No matter the destination, traveling is incredibly exciting. But between making plans and rushing through the airport, traveling also brings on a lot of stress. This is especially true when it comes to packing your bags. One survey found that 60% of travelers pack more than they need.
However, packing doesn’t have to be stressful, and if you give yourself some time to prepare in advance, it won’t be. With a little planning, you can get the most of your suitcase — and the best out of your trip. Here are a few of the most effective ways you can get rid of packing anxiety and transform into an efficient packing aficionado:
Invest in the Right Suitcase
Above all else, you have to invest in a good suitcase. How you pack doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right bag for the job. If your suitcase is too small, worn down, or simply doesn’t suit you anymore, you’ll struggle to pack it properly.
The “right” suitcase will look different for everyone, and there are countless options to choose from. Before shopping, consider how often you travel and the kind of traveling you usually do. You should also reflect on suitcases you’ve had in the past and what you liked (or didn’t) about them. Don’t forget to research different features — like internal compartments, extra external pockets, or even electronic plugs or digital luggage tags — so you don’t miss out on something you’d enjoy using.
If you’re planning to fly, think about whether you’ll be checking your bag or carrying it on. Most airlines impose size and weight restrictions on both options, though carry-ons are regulated more strictly than checked bags. To avoid the extra cost of an oversize bag, make sure the suitcase you pick out is the right size for whatever airline you’re flying.
Create a Packing List
Once you’ve got your bag, sit down and make a list of all the things you need to pack. Consider making several lists, one for each type of item you need to bring (for instance, have one list just for clothing, another one for toiletries, another for electronics, and so on).
This will help you stay organized before you even start packing, minimize the chance that you’ll forget one of your essentials, and ensure you don’t bring clothing that’s inappropriate for your destination.
You can also make your list while you pack. Make note of which items you put in your suitcase. Jot down things you still need to pack, checking them off your list when you get around to packing them.
Whatever method you choose, bring your list with you on your trip. That way, you can refer back to it when you need to pack for your trip home.
Consider the 1-2-3-4-5-6 Rule
The 1-2-3-4-5-6 rule is a classic packing strategy. With this method, you only have to pack:
- One hat;
- Two pairs of shoes;
- Three bottoms, including pants, shorts, and skirts;
- Four shirts;
- Five pairs of socks;
- And six pairs of underwear.
The beauty of the 1-2-3-4-5-6 rule is that the hard work is already done; you don’t have to think about what to pack. If you’re bringing a single cap, make sure you find your favorite hat, one that fits your head comfortably and isn’t too tight. Pick your preferred items for each following category, and throw them into your bag.
If you want to follow the 1-2-3-4-5-6 rule exactly, it’s best to do so on shorter trips. Otherwise, you can adjust or expand the list as needed.
Choose Fabrics That Travel Well
When packing your clothes, do your best to pick travel-friendly fabrics — in other words, anything that is stretchy, stain- and wrinkle-resistant, and easy to fold. Clothing made from knit, wool, and cotton tends to travel well, while stiffer fabrics are better left at home.
That being said, it’s best to bring the clothing you’ll need on your trip, regardless of what fabric it’s made of. Consider what you’re going to do, what the weather will be like, and what you prefer to wear. By doing so, you’ll bring along the items that you’ll use and ensure that you have everything you need on your trip.
Research How to Pack Tricky Items Ahead of Time
Some items, including jewelry and formal wear, are difficult to pack — unless you do your homework, that is.
Not only will researching different packing techniques ahead of time make it easier to pack your bag, but it will also ensure your items are properly protected while you travel. After all, you don’t want to put your favorite athletic cap or trucker hat at the bottom of your suitcase, only to discover that they’re smashed and misshapen when you arrive at your destination.
Be sure to look up tips and tricks specific to the items you’re planning to bring with you. There are almost countless clever ways to pack jewelry, hats, formal wear, electronics, toiletries, breakables, shoes, and other awkward, fragile, or cumbersome items.
Roll Your Items
You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s so important that it bears repeating: roll your clothing when you pack! This is a simple way to save space in your suitcase and prevent your clothes from getting wrinkled.
Starting with the largest items and working your way to the smallest, roll your clothes as tightly as possible before putting them in your suitcase. You can even put rubber bands around the rolled clothes so they keep their shape.
If you have any large or stiff pieces of clothing, though, it’s better to fold them. This includes collared shirts, blazers, jackets, and dress clothing. You should also carefully fold any items that you don’t want wrinkled or that are prone to wrinkles.
When you’re ready to start packing your suitcase, be strategic about it.
Put the items you’ll need first or use most frequently at the top of your bag, so you can reach them easily without disorganizing everything. Place heavy items and items you don’t need to access right away at the bottom of your suitcase to distribute weight more evenly and prevent lighter items from being crushed. If you have any large or bulky clothing items, consider wearing them instead of packing them to free up room in your bag.
There are certain things you should always keep on your person while traveling, especially if you’re flying. Store any prescription medications, important documents (like your passport), valuables, and any other critical items in your purse, backpack, or whatever you’re using as your personal item. Even if your luggage gets lost or mishandled, you’ll have your irreplaceable, essential items with you.
Bring an Empty Laundry Bag
Don’t forget to bring an empty bag to store your dirty laundry. When you’re on the road, the last thing you need is your dirty clothes getting mixed up with your clean items. You don’t need anything fancy; even an empty trash bag will do the trick. Simply having a bag for your laundry will make it easier to unpack your bag when you come home and help your clean clothing stay that way until you get back.
Organize Your Liquids
Spend some time organizing your toiletries — especially your liquids. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a strict liquids rule for carry-on bags: you can only bring containers that are 3.4 ounces or smaller and they must fit in a resealable quart-sized bag. You have to remove this bag from your larger suitcase when going through security, so make sure it’s easily accessible.
If you’re checking a bag or using another mode of transportation, you don’t have to follow TSA’s liquids rule. Even still, it’s a good idea to put your liquids, gels, creams, and similar items in a separate bag. If they leak, the spill will be contained to that bag. This allows for easy cleanup and prevents fragile items, like your electronics, from being damaged.
Avoid Over- or Underpacking
Finally, try not to pack too much or too little. According to packing experts, there are psychological reasons for both over- and underpacking; you may already have a natural inclination toward one or the other.
Both over- and underpacking can make an otherwise fun trip stressful. If you don’t bring enough, you’ll have to take time out of your trip to find new supplies, or just go without something you genuinely need. If you bring too much, you have to haul around an overstuffed bag that doesn’t leave much room for error or souvenirs.
Instead, think critically about what you’ll need and use, and bring only those items. It will take some time (and probably require multiple trips) to figure out what’s just right for you. However, with some patience and practice, you’ll know exactly what you need and become an expert at efficient packing.