How to Efficiently Pack Your Suitcase for Travel

So your exciting trip is approaching, and you’ve started thinking about what you’re going to bring with you.

Don’t let this task take up more time than it needs to! The keys to packing your luggage efficiently are careful planning and organization, along with some helpful tips for getting all the things you need into your selected luggage.

Whether you’re traveling with a suitcase or just a carry-on bag, these tips will get you on your way to smooth sailing (or flying) to your destination.

Tip #1: Make a list.

A good plan is the foundation of an efficient suitcase – so start by making some lists ahead of time!

I suggest using the Notes app in your phone, and start creating this list as early as possible. As you dream of your trip and plan new activities to do in your destination, you may think of items that you definitely want to bring. Avoid forgetting them by adding them to your list as you go.

I also recommend dividing this list into categories based on the types of items you’re bringing. The categories that I usually use are:

  • Personal/purse items (wallet, glasses, passport, etc.)
  • Everyday clothes
  • Outerwear and shoes
  • Personal care items
  • Medications and a small emergency kit
  • Entertainment and snacks
  • Work supplies (if I’m going to be doing any work while traveling)

You can customize this list based on the types of activities you’ll do on your trip. Going skiing or doing another athletic activity? Maybe you’ll need special gear! Planning on doing some hiking and camping? That would require its own list, too.

When you’re actually ready to pack, your well-edited and revised list will make it easy to pull together all the items you need from your house – or to remind you of what you might need to purchase ahead of time.

Tip #2: Visually lay out your clothes.

Some people are more visual than others, and that’s okay! After you’ve put together your list of clothes and rounded them all up, lay them out by category on your bed or on the floor so you can see everything at one.

Is there a type of clothing you realize you’ve under-planned for? Maybe you only wanted to bring one set of pyjamas, but once you see everything together, you realize you have room for two.

You can also arrange your clothes into piles by outfit, if you are only going for a short trip and plan to wear everything just once. That way you can ensure you aren’t missing important pieces for each look.

Laying out your clothes visually also helps you see whether there is a cohesive color palette for your wardrobe. Picking pieces and colors that all work together is a good strategy for maximizing the options you’ll have when you combine the pieces together.

If you’re trying to pack light and reduce the number of things you are bringing, use this step to edit your collection.

If there’s something you’ve planned to bring that you’ll only wear once, or that only works with one other particular item (like a pair of pants that only look good with one sweater), then consider swapping it for something more versatile.

Tip #3: Roll it up!

When it comes to actually putting your clothes and other textile items into your suitcase, make sure you’re using a smart method for fitting everything together.

The most space-efficient way of folding your clothes for a suitcase is to roll them up into round little logs. This way you can make the most of the corners of your suitcase and will be able to fit more in.

Another option here is to use packing cubes. These cubes make it really easy to organize your clothes by type, by outfit, or by clean/dirty later on in your trip.

If you are going to use packing cubes, you might want to get a variety of shapes and sizes that all work together into an overall rectangle shape.

It’s also a good idea to continue using the rolling method with the cubes. This way you can use them to their full size, and create fabric “bricks” that can easily be stacked in your suitcase, no matter what its size.

Tip #4: Heavy things first.

Now we’ve moved on to actually putting things into your suitcase. So what goes in first?

Most suitcases nowadays are the kind with wheels on the bottom and a handle on top for pulling it vertically. That means for a more balanced walk, you’ll want the heaviest items in your suitcase to be loaded towards the wheel-end.

This is a good place to put books and heavy footwear items. Stack them in your suitcase at the bottom to make sure the weight is more evenly distributed when pulling your suitcase along with you.

If your packing cubes full of clothes are on the heavier side, these might also be tucked neatly into the bottom of your bag. Just remember that when you tip your suitcase to pull it, gravity will press down on whatever is at the bottom, so don’t put anything crushable or fragile down there.

Tip #5: Put quick access items at the top.

If heavy things go to the bottom, then what goes at the top of your suitcase?

This is the ideal place to put things like toiletries or other personal care items that you might need access to quickly while traveling.

For example, you might want to find your toothbrush and toothpaste quickly, especially if you are tired and want to freshen up during a really long flight.

Toiletry bags often have more fragile items like bottles that could break if crushed, so it’s a good idea to keep those things up top… or to think ahead and decant your liquids and gels into plastic travel-sized bottles that might be more durable than the bottles your products originally come in.

For anything you might need quickly during travel, like your passport or water bottle, it would be a better idea to keep things kinds of things in a smaller bag like a backpack or purse. That way you’re not opening your whole suitcase any time you need something important.

Tip #6: Store small items safely.

If you’re traveling with small items like jewelry, you’ll want to have a specially designated pouch to keep these things safe.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep valuables on you instead of putting them inside suitcases that get checked for your flight.

If you’re flying with any jewelry or other small valuable items, put that pouch in your carry-on bag or even a zipped jacket pocket to keep them safe.

There are lots of options out there for travel jewelry organizers, ranging from big hard-shelled options to small secure pouches. In general, those big aesthetic jewelry organizers are going to take up a lot of space and weight in your bag, so a smaller one is ideal.

If you’re worried about your necklaces getting tangled or your earrings getting lost, you could pick up a pack of tiny zip-lock bags from the dollar store and use those to separate them within your more secure storage pouch.

Also, if you are traveling with extremely valuable jewelry (which in general I don’t advise, as it could make you a target for theft), I recommend documenting all the jewelry you are taking with you before you leave home. Take pictures, write down the notable features, makers marks, and values if possible. That way, if something unfortunate happens, you’ll have the documentation you need to file a claim with insurance or another authority.

Tip #7: Pack unique items on their own.

Think about the kinds of activities that you’re doing to be participating in on your holiday. If there is special equipment that you need to bring, you might want to find a way to pack it separate from your other suitcase items.

For example, if you’re bringing a swimsuit, consider bringing it in a waterproof bag that you can use to transport it when wet between your swimming spot and hotel.

If you’re bringing hiking boots, put them in a plastic bag so that the dirt from the treads doesn’t fall off and get all over your clothes and personal items.

Going somewhere rainy? Bring an umbrella, but look for one that comes with a little cover that you can slide it into when not in use, reducing the amount of water it sprinkles everywhere.

It can also be a good idea to bring a few extra bags, either cloth or plastic, to help separate items later in your trip. I like to put my dirty clothes in a cloth laundry bag that I bring to hotels to help me separate out what I’ve already worn from things that are still clean.

A few small pouches or ziplocks can easily be stowed in your suitcase as well, and you never know when they might be useful – especially for beach holidays if you like collecting shells!

After packing a few suitcases, you start to realize that there really is an art to traveling smartly with your belongings. You rarely need as many things as you anticipate, and it’s almost always easy to pick up forgotten things from local shops in your destination.

I hope these steps to packing your suitcase smartly have helped you to improve the efficiency of your packing. These tips are applicable for both checked luggage and carry-on, but if you’re looking for more tips for traveling with carry-on specifically, check out my other article for advice on that!

Good luck with your packing, and happy travels!






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