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How to Pack A Suitcase for Vacation

How to Pack a Suitcase and Save Space for Vacation

10 Packing Tips & Common Mistakes to AvoidHow to Pack a Suitcase for Vacation 10 Packing Tips

Knowing how to pack a suitcase and save space for vacation is an art. Especially when you don’t know what to pack. Common mistakes can lead to the well known nightmare of arriving on vacation only to find that you have no use for anything you packed and not a thing to wear. Knowing how to pack your suitcase for vacation and having an organized packing plan will make for a more enjoyable vacation. The packing process will be so stress-free that you’ll feel like your vacation started early! Follow these 10 packing tips to master the art of packing a suitcase, or as we like to call it: packing nirvana.

How to Pack A Suitcase

1. No Overpacking. Period.

This directly contradicts an oft-shared piece of (terrible) packing advice: Be prepared for anything. “Anything” is a tall order! If you’re not planning any formal events, why bother dragging a fancy dress and heels around all week just in case you get a black tie invitation while you’re away? Highly unlikely.

If that one-in-a-million circumstance does come up, you can always find what you need close to where you’re staying. Rather than bring everything you own, allow a cushion in your travel budget for shopping, incase an unplanned need should arise.

Keep in mind, a 22” carry on will carry roughly two pairs of jeans, three sweaters, five shirts, and two dresses. Guys – you can substitute one more pair of jeans for those dresses.

2. Create a List – Yes, a list!

I can hear you moaning now – but a list will really help you think through the various activities you’ll be doing while away and you are less likely to miss something important. We created this ‘Summer Beach Vacation Packing List’ to help you get started. Simply click this link to get access to the checklist. If you’re a procrastinator, creating your own list is going to be a challenge for you. That’s why you should download the packing checklist we created. I promise you’ll thank me later. Bonus hack – when making your own checklist, review the weather report prior to departure. Click here to sign-up for the checklist.

3. Mix & Match With the Three W’s.

As you gather the outfits you need, consider items from the same color palette. This will allow you to mix and match through the trip. A good ratio to remember is 2:1 or 2 tops to 1 bottom. Cotton, knits and wools travel best – obviously wool is out during summer travel. The three W’s are a good mantra to remember – 1. Wrinkle-free 2. Washable. 3. Worn-Together. Stick with a simple color collection, cotton or knits, something you can wash/dry easily, and you’ll show up unwrinkled and looking good!

4. Three is the Magic Number

When packing shoes, it’s easy to go overboard and they take up considerable space. For a summer vacation here’s a guide for both women and men

Women – 1 pair of heeled sandals, 1 pair of flat sandals, 1 one pair of sneakers/walking shoes.

Men –  1 pair of loafers, 1 pair of sandals and 1 pair of sneakers.

You can save space by wearing the heaviest pair of shoes and stuffing the packed shoes with socks, chargers, or small items.

5. Leave Room for New Stuff

If you’re like me, you always shop while on vacation and having room in the suitcase to bring items home is key! Make sure you leave some room in your suitcase to accommodate your purchases and avoid extra baggage fees on the way home. Another trick is to pack a fold-up carry-on bag you can stash for the departure and fill up for the return home.

6. Stay in charge!

When traveling internationally, don’t forget to bring the appropriate converters or adapters so you are always able to charge your electronic devices. The sweetest vacation spot can quickly turn sour when your batteries are dying left and right. Make sure you’ve always got enough juice to take that next photo or GPS your way back to your hotel by picking up the right items ahead of time. You also avoid over-paying at airports or hotel gift shops.

7. One bag does not equal “traveling light” if that bag weighs a ton!

Perhaps the worst packing advice I’ve heard is grab a suitcase that’s large enough to carry everything, and stuff as much as you can into it. Wrong again, Internet.

Choose a suitcase that is easy to carry and maneuver, and you’ll have no choice but to pack light. And while packing in one bag may be an organizing dream of yours, you’ll always want to keep your most valuable items (think passports, jewelry, medications and other difficult to replace items) in a separate carry-on bag for safe-keeping. Unless you’re traveling with children or you’re planning to be away for weeks or months, you should be able to manage with a carry-on sized case and a good shoulder bag or purse or as the airline industry likes to call it, a personal item.

8. Roll, Don’t Fold.

Most experts agree, rolling is superior to folding when trying to maximize space – this holds true when you roll things tightly…which is key. The tight rolls also are less prone to having creases and deep folds set in during travel. I mix rolling and laying clothes around each other. To layer, alternate your hems and  waistbands in the suitcase and drape the ends over the edge of the suitcase. Once my layers are prepared (half in – half out), I layer or fold the items in one-at-a-time, into the center, working my way around all the suitcase one garment at a time. This creates one tight bundle.

9. Layer Like a Cake.

Pack your items in layers, which is essential for carry on bags subject to TSA screening. Here’s an example of your suitcase layers.

  1. Bottom Layer – Shoes & Tightly Rolled Items.
  2. Middle Layer – Slacks, Dresses, Shirts, Blouses.
  3. Top Layer – Electronics or Anything You’ll Need First

Belts can fit around the outside of the clothes. You can use the outside pocket of your suitcase for a lightweight sweater you might wear during travel. For extra packing goodness, use a dry cleaning bag between layers of clothes. The bag allows the items to slide preventing creases and can also be used to remove an entire suitcase layer at once.

10. Don’t Waste The Personal Item.

With the airlines charging for every checked back  and gate agents becoming more aggressive with catching people who break the carry-on rules, it is essential to not waste the opportunity provided to travelers with a carry on personal item. Women can place their smaller purse inside a larger tote. And guys, skip the laptop bag and find a larger backpack or man-bag where you can include more items.

Traveling light in the future doesn’t have to mean being unprepared. If you follow just a few of our 10 tips above you’ll be packing and vacationing with less stress and more fun! We’d love for you to share your best vacation packing tips in the comments below so our readers can learn to be organized and unburdened before their next getaway! What’s your best piece of advice?


Written by

Certified Professional Organizer®, Scott Roewer is founder of The Organizing Agency, a professional organization and productivity company devoted to teaching residential and business clients how to increase productivity, save money, and how to live a more organized and abundant life.

An award winning company, in 2013, The Organizing Agency was once again awarded the Angie’s List Super Service award, in 2012 the National Association of Professional Organizers recognized Scott with its top honor, the Founders’ Award, and later the same year, the U.S. Air Force commended his volunteerism, naming him Joint Base Andrews “Hometown Hero.” For more information on Scott’s team and how they can help you, contact the office online or call us directly at 202-249-8330.