream for mosquito bites
- Alcohol swabs to clean wounds
- Oral rehydration sachets for dehydration or food poisoning
- Small pair of scissors
- Sewing equipment: Needle, thread, buttons and safety pins
We carry this in our daypacks daily for that ‘just-in-case’ moment. If you do the same, remember to remove the scissors, needle and safety pins from your carry-on luggage before flying.
21. Keep Like Items Together
When going through airport customs, the last thing you want to do is fish around your bag looking for all your liquids. Don’t be that person who holds up the line! Keep everything together in a ziplock bag and it’ll make life so much easier.
This also goes for things like cables, camera gear, toiletries etc. It just makes it easier when looking for something in your bags.
22. Reduce Weight by Wearing Bulky Items On The Plane
If you’re aiming to pack efficiently, try wearing your bulkiest items on the plane. This automatically frees up space in your suitcase.
My partner got a mid-thigh length duffle coat tailored in Vietnam. Wearing this home on the plane saved about ⅛ of our baggage space. Planes are always air-conditioned and it can get quite cold. You should always bring a jacket anyway, so wear your bulkiest one on the flight and you’ll save even more space.
This doesn’t just apply to coats and jackets. Think sunhats (which can also be awkward shapes to pack) and bulky boots.
23. Consider Clothing Material & Colours
This is an easy way to reduce the amount of clothing you need to bring, especially if you are packing for a long vacation. Packing neutral clothing makes it easier to match with and thus allowing for more outfit combinations.
If you love wearing colour, consider packing colourful dresses that you’d wear by themselves, whilst sticking to neutral t-shirts and bottoms that you can mix and match easily.
It’s also a good idea to choose lightweight clothing materials to reduce weight in your suitcase. Materials like merino wool and synthetic sports fabrics are super lightweight and great in hotter areas.
24. Pack Heavy Items at the Bottom of Your Suitcase
It’ll be easier to wheel around your suitcase if you pack the heavier items at the bottom. Pack toiletries and shoes at the bottom of your suitcase. If you have any lightweight or fragile items then it is a good idea to pack these securely at the top.
25. Dry Your Laundry on a Travel Line
Holidays longer than 10 days will usually require doing the laundry at some point.
Pegs take up a lot of room, whereas a piece of string on its own doesn’t cut it especially if you’re hanging clothes outside and don’t want anything to blow away or disappear.
This Sea to Summit clothesline is woven together tightly, allowing you to attach your laundry securely (just stick a corner or each clothing through the holes) without using pegs. We find it better than the ones with suction cups (which end up falling off).
How to Pack a Suitcase
The best way to pack a suitcase is to use a combination of rolling clothes, packing cubes and lightweight travel items. These packing tips will enable you to maximize the space inside your suitcase allowing you to pack more for your trip.
How to Pack Clothes to Save Space in Your Bag
The best way to pack clothes is to use the fold and roll technique. Start by folding your garments into a rectangle, then roll them into a tight cylinder the width of your packing cubes.
In addition to this, aim to pack small and light-weight clothing in your bags– you should leave the bulky items at home. Here are a few tips for how to pack clothes to save space:
- Fold & roll clothes
- Narrow down your must-have clothes
- Only bring light-weight, small garments
- Pack clothing in packing cubes
- Bring clothes with multiple purposes
How to Pack Shoes
The best way to pack your shoes in a suitcase is by isolating them in a separate bag. Start by ensuring your shoes are clean and as odour-free as possible before flipping them and placing them inside a plastic or fabric bag with the soles facing out. Lastly, place this bag in the bottom corner of your suitcase.
An extra tip is to fill the shoes with small items of clothing such as socks. We also aim to compress the shoes as much as possible by pushing other items up against them.
How to Pack a Suitcase for a Flight
Packing a suitcase for a flight requires packing as densely as possible, without going above the airlines’ weight limits. Follow tips such as rolling, using packing cubes and packing small, lightweight items.
In addition to the tips on this list, we highly recommend researching your airline’s luggage requirements. Ensure your suitcase is within the physical dimensions allowed and the final weight of your luggage doesn’t exceed the limits.
Does Rolling Clothes Save Space?
Rolling your clothes when packing will save space inside your suitcase. Folding alone can help to keep things organized, but will cause air pockets making it difficult to fit as many garments in.
How to Pack Shoes in a Suitcase
The best way to pack shoes in a bag is by isolating them in a separate bag. Start packing by ensuring your shoes are clean and as odour-free as possible before flipping them and placing them inside a plastic or fabric bag with the soles facing out. Lastly, place this bag in the bottom corner of your suitcase.
An extra tip is to fill the shoes with small items of clothing such as socks. We also aim to compress the shoes as much as possible by pushing other items up against them.
Should You Unpack or Live Out of Your Suitcase?
For shorter trips the time and effort of unpacking and repacking your bags typically doesn’t outweigh the organisational benefits of having your bags unpacked at your destination.
When you spend over a week in a destination you can start to see some of the benefits of unpacking your suitcase. However, we would typically recommend following the packing tips above to keep your suitcase well organised. This should make it easy to find what you need without unpacking.
If you do choose to unpack your bags, make sure to keep track of where you store your items as you run a higher risk of leaving something behind.