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Sometimes, the things we bring aren’t as important as how we bring them.
There’s nothing worse than lugging giant suitcases through the tube at rush hour or not being able to find a single thing in your carry-on when you need it.
Over the years, I’ve come up with some expert packing tips to help you make the most of your space.
1. Know Your Luggage Limits
Nowadays, with the “Economy Light” pricing and “add on” structure, airlines like Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic are being increasingly more strict with luggage sizes and weights.
Before you go, you need to check the luggage restrictions for your ticket for every airline you are flying, including any internal ones.
2. Pack Less than You Need
From toiletries to underwear, you can buy things you need if you forget it or leave it at home on purpose.
If you are planning on traveling to more than one place with your luggage, you should pay extra close attention to bringing less than you think you need.
Yes, you do need to prep for the weather where you’re going, but you don’t need 7 different cardigans for 7 days, you know?
If you normally wear one pair of jeans for a week at home, you don’t need to pack four different ones to go abroad for a week.
You’ll also want space in your luggage empty on the way out so you can bring back souvenirs, so my best tip is to lay out everything you’re going to want to bring on your bed or floor and then at least try and decrease by 1/3rd.
3. Prioritize Your Carry On
When you pack your carry-on, pack wisely.
If your luggage in the hold gets lost, what will you need for those first few days?
Your laptop, phone, phone chargers, adapter, any medication and at least a change of clothes or a change of underwear should go in your carry-on, along with any snacks for the flight and other entertainment.
Pack strategically as well – make sure your in-flight snacks are in the front compartment while your change of underwear can be stuffed way down into your carry-on as (I really hope) you won’t need to access it on the flight.
The same goes for things like headphones – don’t just toss them anywhere in your carry-on so that when you want them you have to unpack your bag in front of 3 rows.
4. Understand Your Ability to Bring a Personal Bag
On the vast majority of long-haul flights, you will be allowed to bring both a carry-on that can go above your seat and a personal bag that can go underneath the seat in front of you.
Often, the airline will suggest that this is like a “purse,” which leaves many people saying “Oh, I don’t need a purse” and then not bringing on a personal bag.
I always use a backpack for my personal bag and have never had a problem, and the same with my husband.
It is an excellent way to bring more luggage without paying extra, and as long as it can fit under the seat in front of you which 99% of day backpacks can, then you’re all set.
5. Use Luggage Organization
Whether you want to purchase luggage organizers or just come up with your own system, having a method to your packing madness is going to help you in the long run when you need to access something quickly.
It will also help you figure out if you’ve left anything behind as you can pack more methodically.
Whatever you do, just don’t shove everything unfolded and unorganized into a suitcase and expect that you’re going to be able to find your dinner outfit when you land without throwing everything into a corner of your hotel room or dumping the entire suitcase out onto the bed.
6. Roll Your Clothes
Time and time again, I have found that the best way to travel with clothes to avoid wrinkles and make the most of your space is to roll them, not fold them.
7. Use ALL Available Space
In addition to rolling your clothes, don’t let any nook or cranny in your suitcase go to waste.
Socks can be rolled up and stuffed into shoes, unbox the adaptors you may have purchased and pack them without the boxes so you don’t have additional bulk, take toiletries like toothpaste out of their packaging, etc.
Also check out the zipped options in your suitcase, including the front zippers that open up a compartment on top as well.
We use this to put a lot of our flat, printed material in, or you can also do things like underwear easily here since it will squish pretty flat.
8. Bring Things to Purposefully Get Rid Of
One of the best tips I’ve ever heard about traveling is to pack items of clothing, like old underwear, that you’re happy to get rid of at the end of the trip to make room for souvenirs.
Not only does it let you do a little bit of spring cleaning at any time of year, but it means you won’t have to make those hard choices at the end of what you have room for when you’ve already determined what you’re getting rid of to make space.
9. Make Your Suitcase Stand Out
The number of times I have almost taken home the wrong black bag or seen about 20 black bags that look the same go around on a baggage carousel are too many to count.
The number one rule of making sure you’re reunited with your luggage on the other side is to make sure that you either have a very unique looking bag (unique color, shape), or you do something like tie a giant colorful ribbon onto it.
10. Make a List Before You Go
International travel can be harder to pack for that domestic travel, so make sure you make a packing list to ensure that you’re actually bringing everything you want to bring.
In the heat of the moment/panic when you’re trying to check in for your flight, call your bank about being abroad, and make sure everyone is remembering to pack their toothbrush, it can be really helpful to run through a list.
Keep it on the “Notes” in your phone so you don’t lose it, or write a physical list that you can cross off (so satisfying).
11. Vacuum Pack Your Clothes
To save the most room in your luggage, you can pack your clothes in vacuum bags that allow you to essentially reduce them down to much smaller sizes as it removes all of the excess air.
This is fantastic for packing things in your carry-on on airlines that don’t typically check your carry-on weight.
Don’t do this for your checked luggage and think it will save you weight, as it won’t, obviously, but if you want to be able to bring a smaller checked bag if you’re going to be visiting areas where you don’t want to lug giant suitcases around, it’s definitely an option.
12. Put Your Liquids in Bags
A lot can happen on that flight over the ocean, including the liquids in your toiletries exploding everywhere due to the pressure on the plane.
If you’re bringing things like shampoo or face wash, it’s always a great idea to wrap it in a plastic bag or a Ziploc bag to make sure that if it does leak or explode that it doesn’t go all over the rest of your stuff.
13. Add a Fabric Conditioner Sheet
Especially if you’re had to pack something that was ever so slightly damp or you have a long travel experience (say, if you’re going from the US to Australia or similar), it can be helpful to put a fabric conditioner sheet in with your clothes to help them stay fresh.
It’s definitely on the “fancy” end of travel, as most people will just be crossing their fingers they have everything and no time to think about fabric sheets, but if you want to be that bit extra while packing for international travel, go for it.
14. Keep Your Electronics Separate
This packing tip for international travel has more to do with getting through security, as you’ll usually be asked to remove your electronics like laptops and tablets from your suitcase.
Some people pack these deep within their luggage and then are caught off guard, forcing them to bust everything out of their suitcase in the middle of the line.
Save yourself and keep your electronics separate!
15. Use a Lightweight Suitcase
Here’s a top tip for saving on that luggage weight, especially when you’re trying to stay under the allowance but also packing for longer international travel: use a lightweight suitcase.
The actual weight of your suitcase counts towards the total weight, so bringing a lighter suitcase built with lighter materials is going to help you pack more stuff in.
16. Pack Copies of your Passport Separate from your Passport
After a recent experience when a friend lost her passport in Scotland one day before trying to fly back to America and didn’t even have copies of her passport to use to get an emergency one at the Embassy, I am full team “pack a ton of copies of your passport.”
But don’t pack these copies WITH your passport. Put a fully copy of your passport (definitely including the photo page) in your checked luggage, in your carry-on luggage, and in any personal item you have like a backpack or purse.
17. Pack your Medication in your Carry on
Never, ever travel with your medication in your checked bag?
It might get lost, which would spell disaster for you.
Instead, always bring your medication with you in your carry-on, which is much less likely to get lost.
18. Bring the Less Heavy Version or Everything you Own
It’s a serious tip! You’re trying to save on weight in your luggage, often, so if you pack the pair of lighter shoes instead of the heavier ones or the lighter coat instead of the heaviest coat you have, you’ll save on that luggage allowance and be able to bring more things.
19. Wear the Heaviest Clothes on the Flight
There are things that you shouldn’t actually be putting in your bag if you’re trying to save on that luggage allowance for international travel, including heavy shoes like boots as well as heavy coats and jackets.
You can take off your layers when you get on the plane and store the coat or jackets above your head or under your seat, and they’ll just be taking up valuable space in your bag that you can use for other things.
20. Take an Empty Bag for Dirty Clothes
When you’re traveling internationally, there’s no telling what is going to be available for you to put dirty clothes in depending on what hotels you’re staying at, so bring an empty laundry bag or grocery bag that can help you create that dirty clothes pile within your luggage and not mix the dirty clothes with the clean ones in your suitcase as you travel around.
21. Bring a Luggage Scale
Get yourself a handheld luggage scale like this so you can weigh your luggage more easily before the flight home, as otherwise it’ll be difficult to figure out if you’re over the weight limit until you’re at the airport check-in area and it’s a whole ordeal.
They’re small, easy to use (you just pull up on the suitcase with them) and can save you a lot of money in excess baggage fees and help you figure out how best to pack/what to wear on the plane instead so you don’t end up in a sticky or expensive situation.