You’ve arrived. After months of dreaming, careful planning, and enduring a long flight, you check in to a resort which, you now know, far surpasses images you’d drooled over online. Immediately, you unzip your bag, ready to start this long overdue sabbatical with a dip in the cool, clear, blue waters of that amazing pool. Quickly, you find your swimsuit, you wouldn’t have forgotten that. But where is the sunblock? “I packed sunblock, didn’t I?” you ask yourself in disbelief. After spending 10 minutes frantically searching, you remember passing the gift shop in the way in. Surely, you can get sunblock there.
Changed and ready, you saunter back downstairs to make the necessary purchase. The least expensive bottle is $18. “I don’t really have a choice,” you reason. After all, you’ll need it for the entire week, so you pay the clerk and your on your way.
As you walk out into the brilliant warm sunshine, you reach for your sunglasses…which seem to be absent. Defeated, you turn around and head back to the gift shop.
This is no way to begin a vacation. Change the narrative by using a packing list and these simple tips + tricks for achieving the perfectly packed travel bag and never forget the things you need for your travels ever again.
5 Simple Tips + Tricks for Achieving the Perfectly Packed Travel Bag
Hold your horses, you don’t need that suitcase yet:
Tip # 1: Question Everything.
What’s the weather like there?
It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people get to their destination wishing they’d packed for cooler conditions. Stopping to buy a sweater probably wasn’t the first thing on the itinerary.
How long will I be gone?
As a general rule, I take the number of days I’ll be gone, then add two outfits. Overpacking is always a bad idea, so really do try to limit yourself. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had.
What are we doing when we get there? (activities/excursions)
Do you plan on scaling Machu Picchu? You’ll probably need hiking books (among other things). Scuba diving? Um…do you have a copy of your license?
Where’s my packing list?
This is the traveler’s ultimate life-saving trick. Print a list and check it at least twice. (Yes, twice, just like Santa.) Use our FREE printable vacation packing list, or write out your own.
By doing it way before your trip, and making a point to revisit the list, you’ll give yourself the chance to remember something you didn’t think of last time.
Our list includes almost everything anyone could ever need. Since it’s not trip specific, review it first and immediately cross off anything you know you won’t need. Maybe you don’t take any prescription medicine. Why bring a winter coat to the beach? Then add what you do need to the extra lines provided, like a case for your hearing aids, or the nasal spray that always saved your sinuses.
Tip #2: Take time to PP. (Plan and Purchase travel related items early.)
If you want, take items you can buy at your destination off the list.
Before you do this, I suggest price checking. In Punta Cana, a bottle of sunblock costs twice as much as it would here in the U.S. I’d rather save money and take brands I know and love than save space in my suitcase.
However, if you’re planning to travel with only a carry-on, then you haven’t much choice, security will confiscate that bottle of “liquid” sunblock. Plus, with a small carry-on, you’ll probably need that extra suitcase space.
Moreover, if you’re visiting family, you can usually borrow stuff like soap and shampoo. If you’re not, most hotels provide the basics like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste. You can call ahead to see what they have if you’re not sure. If you’re a little picky about your toiletries or you’re not staying at a hotel, you’ll probably pass a drugstore where you can buy anything you might need.
Purchase travel-sized containers or toiletries.
If you plan on bringing your own toiletries, remember, there are specific regulations for the volume of liquids you can bring in a carry-on for a flight. You’ll need travel-sized containers if you plan on carrying liquids this way.
Pro Tip: To see what you’re allowed to pack, check the TSA security link here.
Even if you’re flying with a checked bag and are allowed more liquids, are you going to use all 16 ozs in that bottle of shampoo during your weeklong trip? Pour what you will use into a smaller container and leave the rest at home. It will save you room for other essential items.
Pro Tip: Pack liquids or “wet items” like soap, toothpaste, and shampoo in a gallon Ziploc bag to minimize spills. If you really want to be thorough, remove the tops of spillable bottles, cut and place a piece of saran wrap large enough to not just cover the opening, but big enough to fold over the sides. Then replace the caps.
Choose and purchase the right luggage.
Yes, different airlines have different restrictions on sizes for carry-ons and checked bags. Stick to some general guidelines, and you should be safe. My husband likes to take out our scale and weigh each suitcase so we’re not frantically repacking that extra two pounds in the baggage-check line at the airport. First, he steps on the scale. He checks the number. Then, holding the packed bag, he climbs on the scale for a second time. Again, he checks the number. He subtracts the first reading from the second and voila! He’s left with the weight of the bag.
Pro Tip: Check weight and size requirements for the specific airline you’re flying since they’re all different. While you’re at it, double-check to see if you will be required to pay extra for your checked bag.
You also want to seriously consider the type of bag you prefer when traveling – shoulder bag, backpack, roller bag, hardshell, softshell, etc. There are so many options. Remember, your bag shouldn’t stress you out; it should make traveling easier!
Okay, get your packing list, you can take the suitcase out, but don’t open it…yet.
3. Get it together for goodness sake!
Get essentials first.
Use your list to gather the most important items first. All travel documents such as your passport, ID/driver’s license, boarding passes, hotel reservations, tour vouchers, kids’ birth certificates. This also includes anything you simply cannot travel without and can’t purchase: wallet, credit cards, camera, cell phone, chargers, etc.
Pro Tip: Of course, there’s an app for that! Some apps assist with itinerary management. These save paper, reduce the number of documents you’ll need to carry, and are just plain helpful. See our list apps at the end of this post.
Size matters, when it comes to your suitcase, that is.
If you only have one suitcase, then you’re done. If you have more options, try to use the smaller one. Most people tend to overpack when their bag is too large for their trip. Then they regret having to lug it around. Just because it fits doesn’t mean you need it. A lighter bag is less stressful.
I travel with my husband. We opt to consolidate our stuff in one larger bag instead of multiple smaller bags. We rarely have extra room because he is the king of overpacking. Who needs four pairs of tennis shoes for one week? He does. Whatever floats his boat. He carries the bag.
Lay everything out.
Put your outfits together as if you were getting ready to wear them. Laying everything out helps you to see what you have and what you may still need. For real, everything. Include shoes, undergarments, and accessories.
After you have everything, you can dividing items into sections based on where they’ll get packed.
Don’t include that last pair of underwear! You’ll need something to wear on the trip. Remember to consider it with your other pieces. Will you wear a certain sweater with multiple outfits? If you’re sporting white shoes, do you need to pack a second pair of the same color?
Pro Tip: When choosing outfits, choose pieces you can wear more than once and things that you can easily mix and match. For example, instead of packing four pairs of tennis shoes. Wear a brown pair and pack a black pair. Now you’re only packing one pair. If you plan right, one or the other will go just fine with any outfit you bring.
Moreover, yes, you can wear a pair of jeans more than once before washing them. They fit better the second time. So only pack two or three favorite pairs for a weeklong trip. It’s all you’ll need. If you must do wash, you can always see if there’s a service at your hotel or laundromat near your destination. While waiting for your whites to dry, connect with the locals. Learn about this new-to-you community by chatting it up with a stranger.
Again, pack simple mix-and-match pieces to avoid overpacking.
Fun fact: Thee bottoms (jeans, shorts, skirt, or whatever.), Four tops (tee, tank, and the such), and two outer layers (sweater, coat, or cardigan) can make up to 24 different outfits.
Keep it light. You’ll have more room for those necessary, special things that can only be worn once like, say, a suit or bridesmaid dress, for example. Again, if space is an issue, then this is extra important. My family of four is road-tripping around Ireland for eight glorious days this May. The “boot” isn’t big enough for four large bags, so when I write about it and post pictures, you will see many of the same clothes, mixed and matched. Be sure to check out my husband’s feet! If I win, you’ll only see two different pairs of shoes.
Now, with everything laid out before you, check yourself. How long will you be gone again? Yep. Chances are you can put a few things back in the closet. Heavy bags add stress. Shoulders begin to hurt. You have to fight to make this bulky thing fit into tight spaces. Additionally, you’ll have to do the repack of shame, holding up the line while all your (albeit) clean laundry is strewn about for all the other travelers to see. Or worse still, be forced to dish out souvenir money to cover the dreaded overweight bag fees.
It’s time to open the suitcase. Do you have your packing list?
4. Wrap + Roll
Just pack it up!
Finally, here we are and the possibilities are endless. Packing tips range from rolling things up, flattening them out, or folding small squares. Ugh, Marie Condo, where are you when we need you? Do whatever floats your boat. Just get it all in. Hopefully, you leave enough space for a small bottle of wrinkle release!
Pro Tip: Add a dryer sheet or two to the bag to keep your clothes smelling fresh and clean. While you’re at it, add a stain removing pen. These are always handy.
Also, if your husband must bring all four pairs of shoes, use them wisely. Roll up clean socks and shove them inside. Wrap costume jewelry neatly in a washcloth or napkin then in a Ziploc bag and place it in the shoe. Find small things to squeeze in there. Belts, ties, whatever fits. Packing like this makes the most of the space you have while helping the shoe keep its shape.
Use belts to keep dress shirt collars in shape.
5. Check it, Don’t Wreck it.
Use your packing list to check, double-check, and triple-check everything.
Here are the rules:
Do not check an item off until it is in your bag.
Do put a checkmark next to each item once you’ve packed it.
Never take a checked off item out of the bag. That’s exactly how you leave your phone at home on the charger next to your bed. “The box was checked!!!” you’ll cry in anguish, hopefully only halfway to the airport…
If you “always forget something,” print an extra travel checklist just for those items. Tape it to your front door the night before you leave. Review the list one last time before you walk out of your house.
Don’t let dirty shoes touch your clean clothes.
Wrap them up in plastic bags or pack them in a separate compartment. Delicate shoes or heels should get their own space, too, if possible. Or, clean the bottoms and wrap in a sweatshirt or something else with sturdy material.
Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on.
Be covered for at least a day if your baggage gets delayed or lost. My husband may even pack an extra pair of shoes just in case.
If you’re heading to a tropical resort, you can even pack a swimsuit and sandals. Give the concierge your luggage, order a Miami Vice, and hang at the beach or pool while waiting to check-in.
Keep expensive/irreplaceable items on you.
It’s better to leave this stuff at home. If you need to bring them with, keep them on you. If your bag is stolen, Grandma’s ring can’t be replaced, even with travel insurance. It’s better not to risk it.
The same goes for official documents. See if a certified paper copy, or a digital image is sufficient if you must travel with official documents such as birth certificates or social security cards. Otherwise, the same rule applies to these irreplaceable documents.
Follow the TSA 3-1-1 rule for liquids in carry-on baggage.
3 – Travelers may carry liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in containers of 3.4oz (100ml) or smaller.
1 – These items must fit into 1 clear plastic quart-sized bag.
1 – Only 1 bag per passenger is allowed.
Remove this bag from your carry-on and place it separately in the screening bin. This is meant to slightly expedite passing through security.
Check out TSAs YouTube Video below for more information.
You can also check out TSAs medication video by clicking here.
Check out TSAs explainer video on what to remove from your bag at the checkpoint here.
TSA teaches your kids what to expect with the animated video here.
For TSAs full YouTube channel you can click here.
Is it better to fold or roll clothes in a suitcase?
Reading Time: 9 minutes
It depends. Do you need to save space? If not, then fold away. If space is limited, rolling may be the way to go. Check out these on YouTube.
Vacuum bags can also be employed. Just be sure you watch the weight when using them.
What about those cubes?
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Packing cubes help with organization, but don’t really save space.
How do I prevent wrinkles?
Reading Time: 9 minutes
Your best bet is to try to bring fabrics less prone to wrinkling. However, using the rolling method can help to decrease wrinkling and bringing along some wrinkle release is never a bad idea.