16 Essential Packing Tips for Travel to Maximize Your Trip

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Essential packing tips

How you pack your luggage for your travels, whether that be a quick weekend away or a long-term adventure, can make or break your trip. Packing too much leads to unnecessary weight and excess baggage fees, while traveling light can make things easier… but you don’t want to risk forgetting important items.

Moreover, a poor packing job can lead to dreaded shampoo explosions on your clothes or inefficient use of limited suitcase space. This handy list of travel packing tips will ensure you can take everything you need for your next trip away to make things easier while you’re on the road! Enjoy a more convenient and hassle-free traveling experience with properly packed bags.

Essential Packing Tips for Travel

1. Take Half the Clothes You Think You’ll Need

Tripped Travel Gear
Tripped Travel Gear / Amazon

That’s right; HALF. I’m still guilty of this and always manage to rotate only a portion of what I pack, and the rest of my clothes stay snug in their packing cubes. Remember, washing machines exist all over the world!

Our most important addition to our list of efficient packing tips is that you never need as many clothes as you think you’ll need. Of course, pack plenty of fresh underwear and socks for your trip; that’s a given.

But you won’t need ten pairs of trousers for a 10-day holiday. Do you wear that many when you’re at home? A bonus of not filling up the limited space in your suitcase on your way out is that you have more room for souvenirs on the way back!

2. Pack Smart

Tripped Travel Gear National Parks compression cubes packed in luggage
Cassie Jenkins / ViaTravelers

Between packing cubes, plastic bags, and compression cubes, many travel packing accessories are available to help get everything into one bag. You’ll be amazed at how much space is created by simply rolling, rather than folding, your clothes. This is also super handy for helping you avoid unwanted fold creases in clothing so they’re ready to wear straight out of the bag.

I can’t believe I ever traveled without my trusty packing cubes, and now I take them on every trip. Packing cubes come in all sizes, making separating clothing and other items easy for more organized luggage while on the road. It’s also super handy to put waterproof dry bags on your packing list to separate clean clothes from wet and dirty clothes.

For overly bulky items like ski gear, turn to compression bags. They compress items into manageable sizes but do not use this as an excuse to overpack. Using compression bags as an excuse to pack more clothes risks paying excess fees for exceeding your airline’s weight limits.

See Related: Our Honest Away Packing Cubes Review

3. Avoid Check-In Luggage When Possible

Gregory Jade backpack packed for traveling
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

A carry-on bag is the perfect go-to for quick weekend breaks or a minimalist approach to longer vacations. By packing light with a carry-on bag, you can save on the excess cost of checked baggage. Also, you’ll save time because you won’t have to worry about the hassle of waiting at baggage claim for the carousel to get fired up.

Frequent travelers will agree that forgoing checked luggage and going with carry-on luggage is a great motivator to pack only the essentials and forgo the more luxurious and unnecessary items. It’s tough to overpack when your carry-on luggage won’t physically allow it!

See Related: Best Travel Backpacks & Carry-On Options

4. Try Travelling With Minimal to No Luggage

Author, Kyle Kroeger, Wearing a Travel Sling Bag in Europe
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Depending on your trip, it’s sometimes very possible to roam around with just the clothes on your back. This obviously won’t cut it if you’re off on a hiking adventure across the Andean Mountain Range to Macchu Picchu, but it could turn out ideal for that weekend city break.

Luggage-free excursions can be achieved by being smart about the items of clothing you wear. Look for clothing with multiple pockets and compartments that can hold essential items like your passport, credit card/money, phone, etc.

Of course, this is a somewhat extreme travel style, only suited to limited types of trips and travelers. You can still travel light with just a smaller day bag. A small travel backpack can hold a change of clothes, essential toiletries (under the airline’s allowed limit), and any personal medications you might need to take.

Editor’s Note: This past October, I traveled to Atlanta from Philadelphia with just a purse. I was flying down for a concert, and wouldn’t have time to drop bags off before getting in line.

I brought a purse that fit the venue’s 12x12x6 bag limit. I packed a change of clothes, a camera, and very basic toiletries – and still had room for snacks. So, it is possible to travel ultra light.

See Related: Best Minimalist Travel Backpacks & Bags for Trips

5. Keep Important Medications in your Hand Luggage

Tripped Travel Gear tech pouch
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Sometimes, your checked luggage doesn’t make it to your destination as quickly as you do, or it doesn’t make it there at all. Travel insurance can compensate you for lost luggage or items you need to buy while waiting for delayed baggage, but not everything is so easily replaceable.

Whenever I need to take medication with me on trips away, I always carry it with me in my carry-on bag. It’s easy to replace a pair of trousers quickly, but prescription medication, not so much.

Additionally, if you need to take any medication with you, check with your doctor if you need any documentation, like a copy of your prescription to take with you. This is only the case for some medications, but it’s always best to prepare fully to avoid unnecessary and avoidable hassle.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance Options for Pre-Existing Conditions

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Mix and Match

Don't Be Afraid To Mix and Match

Mixing and matching outfits is crucial to maximize space in your bag. If you pack just four shirts and four trousers or shorts that work equally well with each other, you’ve got 16 unique outfits that you can wear during your trip! Think of it as a capsule wardrobe for your packing needs.

Consider the different activities you want to do while you’re away, color and pattern combinations, changing weather conditions, and any cultural requirements. Adventure travel will probably require waterproofs and comfy casual wear, whereas city hopping often calls for smart evening wear, and religious sites often require modest clothing for respect.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of the specific needs for your trip, you can plan the perfect capsule wardrobe to avoid mishaps like pairing up your crisp white dinner shirt with your comfy trail shorts for more sensible outfits.

7. Avoid Bulky Clothing

Avoid Jeans

If you’re going skiing, you’ll need bulky ski pants and a ski jacket. Similarly, hiking trips call for thicker socks and boots, and it would be ridiculous to venture into colder climates without some warm layers to ward off frostbite.

But for that dreamy beach vacation to the Caribbean or summer city-hopping trip around Europe, you will unlikely need to pack the big stuff. While things like puffy jackets don’t weigh much, they take up a lot of room in your suitcase, so they are best left at home if you won’t end up wearing them anyway.

It’s not just the obviously bulky items you will want to rethink. Clothing like jeans and denim jackets are generally quite rigid, so whether you’re firmly on team roll or fold, they will take up more room in your suitcase than they’re worth.

8. Wear Your Bulkiest Items While Traveling

Hiker wearing a hiking boots
My Good Images / Shutterstock

Sometimes, a trip requires bulkier items you just can’t avoid taking. Whenever I’ve gone on big hiking holidays that called for bulky hiking boots and a rain jacket, I’ve always worn these to travel in rather than packing them in my bag.

Similarly, if going on a skiing holiday, save space and wear your ski jacket en route or wear your bulky jumper while on the plane to Alaska to see the famous Northern Lights. You can always take a jacket off on the plane!

Opting to wear your bulkiest clothing rather than pack them into your checked bags leaves ample room for everything else. Even if you are traveling from a warm to a cold country, carrying these with you means you’re ready to take on the temperature shock once you get to your new destination as soon as the plane lands.

9. If You Don’t Need It, Don’t Take It

If You Don't Need It, Don't Take

Following on from my point on avoiding unnecessary bulky clothing, take this mantra and use it for any other personal item you might consider packing; if you don’t need it, don’t pack it! Not only does this approach to packing light lessen the load of your suitcase, but it also makes you less likely to lose anything you could have left at home anyway.

Pickpockets are a global pest, and they like to target tourists because there’s less chance of retribution than swiping a neighbor’s wallet. One of our biggest travel tips is to carry just what you need to get by. Avoid carrying crucial items in your back pocket or around the shoulder in a purse.

Those are familiar places and easy to pick. For small items like money and credit cards, your upper shirt pocket, a money belt, or a concealed pocket within a good backpack with multiple compartments are all excellent spots.

See Related: Essential Travel Safety Tips for Trips

10. Always Have Back-ups

Checked Luggage

I generally travel with checked baggage, and one thing I will never forget to pop into my carry-on bag is a backup outfit! In a small packing cube, I’ll usually pop in underwear, a pair of socks, a t-shirt, and a pair of leggings, just in case my checked bag takes longer to reach my destination than I do.

If you’ve ever had the absolute joy of discovering that while you’ve made it to Australia, your bag decided to take an extended stay in Singapore, you’ll know how convenient having a spare set of clothes can be. This is especially useful after a long-haul crossing, where you’re sometimes left feeling a little less than human. Freshen up a little before taking that unplanned shopping trip at the start of your vacation to go on the hunt for replacement clothing.

11. Leave Jewelry at Home

Leave Jewelry at Home

Another thing you’ll want to keep off of your packing list is expensive or sentimental jewelry. Along with the possibility of theft, there’s always the chance of loss or damage.

That’s not to say don’t pack any jewelry at all. I always pack cheaper items that wouldn’t leave me in tears should they get lost.

While it’s generally not worth the risk for a regular vacation, you might still opt to take more precious items if, for example, you’re attending a special event like a friend’s wedding. If this is the case, there are many great travel jewelry cases that can protect items from damage while on the move while not taking up too much extra space in your bag.

If you are taking pricier or sentimental jewelry, remember to ensure you have adequate travel insurance to cover you just in case these are stolen, lost, or damaged. It would suck if the worst were to happen, but at least you could be compensated as a silver lining.

See Related: Important Pros and Cons of Travel Insurance

12. Pack the Tablet/Kindle

Reading Travel Blog on a Tablet
Kaspars Grinvalds / Adobe Stock

It’s shabby chic to have every travel book with you for the destinations that you’re visiting, but it’s more efficient to load your multi-use tablet or Kindle with ebooks instead. Tablets are a great idea for some extra entertainment while away.

Not only can you get ebook apps to take an infinite number of great reads away with you, but the modern tablet can give you all the bells and whistles of the internet. When you’re not in the mood to read, turn your tablet into a portable cinema and pop Netflix on instead!

A dedicated ebook reader is another great and lightweight option for reading on the go. My Kindle Oasis has been on multiple trips with me over the past five years, and I love its thin and ergonomic design for a more comfortable experience during long reads. It’s also waterproof, so it makes for a great poolside companion, and it can pair with my Bluetooth earbuds for when I want to switch to audiobooks.

See Related: The Ultimate Vacation Packing List (+ Printable PDF)

13. Pack Dryer Sheets

Using a dryer sheet into a washing machine
Shotmedia / Adobe Stock

As more of a luxurious convenience, pack pleasantly smelling dryer sheets in with your clothes to avoid otherwise stuffy smells! I’ve heard some people also popping in a small bag of potpourri for the same effect. Neither option weighs much, and going for either will take up very little space in your bag. But they will add a little comfort to your next trip away and have your clothes smelling laundry fresh rather than have that weird suitcase smell from well-used baggage.

14. Use Hotel Equipment and Amenities

Use Hotel Equipment and Amenities

It’s common for your hotel to provide amenities like basic toiletries, a kettle, and a small fridge. Sometimes, they also have a complete package with a clothes iron and ironing board or even luxury items like hair straighteners.

It’s worth checking the provided amenities on your hotel’s booking page to double-check what will and won’t be available when you arrive. You can then pack accordingly once you clearly know what to expect from your hotel. Not having to pack items like shampoo and conditioner saves space for more clothes or just gives you the pleasure of a lighter bag to lug around!

Of course, if you find the shampoo sub-par or the tiny bars of soap don’t quite cut it, it’s super easy to buy toiletries when you get to your destination. Depending on where you visit, this can turn out cheaper than if you had brought a full toiletry bag full of supplies bought at home anyway!

See Related: Best Travel Bottles For Toiletries

15. Mark Your Bag

luggage packed inside the trunk of a vehicle
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

It’s always a good idea to have something on your bag that makes it unique. How many times have you stood at the baggage carousel and seen people put bags back after checking the name on the luggage tag after first thinking it was theirs? Even if you think your bag stands out, there’s every chance someone has the exact same or something similar.

There are many ways to personalize your bag, and none break the bank. For example, you can get suitcase covers in various interesting designs that have your bag yelling at you as it enters the carousel.

You could also do something more low-key, like adding a colorful, thick ribbon to the handle, popping on some interesting travel stickers, or getting a luggage belt to wrap around your case. Or, go to the extreme and get your face or pet dog laminated onto the case so no one is left guessing who it belongs to.

For extra peace of mind and security, pop an Apple AirTag or two in the pockets of your checked luggage. An Apple AirTag is compatible with any iPhone (sorry, fellow Android users).

They’re waterproof and connect simply using the Find My app, downloadable on iTunes. So long as your tag is within range, you can see it on the app before it even pops out the baggage carousel.

See Related: Best Suitcase Covers For Travel

16. Prepare for the Plane Ride

American Airlines First Class Flight Seat
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll want to add some items to your packing list to make the trip more comfortable. A reusable water bottle, lip balm, earplugs, and a portable charger.

Keep the empty water bottle handy. After you get through airport security, you can fill it at an airport water fountain rather than pay for costly bottled water. Most airports have device charging stations, so having your phone/tablet/other device charging cord in your carry-on is a big plus.

Something I also need on pretty much every flight is something to keep me entertained. On long-haul flights, the in-flight movies usually do a bang-up job of this.

But I’ve also always traveled with some kind of gaming device; these days, it’s my Nintendo Switch. I would also suggest downloading some things on Netflix or Prime while you have WiFi, just in case the in-flight movies aren’t up to par.

See Related: Best Carry-On Essentials for Travel

FAQ

What is the 5 4 3 2 1 Packing List?

There’s a method of packing light many frequent flyers swear by, and that’s the 5 4 3 2 1 packing rule. It’s a great rule to follow if trying to pack light while still making sure you’re taking enough items to last your trip.

The rule calls for one hat, two pairs of shoes, three bottoms, four tops, and five pairs of socks and undies. This creates a base list that should last you a two-week trip with a mid-trip laundry session. On top of this, add whatever additional must-have items you need for your specific trip, like swimwear, hiking poles, or rain gear.

Related Resource

Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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