50 Packing Tricks to Memorize Before Your Next Trip
Traveling just got a little less stressful.
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Make a list
Writing up a list of what you plan to take might feel like a useless step, but you’ll be glad you did. Not only will it keep you organized when you’re figuring out which outfits go together and trying to remember if you packed all your toiletries, but the list could also come in handy later. “This list is also great if the airline loses your bag and asks you to list what was in it,” says travel writer Tim Davis of luxeadventuretraveler.com.
“Pack” important documents virtually
Just in case your ID, passport, or kids’ travel consent forms are lost or stolen, keep a locked image of the files on your phone so you can access them without the Internet, suggests Grainne Kelly, inventor of BubbleBum inflatable booster seats. “You can also place a copy in your cloud, as long as it is password-protected so that the information is still accessible in the event that your phone is stolen too,” she says. “Just be sure to call the file ‘Aunt Ida’s recipes’ and not ‘All my important document information.’”
Bring a designated laundry bag
Not just any bag will do, though. “Do not use a plastic bag as a wash bag,” says travel blogger Nat Took of natpacker.com. “It will stink after just a few days.” Instead, bring a breathable laundry bag that won’t take up much space in your luggage.
Skimp on toiletries
Loading up travel bottles with shower products is a waste of space, says Peggy Goldman, president and founder of Friendly Planet Travel. “Hotels usually provide shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and hairdryers,” she points out. “Anything else you need you can pick up at a local convenience store when you get there.”
Clear space as you go
If you’re already tight on space but plan to buy souvenirs during your trip, bring old clothes that you were planning to donate or throw away. Instead of re-packing them after every wear, you can just leave them in the trash. “Not only do you have less laundry to do when you get back home, you free up some space in your suitcase for souvenirs,” says travel writer Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler.
Invest in packing cubes
Packing cubes aren’t just an easy way to separate socks and undies from your T-shirts, but they’ll also compress your clothes to open up some space in your suitcase, says Took. “Seriously, these things are amazing,” she says. “It may take a few tries to get the bag/suitcase to marry up perfectly, but once you have figured it out, you save so much space.” Oh, and while you’re at it, get yourself a luggage rack to make packing and unpacking on your trip a breeze.
Create a mini capsule wardrobe
Those outlandish heels you just bought might be fun to show off on a night out, but do they really match with much? “Choose versatile, multipurpose pieces that mix and match and can be dressed up or down,” suggests Kelly. Stick with one color palette so you don’t need to bring a new pair of shoes for every outfit. Oh, and by the way, you can transport your entire capsule wardrobe organized and mess-free with this duffel bag with garment rack.
Don’t put ice straight in the cooler
When you’re on a road trip, a cooler full of snacks and lunch fixings can be a lifesaver. To keep it clean, put the ice in baggies before putting it in the cooler, suggests family and parenting blogger Tangela Walker-Craft of Simply Necessary, Inc. “The bag could also be used as an ice pack in case of an injury,” she says.
Ask for samples
“Toiletries will get you in trouble!” says Amanda Carnagie, travel blogger at theworldincorporated.com. “They’re small, sometimes bulky, and quickly take up a lot of space.” To save space with makeup, she recommends asking a makeup store like Sephora or Ulta for samples of your favorite products and snagging mini perfumes from department stores instead of dragging along the whole bottle.
Personalize your luggage
“When traveling with black luggage—along with 90 percent of all the other travelers in the world—the last thing you want to do is pull a dozen pieces of luggage off a baggage carousel to check which one is yours,” says Kelly. She recommends making your suitcase stand out by tying on a brightly colored ribbon, attaching an eye-grabbing luggage tag, or taping your initials on in bright duct tape. Find out how to spot a quality piece of luggage.
BYO everything on cruise ships
Toiletries and OTC medications tend to be overpriced on cruise ships, so be prepared and bring your own, suggests Lori Sheller, vice president of cruise development for Tourico Holidays. Plus, you can usually bring a certain amount of soda, bottled water, and wine on the boat. “These wines are subject to a corkage fee if you would like to bring the bottles to the dining room, but not applied if you consume them in your cabin,” says Sheller. Find out more about what you should—and shouldn’t—pack for a cruise.
Organize by weight
Keep your heaviest items, like shoes and thick sweaters, at the bottom of a duffel or by the wheels on a rolling suitcase to keep them from crushing your more delicate items when you’re transporting your luggage, suggest AAA travel experts.
Swap a suitcase for a backpack
A suitcase might be easier on your back, but if you’ll be city- or hotel-hopping, you might be better off with a backpack, says travel blogger Grant Sinclair of wanderfilledlife.com. Not only will you have both hands free, but you’ll also have an easier time navigating. “I always feel bad when I see folks dragging a suitcase across a cobblestone street or up stairs,” says Sinclair.
Don’t stress about your charger plug
If you forgot your phone charger in your rush out the door, you’ll still be able to charge your phone as long as you have the cord, says Kelly. “You can use the USB port on your hotel room television (most flat screens will have one) to charge your phone,” she says.
Keep fragile items safe
If you bought fragile souvenirs that aren’t protected with bubble wrap, tuck them in the middle of the suitcase, surrounded by layers of clothing to keep it from breaking, suggests McKinzie Pack, budget travel blogger at mackpacking.com. “Avoid the corners of the suitcase and the outer perimeter where it is more likely to get bumped or collide with other baggage,” she says.
You’ve probably read tips about doing laundry so you can reuse outfits, but are you really likely to waste hours of sightseeing time at the laundromat? Maybe not, but you should still pack a travel-sized tube of detergent, especially if you plan on getting sweaty, says Seb Atkinson, travel blogger for thetraveloid.com. “You may not pass a laundry on your travels, but unless you’re going far off the beaten path, you won’t be away from a sink for long,” he says. “Travel detergent is compact and means you can wear your favorite garments several times during a trip, instead of having to put them away once they get a bit messy.”
Leave no space unfilled
Make the most of those tiny luggage requirements by finding new places to tuck smaller items. “Put things in empty space—socks inside shoes, for example—so that every possible space is maximized,” says Kelly. Don’t miss these other 10 tricks for squeezing everything in your suitcase.
Avoid packing bulky items
Save space in your bag by wearing your bulkiest items during travel, suggests Dave Simmons, CEO of peer-to-peer RV rentals platform Mighway. But if you’re leaving for a ski trip in the middle of summer, no need to sweat in your puffy coat at the airport. “If you want to pack, for example, a thick jacket that takes up a lot of space, consider packing it into a space-saver bag where you can suck out the air,” says Simmons.
Pack a power strip
If you have the space, a power strip is surprisingly handy during a hotel stay, especially if you’re traveling abroad. “You simply use that one adaptor to plug in your power strip, and then everything else plugs into the power strip using their conventional, two-prong, U.S.-style plugs. No additional adapters needed,” says Brian Stacey of guided tour and cruise company Tauck. Even when you’re traveling state-side, having one go-to spot for all your chargers means you don’t need to hunt all over for an open outlet, and you’ll be less likely to forget a cord in a hidden corner of the room, he says.
Think in layers
Especially if you’ll be hitting a couple of different weather conditions, planning outfits around layering makes it easy to peel off or add items without stuffing your suitcase with bulky sweaters, says frequent traveler Alex Haslam, media relations specialist with howtowatch.com. “With scarves, cardigans, and other basics, you can create many different outfits without needing a ton of pieces,” she says. She stands by her “seven-layer” setup: a pair of jeans, a versatile black dress, two T-shirts, a cardigan, a weatherproof jacket, and a scarf. Bring some jewelry to mix up your look, she recommends.
Take a backup map
Don’t rely on a GPS app to get you to your destination. “Print out a map and the text directions to have in the car,” says Walker-Craft. “GPS devices fail sometimes during extreme weather.” The map is also a good spot to write contact information for the hotel and emergency contacts in case of an accident, she says.
Keep your checked bag light
Any heavy items that might put your bag over the weight limit should go in your carry-on bag, says travel blogger Lissy Wild of 2britsandabucketlist.com. “I travel 20-plus times a year via plane, and I have never had my hand luggage weighed,” she says.
Be prepared all year
If you travel often throughout the year, frequent traveler John Doherty, founder of getcredo.com, recommends never unpacking your toiletries bag and keeping travel-specific versions of your go-to items in it. “Have travel-size deodorant, toothpaste, contact solution, and a dedicated toothbrush that you never remove from there,” he says. “This way you don’t forget important toiletries when packing quickly.” Oh, and you might also want to have a look at these Cadence travel containers—they’re the travel upgrade you didn’t know you needed.
Bag it up
Save space and stay organized by tucking rolled-up clothes into bags before you plop them in your luggage. “The plastic from your dry cleaning is perfect—like cling wrap for clothes—and can minimize wrinkles even further,” says Kelly.
Save space with stacks
If you’d rather not roll pieces like collared shirts, you can still save space, says Meg Roberts, president of Molly Maid. “Try and pack your folded clothes in an alternating direction to equalize the amount of space they take up on each side,” she says. Your stacks will stay flatter, making it easier to fit everything you need.
Pick soft-sided luggage
There are pros and cons for picking hard luggage vs. a soft-sided suitcase, but Kelly recommends sticking with soft luggage. “It’s much easier to squeeze it into the overhead bin on an airplane, bus or train,” she says.
Think inside the suitcase
If the luggage tag on the outside of your suitcase falls off, you’ll still want proof that it’s yours, so attach a second tag with your name on the inside of your case, recommend AAA travel experts.
Bring a door wedge
A door wedge won’t take up much space in your bag, but it could save you a massive headache, says travel blogger Carlita of carlita.me. “It always comes in handy when I am hauling my heavy luggage in and out of hotels for a safe entry and exit,” she says.
Bring a bottle of rubbing alcohol
If you have room in your toiletry bag (speaking of, this Bagsmart toiletry bag is our all-time favorite), pour rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle so you can disinfect on the go, suggests Walker-Craft. “Alcohol can be used for sanitizing hands, spraying and wiping down surfaces before eating, and even for cleaning public toilets before using them,” she says.
Avoid a wrinkled suit
If you’re checking a bag and need to keep certain items wrinkle-free, bring a garment bag as your carry-on, suggests Tiffany Mast, travel expert for TravelBank. “A flight attendant will usually happily accommodate your bag by hanging it in a closet at the front or back of the plane,” she says.
Don’t pack your whole shoe collection
Shoes are likely one of the bulkiest items in your suitcase, so don’t go overboard when picking which to bring. Goldman recommends bringing just two pairs: one casual and one that’s a bit dressier. “Pack your shoes on the bottom of the bag, and stuff them with socks, belts, and other small items to save space,” she says.
Divide it up
If you don’t want to tuck everything into travel cubes, try using drawer dividers in your suitcase, suggests Wild. “It’s a really easy way to keep things organized and separated in your case,” she says.
To avoid tossing everything out of your bag in search of the shirt you wanted, Pack suggests keeping your pajamas and your Day One outfit at the top of your luggage. “If you’re only staying in a hotel for an evening (like on a road trip), it doesn’t necessarily make sense to fully unpack until you are staying in one place for consecutive days,” she says.
Swap suitcases for some items
If you’re traveling with someone else, put some of your clothes in your companion’s luggage and vice versa, suggests travel blogger Laura Longwell of traveladdicts.net. “If one of your bags gets lost or delayed by the airline, you’ll still have something,” she says. “We thought of this after my husband’s bag was delayed and it has saved us on more than one trip since.” These are 11 things you should always keep in a carry-on in case of emergency.
Bring a scarf
Scarves take up barely any room in your luggage, but they’ll serve tons of purposes on your trip. Use it as a fashion accessory, shawl, or hair protection in the wind, suggest AAA travel experts.
Procrastinating packing doesn’t give you much time to remember your often-forgotten items, says Jeanette Zinno, host of Jeanette on the Road With Schwinn. “I try not to leave packing until the last second, so a week before I’ll open my suitcase and throw things in it when I remember them or see them,” she says.
Make use of infant baggage
Most airlines let parents with kids younger than age two check bags like strollers and car seats for free, points out travel blogger Joss Hooren of littlegreenglobetrotter.com. “I recommend buying padded bags to protect these items in transit, and then stuffing them with anything you can’t fit in your suitcase,” she says. “We’ve squeezed in towels, cloth diapers, clothing, and on the way home, dirty laundry.” Make sure you know these other 18 things that are a lifesaver when traveling with kids.
Keep jewelry from tangling
Throwing your jewelry in a baggie practically guarantees you’ll arrive with a tangle of chains to unravel when you arrive. Travel and food blogger Helene D’Souza of masalaherb.com has a trick for keeping necklace chains separated. “Roll into a cloth or cling wrap lengthwise,” she suggests.
Rely on zip-top bags
Sandwich baggies are a handy place to stow chargers, while gallon-sized bags can keep underwear separated from the rest of your clothes. “Have a few extras for shoes or wet things from that last-minute swim,” Kelly suggests. Here are more forgotten items you need to add to your packing list.
Make use of pockets
Professional organizer Felice Cohen suggests tucking the things you’ll want on the plane—like a book, snacks, and painkiller—in the front pouch of your bag if it has one. “This avoids having to open your entire suitcase,” she says.
Having liquids break in your carry-on and spill all over your clothes is enough to ruin any trip. “It’s also a good idea to seal toiletries in a bag, and then reseal within a second bag, so you don’t have a mess,” says Mast. Memorize these other tricks for packing makeup and toiletries on vacation.
Stick important items in your personal bag
Even if you’re planning to bring a carry-on on the plane, keep key items in your purse or personal bag, recommends Liana Corwin, consumer travel expert for Hopper. “With more travelers opting to exclusively bring carry-on bags, the more likely it is that you may have to gate check them through to your final destination,” she says. “Make sure key items like travel documents, contacts, etc. aren’t going to wind up out of your sight, just in case your bag gets lost or delayed.”
Arrive to fresh clothes
You’ll want to feel (and smell) your best on vacation, so use Simmons’ simple hack for keeping clothes fresh: slip a dryer sheet in with your clothes to leave a fresh scent.
Go hands-free with your bag
A fanny pack might make you scream “tourist,” but replacing your usual purse with a no-hands bag is totally worth it, says Haslam. “I find a well-styled fanny pack (yes, that exists) to be more secure than a normal purse or bag, and many come with zippered pockets to keep organized,” she says. “As an added bonus, you can avoid the shoulder strain that comes with carrying a traditional bag for long hours.”
Switch from liquid to solid
Airlines limit how many liquids you can take, so switch to solid products when you can, suggests Zinno. She recommends Milk Makeup’s Boss Skincare Set for cleanser, toner, and more, or Raw Elements sunscreens, which come in sticks or metal tins. Best of all, beauty bars won’t leak all over your bag like a bottle might. To save even more space, break off just a small piece of a beauty bar, suggests Carnagie. Avoid these 16 airport mistakes to stop making before your next flight.
Protect your clothes from dirty shoes
Stick your walking shoes in with your clothes, and you might as well trample your clean outfits before heading on vacation. “Put shoes into shower caps to stop them from getting the rest of your clothes dirty,” suggests Simmons.
Sure, you know you don’t want to lug an extra-heavy suitcase everywhere, but there’s another reason to pack light: You might be able to shimmy the zipper shut on a jam-packed suitcase, but not everyone knows the Tetris-like magic you pulled to get it to close, so make sure it has a little breathing room. “Do not overpack your bag,” says Kelly. “Screeners will have a difficult time closing your luggage if selected for inspection, which will only lead to wrinkles and the potential for lost articles.” Don’t miss these luggage secrets baggage handlers wish you knew.
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