11 Travel Packing Tips: How to Pack Lighter, Smarter and Faster

UPDATED: March 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 20, 2024
woman packing a suitcase

Overpacking for a business trip or vacation might provide psychological security. But traveling the world with excess baggage often hampers exploration and burdens us with choices. This is why having travel packing tips in your arsenal is a must if you’re a frequent flyer.

A growing body of research says Americans are happier and more confident when making fewer choices. Zen-like simplicity in wardrobe planning can make a journey relaxed and efficient, boosting productivity and freeing mental energy for more important decisions.

Essential travel packing tips

Travel light with capsule packing, tucking away a few versatile carry-on items that you can layer, mix and match. Allow yourself the space for bring-backs and serendipitous finds along the way. Get started with the travel packing tips below.

1. Pack by outfit

Planning by outfit instead of packing individual items is a great way to ensure you’re not packing a suitcase full of clothes that you don’t end up wearing. Select solid colors by palette so all pieces are easily combined, and let only the pieces you plan make the cut. 

2. Use messenger bags or purses as makeshift toiletry cases

Packing extra tote bags or day bags can take up a lot of space in your suitcase. However, these bags can also double as makeshift toiletry cases if space is limited. 

3. Roll clothes and pack them first

Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. Not only is this travel packing tip a huge space saver, but it’s a great way to reduce the amount of creases your clothes end up with. Lay tops facedown, fold in the sleeves, and roll from the bottom up. For pants, put the legs together and roll from the waist down. 

4. Choose travel-friendly fabrics

Knits and stretchy fabrics are less likely to wrinkle and crease. Even when they do, wrinkles and creases fall out once the item has been hung up. Woven fabrics like cotton, linen or twill are quick to wrinkle. Plus, they often need an iron or steam iron to make them wearable right out of the suitcase. 

5. Pack the first outfit you’ll want to wear at the top of your suitcase

In the hustle and bustle of preparing for a trip, it’s easy to accidentally bury what you were hoping to wear tomorrow at the bottom of your suitcase. When you need to pull it out, there goes all your organization. Remembering this tip when packing for travel not only makes life easier, but it helps keep you organized for the rest of the trip.

6. Choose versatile clothing items that can be repurposed

An oversized sweater can be repurposed into a belted sweater dress with leggings—another key item that can be worn with skirts, dresses or as workout clothing. Jackets with zip-off hoods and collars are ideal for rainy days and as smart casual wear. A dual-use, button-down shirt can become a beachy cover-up when it’s breezy but not cold enough for a jacket. That T-shirt you use as an undershirt can double as something to wear on its own. 

7. Pack adaptable shoes

Shoes should be adaptable—from casual to dressy, with or without socks: loafers for men, ballet flats for women, sneakers that double as gym shoes or streetwear for casual outings. 

8. Layer plastic dry cleaning bags in between clothes

The next time you get your clothes dry-cleaned, save the plastic bags and use them as separators for your suitcase. This travel tip can come in handy if you’re packing delicate fabrics and can prevent them from getting snagged or pulled in a cramped suitcase. 

9. Keep a dedicated pre-packed travel toiletry kit

One of the most frustrating parts about packing for a trip is getting everything situated perfectly in your suitcase only to realize you can’t zip up and pack your toiletry bag until after you’ve brushed your teeth. Keeping a dedicated pre-packed toiletry bag that you already store in your suitcase makes life much easier. 

10. Wear your heaviest clothes on the plane

When it comes to packing, pack light and save your heaviest items to wear on the plane. If you’re going somewhere in cold weather, save the space in your suitcase and wear that jacket on the plane—it can be a warm, cozy antidote for chilly airplane cabins, or you can simply take it off and store it in the overhead bin if you get too hot. 

11. Bring a foldable day bag

Packing in a soft-sided day bag or weekender bag gives you flexibility (literally) to toss some items in your bag and go explore—without having to haul your luggage around everywhere you go on your trip. 

Packing for travel doesn’t have to be stressful, but it can take some practice and frequent flyer miles to figure out the packing methods that work best for you. To gather more travel packing tips, read our piece, What I Learned From Wearing the Same Outfit for 2 Weeks.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock.com

Shana Ting Lipton is a Los Angeles- and London-based freelance writer and expert world traveler.