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11 Tips for Packing like a Pro

I can’t even attempt to guess how many times I’ve packed my trusty suitcase. And yet I still don’t let myself go on autopilot. I’m intentional and methodical every time I leave for a trip, ensuring I bring the right stuff (and not too much of it). It’s really more art than science, but there are a few rules of thumb that I always abide by.

Here are my best tips for packing like a pro.

Write it down. 

Whether you’re leaving town for a business meeting or a month-long backpacking trip (lucky you!), write down all the scenarios you’ll be dressing for. Plane rides, hikes, business dinners, gala, day at the beach—it’s nice to have a reminder of your realistic needs.

 

Make a list.

From clothes to toiletries, list everything you’ll need for your trip. Then lay it all out on the bed, and check off items so you don’t forget anything. It’s also great in case your luggage is lost or stolen, because you’ll have a record of everything you’ve packed.

 

Check the weather.

It’s one of the travel mistakes I always make, and it’s so simple to remedy. Remember that blazing hot destinations can get chilly at night. I’m looking at you, Palm Springs!


Pick one color scheme.

All your clothes should play nice together. Choose either black or brown, and then add accessories like fun costume jewelry, colored scarves and belts to brighten up your outfits. Try to select pieces that can serve double-duty—things that can be dressed up or down, or work as a layering option.

 

Always pack sexy heels and a light sweater for layering. 

Heels can dress up any outfit, and you may need the sweater for those cooler nights.

 

Packing is really more art than science, but there are a few rules of thumb that I always abide by. Here are my best tips for packing like a pro. 

Bring a snack. 

Protein bars, nuts, peanut butter or even a freshly made sandwich from your local deli will help you can avoid fast-food traps.

Avoid wrinkles. 

Softly fold your clothes and place them in packing cubes. You get more wrinkles when you place harder fabrics with softer fabrics, so pack denim with denim and cotton tees with cotton tees. Bring Downy’s Wrinkle Releaser. Just hang up your garment, spray it, and in five minutes, the wrinkles are gone.

Store jewelry separately.

Nothing is worse than tangled jewelry! Wrap each piece in a napkin or tissue paper before placing them in a big Ziploc bag. Feeding chains through straws and taping them at both ends will keep them from getting tangled.

Use your footwear. 

Wrap small breakables, like perfume or makeup bottles, in socks and pack them inside a sneaker or shoe.

 

Carry a small travel care kit on long flights.

It should contain lotion for your hands, face cream, aspirin, lip balm, an eye mask and earplugs.

 

Put necessary items in your carry-on.

File this one under “duh,” but it bears repeating. You’ll be happy to have that extra pair of underwear, a toothbrush and any necessary medication should your luggage miss the flight.

 

What are your best packing tips? Share in the comments!

This Post Has 38 Comments
  1. Title packing list with destination & date. List items. Click “Save”. On next trip open it up & give it new destination name & date& proceed to add or delete items… Don’t forget to hit Save with each new trip. . Follow this method with each new trip. It’s nice to see what you’ve brought on prior trips. Simple and handy!!

  2. When my husband and I travel together, and each have a checked bag on a flight, we cross pack. I take half of his things and he takes half of mine. This was after my luggage missed connections and I was without a change of clothes for 7 days of a 14 day cruise.

  3. When traveling with my husband and checking bags, we don’t do his and hers, but rather each have some things in each case so that if pne bag doesn’t show up, one person isn’t completely out of luck.

  4. Don’t feel like you have to bring a new outfit for every day you’re gone. To quote Rick Steves ” It can be fun to do laundry in a foreign country!”

  5. I agree 100% with packing wrinkle release but I take it a step farther. You can replicate wrinkle release with a small amount of fabric softener and water so I pack a spray bottle with about a teaspoon of downy in it. I use a spray bottle that is a little bigger so I have plenty for all of us for the duration. I add the water after I arrive and then dump any left before leaving. No worries about leaks or spills. I can even bring it in unchecked luggage because there’s such a small amount. Works well and no packing struggles.

  6. When having to travel by car to a destination for a longer vacation that may require staying in hotels during the drive, pack a smaller bag with a couple days of clothes and toiletries. That way you don’t have to drag the bigger luggage in and out for one night stops.

  7. When my husband and I are packing for a trip, we never pack a “his or hers” suitcase, we always mix up our outfits evenly into both. Just in case one suitcase gets lost, you will both still have clothes!

  8. One way of lightening the load on your suitcase is to take clothes like old socks, underwear and t-shirts that you would have discarded anyway and take them on your trip. Then throw them out as you travel on your vacation. it lightens the load plus leaves room for those things you wanted to buy.

    1. I do the same, or even purchase thirst on sale, a variety of colors and just throw away. I never bring home underwear…..out they go!

  9. I consider myself a good packer my dad trained me and I hate carrying many bags but mom is another story I repack her every trip we go on. Have to say lady years trip was longer then a month and included cruise, flight and driving with a different hotel every night. I used the packing cubes for the first time wow did it make life so easy recommend them to everyone! But have a down comment used your under the seat bag problem could not attach any other carry on to it needs different handle remember most people are traveling with others as my mom so I have her carry on to handle too or am I doing something wrong I also had big problems with the large suit case would not roll easy or where I wanted to go did not like it and the handle broke at airport .

  10. If traveling to different places after a flight, be sure to put a copy of your itinerary in your luggage. I chaperoned a group to Italy in 2007. Upon arriving in Florence, 10 of our 19 did not have their luggage. Luggage turned up at hotels all along the way since we had our itinerary in the luggage.

  11. I always use Samantha’s packing cubes. They hold so much and keep everything in their place. Keep the cubes in hotel drawers and avoid having to unpack them. Just pull out what you want. They are a must for travel! HSN.com

  12. We have a packing list for every trip we’ve been on. The lists differ depending on if we’re driving or flying and how long we’ll be gone. Either way, if it’s a multiple day trip, we also pack a small bag with whatever we need overnight so as not to drag the suitcase into the hotel for a one night stay. When we flew to Europe, we ended up doing laundry in Rome as well as in Paris and we were able to interact with the people of each city. In Paris, we were helped by a lady who spoke no English and the language barrier did not keep her from helping us figure out how the washing machine and dryers work there.

  13. Thanks for the 11 tips, Samantha. My wife created a ‘check-off lis,t’ for items titled ‘EVERYTHING WE NEED TO PACK FOR THIS TRIP’, for our four seasons – year round traveling. We started living in the word and traveling non-stop in May 2008, shortly after we retired. Our goal was to reach all seven continents. We accomplished it in 2014, but we learned over those 6-years to pack tidy – neatly and in order. We’re still traveling and as I reply to your article, we’re now preparing to leave Manhattan for Japan. You make an excellent point to check for weather. I would add two other travel tips as follows:

    1. For Americans, register your foreign travel with the U.S. Department Of State. We learned that the hard way when we lived in Istanbul, Turkey and got caught up sightseeing during a peaceful demonstration at Takim Square, that was broken up by riot police using tear gas and a water cannon. So, we registered all our future foreign travel – thankfully we received advanced warning alerts from the American Embassy to avoid certain areas and/or travel when we lived in Santiago, Chile, – Buenos Aires, Argentina, – Rome, Italy, – Bangkok, Thailand – Taipei, Taiwan. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The benefits are: You receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans – – you help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency – – and, you help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency. Enroll at = https://step.state.gov/

    2. Make a list for family and friends you reply on in case of an emergency that has all your round trip airline information including the airline’s toll free number to contact – – all your hotel information including its web link, e-mail address and telephone #. Most hotels world-wide offer free Internet access. So, if you’re taking a day trip take a minute to send an e-mail to tell a family member or friend at home where you’re going. We rent apartments from owners in all of our world travels – so, we provide our family with the owner’s name, web link, e-mail address, telephone # and the location of his/her apartment.

  14. When packing a suit, keep it in the plastic dry cleaners bag that it’s been living in (I hope). Take out the hangar, fold the suit and pants along with the bag, and you’ll have a wrinkle-free business trip! Bring as many dry-cleanable clothes as you can and don’t be afraid to drop off cleaning in city A, go to city B, and pick up your cleaning when you return to city A. Never-ever-never use the “pants press” in your hotel room. Heaven only knows what’s been in there.

  15. Always make copies of your passport. Put one in your suitcase, keep one on you and leave one at home with your emergency contact. Then put your “real” passport in your hotel or cruise cabin safe.

  16. Love your list suggestion. I take it one step further and list complete outfits, including accessories. It saves me time and it helps me avoid overpacking. This works well for a very scheduled trip or something more spontaneous. Literally sort the list by daytime looks/nighttime looks/beach ware, etc.

  17. I think a pair of sexy heels would bring sideways glances if I were to pull them out and put them on. Just sayin’.
    – Mike

  18. Great Tips! Weeks before trip when I think of something I’d like to have with me I put it aside right away. I keep a pretty tote bag in my bedroom, putting in these random items. When I’m ready to pack I lay it all out and decide what to bring or leave out. Also have a master packing list & prepacked toiletry kit

  19. Wish I could post a picture here, but the dropdown front of my 15″ suitcase has two clear pouches. One pouch carries all of my “liquid” items. I have never been questioned by TSA.

    Drop down pouch 1 (liquids); Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion, 2.7 oz. toothpaste, antibiotic cream, face scrub and liquid foundation if I need it.

    Drop down pouch 2: Razor, compact toothbrush, first aid kit, aspirin, floss, thermometer, deodorant and bar soap.

    All of my clothes fit in the case, so I never have to check my bag – regardless of the length of the trip. It can go on any plane, train or bus, and fit right under the seat.

  20. I check what the weather will be like where I’m traveling 24 hours before a trip; then I lay all my clothes out on the bed, put a third away, I then match the remainder up outfit by outfit, top, bottom, etc. I take a picture of each outfit and upload to my phone. That way I know which outfit goes with which and I’m not looking through clothes trying to decide what to wear. This helps me from overpacking.

  21. To save packing space, I wear my bulkiest outfit on travel days: black jeans, black tank under black longsleeve tee, stylish short gray jacket, gray striped scarf, and carry black trench coat (handy as a “blanket” on plane or train).

  22. Registering with the government STEP program gives me piece of mind while traveling outside of the US. You can also find apps for mobile devices that can give you a heads up on protests and strikes.
    The GOES program or TSA Pre-check programs are a great convience for airport security lines and re-entering the US after foreign travel.
    I photo copy my travel documents but I also upload them so that I may access them via email.
    Many places have free wifi but to protect my device and data I use a VPN. You can purchase this service for as long as you need it. ( necessary in China and Russia to access social media).
    I find foreign SIM cards difficult to use so I have a Solis hotspot for inexpensive data as international cell and data plans are outrageously expensive.
    As far as packing goes I’m very minimalistic, everything I pack must coordinate and be washable. A few scarves to change it up, at least two pairs of shoes, and no more that 4 pair of microfiber panties. All in packing cubes to stay organized.

  23. Great tips. In order to conquer overpacking I do not go anywhere near my closet until I have sat down and made my list. As you suggested, I take my itinerary and plan the outfits for the events, making a good effort to reuse the items as many times as possible. I managed to spend two weeks in Norway in November – rain, snow, concert, family time, sightseeing, etc – using my 20” roll-aboard and a small tote, including snow boots and down coat. Basically all black with two blouses and four scarves for variety. When I take my list into the bedroom I just pull what is on the list. If something else catches my eye I have to swap out something – which I rarely do.

  24. Standards for me, except the heels! I just ordered a set of your packing cubes for an upcoming trip to Norway — can’t wait to use them! I noticed you did not say to roll your clothes. I read that all the time, but can’t bring myself to do it except for dirty clothes coming home. Roll or don’t roll??

  25. I pack all of my earrings in a large plastic daily pill box. I put one or two sets of earrings in each compartment. They don’t get tangled or crushed, and I have only one place to go to for my earrings. I also pack all of my panties in a gallon size plastic bag so if my luggage is opened and inspected by TSA no one will be touching them. Then when I get to my destination the bag just goes on a drawer, keeping them all together. I pack all of my dresses just folded in half on top of each other. When unpacking I take them out and hang them up and they come out wrinkle free. Then I hang the necklace that goes with each dress on the hanger with the dress. Sure makes cruising easier.

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