I have a love/hate relationship with packing for a trip. It usually takes me forever, and I feel inefficient and overthink everything. Then, once I start, I get caught up trying on all my clothes and seeing what I can mix and match. Whether I’m stressed out or dragging out the process by playing dress up, packing always takes me forever and makes a big mess. Despite my chaotic process, I still have the audacity to write an article on best packing tips for travel.
1. Make a list of what you will be doing and plan clothing accordingly.
Going to a lake? Pack a swimsuit and cover-up. Hiking? Throw in the boots. A night out in the big city? Bring along a killer dress and cute shoes. Using packing lists/apps ensures you don’t forget anything. This article from Self Magazine by Jen Ruiz mentions Pack Point, an app that generates custom packing lists.
2. Plan outfits with pieces that you can mix and match.
Ann McAlpin of Pack it Up swears by the 3:1 ratio: three tops to every bottom in this article from Conde Naste Traveler. “Most trips work with nine tops and three bottoms, especially when they’re in basic colors that mix and match.”
3. Lay your clothes out before putting them in the suitcase.
This helps you see “what items aren’t pulling their weight,” says Skye Senterfeit in this Travel and Leisure article. Laying things out helps remove unnecessary items that take up extra space.
4. Try on your outfits to ensure you love them.
See how you feel wearing your clothes and ditch them if they don’t make you feel your best. I always enjoy myself more when I feel good about how I look.
5. Don’t take anything larger than a carry-on.
Plan to do laundry for trips longer than a week so you can pack lighter. The less bulky your luggage is, the easier it is to get around, especially if traveling in foreign counties where elevators aren’t a given.
6. Pack layers no matter the season.
I always end up cold and wish I had a cozy sweater or jacket.
7. Don’t forget to take a bag for dirty laundry.
Separating dirty clothes out makes seeing what you have left to wear easier.
8. Bring a comfy lounge outfit and socks/slippers.
If I’m staying in a home/Airbnb, I pack slippers, and if I’m staying in a hotel, I throw in a pair of fuzzy socks.
9. When packing shoes, aim for three pairs.
Usually I bring walking shoes, sandals, and a third pair for whatever the trip/season requires. Fancy heels? Athletic shoes? Tuck each one into a plastic bag to keep your clothes cleaner.
10. Packing cubes are game changers.
Grouping items makes getting dressed more straightforward; no unpacking the whole bag to find that one top. I usually put my casual day clothes in one cube and my nicer evening outfits in another, but you can sort them however you want, depending on how many cubes you have.
11. Leave space for your goodies.
If you know you will do a lot of shopping on your trip, make sure to leave space, or tuck in an extra tote bag. An extra bag can also be handy if you need a beach bag/outing bag.
12. Buy doubles of toiletries so you can always have a travel bag ready.
It is such a pain to wait to pack your toiletries until you have finished using them one last time. Having two sets of specific items like razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, etc., alleviates this issue. All you have to do is throw your toiletries in the bag without running through the inventory of what you need every time.
Side note: Refill your shampoo and conditioner right when you unpack from a trip; don’t put it off. Then you won’t have to scramble to fill it the morning you leave.
13. Make sure you have all your carry-on essentials:
- Empty water bottle to fill after security
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Phone and computer chargers
- Journal and pen
- Leave a little room for suitcase overflow.
To wrap it up, some final quick and dirty tips.
14. Pack the night before your flight so you don’t get caught scrambling.
15. Tuck a dryer sheet into your suitcase to make it smell nice.
16. Remember that different destinations may require specific clothes.
For example, you may have to cover your head when visiting mosques or churches, or wear a more modest skirt. Vegas requires the opposite of these things.
16. Double-check that you have your passport/ID.
Trust me, you don’t want to have to pay to have your cousin break into your house so he can overnight your passport to you, or pay a cab driver to bring it to you from your hotel. Not that I would know what either of these experiences are like…
There you have it! My 16 best tips for how to pack for travel. Do you have any packing tips of your own that I left out? Let me know in the comments.
Want more like this? Check out my packing list for what to pack for a camping roadtrip through the American Southwest.