Did you see that sweaty, panting woman at the airport with her suitcase opened on the floor as she yanked out its innards? She was feverishly transferring stuff from her overweight bag into her kids’ luggage. I know because that was me—and not just once.
Finally, I met the straw that broke this over-packer’s aching back: I had to pay that airline fee for my behemoth bag.
On top of that, I was drowning in too much stuff throughout the trip.
I needed to turn my bloated ship around. Here are the pro tips that helped me join the savvy suitcase set—which has made me happier before and during the trip. These days, I pack faster, travel lighter and remain cucumber-cool through the journey because I’m well-equipped for the adventure at hand.
How to Pack a Suitcase the Easy Way and Arrive Light, Happy and Prepared
- WRITE OUT YOUR ITINERARY
Start by considering your trip in detail so you can capture your daily activities in writing. Sure, you may not have every day fully booked yet, but even a ballpark vision will help.
Draw a grid and write a complete list of the activities and events for each day. Record everything from a hike or swim to a museum tour or formal vs. casual dinner out.
Think through the outfits you’d like for those activities, including the shoes, jewelry and special accessories, like heavy socks or a sunhat for hiking. This is also a good time to check the weather forecast at your travel destination to consider the layers you’ll need.
Write these clothing needs next to each day’s entry in your grid.
- LAY IT ALL OUT
Arrange your initial packing pile on a bed where you can see it all, grouped by categories. Have you accounted for each event plus the weather? Ok, you’re on your way but don’t get too attached yet.
- EDIT RUTHLESSLY
Now, if you’re an over-packer like me, this is the hard part. It’s time to look upon this pile of items you love with a fresh, critical eye—the eye of discernment. It’s time for the great edit.
Begin by asking yourself which items, functionally speaking, are duplicates. For example, that black cardigan sweater might serve the same role as that blazer. If they can play the same role, one should be eliminated. Move those to a “no go” pile.
Next, could you simplify the color palette so that more outfits are mix and match?
Finally, have you overpacked for a particular category? Here’s one way to think about that:
For weekend trips, consider the Rule of 5-4-3-2-1: Pack five sets of socks and underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat. Naturally, this will fluctuate with the season or destination, but it’s still a nice rule of thumb. Once you’ve eliminated the extras and distilled your pile to the essentials, you’re ready to open that suitcase and proceed to the next step.
- ROLL, BABY, ROLL
Whoever invented the idea of rolling instead of folding clothing to pack it was a genius. Items take up less space and arrive less wrinkled. Plus, you can usually find things faster as you sort through the little rolls, almost like looking at book spines on the shelf. To achieve this easy feat, start by simply folding most items into a long, vertical ribbon. Then roll these ribbons tightly into short tubes that can be easily tucked in, side by side.
- MAINTAIN A PERMANENT TOILETRIES BAG
Why repack a Dopp kit or toiletries bag every time? Some of us need quite a few items in order to maintain our beautiful illusions, such as hairless skin and visible eyelashes. Forgetting even a single item, like a razor or make-up remover, can have unpleasant consequences—especially because vacations are full of photoshoots. So skip that risk. The permanent toiletries bag is the compact twin of your bathroom at home, complete with all the lotions and potions you need. Simply restock after each trip and then park that trusty, portable bathroom in the cabinet until adventure calls.
- CUBE IT
A general principle of organization is that like items should stay together. This is especially true when traveling. Thankfully, a huge variety of packing cubes and other stylish, zippered organizers are available to help the cause. Some are even designed to compress soft items to help you fit more in your bag—a wise tool for an extended trip involving several events and wardrobe changes.
In any case, these compartmentalization tools can be used in many ways, depending on your personality and ambitions for each journey.
Here are some cube ideas that simplify life from a suitcase while making your next trip easier, healthier and even more enriching.
- Small Stuff Cube
A classic approach to packing with cubes is to designate a pouch for small items that occupy the same category, such as under garments. This helps you locate them quickly in your suitcase and ensures they don’t get lost in the shuffle—even within the mesh compartments of the suitcase itself which can turn into their own little hornet nests.
- Shoe Cubes
Assign each pair of shoes to its own cube or shoe bag, or double up here and there by combining sandals that can fit in one bag. Who wants dirty shoes brushing up against clothing? Yuck.
- Electronics Cube
Here you can store your tablet computer, earbuds, headsets, charging cables, portable steamer (instead of an old-fashioned iron) and, of course, your sanitizing wand so you can disinfect your rental apartment, hotel rooms, rental cars and everything in between. Our top pic is SurfaceSoap UV because it's the most powerful, durable version out there.
- Creativity Cube
Here’s the spot for your books, magazines, journal, sketch pad, pencils, scrapbook or other helpers that ensure you fully slow down on your trip.
- Spa/Gym Cube
This micro-bag could hold your exercise clothes and other wellness allies like a foldable yoga mat for travel (yes, they exist and they’re brilliant) or a resistance band for quick strength-building anywhere.
- Empty Cube
Don’t forget an empty bag or cube for laundry as well as one for new items you acquire on the trip.
There you have it, fellow traveler. Hopefully these tips will help you pack light and journey right. Bon voyage.