Let’s face it, packing 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 your suitcase, and how easy it is to unpack everything when you’re only grabbing out a t-shirt and shorts.
We’ll try to make it easier for you. In this extensive guide, we’ll share our nine best packing tips on how to pack a suitcase to maximize space that we always follow. We’ll include some tried and true recommendations we can’t live without.
1. Use Packing Cubes
You’ll never know how helpful these are until you try them. I used to think packing cubes were unnecessary, but now I never go anywhere without them. I’ll even use them to pack my clothes in my daypack for a four-day trip.
Why are packing cubes so amazing? Four reasons.
1. Packing cubes allow you to pack more.
You can compress as much as you can into the cubes, and then zip to seal.
We’d recommend rolling your clothes inside your packing cubes. As well as being able to maximise space more than folding would, it also makes it easier to see which clothes are in which cube. If you fold them, you’ll have to sift through each layer of folded clothing.
2. Packing cubes are conveniently-shaped.
There’s often a lot of wasted space in a suitcase. Pack everything into the cubes, then when you pack your suitcase, you can stack them or pack them side by side without wasting space in between.
3. Packing cubes are great for suitcase organisation.
Have you ever looked for a specific item of clothing and had no idea where it is in your suitcase? Have you ever had to unpack your whole suitcase just to find said item? We’ve all been in the same situation before. Avoid it by using packing cubes.
Keep all your t-shirts in one packing cube, all your bottoms in another, and then socks and underwear in a third cube. This way, if you’re looking for that one t-shirt, you’ll instantly know where to search.
4. Packing cubes keep your clothes wrinkle-free.
If you have your clothes rolled tightly and without any kinks, you’ll keep them free from wrinkles. Because your clothing is packed so tightly in the cube, they’ll have no room to move about, unfold, and crinkle. This is a good fix for those without an iron in their hotel room.
Best Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Specter Tech packing cubes.
I’ll admit they are a bit of an investment, but if you’re going travelling for long periods of time (one month or more), or you’re really restricted on luggage space, they’re worth it. The quality is top-notch and I’m not afraid to really stuff them to maximise space in my suitcase.
For those on a tighter budget, you can buy cheaper alternatives such as the AmazonBasics packing cubes, or you can look on sites like Aliexpress. We originally bought these packing cubes which are super cheap and the quality is fine for the price you pay.
This is a great option to start out with especially if you’re not ready to commit to cubes that are a little on the pricier side. At just $6.50 USD for three cubes and 3 pouches, I can’t think of a reason not to!
2. How to Fold 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.
3. Choose the Right Luggage
It doesn’t matter how efficiently you pack your suitcase, if you have the wrong one you’ll have a tough time getting it right.
For starters, a hard suitcase will make it easier to pack your packing cubes as it will ensure a stiffer, squarer shape. It’s kind of like how packing cubes into a box is easier than fitting them into a bag. The hard outer shell is also great for protecting what you have inside from bad weather or disgruntled airport workers.
You’ll also want to make sure the inside is free from pointless extras that take up space, but sometimes having internal straps can be very helpful for compressing your clothing and items allowing you to fit more in.
Finally, the age-old debate of whether to take a travel backpack or a suitcase. For efficiently packing and unpacking packing cubes, as well as moving around on high-quality surfaces such as airports, a suitcase is by far the best choice. If you’re backpacking around and you value mobility in areas with poor quality paths (such as southeast Asia or cobblestone roads in Europe) then we highly recommend a travel backpack.
We recommend sticking with well-known and highly rated brands to ensure you get a product that will last. For suitcases, American Tourister and Samsonite make some of the best rolling luggage available, whilst Amazon Basics is a great, lightweight and affordable option. For a travel backpack, we can’t recommend any brand more than Osprey.
Best suitcase: Samsonite Freeform
Best Budget Suitcase: AmazonBasics 21″
Best hard luggage set: Samsonite Winfield 2
4. Utilise Unused Space When Packing a Suitcase
Shoes are the biggest culprits of unused space. 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.
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 using up the unused space, but it’ll also help the cups keep their shape.
5. Pack Travel-Sized Items
This follows on from the previous heading. Bringing full-sized toiletry bottles that are partly empty means you’re wasting a lot of space.
This doesn’t just refer to toiletries. There are many travel-specific items that are designed to maximise space. From a small hairbrush to travel towels, to make up minis.
Our Favourite Travel Products
This is my favourite travel accessory – I cannot rave about this enough. Towels, even regular travel towels, take up a lot of space in your luggage. This one is definitely an exception.
I use the large-sized towel and my fiance uses the extra-large size.
Here are the dimensions:
Large: 24” x 48” unfolded, 6.5” x 6” x 1” packed
Extra Large: 30” x 60” unfolded, 7.5” x 7.5” x 1.25” packed
The large size is about the size of a regular bath towel unfolded, whereas the extra-large is more the size of a beach towel.
It comes with a velcro bag to store the towel. This is super handy when packing it into your daypack as it doesn’t unfold. As well as being incredibly compact, this towel is also super absorbent and quick to dry.
One of the biggest upsides, but also coincidentally downsides, is the material. The microfibre material is anti-bacterial, meaning you can use it a few times before needing a wash. This makes it perfect for holidays when you’re spending a lot of time at the beach.
The downside is the towel has a suede-like feel. It just takes a bit of time getting used to.
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 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.
Liquids tend to be quite dense and heavy, so packing only what you need will free up both space and weight in your bag.
A pack of four bottles is enough to last one month of holidays for two people. We’d fill the larger ones with shampoo and body wash, and the smaller ones with 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.
This is a great everyday moisturiser that provides high sun protection at SPF 50+. Rather than lugging around a bottle of face sunscreen and face moisturiser, just bring this one, compact tube.
It’s perfect for those with sensitive skin who can’t use regular sunscreen on their face.
I’ve given this a separate section as there are many things I’d like to recommend. I heavily trim my makeup collection when on holiday to just the basics.
Here are my must-haves:
Benefit is one of the few brands that provide travel miniatures of their most popular products. This makes it super easy for travel, so you can save space and also ensure you have the exact products you love, just in a smaller size.
Benefit Roller Lash Mascara doesn’t clump and slightly curls your lashes to give you a more wide-eyed look. For someone who travels a lot and has dead straight lashes, this is perfect.
The sister of the Roller Lash. The thin applicator pen means you can get a precise line which makes it super easy to complete your look.
Choose between many different shades, but my favourite is Benetint. It’s a pink-red colour which is buildable. This means this one, small product can create both flushed cheeks or a subtle blush, as well as subtle pink lips or a bold pinky-red lip.
The added benefit (excuse the pun) to mini products is that it gives you a chance to try these products without having to pay for the full size.
This palette contains a blush, bronzer and highlighter all-in-one, which is all you need in a face palette. As a full-time traveller with limited luggage space, I haven’t bothered bringing an eye-shadow palette. Instead, I’ll just use these shades for a neutral look.
Ever stepped off an aeroplane feeling dehydrated with dry skin and chapped lips? Flying is incredibly dehydrating as the humidity in the cabin is lowered to less than 20%. To give you perspective, a safe humidity in your house should be around 40-50%.
This facial spray by Mario Badescu is hydrating, refreshing and has a subtle, calming fragrance. Use it during and after the flight to rehydrate your dry skin, and use it throughout your holiday after you’ve been out and about all day in the heat.
The cool part about this product is it doubles as a makeup setting spray.
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.
We’ve built up our own first aid kit so we don’t have a specific one to recommend. First aid kits tend to be quite expensive and full of a lot of things you don’t need.
To save money and maximise space in your suitcase, 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.
6. Choose Multi-Purpose Items
It is efficient to bring items with you that can serve multiple purposes, so you can cut back on what you have to bring. 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.
Best Multi-Purpose Travel Items
I’ve mentioned many items above so I won’t go through everything again. For the ones I’ve already mentioned, I’ll just link them below.
If you’ve got a tropical island holiday planned and you’ll be spending a lot of time at the beach, pack a sarong or buy one there!
The thin material means they’re incredibly compact. Use it as a cover-up and a summer dress.
Check out YouTube for sarong folding tutorials. The most unique, and my favourite, is the playsuit option.
Some also use them as a towel, but I would recommend against this as sarongs don’t absorb much water.
Light Rain Jacket
We prefer to travel during summer or to places with warmer weather. Tropical weather does come at a price, especially if it is monsoon season. Be prepared with some wet weather gear.
We always travel with lightweight, pocketable raincoats with us in our daypacks. Find something waterproof, not water-resistant unless you want moderate to heavy rain soaking right through – been there, done that.
Rain jackets also double as a light cardigan and a windbreaker.
There’s a reason people wear activewear when they’re not exercising – activewear is so comfy. When you’re on holiday, you want to feel just that. Bring exercise tights to wear as everyday clothing whether you’re going hiking or just walking around sightseeing.
My favourite lights are Lululemon Tights. They’re a bit more pricey I know, but you can get a lot of use out of them.
Because tights are, well, tight, they double as thermals under your pants during colder weather. You can also use them as an alternative to stockings under a skirt or dress.
For females visiting temples, you will need to dress conservatively i.e. cover your shoulders and knees. For the more popular temples, you may be able to hire a cover-up, but this will come at a cost. A pashmina can be draped over your shoulders or tied at the waist to cover the knees.
You can also use it as a sarong to cover-up at the beach, a picnic blanket, eye mask on the plane, tie it into a bag or even use it to protect delicate items in your suitcase.
I’ve already mentioned this earlier as a travel necessity, but it has a dual purpose for hostel dorms. Find a place along your bed frame to hang your clothesline up, then drape over a sarong, pashmina, towel etc for privacy.
You could also use the elastic cord to tie together items in your luggage.
International Travel Adapter
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 Adapater to be a lot more practical through. 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.
Switch out your foundation brush, concealer brush, setting brush, face brush etc for a sponge blender when travelling.
Real Techniques does great brushes which I use when I’m not travelling. When I do go on holiday, I’ll just take their sponge blender, a highlighter brush, and blush brush. It really cuts down on space in my makeup bag.
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.
Here are some makeup items I mentioned above that have multiple functions:
Biore UV Aqua Rich Sunscreen and Face Moisturiser – face sunscreen and moisturiser
Benefit Lip and Cheek Stain – blush and lip stain
Tarte Hamptons Weekender Contour Palette – highlighter, bronzer, blush and eyeshadows
Mario Badescu Facial Spray – hydrating spray and makeup setting spray
Smaller Items With Many Purposes
- 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.
Clothing Tips for Multi-Purposing
As well as multi-purpose items, choose clothing that you will be able to wear more than once without washing. The antibacterial properties of merino make it the best choice.
There’s a bit of a misconception regarding merino. Yes, the wool is great at keeping you warm but the fabric is great at regulating your body temperature. Essentially, it keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm.
Throw A T-Shirt Over A Dress
When travelling, I bring a couple of crop t-shirts to throw over a dress. You could also tie a knot in a regular t-shirt as well. It looks like you’re wearing a completely different outfit without having to bring an extra skirt.
Pack Neutral Colours
Neutral colours are easier to match with so you can combine and match many more items of clothing. I personally love a bit of colour, so what I do is pack a few colourful dresses that I don’t need to match them with a t-shirt or shorts. Then, I’ll pack lots of neutral-coloured tops and bottoms so I have a lot of outfit combinations that actually match.
Another option to spruce up a neutral wardrobe is to bring a colourful accessory such as a sunhat, scarf, belt or chunky necklace.
7. 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
The only issue with the Birkenstocks is their cork sole – this means they’re not waterproof. A quick fix for this is to buy a cork sealant and waterproof spray for the suede. I’m not entirely convinced the spray has waterproofed the suede, so I tend to leave them at my accommodation during the pouring rain.
8. Pack Only What You Need
One of the best ways to pack a suitcase to maximize space is to pack only what you actually intend to use.
Start off by writing a packing list. This will also help you remember what you might forget to bring. Then, stick to the list.
Think about what you actually need to bring. If you’re going on an island holiday, do you really need three sets of formal outfits? If you’re travelling in winter, do you really need those denim shorts? Or four bikinis for a one week holiday?
A general rule of thumb is to then halve the amount of clothing you’ve packed. Especially if you plan to shop a lot while on holiday. This way you can pack more efficiently before leaving.
9. Wear Bulky Items On The Plane
Always wear your bulkiest items on the plane. This 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.
This doesn’t just apply to coats and jackets. Think sunhats (which can also be awkward shapes to pack) and bulky boots.