Packing for a trip can be an absolute nightmare. Even with plenty of travel experience, we still somehow can’t fit everything in our suitcase, leave things at home, or completely overpack and get a huge surprise at the airport when our luggage hits the scale.
If you’re familiar with this struggle, we have a list of genius packing hacks for travel that will make life so much easier the next time you travel.
With just a few small packing hacks you can change the usual frantic and anxiety-provoking experience to a calm, chill and even fun activity.
Yes, we said fun! It’s possible, we promise you!
Navigation: See what's in this post
- 1 Pack your heaviest items at the bottom
- 2 Get a fold up toiletry bag
- 3 Pack structured jackets in coat hangers
- 4 Avoid liquid toiletries
- 5 Roll your clothes
- 6 Compression bags
- 7 Shoes in cotton bags
- 8 Pack by outfit and color
- 9 Pack cords neatly
- 10 Stack bras and knickers
- 11 Wrap your toiletries in cling-wrap
- 12 Weigh your baggage at home
- 13 Pack a hat in its shape
- 14 Have a ziplock bag handy
- 15 The beauty of packing cubes
- 16 Place a cotton pad inside powder makeup
- 17 Stuff your shoes
- 18 Wear your bulkiest and heaviest items
- 19 Pack wine bottles inside socks, jacket or jumper sleeves
- 20 Carry a portable washing machine
- 21 Put a herb sachet inside your suitcase
- 22 Use non-wrinkle travel clothes
- 23 Versatile travel clothing
- 24 Keep you necklaces from tangling
- 25 Make your own jewelry roll
- 26 Follow a system
- 27 Consider weather & activities
I used to have a terrible carry-on suitcase from a reputable brand that just never stood straight no matter what. I never understood how it could have been designed in such an impractical way, but it reminded me of this travel packing hack: always pack your heaviest items at the bottom.
When your suitcase is open, see where the bottom is when the suitcase is standing up and place the heaviest items (shoes, toiletry bag, etc.) on the bottom. This will not only help stabilize the suitcase but also reduce the risk of more delicate items being crushed.
Bottom heavy bags are also easier to roll through the airport, and you can hang your handbag or backpack on the handle without worrying that it will topple over.
Get a fold up toiletry bag
I have been using a fold up toiletry bag (the exact one above is my current one) for over 10 years. When I get home I don’t unpack it, I just hang it up in my bathroom and continue using it as my normal toiletry storage, so I am always ready to go.
Fold up toiletry bags will help you keep everything tidy and easy to find, plus if you are staying in a hostel, it’ll save you from placing the bag on what may be a dirty surface.
It can double up as a first aid kit and because every item has its own dedicated compartment, I always know what needs to be replenished.
We like this cute dusty pink one that packs square.
Pack structured jackets in coat hangers
When I was a consultant I used to travel every week for work and mostly packed structured pants suits. My trusty Tumi comes with its own insert accessory to carry suits but it was pretty heavy so I decided to mimic the same functionality with a coat hanger and that was enough.
Fold the sleeves towards the inside, fold the bottom half way towards the shoulder pads and slide the coat hanger down until the hook is inside the collar, then place the jacket at the top after you have packed everything else to make sure it stays in place.
The coat hanger will prevent the jacket from crumbling and losing shape and when you get to your hotel, you can simply take it out and hang straightaway.
Avoid liquid toiletries
Dry solid toiletries will not only help you with saving space in your luggage, but also avoid spillages and contribute to a greener environment free from single use plastic. And several of these dry toiletries are also chemical-free, vegan and generally more natural.
There are several brands that we love and can recommend:
- Naturalist and especially their coconut solid shampoo bar.
- HiBAR shampoo and conditioner bars come in more ergonomic shapes that are easier to hold and use. Try their sampler product with one of each of their three kinds.
- Ethique makes not only shampoo and conditioner but also body wash, face soap and even dry deodorant.
Roll your clothes
Rolling up your clothes instead of folding them is probably the most genius packing hack as it has two uses.
- First of all, it’s an absolute space saver. Neatly rolling your clothing, especially those made with lightweight materials like nylon, cotton and wool, is a compact way to pack. Larger items like jackets, might be a bit more difficult to roll up, so you can just fold these bulkier items neatly and place them on top.
- The second use is that rolling can greatly reduce creases in your clothing, if rolled tight enough.
Vacuum pack bags are an amazing packing hack, you won’t believe how tightly they can pack even the bulkiest of items! I was left speechless the first time I tried them and wondered why I hadn’t tried them sooner.
Check out these vacuum sealed bags like from Tooerlen. You don’t actually need a vacuum or air sucking device as these reusable bags work by letting air out as you roll them up.
Shoes in cotton bags
Forget about plastic shower caps, I put shoes inside the cotton bags that come with the shoes when you buy them. After-all, that’s what they were made for, and they are plastic free and easy to wash.
The only downside with this vs a shower cap is that the bag won’t be protecting the rest of your luggage from muddy shoes (but who would pack a pair of muddy dirty shoes anyway?!).
We suggest cleaning your shoes before packing them, in which case you just want to keep your shoes from directly touching the rest of your clothes because they touch the floor and are full of dirt; the cotton bags shoes are sold with are fabulous for that.
What’s more, no single plastic is used and you can re-use them over again, even to put your laundry in. When back home, you can wash them with your usual laundry.
Pack by outfit and color
I always pack considering what I will be wearing by laying it all out in outfits on my bed and then packing accordingly. This way I don’t pack clothing pieces that don’t go with anything and I make sure that tops and bottoms can be interchanged, so that you multiply your outfits and can reuse some.
For example, a bottom can be used with more than one top so you should normally pack more tops and less bottoms.
If all my tops and bottoms go with all the rest I then pack by type; bottoms on a pile, tops on another pile. If they don’t all go together, I pack by outfit, layering them one on top of the other.
Pack cords neatly
I travel with a lot of electronics, A LOT, and they are always tricky to pack in a way that they are not entangled or even broken in the process.
For that, I use a cable organizer which also helps me remember what I may have missed because there would be an empty space; and trust me, you don’t want to realize you forgot your phone charger only when you’ve run out of battery.
If you don’t have a lot of cables or don’t have the space to carry a cable organizer, a simple travel packing hack would be to roll cables and then secure them with hair bands to make sure they don’t tangle, and that they occupy the least amount of space. Then place them in a sunglasses or pencil case. You can also use paper or hair clips to keep cables untangled.
Stack bras and knickers
I always stack bras and underwear inside the side compartment of the suitcase, one inside the other so they occupy the least amount of space and I make sure to pack the exact amount I need.
If you don’t have a side compartment to place them in, put them in the top curved edges of the suitcase where they will be easy to find and where they will fill a space.
Wrap your toiletries in cling-wrap
Cling-wrap is light, compact and extremely versatile. You can use it to line your bag or packing cubes, to wrap snacks and food, but the best use of cling-wrap is to stop any spillages or leakages from toiletries or food.
All you have to do is unscrew the bottle cap of any toiletry or liquid item, place the cling-wrap over the hole, and then screw the lid back on. You can do the same thing with Tupperware. Just pop the top off, place the cling-wrap over the top and click the lid back on.
This neat little trick will prevent any of the liquid from escaping, especially if you have some kind of soup or curry you’re traveling with. No liquid means dry luggage and a happy traveler.
Weigh your baggage at home
This one is an oldie, but a goodie. Every airline has their own baggage and weight allowances and you must always make sure that you stick to the limits. Some airlines do offer cheaper rates if you book your overweight items ahead of time. But this can still add up to exorbitant prices.
The old method of weighing your bags is to get on your home scale, weigh yourself and then get on the scale again with your bag. Minus your weight from the second number and you’ll get the weight of your bag.
An easier way though is to purchase an electronic hand luggage scale which you clip onto the handle of your bag and simply pull upward to reveal the weight. This is also a better option when actually traveling as the hotel may not have a scale.
Pack a hat in its shape
I used to just carry my hats with me to the cabin instead of packing them because I was afraid they would lose their shape in transit, until I realized that the best way to pack a hat is by simply stuffing it.
Place it in the middle of your suitcase, then stuff it with rolled clothes such as t-shirts, socks and under garments, and pack the rest of the clothes around it so that it does not move. Make sure the hat flaps are flat.
Pro tip: I like to put the hat over a layer of clothing and right in the middle so that it is at the top.
Have a ziplock bag handy
There’s no worse feeling than being caught in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm with no shelter and all of your electronics at risk of permanent damage.
Carry an extra zip-lock bag which you can quickly use to put them inside. You can even reuse the one you used for your toiletries to go through airport security checks with.
The beauty of packing cubes
Packing cubes are life changing. When packing for a trip, you might be clean and today, rolling everything up, sorting items by type. But we all know that once you’ve hit the road, that beautifully pristine packing turns into a tornado of used clothes.
The best way to combat your luggage turning into a garbage heap is to use packing cubes. These nifty little squares with zippers allow you to separate your clothing by type, so that you know which panties are clean and which ones need a wash.
You can also separate by weather type, mood or color – whatever way suits you. They also fit into your bag really well, like a fun game of Tetris.
Beyond clothing, you can also use packing cubes to separate wires and cords, or in-flight supplies from those you put in your checked luggage. You can even use packing cubes in your carry on or backpack, so you don’t have to frantically search for your gum mid-flight.
You can’t beat these packing cubes from Veken which still have a 5-star rating with over 9,000 reviews!
Place a cotton pad inside powder makeup
Makeup can easily crack when traveling, especially pressed powder.
Put a cotton pad inside the box and then close it to soften the blow in case it gets tossed around inside your makeup bag.
Stuff your shoes
In order to fit as many things inside your suitcase as possible, consider stuffing every single empty space. The first place to look is inside your shoes.
Stuff socks or even underwear inside, any small item that may otherwise get lost inside your suitcase or which is delicate.
Pro tip: If your shoes are old or smelly, consider putting the items inside a ziplock bag to avoid transferring the smell.
Wear your bulkiest and heaviest items
Probably the most ubiquitous advice for travel packing is to wear your heaviest, biggest clothing and shoes on the plane. You hear this all the time, but it not only saves space in your suitcase but also on weight allowance.
We have all arrived at check in only to be told we are 1-2kg over our allowance and then decided to wear everything we could to avoid that. Plan ahead and avoid the mess at the airport.
Pro tip: Make sure your laces are easy to undo so that you don’t have to spend ten minutes trying to detangle them every time you want to take them off. Wear socks so that you can take your shoes off after the plane takes off to stay comfortable.
Pack wine bottles inside socks, jacket or jumper sleeves
If you forgot to bring your bubble wrap wine sleeves on your wine trip, or you’ve gone a bit crazy in duty free, follow this packing procedure:
- Wrap the bottles in a plastic bag to make sure no spillage transfers to the rest of your luggage
- Place the bottles inside your socks
- Place them inside your jacket or jumper sleeves to create cushion
- Then place them in the middle of your suitcase
Better yet, if you plan to shop for wine (I have gone on wine tourism trips before) buy Wine Skins, they come in bottle shape and padded with bubble wrap.
These can be sealed, but the glue will eventually wear off so you might want to bring some duct tape. I got mine in Spain and have been packing them with me on every trip because I like to buy the typical local liquor or spirit as a souvenir.
Carry a portable washing machine
One sure way to reduce your luggage is washing your clothes so you only carry 2 or 3 pairs of each clothing item and then wash every other day. This is a travel packing hack that requires a bit of effort but can help you go from check in luggage to carry-on only.
The Scrubba stealth bag is a great option because it is versatile and can be used for several purposes; you can use it as a dry bag, a compression bag for packing and even a portable camping shower, in addition to being a hand washing device.
Put a herb sachet inside your suitcase
You know those sachets with lavender or similar herbs that are sometimes given away by luxury hotels or brands as gifts? What better way to keep your suitcase smelling nice than by placing one inside?
Better yet, if you are traveling a lot for work and may struggle to be away so much, bring the same one you place in your closet with you so you smell the familiar, home scent wherever you are.
I also keep the drying sachets that often come with foods or tea bags and throw them inside the suitcase, my Tumi even came with some, just to keep moisture at bay, especially if traveling through tropical countries.
Use non-wrinkle travel clothes
All of us want to look fresh and comfy while we travel, but often find wrinkled chaos when we unpack our suitcases at our first destination. Don’t worry about spending time ironing or steaming during your trip, our favorite and easiest travel packing hack is to bring non-wrinkle clothing that doesn’t arrive all creased.
There are many options of wrinkle-free clothes out there. Besides the obvious and labeled as non-wrinkle, you can find ideal travel clothes made from high quality fabrics.
Consider these fabrics the next time you are shopping or packing for a trip: polyester, denim, wool, knits, spandex and lyocell. Avoid 100% linen or linen-cotton blends which are more wrinkle-prone, unless you plan to iron during your trip.
This is one of the most useful packing hacks for clothes!
Versatile travel clothing
Packing light is possible! The secret is versatility. There are clothes made specifically to be worn in many ways. You don’t have to pack a dress, a skirt and a scarf, instead pack one multi-functional garment that covers all of them. For example, I have a dress that can be worn in 20 different ways!
Convertible clothing is great for travel and it means more room in your bag. Although some versatile clothes can come in high prices, we believe it’s worth spending a few extra bucks keeping in mind that you will get many outfits using the same item.
Keep you necklaces from tangling
If you love packing jewelry to accessorize your outfits, you have surely come across a mess of tangled necklaces. Next time, follow this great and simple travel packing hack to avoid worrying about damaged or tangled jewelry abroad.
Thread your necklaces or bracelets through a straw (can be paper one, doesn’t need to be plastic). All you need to do is insert one end of the necklace or bracelet through the straw and then fasten the clasp. This way, you’ll have your individually packaged necklaces handy when you unpack.
Make your own jewelry roll
An alternative to the travel packing hack above is to make your own jewelry roll with a scarf, t-shirt or washcloth. First, lay your necklaces and bracelets separately and roll the fabric lengthwise. Then add some rubber bands or clips to each end to keep your jewelry from sliding out. You can easily pack your roll in between clothes, it won’t take up much space.
Follow a system
I used to travel for work every single week for over 10 years, packing on Sunday evening, barely unpacking on Friday.
Most of the items I would have were left in my carry on bag week after week, and that was their natural place since I always packed the same way. There was no chance of forgetting something because that would have left an empty hole in the suitcase.
Everyone has their own system, but whatever that may be, stick to it. You will always know where something is inside the suitcase and will never forget something essential.
Consider weather & activities
Remember to check the weather of your destination or multiple destinations of your trip. Also, it’s important to consider the activities you will be doing during your travels, so you can make an adequate packing list for your trip.
We’ve made specific packing lists for Barcelona, Tanzania, Tuscany and Iceland. There are also some handy travel apps that help you make a customized packing list considering the weather of your destination, trip dates, activities and interests.