Updated: 6/1/2022 | How to Pack a Suitcase Efficiently for Travel
Disclaimer: I was invited by VOYCE to create this guide on how to pack a suitcase efficiently.
VOYCE is a non-profit organization based in New Zealand that advocates for foster youth (in whanau care). I am a former foster child and am excited to be leading this travel readiness series for foster youth. My goal is to help them see the world through my lens!
I am also a lululemon influencer and there are affiliate links in this post that earn me a small commission but do not change the price for you. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own and 100% honest.
The products featured in this article include the following:
How to Pack a Suitcase Efficiently
I am known for packing light on long international trips. My friends are often shocked at how much I can fit into a carry-on.
There are many benefits to packing efficiently. Here are reasons why you should take the time to pack with intention.
- You only bring what you need.
- You save money by avoiding expensive checked baggage costs. Some airlines even have carry-on costs!
- You can pack more!
- You keep your luggage more organized. Having to rummage through your belongings to find things can take away time from your travel plans.
Here is my guide to help you pack efficiently!
Pick the Right Bag or Suitcase
Choosing the right bag or suitcase for travel is key.
Weekender-type duffel bags that often have a strap across your shoulder are OK for short 3-4 day trips, but for a longer trip, we highly recommend using a small carry-on suitcase.
Duffel or weekender bags can strain your shoulder or back because you typically have to carry it with a strap across your chest or in one hand or the other.
Here are the things we look for when choosing a carry-on suitcase.
Qualities you want in a carry-on suitcase:
- Lightweight – We typically try to get a suitcase that won’t weigh us down. Carry-on allowances with most airlines are around 22 pounds or 10 kg.
- Wheels – We recommend a suitcase with wheels because they can be stood up and wheeled around..
- With or Without Interior Pockets – Pockets can take up space and are often left unused. Only get a suitcase with pockets if you intend to use them.
- Expandable (if needed) – If you love bringing souvenirs home, this is a great feature to look out for in a suitcase. Expandable suitcases allow you to fit more of your belongings or make room for souvenirs.
- Affordable – You do not need to invest in an expensive suitcase. A good suitcase will do. Read reviews to see if a product is worth buying. Buy from companies that offer limited warranties or returns in the event you do not like a suitcase that you purchased. Many companies are willing to work with you to get you exactly what you’re looking for.
- Comes with a Lifetime Warranty – I buy many things that come with lifetime warranties because they can easily be replaced if the item falls under warranty guidelines. Suitcases are often one of those things because I travel often and want to ensure my luggage can be replaced if it breaks. Away and Monos are great luggage brands that offer lifetime warranties.
Check the Weather
Before you stuff your luggage, it is very important to check the weather at your destination.
I do a Google search and check the 10-day forecast in any destination I visit. I review the high and low temperatures and start thinking about what I am going to wear and what accessories I’ll need.
Once you have the right suitcase and have checked the weather, it’s time to pack!
What Should I Pack?
Here are some ways to determine what you’ll be packing with you on your next trip.
Narrow Down Your Must-Haves
Half the battle of packing is determining what essentials to take with you.
I use a travel checklist when packing. It’s super helpful because you know exactly what you’ll be bringing. I have multiple checklists that are weather dependent. Here are some checklists you can use on your next vacation.
- Beach Vacation Checklist
- Springtime Checklist
- Fall Checklist
- Snowboarding Trip Checklist
You can also create your own checklist in Google Forms.
Assemble a Capsule Collection
A capsule collection is essentially a condensed version of a designer’s vision, often a limited edition, which transcends seasons and trends by being functional.
In the 1970s, Susie Faux, owner of a London-based boutique called Wardrobe, coined the term “capsule wardrobe.” A capsule collection is defined as a limited number of essential or staple items that you can wear for multiple seasons.
A capsule collection has anywhere between 25-50 pieces which include accessories and shoes.
Capsule collections are intended to reduce waste, remove unnecessary products from your wardrobe, and help you easily assemble outfits at any moment.
Having your essentials already picked out for you is great for packing efficiently. It takes the guesswork out of what you need to pack.
Plan Your Outfits
If you’re more of a fashionista (like me!) you’ll probably want to pack outfits that correlate with your destination and activities.
I plan my days first, which include where I’ll be eating, drinking, and sightseeing, and then find an appropriate outfit for those activities.
If I am going hiking, I make sure to bring hiking boots, activewear, sunglasses, and a hat. If I am going to a wedding, I will try to pack a dress with high heels and jewelry.
I often bring an outfit change when traveling, but a single daylong outfit is great too.
Choose a Color Scheme
As a carry-on traveler, you have limited wardrobe space in your luggage.
A good way to pack with intention is to stick with a color scheme. Pack clothing items that effortlessly go together. We like to pack mostly neutrals and add 1-2 pops of color into our travel wardrobe.
When everything coordinates, it’s easy to assemble outfits.
Choose Travel Friendly Fabrics
Travel friendly fabrics are very important. When traveling, I like to minimize my time spent getting ready in the hotel. There is so much of the world to see and we need to move quickly.
I pack travel friendly clothing that often has the following qualities:
- Wrinkle Free
- Quick Drying
- Easy to Clean – I can throw it in the washer and hang dry in my hotel. Stains often come out easily.
- High-Quality – I look for high-quality fabrics that I know will keep my clothes lasting for years to come.
Travel friendly fabrics often reduce the amount of time needed to get ready, and they’re also typically made from very comfortable, stretchy, and durable materials.
Related: Comfortable Travel Pants for Women
Choose Your Preferred Packing Technique
Adopting the best packing technique for a suitcase is essential. Here are 3 techniques you should consider:
Fold Your Clothes (the Marie Kondo Way)
I know many people who roll their clothes, but I am team Marie Kondo when it comes to packing my clothes. Marie Kondo is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and she offers tips on how to live more intentionally and minimally.
I use the KonMari (a portmanteau of Marie Kondo’s name) folding method when I travel. This is done by folding my clothes into small rectangles and standing them up in my luggage.
This method allows me to see everything I’ve brought with me. That way, I know exactly what I’ve brought with me and what I can mix and match to create outfits.
I organize them by type of clothing. For example, I keep dresses in one section of my suitcase, tops in another, and pants in another.
I also fold my organize my clothes in my home using the Marie Kondo method. It’s been such a game changer!
Roll Your Clothes
Rolling your clothes can help you save space and prevent wrinkles. It’s a great method if you’re traveling with a duffle bag or backpack and want to fill all the nooks and crannies. It lends itself well to casual clothes and fabrics such as denim, knits, and synthetic fabrics.
Bundle Your Clothes
The bundle packing technique involves neatly wrapping smaller, often coordinating, clothing items inside of larger ones to create a bundle.
This method is a great way to keep pre-planned outfits together when traveling.
Use Packing Cubes
Packing cubes won’t necessarily save your space, but they will help keep your belongings organized.
lululemon has packing cubes that have see-through mesh panels so that you can easily find your belongings.
Pro Tip: Don’t want to use packing cubes? Consider using a zippered pillowcase or laundry bag. These are often lighter than packing cubes and can double as a laundry bag or pillow to use during your trip.
Wear Bulky Items on the Plane
When possible, leave your bulky items at home.
But if you need to bring something bulky like a hoodie, sweats, or coat, wear it on the plane instead of packing it. This saves space in your luggage and keeps you warm on the plane.
Use a Shoe Bag
I highly recommend bringing a shoe bag because shoes get dirty when you travel. You want to keep your dirty shoes separate from your clothing so that it doesn’t stain or stink up your clothing.
I typically am able to pack 3 shoes into my carry-on and wear my bulkiest shoes on the plane (usually sneakers or boots). This method allows me to bring four shoes with me on trips.
A shoe bag can be anything that fits your shoes. It can be a tote bag or a drawstring bag. I use a drawstring bag that is meant for shoes that I acquired from a previous hotel stay.
Alternatively, you can use a shower cap, but those are made of single-use plastic and are not good for the environment. It’s a clever hack even if we do not recommend it.
How Many Shoes Should I Pack?
Consider the rule of threes when packing shoes for any trip:
- Pack one pair of sandals/slippers
- Pack one pair of comfortable sneakers
- Pack one pair of “fancy” shoes for important outings
Stuff Your Shoes
Use up all the space in your bag. A great way to do that is by stuffing your shoes with socks and underwear.
Use a Tech Bag
Tech bags will keep your gadgets organized. Loose cords have a tendency to tangle in my personal bag or carry-on bags.
I use a tech bag so that it prevents my cords from getting damaged or tangled with my other belongings.
Keep a Toiletry Kit ON Hand
I recommend keeping a separate toiletry kit for traveling. Keeping a set of bathroom products already packed ensures that you don’t forget anything when it’s time to depart.
Always keep your toiletry kit in your suitcase when not in use. After all, you should only need your toiletry kit when traveling, so it makes total sense to keep it there.
Here is a checklist you can use to assemble your toiletry case.
Pro Tip: To prevent leakage of liquids, use a silicone bag, such as a reusable Stasher bag.
Keep Your Toiletries Small
Airport Security will only allow a maximum size of 3.4 fl oz or 100 ml size of liquid toiletries onto a plane in your carry-on or personal bag. Everything beyond that will need to be either tossed or checked in.
Leave your big bottles at home and use silicone travel bottles to bring what you need for your trip. These refillable and reusable bottles come in handy and prevent you from buying toiletries that come in single-use plastic containers.
You may also want to check out shampoo bars. They are super portable and great for the environment because there is no plastic packaging required.
Make Your Toiletries Accessible
You never know when airport security is going to make you take your toiletries out of your bag.
I like to keep mine at the top of my belongings and near the zipper opening so that I can easily reach for it when security beckons.
Be Prepared to Do Laundry
Doing laundry can help you keep your suitcase weight low and clothes smelling fresh. We typically do laundry every 5-7 days when traveling.
Here are some examples on how you can do laundry while traveling.
Use a Laundry Service Provider
Depending on where you’re traveling to, you may want to consider using a laundry service provider.
In Mexico City, we found a laundry service on Google and paid 130 pesos (around ~$6 USD) for a launder to pick up, do our laundry, and drop off our clean laundry at the hotel. We also tipped them 18% for their delivery and pick-up services.
Do Your Own Laundry
In Italy, we did our laundry ourselves. We found a coin-operated laundromat. Some laundromats may even include detergent in their machines. Try calling ahead or checking a business website to learn more about what they offer.
While we waited for our washing and drying cycles to finish, we hopped over to check out a local restaurant or bar or did some sightseeing.
Book Lodging with a Washer and Dryer
When traveling with a group, we try to book an Airbnb with a washer and dryer so that we can do our own laundry. The Airbnb host will often provide detergent and fabric softener.
We also recommend bringing a bag that you can put your laundry in. I like to use this packable large tote bag by lululemon ($68). It comes with a clip so that you can hang it on your bag while traveling and is machine washable. It also folds flat to fit in your luggage or bag.
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