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12 Pro Tips for Packing Your Suitcase Smarter

How to Pack a Suitcase
Allianz - How to Pack a Suitcase

Bags can say a lot about the travelers who drag, roll and carry them around.

Inexperienced trekkers may wrestle stubborn trunks or oversized suitcases packed to the brim, dragging them from the parking garage to the check-in counter. More experienced globetrotters zip around with sleek, rolling bags designed to fit neatly in overhead compartments. And we’ve all seen the thrifty traveler who’s packed their belongings in Duct-taped duffel bags that are older than aviation itself.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about travelers from their baggage alone, but it’s not until their luggage is unzipped, unsnapped or the Duct Tape is unwound until we see just how travel savvy they may be. Yes, the proof is in the packing.

While the optimal bag and packing methods differ based on itineraries, budgets and more, there are some near-universal guidelines you can follow to make life convenient in the airport and the hotel room when you’re living out of a suitcase.

Here they are…

1. Pack peace of mind.

No matter how meticulous you are in selecting and sorting just the right wardrobe, you can’t help but listen to that tiny voice in the back of your head: What if your immaculately packed bag is lost, damaged or even delayed? Your first step to packing like a savvy traveler is to select a travel insurance plan from Allianz Global Assistance that offers a Baggage Delay benefit, which can reimburse you for essential items in the event that you’re separated from a minimum amount of time. Also look for a Lost / Damaged Bag benefit, which can reimburse you for repairs and replacements, with the specifics spelled out in your individual travel insurance plan.

You might be surprised just how confidently you stride down the concourse knowing your bases are covered with travel insurance, even if you are toting your kids’ Paw Patrol and Minnie Mouse bags (because their arms started hurting at the airport entrance). 1, 2 Before you keep on reading our packing tips, take a minute to find a travel insurance plan now.

2. It’s in the Bag

It's time to retire the black suitcase with the broken zipper and frayed edges. Modern luggage designs include divided sections, compression straps, 360-degree wheels and even digital tracking tags.3

If you're packing a carry-on, make sure it complies with airline carry-on rules, because airlines are tightening enforcement. (And if you’re feeling extra adventurous — or just want to skip or reduce any applicable baggage fees — try packing everything you need in your carry-on.)

3. Consider Compression Bags

Several companies make plastic travel compression bags that help remove air from bulky clothing by rolling (no vacuum cleaner required). Travelers' reviews are mixed.4 Some say they're the best way to pack a suitcase, because you can pack much more and use the bags to hold dirty clothes on the way back. You can even wash clothes in the bag if you add water and soap and then shake and massage it. Other reviewers warn that compression bags wrinkle thin fabrics, and they can make it easy to pack too much and end up with an overweight bag.

4. Practice the 1-2-3-4-5-6 Rule

Here's one of the simplest and best suitcase-packing tips we've heard.4 For a week-long trip, pack:

  • 1 hat
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 3 pairs of pants or skirts
  • 4 shirts
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 6 sets of underwear

This list can be modified to suit your needs and the nature of your trip. For example, a business trip requires a different wardrobe than a cruise. And maybe you’re a two-shirts-a-day person, just because. But it's a good place to start if you're not sure how much clothing to pack.

5. Check Your Tags

Fabric matters when you're packing for a trip. Seek out material that resists wrinkling and stains, stays fresh-smelling after several wears and dries quickly. If you’re a sweater, for example, include some moisture-wicking attire. When Tortuga Backpacks asked experts for their best travel packing tips, several mentioned fabric choices: lightweight merino wool for outerwear, quick-dry synthetics for underwear and SmartWool socks.

6. Choose a Travel Palette

To reduce the amount of clothing you pack, stick to a strict color palette: a base of neutrals, like black and gray, and then one accent color, like red or violet. You'll be able to put together a week's worth of different outfits from a few basic pieces. Pack shoes that complement every outfit.

7. Perform a Reality Check

Bringing roller blades on cruise chips. Or packing bulky winter gear (including snowshoes) when your itinerary only allows you 45 min to explore the Great Outdoors. We’ve heard it all. And we come to the same conclusion: your travel routine will mirror your home routine, so pack accordingly. This doesn’t mean to nix the bathing suit if you’re anticipating some therapeutic soaking in the hotel hot tub, but it does mean to think twice before slipping items in your bag you don’t use every day.

8. Roll, Baby, Roll

Rolling your clothes is one of the best-known suitcase-packing tips, and for good reason. Rolling clothes conserves space, reduces wrinkling and makes it easier to find clothes in your suitcase. But do you really know how to roll? To turn T-shirts into tidy cotton burritos, try the military roll technique. Travel blogger Michael Tieso goes a step further and puts rubber bands around his clothes.5

9. Replace the Material with the Digital

Books are bulky, but bytes don't weigh a thing. If you're bringing a phone or other mobile device, consider downloading maps, translation apps, travel guides and reading material for your trip. One exception is travel documents. While it's a good idea to store digital copies of your passport and itinerary on your phone, you should pack a few printed versions as well.

10. Assemble Activity Kits

We're not talking about Mad Libs and invisible-ink puzzle books (although those are fun). The best way to pack a suitcase and keep it organized while traveling is to use smaller bags to separate clothes by use: one kit for swimming, for instance, and another for exercising.

11. None the Worse for Wear

If you’ve tried all these tips and you still can’t get the zipper on your bag to close, try this: take out your bulkiest clothing — whether it’s a blazer or a raincoat — and wear it onboard your plane, weather permitting. (A wool coat might not be a great idea if you’re departing from Miami.) And don’t forget to fill up those extra pockets, too.

12. Take Your Full Suitcase for a Test Drive

Think you've gotten your suitcase as light as possible? Carry your suitcase by the handle for a while. Roll it up and down the street. Try lugging it up and down stairs. This exercise will show you what it feels like to actually travel with your bag. If you find yourself exhausted or frustrated, you need to lighten the load.

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