Pack Smart: 5 Steps to Mastering the Art of Suitcase Packing

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Do you know how to pack a suitcase?

If you’re a frequent traveler, chances are you’re a wiz when it comes to packing.

Going away for the weekend?

A simple duffle bag should suffice.

Taking a one week trip?

You should be able to squeeze everything into a carry on luggage.

It’s when travelers go on trips for longer than a week that larger luggage bags are often necessary. But just because you have the extra spaces doesn’t mean you should use all of it.

Here Are a Few of Our Packing Secrets:

Step 1: Find a Great Suitcase

Group of suitcases

There are so many suitcase options on the market, so how do you know which is right for you?

The easy answer is you want to find a high-quality suitcase that’s easy to handle and will withstand being tossed around by baggage handlers, relentlessly bumped in the cargo hold and beaten by other bags on the luggage belt. Once you find that, it’s up to you to decide the size

Nowadays pretty much all suitcases come with wheels. Some have two, others have four, and some roll backward and forwards while others are considered “spinners” and can spin in every direction. We recommend you find a spinner, as these are the easiest to handle.

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Next, you’ll need to decide upon hard or soft. Hard suitcases are better at protecting what’s inside the bag but worse for longevity. The outer shells can easily crack, and often the bags become scuffed and marked after just one trip.

Soft suitcases, on the other hand, will not scuff or mark as easily, but they also will not protect what’s inside as well. So the choice is yours to make. We tend to prefer hard shells and try not to let the scuff marks bother us. Or, we cover them with stickers to both hide the marks and serve as mementos from our trips. But that being said, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s simply a matter of preference.

Once you have decided whether to purchase a hardshell or soft suitcase, you’ll need to decide what size suitcase to invest in. As we said at the beginning, biggest isn’t always better. And just because you have a large bag, doesn’t mean you need to fill it. Airlines have weight restrictions, so if you purchase a large bag and fill it to the brim, you risk going over the airline’s limit. According to World Traveler, the usual weight limit for international luggage is 50 pounds and the largest size allowed is normally 62 linear (total) inches. A standard checked luggage size is usually around 27 x 21 x 14 inches.

The most common checked luggage sizes are:

  • 25″ – 27″: Perfect for a one week trip
  • 28″ – 32″: Geared toward a one-plus week trip. However, keep in mind that if this size luggage is expanded, it may exceed the 62 linear inches rule.

Step Two: Plan Your Outfits

A pre-planned outfit: jeans, top, jacket, belt

Nowadays, Sunday meal prep is a big deal, especially for those short on time during the week or looking to stay healthy or lose weight. Sunday meal prep is just like it sounds: you use Sunday to plan and prep a full week of meals. Similar to meal prepping, you should outfit-prep your trips.

Several days in advance of a trip, sit down with a pen and paper and map out what you will be doing each day and what you will need to wear. Imagine you are going to Maui, staying at a nice resort and driving the Road to Hana on your second day. Your first two days could look like:

  • Day One: Check into hotel. Go to the beach/late lunch on the beach. Dinner at resort. Sleep
    • Beach attire: Bikini, flip flops, hat, cover-up
    • Dinner attire: Dress, sandals, cardigan, jewelry
  • Day Two: Breakfast at resort. Drive road to Hana. Dinner in Hana.
  • Breakfast attire: Shorts, t-shirt, sandals
  • Road to Hana attire: Shorts, t-shirt, bathing suit, waterproof sandals, cardigan, hat
  • Dinner in Hana (you’ll need to change out of the day’s wet clothes): Casual dress, sandals, cardigan.

It may seem like a lot to do this for each day, and it is. However, by planning your days and corresponding outfits, you’ll help prevent yourself from overpacking. Map out what clothes you’ll need for each day, and then see what days you can rewear items. Sure — some days will require a new dress or a new breakfast outfit, but on casual days you can repurpose outfits you’ve already worn.

Another packing tip?

Pack as many basic black and neutral items as you can. These items go with pretty much everything, so they can easily be worn multiple times. Also, make sure to pack comfortable shoes and not too many pairs. Shoes are bulky, and you really don’t need more than a few.

Once you’ve finished outfit planning and are ready to pack, make sure you have your packing cubes ready.

Step Three: Invest in Packing Cubes

Packing cubes

Have you heard of packing cubes, sometimes referred to as packing folders?

Do you know how amazing the bundling method is for helping to efficiently pack large quantities of clothing into not-so-large suitcases? If no, let us fill you in on one how to pack a suitcase as efficiently as possible.

Packing cubes are relatively small, cloth, zippered compartments that you can use to pack your clothes in. Most are square or rectangle and come in all different sizes. Packing cubes not only help you organize your suitcase (ex: tops in one cube, bottoms in another, undergarments in another, etc), but they also compress your clothes so you can fit even more items in your suitcase.  Most cubes have a transparent top so you can see what’s inside.

While packing cubes are helpful at all times of the year, they are particularly beneficial during the winter months when you need to pack sweaters, jackets and other bulky, airy items.

In addition to keeping you organized and enabling you to pack more, packing cubes have one other major benefit: they help reduce wrinkles! If you roll your clothes or pack them perfectly folded, they have a better chance at staying wrinkle-free than they would had you tossed them in a large suitcase on their own. Don’t forget to pack an empty packing cube with you to keep your dirty laundry in, too.

Samsonite clear packing cubes


Step Three: Remember That Sample Sizes Are Key

Beauty samples


Have you noticed nowadays that most hotels no longer carry conditioner? If you have unruly hair, conditioner is now one more toiletry you need to add to your already growing list. And – if you’re a beauty junky – that list is likely already filled with face wash, serum, eye cream, moisturizer, lotion, perfume and so much more. Not only does that add up in weight, but it adds unnecessary bulk to your bag.

Rather than haul your regular sized bottles with you (which you technically can if you’re checking a bag), consider a visit to your local Sephora to stock up. You can even do this with makeup samples too! If you need something super specific and Sephora doesn’t carry it, consider asking your favorite beauty counter if they have any samples they could spare. Often times they’ll sympathize and give you a few testers to take on your trip.

Step Five: Wear Your Bulkiest Items

Joey from friends wearing 5 layers of clothesIf you’re traveling in the summer, your packing list is most likely comprised of lightweight, easy-to-pack items. It’s a breeze to fit everything in a carry-on no matter how long you’ll be gone for. If you’re traveling in the colder months, forgot a carry-on. Even fitting everything into a massive checked bag can be a chore! One of the best tips on how to pack a suitcase is to be strategic about what you don’t pack in the bag.

Pro travel tip?

Wear your bulkiest pieces on the flight. Have a bulky sweater, knee-high boots, and a giant down jacket? Wear them all.

Think how much room you’ll save in your bag!

And if you get hot? You can store the pieces above or use them as blankets. But let’s be real – planes these days get cold, so you’ll glad you overdressed.

Need more packing advice? Check out the Top Items Flight Attendants Recommend Bringing on The Plane. Some of them will surprise you!

Have any additional tips for how to pack a suitcase? Let us know!