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How to pack a suitcase like a pro: 7 top tips

Heading out on a long trip? Fitting your stuff into your suitcase can be a challenge, so stay organized with these helpful packing tips. 

Updated May 21, 2024
7 min. reading time
blue packing cubes, an open suitcase and a white steamer on a yellow background

Whether you’re headed out for a quick weekend getaway or an extended international trip, fitting everything you need into a checked bag or carry-on can be tough.

Wondering how to pack a suitcase properly and fit everything you need into your bag? We’re here with some top tips.

By cutting down on the amount of stuff you’re bringing, investing in the right suitcase and doing a little bit of planning ahead of time, it’s easy to pack your suitcase properly and fit all the essentials you need for your trip.

Let’s get into it, and discuss the best suitcase packing tips for any trip.

Read more: The best travel hairdryers to have in your suitcase

Away medium sized navy suitcase
Away Medium
$345 at Away
blue Gonex Compression Packing Cubes
Gonex Compression Packing Cubes
$29.99 at Amazon
blue stuffable sack with black pull tie
REI Co-op Durable Stuff Sack
From $8.29 at REI
Topo Designs Travel Toiletry Kit
Topo Designs Travel Toiletry Kit
$33.95 at Zappos

1. Make sure you have the right suitcase

A smooth trip starts with the right hand luggage! Investing in a high-quality suitcase is the first step when it comes to the most efficient way to pack a suitcase.

Today’s top suitcases have lots of space-saving features that help you do more with your space, such as internal pockets, interior belts for organizing your stuff and even exterior pockets to hold toiletries or accessories.

Size is important, too. If you’re opting for a checked bag over a carry-on, you may be tempted to go for a larger bag, even if you don’t need it.

However, going for a medium-sized suitcase means you’ll have an easier time maneuvering it. Going for a slightly smaller bag also means you’re less likely to go over the 50-pound weight limit that most airlines have on checked bags.

If you’re looking for a medium-sized checked bag for an extended trip, the Away Medium is a great choice. It measures in at about 55 linear inches, which is less than the 62 linear inches required by most airlines for checked bags. 

It has a durable polycarbonate shell, four 360-degree wheels for easy maneuvering and a generous interior capacity of 68.8 liters. Along with the built-in compression strap system, this means it’s easy to pack everything you need.

2. Invest in packing cubes

Packing cubes are a fantastic investment if you’re looking for the most efficient way to pack for your travels. They are usually made of flexible fabric and allow you to compartmentalize your stuff when you’re packing a suitcase. You can stash your socks in one packing cube, toss your shoes in another and keep them separated for easy organization.

Packing cubes also often have compression features. These packing cubes squish air out of your stuff, keeping it more compact and reducing the overall volume of your clothes.

With a good set of packing cubes, it’s easier to stay organized and save space when you’re packing your suitcase for a trip.

These packing cubes from Gonex are a fantastic choice when you’re packing luggage of any size. This set comes with small, medium, large and extra large packing cubes. The smaller sizes are great for underwear, socks and tees while the larger cubes can be used to pack shoes, toiletries and other large items. 

The compression system cuts down on size when you’re all packed. They are also waterproof, which helps keep your stuff nice and dry in adverse conditions.

 3. How best to pack clothes in a suitcase — Roll or fold?

What is the best way to pack your suitcase? Many people swear by rolling their clothes, while others prefer to fold them.

Is there a “right” answer? The short answer is “no.” When it comes to how to pack clothes in your suitcase,  both rolling and folding are good options and have pros and cons.In fact, the best way to pack is to use a combination of both rolled and folded clothes. 

It’s best to roll smaller articles of clothing like t-shirts and dresses. This helps prevent wrinkles and saves some space. But usually, bulkier items like jeans and sweaters will take up less space when they’re folded.

As we mentioned in our second tip, bringing packing cubes will help you save space regardless of which method you use. Packing cubes compress your stuff, eliminate excess air, and let you do more with the space in your suitcase.

4. Don't forget to bring along a laundry bag

One of the keys to packing a suitcase properly is to not overpack. Bringing only the clothes you need will simplify your packing list and lighten your burden when traveling. However, this means that you may have to do laundry once or twice during your trip.

Because of this, bringing a laundry bag along for storing your dirty laundry is a great idea. Whether you’re heading to the laundromat or packing up for your return trip, a separate laundry bag lets you keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes and keeps you organized.

This stuff sack from REI is quite cheap and is available in a wide variety of sizes between 10 and 60 liters. Whether you’re checking your bag or using a carry-on, you can find a laundry bag that’s right for your needs. 

The polyester design is water-repellent, which is great for dirty laundry. The bottom handle makes it easy to haul, while a simple drawcord closure keeps your dirty laundry in place and offers some compression, too.

5. Invest in a good set of toiletry bags

Wondering how to pack a suitcase properly and still bring along all of the things you need for your personal care routine? The answer is a toiletry bag. With a toiletry bag, you can store your shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, beauty products and other personal care items in a convenient package.

If you’re traveling by air, you may want to bring two kits — one for liquids and gels, and one for your other personal care items. This makes it easier to remove your liquids at TSA checkpoints. And if there is any leakage, it will be contained to just one of your kits, rather than getting all over your stuff.

This toiletry kit from Topo Designs has a space-saving triangular design, a durable zip closure and a strong Cordura fabric design that will hold up well to years of travel. It also has an easy-to-clean, water-resistant lining. This makes it easy to clean in case of accidental spills.

6. Plan your outfits ahead of time

We’ve all been there. It’s just a few hours before your trip and you start throwing things into your suitcase willy-nilly. Three pairs of jeans? Sure! Eight pairs of socks? Sounds good! 10 pairs of underwear? Can’t be too safe, right?

Last-minute packing always leads to overpacking. If you want to pack your suitcase properly, take your time and plan ahead. You should think about the length of your stay, the climate and the activities you’ll be doing. Then, lay out the clothes and outfits you want to bring that will suit the itinerary of your trip. 

Think about which ones you’ll really need and edit your picks to make sure you don’t overpack. Also, when it comes to how to pack shoes in a suitcase, planning in advance can be very helpful. For example, if you’re going hiking at your destination, wearing your hiking boots on the plane can help free up some space for other shoes like sneakers or sandals.

 7. For bonus points, bring a steamer

If you’re traveling for a wedding, a business conference, or some other event where you’ll need to look your best, you may want to bring a steamer. Even if you’re careful when packing, some wrinkles are inevitable on suits, dresses, and other clothes.

A steamer can help you eliminate these wrinkles in minutes and they are often  smaller and easier to pack than clothes irons. While some hotels may offer steamers or irons to guests, it’s usually better to be safe than sorry. If you need to look spiffy, bringing your own steamer is a good idea.

This steamer from Black + Decker is as simple as it gets and offers powerful performance in a pint-sized package. It takes less than a minute to preheat and it can steam your clothes in a continuous steam or in small bursts. It’s pretty small, too, making it easy to pack, particularly in a checked bag.

Packing your suitcase right: everything to know

Packing up for your next trip is easy with the above tips on how to pack a suitcase efficiently. As you pack up, though, there are some other things you may want to keep in mind.

Keep TSA requirements in mind

If you’re packing toiletries in your carry-on, your liquids and gels must be less than 3.3 fl oz each, and must all fit into a one-quart clear plastic bag. You may need to remove this bag from your suitcase and toiletry kit when you go through the TSA checkpoint, along with other items like laptops and tablets.

Choose between carry-on and checked baggage

Carry-ons are usually a good option for trips that are less than a week long. While some minimalists can make a carry-on work for longer trips, checked bags are usually worth paying for if you’re on a trip that’s longer than a week or two.

Check weather conditions at your destination 

Knowing the daily weather conditions at your destination can prevent you from overpacking. For example, if the nighttime low isn’t dipping below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you can probably leave that bulky jacket at home, and just pack a thinner sweatshirt instead.

Make sure your suitcase isn’t over airline weight limits

Just because all of your stuff fits into your suitcase doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically meet airline requirements. In addition to size restrictions, most airlines have a 50-pound weight limit for checked bags, and carry-ons usually must weigh less than 35 pounds.

Bags that are over these weight limits may incur a heavy baggage fee. Investing in a luggage scale can help you avoid accidentally exceeding airline weight limits. A bathroom scale will also do in a pinch if you want to weigh your luggage when it’s fully loaded.

Which products are the most helpful for packing your suitcase?

Wondering how to pack a suitcase without overspending? All of the products we recommended are great choices. If we had to narrow it down, though, we’d recommend the following two products:

  • Away Medium: The Away Medium is the best all-around checked bag for most people. It’s not exactly cheap, but it’s built to last and has plenty of space, as well as unique space-saving features, making it a worthy investment. Going on a shorter trip? Check out the Away Carry-On, which is a lighter version of this suitcase.

  • Gonex Compression Packing Cubes: Packing cubes help you stay organized and save space, which is the ultimate double-whammy when packing. This set of four cubes from Gonex is affordable, water-resistant and provides plenty of flexibility when you’re packing for your trip.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and product recommendations. What are you waiting for? It’s time to book your next vacation right away and pack like a pro!

Prices updated on 05/21/2024. We are not responsible for any changes to the prices mentioned above.

Written by
Eric Liston

Based in Columbus, Ohio, Eric Liston is a freelance writer focusing on consumer product reviews, digital technology — and helping readers find the right items at the right price. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him gaming, cooking or disc golfing.

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