How to pack a suitcase efficiently?

Planning to travel but don’t know how to pack your suitcase efficiently without wrinkling your clothes? Read on to learn space-saving tips for maximum convenience. Discover the right luggage size for your trip and how to avoid restrictions on weight and size. Whether you’re taking a short trip or going on a long vacation, we’ve got you covered!”

1. A suitcase? But what size suitcase?

Depending on the means of transportation and class of ticket, you may be subject to restrictions on the number, weight, and size of luggage allowed. If you’re packing for a flight, you may need to choose luggage that doesn’t exceed certain dimensions, which could include your accessories such as a purse or computer bag. This is especially important when flying on low-cost airlines.

The first step is to determine if you have these constraints, which can impact your luggage choice:

  • Soft bags are popular for flying on low-cost airlines, as are weekend bags (available in various sizes for men and women).
  • Cabin bags with dimensions adapted to your airline are a good option.
  • Checked bags may be necessary, even if it means paying more, to free yourself from these constraints.

Your luggage choice also depends on the duration of your trip:

  • What size suitcase for a week? A carry-on suitcase is sufficient in most cases unless you need to bring bulky (ski wear!) or fragile clothes (evening dresses, etc).
  • What size suitcase for a two-week vacation or longer? If you’re packing light (such as for a sunny destination where shorts and swimwear take up little space), you may still be able to use a carry-on suitcase. But most of the time, you will need a larger size suitcase (such as 25 inches or more).

Don’t forget to weigh your luggage before heading to the airport! A luggage scale is an inexpensive investment that can save you from paying overweight fees at the airport (which implies selling a kidney, an arm and your mother!). If you can’t lighten your load, consider buying a second piece of luggage instead of paying overweight fees, it is often much more cost-effective.

Pack your suitcase efficiently
Photo © Masahiro Miyagi – Under Unsplash license

2. Packing your suitcase efficiently with storage bags

Today, you can easily find lots of small ultra-light storage bags to organize your suitcase.

Why use them?

  • To save space: all your things will be well organized without losing space;
  • To organize items: I usually pack a lingerie bag, a clothes bag, an “accessories” bag (chargers, plug adapters, etc.), and a toiletry bag. It’s easy to find what you need quickly.
  • To prevent wrinkles: the bags keep your clothes compact and in place, even if your suitcase is jostled during travel.

3. Start with underwear and lounge wear

Packing underwear is one of the easiest things to do when packing for a vacation! Depending on the length of your stay, you can quickly determine how much underwear to pack, including socks, stockings, bras for women, and possibly tights. Some people pack just the right amount, while others wash along the way.

For a week-long trip, I pack what I need, but for longer trips, I wash along the way to avoid clutter and dry them in the open air or on a towel dryer.

Additionally, if you wear sleepwear, pack it too! Instead of a bathrobe or pilou robe if you’re worried about getting cold, bring a versatile sweater that can be worn day or night. It’s a great way to pack without taking up too much space.

Packing for vacation
Packing for vacation | Photo © Anete Lūsiņa – Under Unsplash license

4. Clothes: roll and match!

Choosing clothes for a vacation can be a daunting task, and everyone has their own preferences, such as wanting to be chic, packing many pairs of shoes, traveling light, or something else.

Here are some general tips to follow:

  • Bring more tops than bottoms: classic pants, a skirt, nice shorts, and jeans can be matched with all kinds of tops, and you can create casual outfits as well as more “casual chic” looks or even chic ones, depending on the associations.
  • Opt for versatile pieces: when trying to save space, it’s better to avoid colors that are difficult to match or patterns that can only be worn with one bottom. The more you can mix and match your clothes, the lighter you can travel.
  • Roll your clothes: it not only takes up less space but also helps prevent wrinkles in your clothes!

Remember to pack at least one dressy outfit to avoid getting turned away due to dress codes at events like parties or restaurants. Additionally, be sure to pack something to keep you dry and/or warm in case of rainy or cool weather, and don’t forget your bathing suit (if you’re headed to sunny locales or if your hotel has a spa, pool, or jacuzzi).

Pack all these items in storage bags and use the gaps that remain to pack your shoes. Sometimes it’s easier to line them up on one side of the suitcase instead of preserving the pairs side by side. Be sure to pack your shoes in bags to avoid dirtying your other items and to maximize space (you can even put socks inside them to stay organized!).

5. The toiletry bag or the challenge of packing light

If you’re flying with a carry-on suitcase, be mindful of restrictions on liquid products: containers cannot exceed 100 ml each (3.4 oz) and must be held in a transparent bag no larger than 1 liter (34 oz) and no larger than 8*8 inches.

These rules have been in place for years, but I still see people being caught off guard because they are flying for the first time or have simply forgotten. I recommend purchasing a few reusable bottles and jars in the appropriate size and filling them with your favorite products, such as shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, and face cream. Don’t hesitate to save samples you receive throughout the year when you make beauty purchases or from hotels during your travels for future vacations!

There are travel-sized toothpastes available in pharmacies (Elmex is a great brand if it’s available in your country). The same goes for deodorant, which you can now find in compact formats just about everywhere. And the same is true for sunscreen and mosquito repellent, if necessary. Note that you can also buy these two products on the spot if you need to save space in your suitcase.

If you bring a little makeup, think of wipes (washable or not) for makeup removal (+ makeup remover if needed). Don’t forget your hairbrush and toothbrush. Depending on the length of your trip, nail clippers, ear cleaner, and tweezers may be useful!

If needed, also bring tampons/pads and/or menstrual pants (menstrual pants can provide some comfort if your period is coming up and you’re worried about not finding a clean bathroom right away).

Objectively, the hygiene part is often the heaviest part when you have to pack for a vacation. You can lighten the load by changing some habits: take solid formats (soap, toothpaste, shampoo) for example. But if you want to keep a certain level of comfort, it will increase the weight of your luggage!

For my part, I use a multi-compartment kit with a hanging hook. It remains quite compact once full, and it’s practical to use because you just have to hang it on a coat rack or on the shower wall when you use it!

6. Suitcase vs. carry-on baggage

If you are packing a suitcase to take on the plane and you have the possibility to take luggage + an accessory, separate well what you are going to keep with you in your carry-on and what will be in your suitcase (whether it is in the hold or in the cabin, in the luggage compartments).

Always keep valuable items with you, especially high-tech equipment such as your laptop, digital camera, or other gadgets. Also keep chargers in your carry-on if you put your suitcase in the hold; this way, if it gets lost, you will avoid a lot of trouble!

Plan ahead for what you will need during the flight, such as headphones, noise-cancelling earplugs, books, games, snacks, a scarf or shawl to stay warm from the air conditioning, and something to refresh and hydrate your skin on a long flight (remembering the restrictions on liquids) to combat the dryness after several hours of flight.

7. Essential accessories to pack in your suitcase!

Some small accessories can be very useful, such as:

  • Packing a few bags for dirty laundry or isolating a bottle to avoid spills. It’s always handy!
  • Bring a power strip as we often have multiple devices to charge simultaneously. Sometimes hotels lack enough outlets, but there are versatile travel power strips available on Amazon and other stores.
  • A few medicines such as multi-purpose painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc.), bandages for blisters, and anti-diarrheal medication can be useful in case of headache, stomachache, or toothache.
  • An external battery can be a lifesaver for taking a lot of pictures or using GPS/Google Maps while traveling. Nowadays, external batteries are available at reasonable prices. The more powerful the battery is, the more charges it allows, but the heavier and bulkier it tends to be.
Bagage à main
Hand luggage | Photo © White Field Photo – Under Unsplash license

Depending on your health, your destination, and your needs, you may also want to bring a sleeping mask to block out light, compression socks in case of a long flight, a neck pillow for sleeping without a stiff neck, sunglasses, an umbrella, and other items.

Don’t forget your chargers!

I also suggest bringing snacks; they can be useful in many situations such as delayed transportation, late arrivals at hotels with closed restaurants, or just as a source of energy when you’re up early.

You can also bring a water bottle in your luggage. I’ve made it a habit to do so while traveling: it avoids buying expensive bottled water in touristy places (or waiting in line in a supermarket), and it can be cleaned easily. You can even put it (empty) in your carry-on and fill it up after passing through security.

8. Essential ID and reservations

We can sometimes be so preoccupied with our vacation itinerary and the upcoming relaxation that we forget about the administrative side. So, don’t forget your ID and necessary tickets (train, plane, shows)!

Nowadays, it’s rare to have to print them (although it still happens occasionally, so make sure to check just in case!); it’s usually enough to have them stored on your phone (but make sure that the information is available offline). In the same vein, take advantage of the opportunity to download apps that may be useful during your stay, such as offline city maps, translation apps, or road trip apps (to find gas stations, for example).

Also, send a copy of your ID to your email inbox. It only takes 30 seconds, and if you’re the victim of a pickpocket or lose your papers, it’ll be easier to have them reissued if you can prove your identity.

Remember to check well in advance that your documents are still valid (some countries require them to be valid for six months after the date of return) and that they are adapted to the country you’re going to (for example, if you’re going on a road trip abroad, you may need to have your driver’s license translated).

9. Pay attention to administrative details

It can be helpful to check with your bank to see what fees are charged for transactions abroad, and whether your card allows for such transactions. Nothing is more stressful than finding yourself without a means of payment somewhere in the world!

Similarly, review your phone plan in the context of the country you’re visiting: can you make calls, send SMS/MMS, and use data freely? Is there a temporary international subscription option available? Is it better to purchase a local SIM card if you’re staying for an extended period?

Are there any mandatory vaccinations that you need to take or renew to travel safely?

10. Label your luggage

Be sure to remove old tags from your luggage and label it with at least your name and a phone number (including the international dialing code). If you’re traveling by plane, you can also add a distinguishing mark to your suitcase to make it easier to find on the luggage carousel. This could be an original sticker, or simply ribbons or bows tied to the handle.

It’s also a good idea to place a paper with your contact information inside the suitcase itself in case of loss, providing all the necessary information for someone to contact you.

Travel checklist - Packing your suitcase
Photo © – Under Unsplash license

11. A Post-It note for last-minute items

When figuring out how to pack for a vacation, keep in mind that there are always last-minute items to add, such as the toothbrush and toothpaste that you’ll use right before departing or your phone charger.

There may also be last-minute things to do, like taking out the garbage, watering your plants or feeding your cat.

Write everything down on a Post-It note and stick it on your suitcase to free yourself from the mental burden of remembering them!

How long does it take to pack a suitcase efficiently?

Like many things in life, packing a suitcase can be learned, and the more you do it, the faster and more efficient you’ll become. If you travel infrequently, you’ll inevitably take more time, ask more questions, and make more mistakes.

As time goes on and you travel more, you’ll develop your own list of tips and tricks and your own method for organizing yourself. You’ll also have your own “must-haves” for vacation, making it easier to pack your suitcase efficiently.

Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned one, I still advise you to avoid packing at the last minute. It’s always a good idea to pack a few days in advance, if only to give yourself time to purchase anything you might need.

I hope that these tips will help you pack for your vacation with peace of mind, and that you’ll forget as few things as possible!

Hello! I am on maternity leave until summer 2023. I take this time to focus on my family so the comments are temporarily closed on the site :)

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