You can recognize an experienced world traveler by her bag. It's not the mammoth trunk; it's the chic, unexpectedly small suitcase that's not bursting at the seams. Really expert travelers can jet overseas for 10 days with only a carry-on. Think it's impossible? You, too, can learn how to pack a suitcase like a pro with these suitcase packing tips.
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.1
If you're packing a carry-on, make sure it complies with airline carry-on rules, because airlines are tightening enforcement.
Several companies make plastic travel compression bags that help remove air from bulky clothing by rolling (no vacuum cleaner required). Travelers' reviews are mixed.2 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.
Here's one of the simplest and best suitcase packing tips we've heard.3 For a week-long trip, pack:
This list can be modified to suit your needs and the nature of your trip — a business trip requires a different wardrobe than a cruise, for instance. But it's a good place to start if you're not sure how much clothing to pack.
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. 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.
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.
You might imagine yourself going for a morning jog on the beach, but if this isn't already part of your daily routine, you probably won't do it while you're on vacation. And you might end up dining at a five-star restaurant — but you don't need to pack your best designer dress, just in case. In short, be honest with yourself about what you're likely to be doing and wearing on your trip. If you're packing something purely for a what-if scenario, you should take it out of your suitcase.
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.4
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.
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.
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.
Many people overpack to protect themselves against worst-case travel scenarios. While it's smart to carry essentials like rain gear and a small first aid kit, you can't pack for every possible travel crisis. And what if you lose your luggage? The best way to pack peace of mind is to get travel insurance. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance can include benefits like lost or stolen luggage coverage and travel delay coverage, which reimburses you for essentials purchased during a trip delay.
Be sure to visit our library of Luggage Packing Tips & Tricks for more ideas on how to pack smart for your next vacation or business trip.