How to Pack a Suitcase in 30 Minutes or Less

Whether you're jetting off to an island paradise or traveling for business, these foolproof packing tips will help you minimize time and maximize space. Bon voyage, baggage fees!

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Start with the right-sized suitcase

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For a short trip, a small carry-on bag is ideal, and with skill, it's possible cram all your essentials in there (here's how to pack the perfect carry-on). But if you can't travel light, it's best to choose a bag that can easily accommodate everything you need. Trying to force a bulging suitcase to shut is a waste of time and energy, especially since you may return with even more stuff, if you like to buy souvenirs. When deciding which is the best suitcase for you, take a moment to assess your needs for this trip.

Get the right gear

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To make your packing as speedy as possible, have a few convenience items pre-prepared and ready to go at all times. That includes a dedicated toiletry bag, preferably something plastic and waterproof, that you can toss into your suitcase at a moment's notice. Buy sample-size containers of your favorite shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, body wash and moisturizer, or decant the full-size products into small, TSA-approved travel bottles. Have similar travel-friendly containers set up for jewelry and accessories if possible. Store them in a clear box with compartments, so you can see all the items clearly and prevent them from getting tangled. If you can't create these pre-prepared packs of toiletries and accessories, keep a packing list on your phone for a quick reminder of the essentials you need to gather. These household items can make packing a breeze.

Coordinate your wardrobe

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It may sound obvious, but plan an outfit for each day to make sure you're covered. If you know exactly what you need to accompany each outfit, you can limit the amount of stuff you're taking. Try to mix and match outfits—wear the same pair of pants with different tops, for example—to cut down on bulky extras. As a general rule, three pairs of shoes are all you need for a business trip: a casual pair, a professional pair, and a comfortable or snazzy pair for evenings, depending on the nature of your business. Neutral colors are best as they'll coordinate well with multiple outfits, but don't hesitate to toss in a pair of show stoppers if that's what the occasion calls for. For a vacation, three pairs of casual shoes should be ample, especially if you'll be doing a lot of walking. What you don't bring can be just as important, so resist the urge to include things just in case. (Here are items you'll always regret packing.) If necessary, you can buy many essential items, such as socks and flip flops, at your destination.

Lay everything out before starting

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Lay everything you're taking out on the bed, so you can see exactly what you need to pack and spot any missing items promptly. Then fold or roll each item of clothing according to the best method. For folded items, putting layers of tissue between each item will cut down on wrinkles. Don't forget all the additional accoutrements such as phone chargers, hair straighteners, or electric shavers. (Don't miss this list of bizarre travel accessories you might need!) Get everything ready before you start the actual packing (that packing list on your cell phone comes in handy here).

Pack your suitcase in layers

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Begin by putting rolled items in a layer at the bottom of your suitcase. Cushion fragile items (like perfume bottles) in the middle and plan to put items you need on arrival (like your PJs and toothbrush) at the top end of the case, so you can find them easily. Next, put the folded items in a layer, alternating the neck and hem of tops to minimize the amount of bulk and keep the layer even, which makes it much easier to zip closed. Place shoes heel-to-toe and brace each pair around the inner shell of the suitcase. Fill the shoes with smaller items such as socks, sunglasses, or trinkets. There are lots of ingenious hacks for packing small items that will save both space and time. Add an empty waterproof bag for dirty items. This will keep your clean clothes smelling fresh and your laundry organized. Roll-able vacuum-style bags (that squeeze out the air), take up less space. Pack electrical charging cables in one small bag or in an outside pocket—they'll be easy to find when you need them, and if you're diligent about replacing them immediately after use, you're less likely to leave them in the hotel room.

Finish with a large top layer

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Lastly, lay a large item like a towel or beach sarong over the tops and tuck it in around the sides. This will keep everything in place and stop items from sliding around during the journey. It's much easier to close the zipper if you don't have fiddly items like belts or laces poking out.

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