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25 Packing Tips from Travel Experts

By Kat Tancock

For many of us, packing for a trip comes second only to unpacking as the most painful aspect of travel. But could it be that our technique needs some work? We gathered 25 tips from packing experts to help make your travels more bearable—before, during and after.

1. Have a system

“I do it like a filing cabinet,” says Canadian musician Shaun Huberts, author of How to Pack Like a Rock Star. “Everything is vertical—I can see all my clothing the moment I open my bag.” To achieve this, Huberts folds items to the perfect height for his carry-on suitcase, avoiding removing everything to find that one T-shirt that accidentally got packed on the bottom.

2. Pack light

Whenever you can, downside your baggage. It’s easier for you to manoeuvre around, you’ll save on baggage fees (many airlines now allow you to check only one or even no bags for free) and it’s even the eco-friendly choice, as less weight means the plane uses less fuel. “If you can’t carry your luggage up a flight of stairs easily by yourself, it’s too heavy,” suggests frequent traveller Dave Dean on Journeywoman.com.

3. Create a master list

Especially if you’re a frequent traveller, it pays to have a master list (on paper inside your suitcase or simply on your phone) of all the items you always bring with you: bathing suit, sunglasses, antihistamines or an eye mask to wear on the plane, for example. Every time you’re on a trip and realize you forgot something, put it straight on the list so it’s not missing next time.

4. Stand out

Buy distinctive luggage, or modify yours so it stands out. “Surprising as it may seem, yours will not be the only black bag on the conveyor belt,” notes Dean.

5. Bring earplugs

No matter your destination or means of travel, you’re likely to find some noise you’re not accustomed to. Keep a couple of pairs of earplugs in your suitcase so they’re always there when you need them.

6. Fold, don’t roll

Huberts prefers folding over rolling, unlike many. “I don’t believe in the fact that rolling gets rid of wrinkles,” he says. “I think it adds more smaller wrinkles.” His folding system also ensures that items are easily accessible (see #1) without unpacking everything.

7. Or…roll, don’t fold

Flight attendant Heather Poole is a fan of rolling rather than folding to save space, she says in a New York Times slideshow. By rolling items tightly, Poole manages to fit a huge amount of clothing in a small carry-on.

8. Fold strategically

Huberts likes to fold jeans, for instance, so that the back pocket is facing up, making it easy to identify which pair is which. Same goes for T-shirts: “When I fold in half again, the chest is facing up so if there’s a bit of a logo it’s the easiest way to identify which shirt is which.”

9. Carry-on essentials

“Having a change of underwear in your carry-on will be the smartest move you’ve ever made when the airline loses your bags,” says Dean. How much more you bring depends on your trip and the availability of goods at your destination—even if the airline reimburses you, there might not be much to buy. (This author once had to spend three days in the Cook Islands with one bikini, one dress and two pairs of underwear, what had seemed like an excess of clothing in the carry-on.)

10. Know the rules

If you’re flying, be sure you’re up to date on what’s allowed and what’s not. Double-check on weight allowances and liquids restrictions (as of writing, no more than 10 containers of maximum 100 mL each, in a single freezer bag), and if you’re flying to or via the Unites States, don’t lock your suitcase unless the lock is TSA approved (which means security officers can open it).

11. Have a backup

Make two copies of essential documents—passport, driver’s license, credit cards, insurance—and bring one set of copies with you, leaving the other at home with a trusted friend, suggests STA Travel. If anything is lost or stolen, you’ll have an easier time replacing them quickly.

12. Split things up

Travelling with cash? Travel website Backpack Canada suggests splitting up your cash in different places to reduce the risk of losing everything. If you’re travelling with a friend or family member, consider splitting some of your items between both of your suitcases so if one goes missing, you still have something to wear from the other.

13. Pack snacks

Especially if you’re travelling with kids, include a few snacks to stave off hunger pangs at critical moments. Just make sure that if you’re leaving the country the snacks can be transported across the border legally—think packaged granola bars rather than apples.

14. Prioritize

Huberts always packs a light pair of running shoes, but he recognizes that he’s unlikely to use them every day. So he packs them (in plastic) under the clothes—still easy to find, but not in the way of other items.

15. Bring extra bags

Pack a few bags in your bag, suggests Bestwestern.com. If you’re planning on bringing gifts or souvenirs home, that extra bag will come in handy; large plastic or freezer bags can be used for dirty laundry, shoes and other items.

16. Create a kit

Always rummaging for toiletries at the last minute, or being forced to check your suitcase because you only had a jumbo-size shampoo bottle? Plan ahead for future trips by stocking up on travel-size items and keeping them all in one place (ideally, in your suitcase).

17. Check the weather

Make sure to check the weather at your destination. Don’t pack “just in case” items, suggests Fodors.com—unless you’re going way off the grid, in an absolute emergency you can almost always buy something at your destination.

18. Bring layers

In some climates it’s hard to know what you’ll want to wear. Get around the problem and pack multiple light items that can be easily layered, says pilot Jay Abramson in a New York Times article. If it might be cold, for instance, long underwear and a long-sleeved thermal top can go a long way to keeping you comfortable, without the bulk of a coat you might not wear.

19. Have a theme

To keep your suitcase light, organize clothing around a single colour theme—black is an obvious choice, especially for business trips or visiting cities. Start with the shoes to keep them to a minimum: pack around one versatile pair rather than bringing several for different outfits.

20. Plan ahead

Dependent on your blow-dryer? It’s easy enough to check ahead whether your destination will have one for your use, suggests Fodors.com. Same goes for other bulky items such as beach towels or bathrobes.

21. Do laundry

No one wants to do chores while on vacation, but doing some laundry will lighten the load on longer trips. For instance, wash yesterday’s pair of underwear in the shower every morning—it will likely be dry again by tomorrow. (Just remember to bring laundry soap.)

22. Wear big items

Packing light in the summer is easy, relatively speaking—it’s winter gear that will get you. Huberts suggests wearing heavier items such as coats and big boots while you’re in transit, and bringing bulky items such as sweaters in a carry-on bag.

23. Choose multitaskers

The best items to pack are those with multiple purposes. For instance, writer Ashley Cheng suggests bringing an all-in-one soap instead of shampoo, face wash, body wash and laundry detergent. As for clothing, a large light scarf or a sarong can double as an extra blanket, a shawl or a beach cover-up.

24. Stock up on travel-friendly items

If any of your clothing seems especially suited to travel—a dress than never wrinkles, for example—consider setting it aside just for trips, suggests packing-light website Onebag.com, adding that “reserving travel-only clothing also makes it a bit more special, thus less onerous to wear for extended periods of time”.

25. Downgrade

Notorious for overpacking? Huberts suggests creating a list of everything you bring on your next trip. As you use things, check them off. Whatever’s left on the list when you get home is a candidate to be removed from the suitcase on the next trip—meaning every time you go somewhere, you’ll be that much better at packing.

Photo by palomaleca

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