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14 Genius Packing Tips from Flight Attendants

Want to travel lighter and smarter? Master the art of packing with these tips from the professionals.

Little black dress and black shoes. Wooden background, fashionable conceptsomemeans/Shutterstock

Assess before you pack

Taking the time to plan what to pack before you fly can save you time, money, and hassle. “How many times do you pack a lot of stuff, but never wear half of it?” asks Michele Radon, a Buffalo, New York-based flight attendant. “Lay it out before you pack it. You may find that you’ll able to wear a pair of pants with two different tops.” And it’s OK to wear the same thing twice, says flight attendant Abagail Valencia. “If you are traveling for romance, one sexy little black dress will do.” When it comes to purses, Valencia says you may have a lot of different options, but no matter how hard it is, you have to choose just one. (You can’t go wrong with tan or black.) You’ll almost always regret packing these 14 items.

Colorful scarves on old rustic wooden background, womanly accessories, warm clothing for autumn or winterratmaner/Shutterstock

Pack clothes that do double duty

If you want to travel light, simplify your travel wardrobe to include items that can serve more than one purpose. A pashmina wrap, for example, is essential, says Radon. Airlines no longer give out blankets, so you can use it as a blanket or a pillow when on the plane and then wear it with your favorite dress. When it comes to pants, pack one pair of jeans and one pair of black pants such as stretchy slim type pants that can be dressed up or down, Valencia shares. A couple T-shirt’s is all you need for casual wear, and one dressy shirt will suffice when going out for cocktails, she explains. “You can always add a blazer, which I travel in, just in case.” If you need dressier attire, add a black cami, a scarf, and heels and you can do anything. Here are some tips for following airline dress codes and how you can use them to get an upgrade.

Top view of styled pink bath towel with white and pink bath products against open white marble table top.Michelle Patrick/Shutterstock

Streamline your makeup/toiletries bag

When traveling light, you must streamline your getting-ready routine, explains Jane Frilicci, a New York City-based flight attendant. If you’re not dedicated to a certain brand, forgo the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and body lotion and use what the hotel supplies and use the hotel’s hairdryer instead of packing your bulky one. You might think it makes sense to buy certain items when you get to your destination, but you have to consider where you are going, says Frilicci. “You might not have a choice to buy once you get there, especially if it’s a remote place or a resort area where prices might be high, where you could spend $13 on sunscreen.” She recommends getting a clear travel bag so you can see all of your toiletries when going through security. If you prefer something a little more stylish, consider customized modular travel toiletry cases such as the Zirui Go Case. These tips will help you pack your makeup and prevent messy disasters.

Carry-on luggage on the top shelf over head on airplane, passenger put bag cabin compartment air craft business class,vintage color,copy spaceHave a nice day Photo/Shutterstock

Don’t overstuff your carry on suitcase

Passengers not only get stressed when their carry-on suitcase doesn’t fit in the overhead bin, but they also hold up the boarding process for everyone else, says Radon. “Just because your bag is the right size for carrying on, doesn’t mean it will fit in the overhead bin,” she says. “If it is overstuffed or you put a book in the outside pocket, it won’t fit and then you’ll have to take half of the stuff out or check it.” She suggests traveling with a smaller suitcase to take the possibility that your bag won’t fit in the overhead out of the equation. “A 14-inch suitcase is small, but it is not so heavy that you can’t lift it up and put it in the overhead bin and you can over pack it and it will still fit.” This is exactly how to pack your carry on luggage for a hassle-free trip.

pack the luggage bag for Save SpaceMyibean/Shutterstock

Compress and protect

Bulky items such as puffy winter coats that take up a lot of room in your suitcase can be managed by using compression cubes. If you have to travel with puffy coats and other bulky items, use Ziploc Space Bags, says Valencia. Using compression bags not only saves room in your suitcase, they protect your items from dirt, moisture, odors, and allergens. These 11 suitcase packing mistakes could ruin your vacation.

Fold cloth by rolling method.BBPPHOTO/Shutterstock

Roll your clothes

Rolling, as opposed to folding, is a space-saving technique used by many seasoned flight attendants. “Clothes take up far less space in the suitcase when rolled this way, and they stay unwrinkled, Valencia says. “You can fold in sleeves on T-shirt’s—three at a time, then roll them,” says Valencia. “You can easily roll a little black dress or summer dress.” Here are 50 other packing tips to memorize before your next trip.


Keep kids occupied and passengers happy

Parents need to be prepared when traveling with kids, says Frilicci. “People get bent out of shape when there is a screaming kid, especially when they’re trying to sleep. To keep kids and passengers happy, Frilicci suggests that parents pack a new toy, not an old one that they’ve played with 100 times before. Some parents even go as far as making gift bags for the passengers seated next to them. “The gift bags have candy, snacks, earplugs, and a note that says something like ‘Hi I’m Jake, I’m three months old, and I’m not the best traveler so you might hear my loud voice.” Parents, use these 9 tips for making traveling with kids easier.

Passport of the United States of America with the concept of travel and equipment On the wood table Top view and copy space -Stock image Camera, Vintage, Glasses, Backpack, Coffee Mug, Drinks- Coffeebird stocker/Shutterstock

Keep items you’ll need on the flight in your carry on bag

Having to open the overhead bin, pull out your suitcase, then rummage through it in search for something you forgot to pack in your carry on bag can be a hassle—and its disruptive to your fellow passengers. “Keep a separate carry on bag with all of your essentials that you need to access during the flight—things like a toothbrush, makeup, passport, pen,” Frilicci says. From backpacks to simple totes, there are many options for carry on bags to help you stay organized. “Some people like a lot of pockets so things don’t get stuck at the bottom,” says Frilicci. Here are 7 items that you can stash in your carry on, and four that you can’t.

10 years old girl sitting inside airplane and looking at windowAlena Ozerova/Shutterstock

Wear your bulkiest items on the plane

You can gain extra space in your suitcase if you wear the bulkiest items, like coats and tall boots, when you travel. Valencia’s go-to travel outfit for traveling includes jeans or skinny pants, a cute top, and a blazer, all of which can be mixed and matched with other clothing items and tailored for casual or dressier occasions. This is why you should never take your shoes off on an airplane.

Be prepared for delays

Weather, mechanical problems, and air-traffic are just some of the reasons flights get delayed. To prepare for the possibility of delays, Radon suggests packing snacks that keep well, like nuts, granola bars, cheese sticks, for yourself and your kids. “Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at a water fountain once you’re through security,” she says. Other items to consider include ibuprofen, allergy medicine, anything for blocked ears, including gum to chew, and lotion because being on a plane makes your skin dry, explains Radon. Another item she won’t leave home without? Lysol wipes. “After a few hours, the bathrooms can become unkempt.” Here are 12 bizarre reasons for flight delays.

Woman hands puting shoes to suitcase, bag organizermdbildes/Shutterstock

Prioritize your shoes

Cute shoes, workout shoes, walking shoes… they all take up so much room in your suitcase, says Frilicci. “There really is no easy answer when it comes to packing them.” To maximize space, she tucks jewelry and other small items into the shoes and then puts them in shoe bags. “It should go without saying that your shoes shouldn’t touch your clothes.” Another smart tip comes from Valencia, “No matter what, I always pack flip flops—I don’t like walking barefoot on the gross hotel floor.” Flight attendants always pack these essentials in the winter.

Winnipeg, Manitoba / Canada - May 19, 2018: Tide laundry product in an isolated backgroundThamyris Salgueiro/Shutterstock

Pack laundry detergent

Committing to doing your own laundry when traveling is a surefire way to lighten your suitcase. While some hotels have washing machines on site (call ahead to find out), you can wash many items in the bathroom sink, especially if you pack items that are lightweight and quick drying, Valencia shares. Individual laundry packets made for hand washing in the sink and portable laundry lines take up little room in your suitcase or you can invest in a portable washing system such as Scrubba, a bag that washes and dries clothes when you are on the go. Find out the 13 travel secrets veteran globetrotters wish you knew.

Set of products in a cotton eco bag on a marble table, bananas, avocado, eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower. The concept of zero waste.Oxanakhov/Shutterstock

Pack a portable shopping bag

A lightweight portable shopping bag can serve many purposes when traveling. Some places charge you for bags, so bringing your own shopping bag is a good option if you are trying to save money and be green, says Frilicci. That shopping bag can also be used for dirty clothes or as a carry-on to hold the overflow from a packed suitcase.

close up of businessman using mobile phone and laptop computer on white desk in modern officeeverything possible/Shutterstock

Be smart with your electronics

Traveling with too many electronic devices can seriously weigh you down, especially when each one comes with a separate charging cord. Determining whether you can or cannot live without your cell phone, laptop, headphones, and iPad is a personal decision, but if you decide to bring them all, you should try to streamline the cords and chargers that come with them. Frilicci recommends keeping all of your cords wrapped neatly in one little container or using travel gadget organizers that keep everything in one zippered pouch. A Mophie charger is also a must, says Frilicci. “It lets you charge your devices when you don’t have access to electricity.” Next, find out the 12 golden rules for stress-free air travel.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected].

Kim Fredericks
Kim Fredericks is a well-published freelance writer and editor with 15 years of experience covering travel, hotels, design, real estate, and various lifestyle angles for major publications and web sites. She is a regular contributor to LUXURY magazine, a former associate editor and long-time contributor to Robb Report, and a frequent contributor to web sites such as Passported, Jetsetter, and Oyster.

The former Expert to Vacation Homes for, Kim has covered vacation home real estate and travel for more than 10 years. During the real estate boom, she helped launch Showcase magazine, Vacation Homes, Vertical Living, and served as's real estate expert. Kim has also contributed to Ralph Lauren magazine, Ski's Mountain Home, Fitness, Cowboys and Indians,, Robb Report Home & Style, and

Kim earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and English from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and a Masters in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She is an avid skier, golfer, and outdoor enthusiast. She lives in the NYC Metro area with her husband Victor and Rocky the Jack Russell.

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