Travel

7 Tricks for a Perfectly Packed Suitcase, Every Time

So you can focus on choosing a rom-com to watch on the plane.

June 25, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Packing light is a sport. Or at least, that's how I justify being so sweaty at the end of an avid bout.

And between carry-on size restrictions, the avoidance of baggage fees, and an inescapable series of pre-vacation premonitions of me buried under a mountain of sensible walking shoes with not a single clean sock in sight, it's not exactly one I'll volunteer to play.

But over the years, I've developed some strategies to make packing for a trip a little bit easier. (Mainly in the spirit of reallocating my energy to snack-planning for said trip.)

Here are seven tips, culled from my many failures and triumphs, as well as those of my colleagues:


1. Invest in a Suitcase You'll Be Excited to Use Again & Again

Find a suitcase that speaks to you in matters of size, layout, and compartment density. (Pick one in each size-family if you regularly travel with a checked bag and a carry-on.)

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Top Comment:
“If you have a vacuum sealer for food, you can vacuum seal the puffer jacket and it will pack flat. Even scarves can be vacuum sealed and just slipped into that suitcase. Once at your arrival, just take out the jacket, give it a few shakes, and it's as good as new. My other tip, take electrical cable ties in your suitcase. It can hold that suitcase together when something breaks, or be a lock which TSA can just cut off should they wish to get into your suitcase for inspection. ”
— Catherine
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According to Travel + Leisure: "The standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, which includes the handle and the wheels." They note that, because various international carriers have different regulations, "To be sure your bag is accepted on all carriers, you'll want to get a suitcase that stands at 21 inches or less."


2. Consider Rolling Clothes & Packing Cubes

For lightweight, thin fabrics (think: linens, t-shirts, sundresses, and the like), rolling a folded garment really does do wonders for suitcase Tetris.

"Everything is rolled and fitted like a grid along the side where the luggage handles retract," says E-commerce Coordinator Jamie Chen, of her packing strategy. "The key is make everything as flat as possible." (Chen also advocates for keeping a capsule wardrobe to pare down even further.)

For structural help, seek out packing cubes: semi-firm rectangles that allow you to organize and compress your items into different compartments.


3. Mix & Matching Layers Is the Answer, Every Time

Whether you're the type to make packing lists or to freestyle your outfits, always think in terms of what can be layered together. I like to start with one pair of versatile pants and a coat or jacket layer that matches, and fill in the blanks with a few tops and sweater options.

"In the summer, I always try to pack an easy-to-wear palette of neutrals. Usually it's a blend of whites, naturals, and faded blues—lately a hint of leopard too," says Associate Buyer Aja Aktay, who most definitely looks more put together than I do on any given trip. "A crisp shirt always seems to be the first thing I throw on, and it's nice to mix that back to some earthy textures like a rattan bag or rope sandal."


4. Wear Your Bulkiest Shoes & Coat on the Plane

Packing shoes can be a pain point for even the savviest traveler. One thing you can do: wear the most cumbersome pair (looking at you, boots) on the flight. Bonus points if you do the same with that puffer jacket.

As for packing additional pairs of shoes, "I like to use the cloth bags that are provided with sheet sets. I never know what to do with those bags anyway and they just so happen to fit a pair of shoes perfectly!" says Aktay. Other team members note that shower caps make for handy sole-covers.

"I like to use [shoes] as their own vessels and fill them up with socks and random small items that otherwise just slip through and fall to the bottom of your bag," says UX Designer Rebecca Sutter.


5. Pre-Pack Your Toiletries

Store your travel toiletries together in a travel case—which can be one intended for that purpose, or if you're me, a years-old Glossier zip-top bag—so you never need to unpack or repack all those tiny bottles.

Keep in mind the TSA's rule for liquids in carry on luggage: "3-1-1 for carry-ons = 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume); 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin."


6. B.Y.O. Laundry Bag

Erin Alexander, Assistant Editor of Partner Content, swears by a pre-packed laundry bag, whether it's a true breathable mesh one, or a repurposed one from a recent grocery run.

"Otherwise, I let my dirty clothes just pile up on the floor next to my suitcase during a trip, and I always end up losing something," she says.


7. Keep Liquids & Laptops Near the Surface

Pack your laptop and bag of toiletries last, so it's as close to painless as possible to remove for the security screening line. Because the only thing worse than being stuck behind the person fishing around in the bottom of a Mary Poppins-esque duffel for one tiny shampoo is being that person yourself.


What's your best trick for efficient packing? Let us know in the comments. This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors and writers, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches.

3 Comments

Giggles July 8, 2019
For some of us aging people who might possibly feel like they are packing a pharmacy along with...prescription bottles take up loads of room, even a 7 day organizer can, and what do you do if you are traveling more than a week? I use the pill suite (it can be purchased through Amazon for $39.95), you can heat seal your pills in biodegradable bags. They take up just a fraction of the space! If you use the Marie Kondo method of folding, it works brilliantly for packing your suitcase also. When I travel (which I do a lot), I also pack make-up samples (thank you Sephora) instead of full sized, another great space saver. To cut down on liquids use tinted lip balms or lip sticks (versus lip gloss), lotion bars and soaps (even solid shampoos) and solid perfume (Lush is a great source for these items). Sticking to a 'palette' helps focus clothing choices and cut's down on accessories too. I always pack a foldable large tote bag in case I bring back more than planned. Save yourself some moolah and save the earth by packing a refillable water container, it's worth the little space it takes up!
 
Linda M. July 7, 2019
Keep bottles of liquid in clear zip lock bags. Add a piece of tissue incase the bottle leaks.
 
Catherine July 7, 2019
If you have a vacuum sealer for food, you can vacuum seal the puffer jacket and it will pack flat. Even scarves can be vacuum sealed and just slipped into that suitcase. Once at your arrival, just take out the jacket, give it a few shakes, and it's as good as new.

My other tip, take electrical cable ties in your suitcase. It can hold that suitcase together when something breaks, or be a lock which TSA can just cut off should they wish to get into your suitcase for inspection.