Packing is a pain. It is one of the least enjoyable and most stressful parts of flying. Have you got everything? Are you under the weight limit? Will the airline lose your bag? Urgh. It’s enough to make you stay at home…almost. Having traveled all over the US seemingly hundreds of times over the last few years we have developed a series of packing techniques and strategies that make sure we pack the right way.
Our 11 great packing Tips and tricks will help you understand how to make sure you pack everything in, stay organized and keep under your weight limit, all while mitigating any potential disasters such as lost or damaged bags. Take the Stress out of packing while making sure you arrive at your destination with everything you need to have an awesome trip!
Our 11 Great Packing Tips and Tricks!
Basically Packing is easy. The best tip I can give you is to wait until the night before or the morning, then desperation takes over and in a blind panic, you start stuffing whatever you might need into the case. There are probably shops where you are going and if you forget something who cares. Don’t worry too much about the organization just pile it in there…Wait…
…Give me the KeyBoard back…
…I’m Writing this…
Ok Hi, Let’s Start Again. Katie Here, I’ve Wrestled control of the keyboard from Steve and I shall be writing this article from now on. The truth is Steve can’t pack (Can too!). He can plan the most amazing trips, things to do, places to eat, and all that, but the effort he puts into it means the packing for these trips leaves a lot to be desired. His above description pretty much sums up his approach! Odd when on our trips he needs to find space for this lot!
So as you can see packing all this, along with 2-3weeks of clothes, toiletries, and appropriate going out attire, along with all the hair and beauty products we girls NEED, all into two small cases and keeping under 23kg each is a mammoth task. So we (I) have developed an array of tricks to help ensure everything we need gets packed, we only take what we need, we have a plan for every eventuality, and have the best chance of surviving living out of a suitcase.
It all starts and ends with the suitcase. A good one lasts for years and will never let you down. A bad one will spill your unmentionable all over the luggage carousel in front of a load of strangers. Our advice is to invest wisely and buy well and buy once.
We are fans of the Hardsides case and they have taken us all around the world and on countless road trips being hauled in and out of the trunk and up bumpy steps and bashed along rough pavements all without fail.
We have a full guide to the best lightweight suitcases so you can make sure you get the best one for your trip.
2 – Living Out Of A Suitcase
Most hotels come with a wardrobe and several draws so you can unpack and live like real people for your stay. That’s great if you are in one place for the whole trip. But we find ourselves in several hotels during our trips and the effort of un-packing re-packing over and over becomes tiresome. So we live out of the suitcase most of the time.
This is an essential art, and one not everyone can get to grips with straight away (Such as my Husband!). The problem comes when you can not locate something and then the process of rifling through the suitcase to locate said item disrupts any form of organization and the whole case becomes messed up and disorganized.
The key is compartmentalizing everything, Toiletries, Tech, tops, bottoms, shoes, everything. You need to know exactly where everything is so that when you require any item it is straight to hand. Being compartmentalized also means rifling is more constrained should an item not be where it is meant to be.
Essentially your suitcase needs to become the equivalent of a pair of draws. When opened out on the floor or bed you have two neatly organized trays that you can select your items from. There should be no need for rummaging just neat piles and selections of clothes for you to peruse.
See tip 6 for a neat way to make this even easier!
3 – Try Your Clothes on!
I picked up on this little trick from years working in Retail! We are always told don’t take your litter with you to other countries, so people dutifully remove all clothing tags from their new holiday clothes before packing. A great idea, saving weight, and keeping your trash at home. However, they arrive at their destination to find their new clothes don’t fit or just don’t suit them well. The problem is removing the tags now renders the item as worn, and the store will be unable to return the item for you.
The Simple solution is to try everything on before you remove the tags to ensure they fit and they look as good on you as they did on the manikin. You may feel this is being over cautious as you always try clothes on, but does your other half? and by going on the number of times at work we are unable to refund holiday clothes after their trip clearly some people do not. Just get in the habit of trying on then removing the tag then packing.
4 – Split Your Items
Losing a suitcase is everyone’s worst nightmare. You stand at the conveyor as the bags go round and round everyone picking theirs off and heading off on their adventures. Your bag has still not arrived, the drip, drip, drip of fresh bags drys up, and finally, the belt stops. It hasn’t come. Words cannot express this feeling, at least, not words we can print!
There is not much you can do. Report the bag and hope the airline can fast-track it to you, your insurance will normally cover some new clothes from the nearest Target. But for now, you are stuck in your sweat-ridden clothes that you just marinaded in for a flight of 11 hours. Gross.
Fortunately, you read this tip beforehand and you have a nice couple of outfits, some underwear and basic toiletries stashed away in your other half’s case. These will last the next few days while your case arrives or you get shopping!
But wait what about my Camera!.. And Laptop!!!
No worry, it’s all in your carry-on
5 – NEED something, it goes carry-on!
If you cannot live without something it goes in your carry-on. Important things you take care of yourself. We are talking about expensive electronics, documentation, Medicine, really anything you can think of that you really can’t afford to lose and are allowed in hand luggage.
We take a lot of gadgets away with us and as convenient as it would be to chuck them in the checked case and forget about them. They are fragile and we really can’t imagine not seeing them again at the other end. So laptop, Camera, Drone, Go Pro, everything goes in the hand luggage and is kept within reach at all times. Just remember if you have several $1000s worth of electronics in your hand luggage don’t walk into a bathroom filled with homeless people on a 1-day Seatle layover at 6 am asking to be mugged…
Medicine – this is especially important for medicines. Airlines and airports have very strict carry-on restrictions for liquids, but these are not applicable to medically required liquids. If you need something and have a doctor’s note to show you do you will definitely be able to get this through security. If declared and explained to a security officer you should get it through without a doctor’s note. But if it is really important or expensive, don’t risk it.
If you are flying from outside the US or are just in an unfamiliar state or city getting replacement meds might be very challenging so a few days supply is essential. We always advise checking with the airport and airline you are flying with to double-check this but on the whole, it is always the case that essential meds or any liquids essential for a medical reason are exempt from liquid restrictions. This includes foods that are required on medical grounds. You can also take certain amounts of baby milk or formula on board too, but you are required to have an infant with you at the time!
The basic rule is simple if you simply could not deal with the airline losing any particular item then pack it in your hand luggage.
6 – Packing Cubes
Packing Cubes are really nifty. We were at first very skeptical. They seemed a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. So we shunned them. It was the 17th time on the last trip that Steve emptied his suitcase all over the hotel room looking for one particular item that their value to us clicked
These neat little compartments cost only a few $ and help organize and sort the different types of luggage you have. That way, when something is needed, you know exactly which cube to look in. No rifling through the entire case that your darling wife just spent an hour organizing. Essentially you end up with only 12-15 different items in your case that can be packed and unpacked in seconds. You can have a shorts cube, a T-Shirt Cube, a Dress Cube, an Underwear Cube, a Tech Cube, etc…
It really makes everything very easy and manageable. It is also great for swapping Items. Pack a swap cube with a couple of outfits to last a few days in case your bag goes missing and swap with your other half as we mentioned in tip number 4.
Any lost items can be located in seconds, and even completely unpacking a case is a doddle. They have completely transformed the way we pack and travel and are only a few dollars to buy. They are one of those things you wonder how you ever lived without!
7 – Toiletries
Toiletries break. Baggage handlers are not renowned for their caring touch and bags can get bashed around quite a bit. So Shower gels, Shampoos, Perfumes, etc can all break.
Expensive perfume or aftershave needs an extra layer of protection so wrap in either some bubble wrap or in the middle of your clothes. Perfume breakages are not the end of the world. Your stuff will smell fantastic for years and the alcohol will evaporate away. But it can be an expensive loss!
Other leakages are more problematic. Sun lotion, shampoo, shower gel, etc…these make a heck of a mess. Rendering large volumes of your clothes unwearable. Most of the time it will wash out but it’s a big faff when you probably have other things on your mind such as the pool!
Our solution is to multi-wrap any liquids in at least two carrier bags. This way any leakages are contained to the best possible extent and you even have spare bags for dirty clothes! You can get completely waterproof bags off amazon but we find the double carrier bag method works just fine, or even a bin liner or two.
8 – Wash Your Clothes
Not beforehand, we will assume you are not taking dirty clothes, even though my husband might try. But on a long trip, 23kg just might not be enough, especially if you have to take flippers, snorkels, cameras, 3x tripods, extra batteries, a hundred little things that I don’t even know what they do be we DEFINATELY need, despite them staying in the suitcase all trip! It really can add up that you just don’t have enough space or weight for a trip over 2 weeks.
You could just buy more Luggage allowance, but that is expensive and requires a lot of lugging on either end. The other option is to wash some of your clothes while you are away! Many hotels have laundry facilities and if not the concierge will point you in the right direction. Most self-catering properties will have their own laundry if you are renting.
It is not a glamorous way to spend your vacation but it sure beats the extra baggage charges some airlines impose!
9 – Dual Voltages!
Argh, the nightmare of worldwide electrical systems. Why we all cannot use the same systems is beyond us. Fortunately, things are improving slightly. With so many items we use being low voltage now, chargers and laptop power bricks are all dual voltage without us knowing really. Some things however still require full mains voltage to run and even with the correct adapters you still have problems.
While traveling the main sticking points for us are hair care products. Hair Straighteners, hairdryers, etc. All have powerful heating elements and can require set voltages. If your home is 240v then your hair straighteners will never get to temp. If you are on 110v you run the risk of blowing the device up!
The solution is the wonderful world of dual voltage. If you are planning on taking something abroad check the item is dual voltage. If not consider buying one that is. We Purchased these Hair Straighteners solely for our travels and they cost only a small outlay but they are a godsend, they get hot and work well in any country. I have my usual Straighteners for home but wheel these out whenever we go abroad. The same applies to any Main Voltage Device, Ensure you have a Dual Voltage version for Travel.
10 – Weight Limits – Pack Light and Smart
One of the biggest issues facing travelers is airline weight restrictions. 50lbs/23kg is a very tight allowance to pack all your worldly goods for 2-3 weeks away. First up you instantly lose 13-15lbs/6-7Kg just by the case, then toiletries, shoes, and electrical goods can easily eat up 15-17lbs/7-8 kg. That’s over half your allowance and you haven’t even got any clothes yet!
Next, a jacket, some towels, a pair of jeans, and a hoodie or two and you are over the limit and have nothing to wear day today. And this is all before the horror of coming home, bags filled with souvenirs and gifts! Excess baggage charges here we come!
There are a few things you can do to make this all a lot less costly, however. We have already mentioned getting an ultra-light case and considering washing some of your items while away but we can go further. We easily pack for 3 Weeks in two 50lb/23kg cases and that’s with all of the associated guff we need to pack, drones, cameras, tripods, masks, snorkels, and a plethora of beauty items and products, all along with enough clothes to suit a variety of weather conditions and climates!
The first rule – do we NEED it? Be honest and be ruthless! Millions of people haul tons of stuff all over the world and never use it or wear it and often pay for the privilege in excess baggage fees! We have done this in the past but now brutally ensure everything we take has a need and a purpose and will be worn. We plan out outfits for planned dinners and evenings, take only enough basics to cover the days we are there. We only pack the basic toiletries only enough to last the time. Often bulky items can be bought at your destination and always consider renting things such as snorkeling gear or fishing equipment.
The second rule – Can I wear it? – Heavy clothes are best carried on your person. Jeans, Jackets Hoodies heavy shoes, or boots. Anything likely to make a real impact on your allowance, simply wear it on the plane. This is especially true of anything you can layer. If it’s a jacket or hoodie, you don’t have to wear it all the time just as you are boarding the plane. You really can save a whole heap of weight by layering up on the flight!
Finally, rule 3 – Make use of your hand luggage allowance. Sneaky Sneaky. We get loads of heavy and important things onto the plane through our hand luggage allowance. As long as it is not restricted and would otherwise be heavy. sling it in the hand luggage and on you go. You normally get another 15-20 lbs/7-10Kg of hand luggage allowance and another small hand item, think camera or handbag.
The return leg is where a lot of people fall down. They pack meticulously for the outbound trip then forget completely the same rules apply coming home. But now you have a bagful of gifts and souvenirs. A similar approach to the outward leg is all that is needed. Remember to pack some cheap digital scales so you can weigh your case before leaving for the airport. A few other tips:
- Make sure your clothes and towels are dry. Wet clothes weigh an awful lot more than dry ones so any last-minute beach action can throw your case over the weight limit.
- If you have bought alcohol to take home it obviously needs to go in the checked bag but you can offset this by packing something else into the hand luggage
- Leave nearly empty toiletries. There is really no need to lug that last bit of shower gel or suntan lotion back home. It may not weigh much but it all adds up. If you are worried about leaving plastics empty and rinse out the container and bring it back empty for recycling!
- Be ready to repack at the bag drop. Move things into your pockets or hand luggage or make use of your traveling companion’s extra space, anything to keep you under the dreaded excess baggage charge limit!
11 – Lists, Lists, and More Lists!
We left this till last as to some it is pretty obvious and others will simply resist making lists at all costs (won’t you dearest husband?). Packing, however, is one place where lists really come into their own. Your packing list should be made well in advance of any trip 2-3 weeks at least. Then you can add to it as things pop into your mind and make sure things on the list that need buying can be procured in a prompt fashion.
Alternatively, do as my Husband does and insist your list is in your mind, forget half of what you needed and then go into a strop at the other end when you realize. It makes perfect sense… apparently!
But however, you plan your packing, ensure you have a FINAL LIST. This can be in your head but it is a final check you have everything you REALLY need. We run through this list in the car just before we pull away from the house or hotel. It’s the stuff that if we forget, we really are not getting the flight!
- Boarding Pass / Travel Docs?
All the stuff you can’t pack and need to hand. Run through the list each and ensure you actually lay a hand on the item as you check it off. That way whatever happens you know you can actually get on the flight…even if the camera battery is still upstairs charging…
As you head to the airport you will suddenly be overwhelmed with the feeling of dread and worry that you have forgotten something. You probably have, but as long as it was not on the final list, stop worrying, you will be fine without it. We have all forgotten things on our trips and they were never ruined.
So don’t worry too much as long as you get to where you are going on one piece with enough T-shirts, tops, and suncream to have an awesome trip, nothing else really matters.
Have Your Say
Got any awesome packing tips you want to share? Or maybe a funny packing fail like the many we have alluded to? Maybe you are big fans of one of our tips? Feel free to leave a comment below about anything you have to say about the weird and stressful world of packing a suitcase!