17 Easy Travel Packing Tips to Use for Your Next Trip

17 Easy Travel Packing Tips to Use for Your Next Trip

At AFAR, it’s a given that our staff members are all deeply passionate about travel. Whether we’re on a reporting trip or exploring the world on our own PTO, we’ve all packed and unpacked our bags hundreds, if not thousands, of times. So it goes without saying that many of us have become packing experts over the years. We’ve also learned a lot from interviewing professional organizers, flight attendants, and other frequent travelers along the way. Here are our best travel packing tips to make bringing your life on the road as efficient and stress-free as possible.

1. Build a travel capsule wardrobe

The essential idea of a capsule wardrobe is you can whittle your closet down to just 30 items of clothing to mix and match 1,000 outfits. You can also translate this decluttering technique to your suitcase in order to pack less. Wendy Mak, the Australia-based professional stylist who wrote the book about the minimalist style concept, recommends using this formula: “Multiply the number of tops with the number of bottoms you plan to bring and that’s the number of outfits you’ll be able to create, as long as every top coordinates with every bottom. That’s the key.

“You could literally travel with nothing more than six tops and four bottoms and that will give you 24 great outfits, as long as all 10 pieces work together,” Mak told AFAR in 2017. “If you add two or three jackets that you can layer on top, you’ll be able to create even more options.”

2. Folding vs. rolling your clothes

It’s an age-old debate: Does rolling or folding your clothes save more space in your suitcase? Aislyn Greene, AFAR’s associate director of podcasts, asked her flight attendant mother for her opinion: “If you pack folded clothes flat in your suitcase, you may be wasting some valuable space. Rolled clothes can fit right down into the crevices of your luggage. Plus, rolling—as opposed to folding—is even better for wrinkle-prone items.”

However, the Japanese organizing expert Marie Kondo uses her own KonMari Method to file-fold her clothes in neat vertical stacks at home that transfer easily into her suitcase. “Not only does this folding technique keep clothing neat and wrinkle-free, it also maximizes the space of the suitcase,” Kondo told AFAR in 2019.

When we put both methods to the test ourselves, we found that a combination of rolling and folding works best. So do whatever feels right to you.

Set of three multicolor Cotopaxi packing cubes in three sizes

Cotopaxi’s Cubos packing cube bundle comes with three packing cubes—large (10 liters), medium (3 liters), and small (2 liters)—made from repurposed materials.

3. Use packing cubes

Whether you fold or roll your clothes, using packing cubes (like the ones from Cotopaxi shown above) makes it easier to keep the contents of your luggage neat and well organized.

In fact, both Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer, the cofounders of The Home Edit organizational empire, are packing cube devotees. But they use them in two very different ways: Shearer’s system involves sorting her belongings into cubes divided by categories, like daytime clothes, pajamas, and underwear and socks. Teplin, on the other hand, gives each outfit its own packing cubes—sometimes using three or more cubes per day—and sorts types of outfits into different colors of packing cubes, such as marble-patterned ones for pajamas and black ones for workout clothes.

“Joanna and I do it differently, but if it works for her she should do it that way, what works for me, I should do it that way,” Shearer told AFAR in 2021. “Whatever system works for you is the system that is the correct one.”

>> Read more: The 9 Best Packing Cubes for Travel

4. Never use one big bag for toiletries

Instead of packing one large dopp kit, Shearer and Teplin also recommend separating your hair products, skincare products, and cosmetics into different toiletry bags so you don’t have to dig through your makeup just to find your floss at night. Don’t want to bring multiple bags? Use a kit that comes with separate compartments, like Calpak’s Clear Cosmetics Cases, so you can use one side for hair products and the other side for skin and dental items.

Pyramid of six small hexagonal pink capsules magnetically attached to each other

Stop buying travel-size minis of your toiletries and opt for these reusable capsules instead.

5. Decant all of your toiletries into travel-size containers

Leaving the full-size shampoo bottle at home isn’t just about complying with TSA’s liquid limits for carry-on bags; it also means that you’re not wasting space bringing more product than you need. “When you really pay attention, you may be surprised by how little shampoo or face wash you actually use in a week,” says Jessie Beck, AFAR’s associate director of SEO and video. “Rather than maxing out the 3.4 ounce rule, I try to pack only as much as product as I’ll need, plus a little extra. For a week-long trip, that generally means decanting shampoo and conditioner into 1.7 ounce bottles by HumanGear, face wash and cream into 0.56 ounce containers by Cadence, and makeup into these tiny sample bottles I’ve repurposed. It adds up and has allowed me to halve the size of my toiletry bag.”

Square red travel jewelry case open with a few silver items

Keep your most important belongings organized—and untangled.

6. Compartmentalize the rest of your belongings, too

Kondo says she never travels without a bento box–like case full of jewelry. “Once I arrive at my hotel, I use the case as the designated spot for my jewelry,” says the connoisseur of compartmentalizing. Both the Cuyana Travel Jewelry Case and the Away Jewelry Box have interior bands and elastic pouches to keep rings, earrings, and necklaces organized and untangled.

For wrangling other small items like chargers, cords, et cetera, we like Baggu’s 3D Zip Set, which includes three all-purpose pouches of varying sizes.

7. Prevent wrinkles with dry cleaning bags (and socks!)

“For blazers, slacks, and dress shirts that you want protected from wrinkles, keep them in the plastic bags you get from your dry cleaner when you pack them,” says Joe Diaz, AFAR’s cofounder. And to protect his ties from wrinkles, he offers this clever hack: “Roll them up and stash them in your socks.”

Alternatively: If you travel for business often, consider investing in a blazer or work clothes that don’t even wrinkle in the first place. Bluffworks is one of our favorite brands for technical work wear designed to handle the rigor of travel.

8. Plan to do laundry on the road

It’s possible to travel carry-on only—even on longer trips—according to former AFAR editors Bailey Berg and Mae Hamilton’s guide to one-bag travel. Instead of packing one pair of underwear and socks for each day, they recommend packing fewer pairs than you need and washing dirty unmentionables in the hotel bathtub or in a wash bag. These biodegradable, pocket-sized detergent sheets make the task easier, but you can also accomplish the job with a plain old bar of soap.

Pink merino wool T-shirt, with short sleeves

When you do need to wash it, merino wool is also quick-drying.

Courtesy of Unbound Merino

9. Invest in merino wool

Packing a few pairs of merino wool socks or T-shirts is also a great idea; thanks to wool fiber’s hydrophobic properties, B.O. particles have a hard time absorbing into wool clothing, so you can wear them multiple times before you need to wash them.

10. Bring a carabiner

Even the most dedicated one-bag travelers run out of room sometimes. A carabiner clipped to the outside of your bag can be useful; it can hold an extra pair of shoes, a water bottle, a hat, or a jacket.

Black Anker charging block

Eliminate packing single-use devices with multipurpose ones, like this three-in-one charger.

11. Use multi-purpose travel accessories

Consolidate your belongings by packing multi-purpose accessories. For example, a multi-port charger—like the Anker 3-in-1 737 Charger—has two USB-C ports and one USB-A port. That means you can charge your computer, iPhone, and one more device from a single charging brick. It not only saves space in your tech pouch but also uses a single plug in your hotel room.

Similarly, a quick-drying Turkish cotton towel will dry your entire body at the pool and can also be used as a beach blanket, worn as a sarong, or mop up any spills along the way.

>> Read more: The Travel Accessories AFAR Editors Never Leave Home Without

12. BYOBlanket

It’s unlikely airplane blankets would be reused without being cleaned in between flights—especially if it’s wrapped in plastic. But if the thin, sandpapery texture of the constantly rewashed fleece rubs you the wrong way, we get it.

“I always bring a Lingua Franca travel set. It’s cashmere, comes with socks, a blanket, and an eye mask. Because plane blankets are gross. This blanket, well, it’s mine,” Katie Sturino, founder of the bodycare brand Megababe, told AFAR in 2018.

We’re also fans of the sleeping bag-inspired travel blanket by Rumpl for those who want extra warmth on frigid planes.

13. Wear your bulkiest items while in transit

Alternatively, you can skip packing a travel blanket and just wear your bulky winter coat on the plane to keep you warm in that chilly cabin air—and save space in your suitcase. (We also recommend wearing your largest shoes or boots on the plane to save valuable packing space.)

14. To pack lighter, get a smaller bag

“We’ve all been guilty of packing an extra T-shirt or book just because we have the space in our bag,” says Beck. “One of the best ways to keep from overpacking with unnecessary items? Get a smaller bag. If you don’t have the space, you’re less likely to throw things in just because you can. I personally use the Charlie 25 by Remote Equipment, which is technically a commuter backpack but works well for travel as well.”

15. Shower caps are your best friend

Stepped in mud (or worse!) on a trip? If you haven’t invested in reusable travel shoe bags to keep your suitcase organized and hygienic, the solution to your problem can be found in your hotel bathroom. Greene uses hotel shower caps as shoe wraps. “They’re especially good for running shoes that get a little muddy. Plus, they’re ubiquitous so you’re never in danger of being without,” she says.

Matador ReFraction Packable Duffle in black

Need more space on the way home? Matador ReFraction packable duffle is a 25-liter bag that squishes down to the size of a paperback book and weighs only 7.9 ounces.

16. Plan to shop? Pack some extra baggage

Even if you’ve dialed in your packing system perfectly, you may come across souvenirs you can’t leave behind. Traveling with a suitcase that comes with expandable zippers is one solution, but sometimes the smartest thing you bring on vacation is an empty suitcase or collapsible duffle bag.

“I’m a big fan of foldable bags to bring along in case, um, I do too much shopping,” says Breanna Rhoades, AFAR’s human resources director.

If you really are committed to not checking a bag, another packing secret Kondo swears by is to keep 10 percent of your luggage empty. That way you have room to pack new treasures and souvenirs to take home.

17. Keep your bag packed

The easiest way to pack a suitcase is to, well, always keep it packed. “I tend to have a suitcase of clothes so I’m not constantly unpacking and packing,” Kat Woodruffe, a British Airways pilot, told AFAR in 2018. If your travel uniforms aren’t as consistent as a pilot’s, at least consider keeping your toiletry bag always packed in your suitcase. Simply decant your favorite toothpaste, makeup, and other skincare items into reusable containers and keep them in your toiletry case so it’s always ready to go.

Additional reporting by Jessie Beck, Mike Arnot, Aislyn Greene, Danielle Walsh, Mae Hamilton, and Bailey Berg.