A few choice packing hacks will save time, space and money. And eliminate stress both before and during your travels. Improve the quality of your next trip with these travel packing tips.
Whether your family trip involves a weekend at grandma’s house, a drive across the country, or flying around the world, there’s going to be some packing involved.
You don’t want to be overburdened with schlepping unnecessary items around. Nor do you want to spend money on or frantic trips to an unfamiliar drug store. And you certainly don’t waste time pawing through multiple pieces of luggage looking for an item that you need right now to get everyone out the door. So don’t underestimate the power of a well-packed bag.
A little bit of planning and organization in packing can improve the quality of your entire trip. And a few choice packing hacks can help you save time, space and money. As well as eliminate some stress both before and during your travels.
So review our list of 23 practical packing hacks and pick the ones you can use on your next trip. (For more tips on making the best of your next vacation, check out our post on travel hacks.)
Packing Hacks: Preparation
1. Create an actual written packing list.
You will improve your packing experience significantly if you start with a packing list. Whether it is one you create yourself, a suggested list you track down on the internet, or some combination.
As you’re preparing your list, think about each member of your family individually and what they will need. Think about the activities that you plan to do and whether you will need to take things from home or buy/rent them at your destination.
You should try to make the list at least a week before you leave, so that you have time to pick up or order any missing items.
2. Make sure those clothes still fit.
If you are travelling to a destination with different weather than home, be sure to pull out the clothes you think you want to pack at least a few days before to check sizes. Particularly if you are traveling with kids. Kids can grow quite a bit across seasons and you’d hate to show up with shorts and swim suits a size too small.
3. Don’t forget digital prep and packing.
Make sure that you download entertainment to tablets, phones in advance. Movies, shows, games. You want to leave plenty of time to get everything downloaded.
Start this process 2 or 3 days in advance. And get input from respective kids.
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4. Turn tablets on airplane mode before leaving the house.
Once everything is downloaded, turn key media tablets to airplane mode, so that you aren’t surprised by unexpected updates or international restrictions. Sometimes we have found that all of our downloaded media on Kindle Fire tablets have been erased due to some automatically downloaded update.
Also, for services like Amazon and Netflix, you will not be able to access downloaded material in countries where the existing licenses apply. Even items that you purchased outright. You can work around those restrictions by keeping the tablets on airplane mode. So that your GPS and/or internet connection does not alert those services that you have entered a restricted area.
Packing Hacks: Better Organization
5. Start By Laying Out Everything You Think You Plan To Pack.
Start your actual packing by laying out everything that you think you want to take with you. This will help you with assessing what items can be pruned and left behind. And, it will help you with planning what items will go best with which piece of luggage, or which pieces of luggage you actually need.
Anything that you are packing “just in case,” should be placed to one side. Once you have gathered those items together, take a very hard look and ask yourself whether it would really be worth an extra $200-$400 to cart them along with you for your entire trip. Knowing that if “just in case” actually happens, you can likely buy something suitable along the way for considerably less.
6. Packing cubes are absolutely the best way to organize your luggage.
Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes and can be used in any sized luggage. A family set of packing cubes will provide basic organization that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. And they make managing the contents of your luggage during your travels much easier as well.
It also makes it easier to unpack as you are traveling. You just pull out the cubes and pop in whatever drawers or shelves you have available. You can organize by person, activity, day of the week or categories (e.g., all swimsuits and goggles). Whatever makes sense for your family and trip.
You can also use packing cubes to segment different parts of your trip if you are traveling to multiple locations. So, for instance, if you plan to stay at a hotel overnight before a flight, seperate that day’s clothes into a separate cube so you can just pull that out without having to open multiple bags.
You can also use smaller sized packing cubes for your carry on to pack smaller items that you will want to pull out on a flight before storing it in the overhead bin. Items like headphones, charging cords and snacks.
7. Segregate contents of your carry on to provide easy access to key items.
This can be done using small packing cubes, plastic bags with closures, repurposed makeup bags, etc. A common suggestion entails using a sunglasses case, for instance, to store headphones and charging cords. (But query what you’re supposed to do with your actual sunglasses).
Another thought, do you have makeup sample bags laying around? Those ones you get that have a zipper closure. You may have picked up as part of a special gift with purchase. Or, if you have ever belonged to one of those sample subscription services like Sephora or Birchbox. Then you have an abundance of them.
Those bags provide excellent storage for a variety of small items such as charge cords or ear buds. You can also use them to make your own onboard comfort pack – earphones, tissues, eye patch – like those provided in business/first class.
8. Managing and organizing your jewelry.
Lots of small hacks available regarding your jewelry. Common travel packing tips for jewelry include using straws, buttons, pill boxes, and/or zip-top bags. Some common tips:
- thread your necklaces through a straw
- use button with holes to pair up earrings
- place necklaces and bracelets in individual small plastic bags with part hanging out of a corner to prevent knots
- use a pill organizer to hold rings and earrings
All of these can be effective. Particularly if you happen to have such items lying around your home and readily accessible.
Another simple and effective option is just to get an actual jewelry roll or travel jewelry organizer. This is something you can use repeatedly for years and its made expressly for this purpose. Plus, you can leave your jewelry stored there as well and it’s ready to grab for your next trip.
Packing Hacks: Inside Your Bags
9. Pack for the reality not the fantasy.
Those running shoes that fail to inspire you to get up and workout at home, aren’t going to magically inspire you to hit the gym at the hotel or the jogging track on a cruise ship, just because you gave them valuable space in your luggage. And that dress that doesn’t quite fit right or makes you uncomfortable is going to have the same effect when it’s hauled halfway around the world.
10. Take those warnings about lithium batteries seriously.
Before you close your bags for the last time prior to checking them, make sure that you don’t have any lithium batteries. And be sure to check the outside pockets. Note that this includes all portable chargers.
Once, I mindlessly dropped a lipstick charger into the side pocket of a duffel bag that we ended up checking once we arrived at the airport in an Asian city from which we were flying on a travel leg mid-vacation. As it happened, that particular bag got matched with my then 8-year old son in the airline’s computer records.
Imagine my stressed-out surprise when my son was pulled out of the security line just before boarding and we were hustled off to a small windowless room packed with piles of checked luggage being hand searched by uniformed agents.
11. Don’t pack your most valuable items in side pockets or overly accessible places.
Sadly, checked luggage often gets targeted by thieves along the way. By some reports, thousands of items are stolen out of checked luggage every year. The items that are obvious and/or most easy to reach quickly are the ones most likely at risk for disappearing.
12. Rolling vs folding: Do a little of both.
The pitch for rolling clothes vs folding them is that this purportedly help keep wrinkles at bay and takes up less space. This is true in many cases to a point.
Rolling up t-shirts, underwear or other cotton like items does seem to reduce wrinkles and make everything seem tidier, more organized. And they visually seem to take up less space, even if in reality, the difference is negligible. But rolling things like jeans, doesn’t make them any less bulky.
And some fabrics are just prone to get wrinkled. One related travel packing tip that seems to work many times with clothes that are particularly susceptible to wrinkles (or for which the appearance of wrinkles matters more): Lay several items on top of each other and then roll them as one.
This works well for clothes that you would otherwise hang in a garment bag, but you don’t want to use one of your allotted luggage pieces entirely to a garment bag.
13. Pack heaviest items on the bottom.
Here’s a packing hack for arranging the contents of your suitcases. Your suitcases will be easier to maneuver and more likely to stay internally organized if you pack your heaviest items on the bottom. If you are using wheeled suitcases, the side with wheels should be considered the bottom.
Likewise, if you have delicate or semi-fragile items, those should be packed at the top.
14. Pack a travel laundry bag.
This packing travel tip applies to any kind of traveler. No matter what kind of trip you’re taking, a travel laundry bag (or two) will come in handy.
Bring along a couple of medium to large travel laundry bags. Place them at the bottom of your closet to collect dirty laundry throughout your trip. This will help keep your closet organized and your living space tidy. With two or three, you can organize your laundry as you go and streamline your return packing.
15. Protect your shoes.
Unless you are packing brand new shoes, your shoes will likely have some amount of dirt on them from walking around on the ground. You should put them in their own container so that they you can avoid getting unnecessary dirt and debris on your other clothes and/or the inside of your luggage.
You could acquire travel shoe bags that are expressly made for that purpose. Or, you could also use an appropriate size packing cube. Depending on the size of the cube, you could include multiple pair in the same cube. Then just toss them in the laundry (the cubes) once you return home.
Another packing travel tip that’s been floating around for awhile is that you can use hotel shower caps as shoe protectors as well. This is true to an extent. But what do you use at the beginning of your trip? Some folks may have those disposable shower caps at home.
And, that packing hack is also a little dated. Many hotels no longer stock shower caps in the room as a matter of course. And, what happens if you have multiple pairs of shoes for multiple family members?
16. Shoes as storage.
Another travel packing tip about shoes: keep in mind that you can use the shoes themselves as interior storage for your luggage. At a minimum you could stuff socks or hosiery into them. Or, other times that you don’t want to have rolling around in your luggage and would benefit from some structure. Like perfume or jewelry.
Your shoes are going to take up the same amount of space in your suitcase no matter what. So you can maximize space by having them do some work for you.
17. If possible, wear your bulkiest items rather than packing them in your luggage.
A great travel packing tip actually involves not packing certain items. If you are going some place where you need heavy jackets or boots, wear them on the plane. That will decrease the weight of your bags. And, you can always put the jackets in the overhead bin if they are too hot on the plane.
Packing Hacks For Your Luggage
18. A luggage scale can be a tool that saves you money.
You can save a lot of time at the airport, and possibly save some money, if you weigh your luggage when you’re still at home. It’s much easier to rearrange items in the privacy of your own home rather than pulling out belongings on the floor of the airport amidst a crowd of people and potential time constraints of cutoffs for checked baggage. And, you can avoid steep fees for overweight or excess baggage. These can easily run $50 – $100 per bag each way.
19. It’s usually better to pay for a second checked bag than to pay for an overweight bag.
Sometimes you may find that some amount of fees are unavoidable. But you should try to minimize them to the extent possible.
Assume that any bag over 25 inches will likely be overweight. Bigger bag means putting more stuff inside and more weight. Often having an extra bag is better than having an overweight bag.
Most U.S. airlines charge fees for checked luggage and for overweight luggage. Assuming that you don’t have special baggage allowances for flying first class, having a branded credit card or for being a high level member of loyalty program, then you will likely pay $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second checked bag. Each bag can weigh up to 50 lbs.
For bags over 50 lbs, there is an additional excess weight charge of $100 (up to 70 lbs). There are higher fees for bags over 70 lbs.
An Example of Fees in Action
In other words, it’s better to have two 25 inch fully packed bags than one fully packed 30+ inch bag. In this example, you would pay $40 to have a second bag up to 50 pounds. Or, you would pay $100 to pack 20 additional pounds into the one larger bag. Even if you had to pay $30 for the first bag, that’s still $70 for two bags compared to $100 for one overweight bag.
In this same scenario for an international flight, the first checked bag is free and the second checked bag is $100. For overweight bags, American Airlines charges $100 and United Airlines charges $200. So again, it’s better to have 2 bags and incur the extra fee of $100 (where each bag weighs 50 lbs). Rather than pay $100 on American for 20 lbs of additional weight in one bag or $200 on United for 20 lbs of additional weight in one bag.
Note that the strategizing behind this packing hack works better if you actually have a luggage scale to weigh your bags at home at your leisure.
Packing Hacks For Families Traveling With Babies & Toddlers
20. If gate-checking a stroller or car seat, take a protective cover.
If gating checking a car seat or stroller, your best packing travel tip is to spring for a bag or protective cover. Nothing worse than arriving at your destination with a sopping wet car seat that was left on the tarmac in the rain.
Whenever I’m boarding a plane and see a naked car seat or stroller that’s been innocently placed outside the plane door waiting to be loaded onto the plane, I have a stressful flashback to the first time I flew solo with a baby.
When I deplaned at our destination it was raining. When I retrieved our car seat, I was horrified to discover that it was sopping wet with an itty bitty puddle of standing water in the bucket of the seat. I tried to clean things up as best I could with tissues from my purse and a blanket from my carry on. But it didn’t help much.
That’s when I first appreciated that many times luggage – particularly gate checked luggage – often gets left out on the tarmac, exposed to the weather and other elements.
It doesn’t matter if you take a deluxe bag fit for a prince or a budget model that may only last a few trips, take something.
21. If renting a car, pack your own car seat.
Our travel packing tip on car seats is too take your own. If travelling with an infant and renting a car at your destination, take your own car seat. You may be tempted to just take a stroller to keep things light, and rent a car seat from the car rental company. An idea that sounds much better than it is.
Aside from reports that some of the car seats provided by car rental companies may be outdated and not up to most current safety standards, you may find that the convenience factor disappears when you try to actually install the car seat in the rental car. The company will not do it for you. Nor will they help you do it.
And, unless you’ve rented a car that is identical to your car at home, the combination of trying to install and unfamiliar car seat into an unfamiliar car while standing in a hot airport garage will be unpleasant and could easily add 45 minutes to an hour to your trip.
22. If checking a car seat or stroller, maximize use of all gear bags.
If you’re flying with a car seat or stroller, here’s a packing hack that will help save a few dollars. Usually there’s no fee for checking those baby gear items. So, plan to stash inside a nice roomy gear bag that can also store some other items.
You could certainly use the extra space for other baby items like bottles, food or diapers. But you could also store things like bulky jackets you don’t need on the plane or heavy shoes.
Final Packing Hack
23. Photograph your luggage.
Use this travel packing tip once you’ve completed all of your packing. Ideally you would take a picture of your assembled luggage once it’s packed and ready to go, and also take a picture of each piece open before you close it up.
If you keep a picture of the exterior of your luggage saved on your phone, this can help the airline track down your bags, if they get delayed or misdirected.
And, if you also manage to snap the interior of your luggage, this can help with a claim for theft or damage.
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