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16 Essential Suitcase Packing Tips: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Packing

1. Always start with a packing list

I know, this is such a ‘mom’ tip, but there’s a reason why moms are always right. Especially in the stressful few days before a trip, it’s all too easy to forget items you need. That’s why I always make a packing list to keep myself organized! Feeling lazy? You can steal a comprehensive printable checklist from me below.

Or… if you’re a serial stationary hoarder like me, this stack of printed packing listsis practical, fun, and will last you a long time.

2. … and always end by reviewing your packing list

It’s silly how often people forget this step. There’s a reason you made that list! Make sure you go through all the items the night before you leave (or the morning of) to make sure you haven’t forgotten a single thing, especially the small stuff.

For extra paranoid parrots like me, I always write a “HARDCORE ESSENTIALS” note on my phone that I review the morning of my flight. Things like passport, money, hair straightener (sorry, I’m vain), and sunglasses (the #1 thing I manage to always forget). This way I know I have everything I absolutely need.

Again, if you buy a packing list pad like this, you can just leave it on top of your bag the night before so you don’t forget to double check it!

3. Know your airline’s baggage fee policy

The inconsistency among airlines (especially the budget variety) is pretty infuriating. Avoid surprises at the airport by knowing what you’re working with right from the start. A quick Google before you pack can help save you loads of stress (and potential overweight fees!)

If you don’t have one already, I highly recommend buying a compact looking carry-on suitcase. A lot of the time, attendants don’t care to weigh luggage (when you’re travelling carry-on only) and all they do is take one quick look at the size, so if you have a nice suitcase that doesn’t look huge, you’ll be much less likely to get stopped.

Which would I recommend? Well, this one is near-identical to the Samsonite I travel with, and I’ve never once been stopped for bag inspection! I love the ease of mind it gives me and it can hold a surprising amount of stuff. I travel with it on pretty much every trip!

4. Roll your clothes

Game. Changer. One of my best suitcase packing tips is for you to simply roll your clothes! Seriously, if you’re not currently rolling your clothes instead of folding them, do it! It saves lots of space, especially when coupled with magical compression bags like these ones (no vacuum needed!) packing cubes (which I’ll discuss later).

5. Pick out what you think you need, and cut it in half

The first time I read this tip, I thought it was absolute insanity. Then, one time I actually tried it, and you know what? I didn’t regret it at all! While this may initially feel like a slow painful form of packrat torture, doing this will cut you down to the exact essentials you’ll actually need. I honestly think that overpacking is hardwired in us, which is why doing this exercise is so helpful.

6. Make use of packing cubes (or in a pinch, Ziplock bags)

Packing cubes are my favourite things ever. They not only help you stay organized, but also save loads of space in your suitcase/backpack. These are my #1 travel game changers, and if you buy a good quality set, they’ll last a super long time.

7. Always pack your absolute essentials and one outfit change in your carry on

As much as we all like to think we’re invincible, even the best of us will have our luggage get lost, go missing or uh, accidentally taken by someone else (true story). Having your essentials and extra clothes on you will bring precious peace of mind, so you’re never that angsty person waiting in fetal position at baggage claim.

8. Bring a few extra bags (e.g. totes, ziplocks, etc.)

You never know when you’ll need them, especially for things like dirty clothes, which are always an afterthought. They weigh nothing and come in SO handy, so don’t forget a few!

And if you (like me) are working at reducing plastic usage while travelling, I recently discovered these re-usable silicon Ziploc bags (and mesh produce bags) that would definitely come in super handy for travel as well! Check out reviews and prices here.

9. Keep your liquids in a bag and separate them from your other goods

I just throw mine in a clear toiletries bag like this one (much more durable than Ziplock). It’s important to separate liquids because you never know when bottles will spontaneously explode or leak!

10. Always wear your bulkiest items of clothing on the plane

*Puts on Captain Obvious cape* Coats and boots are heavy. If you plan on bringing them on your trip, make sure you’re wearing them so they don’t hog up all the space (and weight) in your luggage.

This is an extreme example (that I do not recommend!!) but check out this hilarious coat that you can stuff all your luggage into. [Also ideal for smuggling movie theatre snacks]

11. Forget full sized liquids, pack mini versions and buy if you need more

This is one of the top suitcase packing tips I recommend to newbie travellers. Seriously, put that full-sized bottle away! There’s zero reason for you to bring it. There WILL be toiletries to buy where you’re travelling. It’s not worth the unnecessary weight to bring a giant bottle of everything (which I have seen many people do).

If you don’t have any already, I really recommend buying some reusable travel bottles. That way, you don’t need to rely on single use mini-toiletries (which are terrible for the environment), and you can always make sure you have some of your favourite products on you! but I’ve summarized some other popular options in the table below.

12. Use tissue paper to avoid wrinkles

I haven’t tried this one myself, but many travellers swear by rolling their clothes with sheets of tissue paper, or putting sheets of tissue paper between folded shirts. This apparently minimizes the friction/pressure, which then reduces wrinkles. Magic!

13. Bring dryer sheets to avoid “weird clothes smell”

If you’ve travelled any time in your life, I’m sure you’re familiar with that “weird clothes smell” that can quickly permeate your suitcase. Well, packing a dryer sheet or two in your bag will keep that stench at bay! Not only are they very light, they’ll keep your luggage smelling freshy fresh.

14. Plan to layer for warmth

Rather than bring chunky sweaters or puffy jackets, think about bringing many layerable items instead. This gives you more outfit choices too! Learn more about how to travel light here.

15. Never pack things “just in case”

Let’s be real: more often than not, that case will not come up! And if by some miracle, you’re in need of a special item, just take that opportunity to indulge in some shopping. Learn from my mistake: I lugged around a raincoat for 6 weeks in Europe and used it maybe twice… the amount of space it took in my backpack was embarrassing!

16. Last but not least, don’t forget to leave a little extra space

A list of suitcase packing tips wouldn’t be complete without this important (but often forgotten) gem of wisdom.

Here’s the thing: you’re human… You will inevitably buy something. The worst feeling is falling in love with an item abroad and having zero space in your suitcase to bring it home. Pro tip: I have some friends that bring an extra duffle that folds up small so that they have an extra bag for the way home (to hold all the shopping!)

And by ‘friends’, I mean my brother, who once came home from Japan with a suitcase full of Pikachu dolls.

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