The tickets are booked, the vacation is planned, and the easy part is over… right? Until it is the night before your flight and you realize you have no idea what to pack!
Packing can be a very stressful thing, especially for people who don’t get to do it often. Anything left behind is something you will be without for your entire holiday and in the worst scenarios, is irreplaceable.
Below are the top 10 travel packing tips gleaned from a decade of stressful last-minute trips where packing efficiently and effectively was paramount.
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🛄 1. Print a Packing Checklist
Every trip has some absolute essential items you always need to bring.
To ensure you don’t forget anything, our most important travel packing tip is to create (or find) a printable checklist with the items you will need to pack and the things you will need to do before every trip.
This means the true essentials.
Your list should include the items you cannot be without, such as medications, extra contact lenses, and so on. For us, that includes all of our camera gear including spare memory cards, batteries, and filters.
It should also include action items for the things you need to do before leaving your home. These are things like turning off the thermostat, checking outlets, setting up travel alerts with your bank, and so on.
Having a printable checklist that you can tick off as you go will not only ensure you remember everything important, but it will also help you relieve stress and feel confident that you have everything you need.
If you do not want to spend time coming up with one on your own, we have created a one-size-fits-all version that you can print and download using the button below.
🛳 2. Print a Trip-Specific Checklist
The essentials checklist in our #1 travel packing tip is the one that you will use every time you go anywhere. It includes the things you will always need to do and bring prior to traveling.
With those out of the way, there will be some other things that you will specifically need to bring based on the location or type of trip you are planning. After all, you do not pack the same way for Iceland and Hawaii!
The second travel packing tip is to research and create a second checklist that includes the items you need to remember and/or order specifically for this trip.
Staying with our previous example, Hawaii will not allow sunscreen that is not reef-safe. Accordingly, you would want to make sure you have reef-safe sunscreen on your checklist, as well as perhaps waterproof bags to protect phones and electronics from corrosive salt water spray, and so on.
If you happen to be going to Hawaii, we have actually created this entire Hawaii Packing List guide with a printable checklist and everything you need to know already!
✈️ 3. Know the TSA 3-1-1 Rule!
Most people know the TSA has a rule on liquids, but few realize how complex it is. According to the official TSA website, the 3-1-1 rule goes as follows:
You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. This is also known as the 3-1-1 liquids rule.TSA.gov
What this means is that semi-firm products, like peanut butter, have the same restrictions as liquids. This also includes mascara, lip gloss, and any aerosol item such as hairspray.
The one exception to this rule is prescription medication.
🛫 4. Check Airline Luggage Fees First
Different airlines offer different inclusions when it comes to luggage. While some may include a checked bag with your ticket price, others charge more even for carry-on luggage. You will, therefore, want to confirm what luggage you have included with your ticket price.
This is especially important for travel on budget airlines, such as Spirit in the US and Ryan Air in Europe, as they will typically not include even carry-on luggage, and when luggage is included it is typically a much smaller size and weight allowance.
If you need to add luggage to your ticket, you will usually get a better rate doing so in advance. Paying for extra luggage or weight at the airport can add up very quickly and large fees at the airport is not the best start to your vacation.
Looking for new luggage? Check out our Level8 Luggage Review.
👔 5.Set Aside “Flight Clothes”
There are few things more frustrating than realizing those cozy pants you want to wear on your 8-hour flight are already packed!
Before you start packing for your holiday, first decide what you will want to wear on the flight and put that outfit aside.
Next, gather any accessories you will want to have on hand. These are things like headphones, contact lens case and solution, etc.
Be sure to bring layers! Some planes run very hot, others can be freezing. Easily removable layers will ensure you’re ready for any onboard climate.
👝6. Use Compression Packing Cubes
Of all the travel packing tips, this one is our favorite! Compression packing cubes are the thing most underrated by novice travelers. They are one of the simplest, yet most powerful travel packing tools available.
First, compression packing cubes save a ton of space. They feature an extra zip that compresses your clothes, saving even more space than regular packing cubes. You will be shocked at how much you can actually fit!
Second, packing cubes help you keep your suitcase well-organized. When you are on the go and living out of a suitcase or backpack, having your clothes and items compartmentalized makes it easy to find that one cord or shirt you are looking for without having to take everything out.
Packing cubes are also very affordable and something you only need to buy once.
We’ve used many different brands of packing cubes, but none have matched the quality and functionality of Well Traveled. We also love that they come with a lifetime warranty.
⭐️ Pro tip: If you’re packing for the family, we recommend getting different colored cubes for each family member.
Bonus Travel Packing Tip: Roll clothes to save space, even in the packing cubes! You will be amazed at how much more you can fit by rolling over folding.
🧳 7. Buy “flight-Approved” Carry-On Luggage
At this point, airlines have mostly standardized the acceptable dimensions of carry-on luggage, and it is really quite large. Better still, most include it within the ticket price.
In addition, passengers are typically allowed to have a “personal item” on them as well which includes anything from a handbag to a backpack.
There are a few good reasons to pack for a trip into carry-on luggage only. The most obvious is the price as airlines typically charge anywhere from $30-$80+ for checked bags.
Another thing to consider is that checked bags can get lost, and this can have a massive impact on your life, not just your vacation. Finally, it saves time waiting for your checked luggage on arrival so you can maximize your holiday time!
If you pack well, use cubes as recommended, and purchase a maximum-sized carry-on luggage set, you should be able to pack for most non-arctic climates without having to check bags.
We have recently upgraded our luggage, after the wheels shredded apart on our cheap Traveler’s Club luggage. We are now using Level8’s Road Runner Carry-On which has a great built-in laptop compartment.
💻 8. Pack all Chargers, Valuables, & Irreplaceable Essentials in CARRY ON ONLY
This is an important one!
When packing for your trip, ask yourself two questions:
Q1: If I check a bag and it does not arrive, what things can I not be without for even a few days?
Q2: If my bag gets lost forever or items go missing, what things are irreplaceable?
Regarding question 1, the obvious items are things like medications, contacts/glasses, phone or laptop chargers for work trips, and so on.
With question 2, this could be things like jewelry, equipment, hard drives, etc.
It is rare that things go missing or that bags don’t turn up at all, but it does happen. Be sure you pack these items ONLY in your carry-on to ensure there is no chance of starting your trip without something important or losing it altogether.
📦 9. Box Out Space for Souvenirs
Of all the travel packing tips on this list, this one may seem the most obscure! If you are planning on shopping or bringing home souvenirs, put an empty box in your luggage.
While this seems strange, it will ensure you will have at least as much space available for the return trip for items that you pick up on vacation. By adding a box rather than just leaving empty space, it avoids your items moving around in your bag which can cause things to break or become wrinkled.
You can simply discard the box (recycle please!) when you arrive.
As an added benefit, any traveler will tell you that getting everything back into a suitcase is always harder than packing the first time. This travel packing tip also guarantees you have a little extra space when it comes time to get your personal articles back into your luggage.
🛂 10. Bring a Wearable Accessory to the Airport for Safe and Easy Access to Documents
Getting through the airport becomes easy with practice, but is very stressful at first.
You will be frequently pulling out passports, IDs, cards, phones, boarding passes, etc throughout the process of getting through the airport and onto your plane.
Personally, I just use a fanny pack when I travel. In it, I keep my wallet, passport, boarding pass, phone, charging cable, headphones, and a contact case/glasses so that I can access these important items easily both at the airport and on a long flight.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to download your airline provider’s app! These days, many planes do not provide onboard entertainment but instead provide a free app with movies and shows to watch from your phone. If you do not have it downloaded, you may be without!
🎒 11. Packing Order Matters!
Before packing everything into your suitcase, think first about what you will want to wear for your flight. Then, think about the first items you will likely be accessing or need to have on you at all times.
Leave out the exact clothes and shoes you will be wearing to the airport. It is frustrating when you realize your cozy flight pants are packed and you’ll have to dig them out just after getting everything put away!
Similarly, think about any items you already know you will need. For me, it is a contact lens case and glasses for long-haul flights where I will be sleeping, as well as a phone charger.
If you really have the foresight, think about the first outfit you will wear on arrival and pack that last so it is on the top and easily accessible. This is even more valuable if traveling with kids! Whether you’re planning on immediately hitting the pool or getting ready for bed, having everything you need near the top will make it so much easier upon arrival.
🥾 12. Place Your Heaviest Items at the Base (where the wheels are)
Most people never consider weight distribution when packing for a trip, but it can be an important thing to note.
Make sure you pack the heaviest items at the base of your suitcase where the wheels are!
This is important for two reasons:
- The bag will be easiest to roll when the weight is at the bottom, near the wheels.
- You do not want heavy items crushing your other belongings, causing creases in clothing, or potentially compromising the integrity of containers holding liquids.
🧼 13. Choose Solid Toiletries
Consider replacing liquids with solid forms when possible. Not only are these more eco-friendly, they also take up less space and weight, and help to avoid a liquid explosion. Plus, they don’t count towards your liquid allowance if packing only carry-on luggage.
While this started as one of the best travel packing tips, it’s actually been great for everyday life too! Solid toiletries mean having less clutter in the bathroom and helping to protect the planet.
Below are some of our favorites that we still use even when we’re not traveling:
- Hi-bar Solid Shampoo and Conditioner
- Pure-Castile Bar Soap
- Sunshine & Co. Solid Lotion Bar (Moisturizer)
- Seedgeeks Bug-Off Lotion Bar (Insect Repellent)
- The Dirt Mineral Toothpowder
💦 14. Seal All Liquids
Most people will still need to pack some liquids, so make sure they’re well sealed! This may seem to be one of the more obvious travel packing tips, but still, one many people forget.
Liquids that leak in your bag can have horrible consequences. Imagine the damage that cologne, perfume, shampoo, or lotions seeping into your clothes and electronics could cause. Even if the lids are on, pressure changes in flight can cause them to burst or break.
On a personal note, I once had the spray top on a cologne bottle get crushed so that it was slowly seeping out the entire journey. For the entire vacation, I smelled like a desperate college kid on a first date!
So don’t just rely on lids and bottles! Make sure liquids are secured so that even if the container failed, the liquids themselves do not contaminate your clothes and belongings.
One of the best ways to prevent this is with LeakLocks Toiletry Skins. These reusable toiletry skins provide leakproof covers that fit both travel and standard-sized containers.
If you prefer a DIY method, follow these steps:
- Take off the container’s lid.
- Cover the top with a small piece of plastic (plastic wrap or a small cut-out piece of plastic bag work well).
- Replace the lid over the plastic, thus providing a seal.
If you’re unable to remove the lid, you can also use tape to keep it closed.
⚖️ 15. Pre-Weigh Your Bags
Before leaving for the airport, ensure you’ve checked the weight of your packed bags to avoid additional charges. Make sure you know the luggage allowances for your airline and ticket (see travel packing tips #3) and ensure your bags fit within these parameters.
You can do this with an inexpensive suitcase weight scale. Alternatively, if you have bathroom scales, weigh yourself with your suitcase, then just yourself. Deduct your weight from the combined weight to work out the weight of your suitcase.
🧥 16. Wear Your Bulkiest Items on the Plane
Ok so you don’t need to go full on Joey (yep, Friends nerd over here), but it is worth wearing a couple of your heavier items of clothing!
This is particularly important if you’re traveling to a cold destination. Winter jackets and boats take up a lot of space and weight in your bags which can be saved by wearing them on the plane. As well as saving you time, jacket pockets are useful for stashing away other heavy or delicate items (such as cameras!).
Once on the plane, you can always kick your shoes off and place your jacket in the overhead bin or roll it up into a makeshift pillow!
Additionally, airplanes tend to be cold so it’s worth wearing long pants and a sweater to keep comfy on the journey.
🏷 17. Make Sure You Can Identify Your Luggage
You may think it’s pretty obvious which bag is yours, until you’re staring at black suitcase after black suitcase coming around the belt. You’ve even bought a brightly colored suitcase, just to discover someone else had the same idea!
Even if you’re certain you can spot your own bag, you’d be surprised how often people carelessly grab the wrong one. Make sure your bag is easy to spot by adding a unique luggage identifier to it.
You can go all-out and buy a suitcase cover or keep it simpler with luggage straps. Alternatively, if you prefer something you can do with what you have at home, tie some brightly colored ribbons to your handle or draw on your suitcase with a sharpie!
Additionally, make sure you have a luggage tag on it with your name and contact information just in case your bag decides to go wandering off on its own adventure. This will also add another identifier to your bag to make it easier to spot.
🛬 18. Choose the Right Suitcase for the Occasion
This is less obvious than it may seem.
There is an old adage that goes “the bigger the suitcase, the more you will bring.” The takeaway from this is that maximizing space available and considering your real needs is better than buying larger and larger suitcases.
With that said, Iceland and Hawaii are very different vacations!
For trips to the beach, you should have a carry-on case that is sized and organized such that you don’t need to check a bag at all. Conversely, you will want a different suitcase for trips that demand bulkier items like snow jackets.
Regardless of whether you plan to travel with only carry-on or checked bags, we recommend investing in high-quality luggage as it will protect your precious belongings while traveling. We personally always travel with our Level8 luggage, we use the 20″ Road Runner Carry-On and the 24″ Textured Checked luggage.
🧺 19. Bring a Bag for Dirty Laundry
One of the travel lessons that always seems forgotten by the next trip is to bring a bag for dirty laundry.
It is so easy to pack everything away when it is clean, tidy, and rolled up in neatly organized packing cubes. Inevitably, however, it is time to check out of the first hotel only to realize you have left no way to keep the dirty socks away from the sparkling white tee!
The solution is simple; either bring a dedicated bag for dirty laundry or use two-sided packing cubes that can separate the clean from the soiled.
👜 20. Leave Behind the “Just in Case” Items
Expert travelers get good at this, but those who travel more seldom often become consumed by trying to cram in those “just in case items.”
First, there is a cosmic self-fulfilling prophecy that you don’t miss the non-essentials you didn’t bring.
Second, if you end up truly needing an item you didn’t bring, you can almost certainly buy one wherever you are vacationing.
But again, 99% of the time, you won’t.
Save the space, weight, and hassle, and leave those JIC items at home.
💧 21. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
There are some obvious environmental and financial reasons for bringing a reusable water bottle with you, but these are not the only reasons.
Having a non-disposable water bottle with you on a trip is almost certain to come in handy. Whether you are spending all your time on a beach, hiking, or both, it is easier to find fill up stations and water fountains than water bottle.
Planet Earth thanks you, too!
Resources for Planning Your Trip
Ready for your next adventure? Here are our favorite resources and travel tips:
Flights: We always check Skyscanner first. Their flexible search functions make it easy to find the best and cheapest flights.
Rental Cars: Compare car rental prices and find the best price with no hidden costs on Rental Cars.
Tours and Airport Transfers: From airport transfers to day tours and multi-day tours, we use GetYourGuide and Viator. Both have an excellent range of tours, but often offer slightly different options so we like to check both!
Travel Insurance: Don’t leave home before you’ve ensured you’re covered for both medical and travel emergencies. World Nomads is a great option for protection against unforeseen events.
Packing: We use Level8 luggage and never pack our bags without compression packing cubes! They help organize your gear and make everything easier to access. We also always carry a mini first-aid kit. You can find our favorite travel essentials on our Amazon Shop.