How to pack lighter, smarter, and faster, according to our travel editors
There’s a lot to consider when determining what to bring: the type and length of your trip, your itinerary, the weather, the size of your luggage, and any weight limits imposed by your mode of transportation. And with so many factors at play, it’s easy to overpack or underpack, especially if you’ve waited until the last minute.
Enter our travel editors, most of whom can be ready for a trip at a moment’s notice. We’re sharing our favorite ways to keep your clothes wrinkle-free, your cosmetics spill-proof, and your souvenirs safe, whether you’re packing for a solo trip or for your entire family (kids included).
With these 18 hacks, you’ll be packing like a pro in no time. The only question that remains: Where will you and your impeccable packing skills be heading to next?
“I keep an ongoing list in my phone of items of my absolute essentials to pack for every trip (charger, cleanser, bathing suit, daily sunscreen, etc.). It makes last-minute packing a lot less stressful because there’s always a checklist for reference.”
“There’s not much that makes me feel like an organized human as much as dividing my belongings into color-coded cubes. It’s so wonderful to know exactly where everything you brought is as soon as you unzip your suitcase. Plus, you can very easily move your packing cubes into the drawers of your hotel dresser and instantly be done unpacking and ready to go.”
“I am a roll-don’t-fold devotee. I also never check a bag, unless I’m taking my snowboard with me. Even then, only the snowboard gets checked, not the suitcase.”
“I have a small zippered pouch that I always put in my carry-on bag — in it I stash all the things that I want to keep with me on a flight (headphones, earplugs, EmergenC, phone, wallet, etc.) so that when I board I can just pull that pouch out, toss it into my seat, and then place my carry-on in the overhead bin, quickly and efficiently.”
“There’s nothing more annoying than struggling to stuff everything back into your suitcase at the end of a trip only to realize you didn’t even wear half the clothes you brought. That’s why I started strictly packing by outfit — not individual item — and only letting pieces I had a plan for make the cut. I’ll take a skirt only if I know I’m bringing a top and shoes that I would wear with it, and I’ll think about the activities on my itinerary and what I see myself wearing while doing them. I hate checking a bag but love clothes, so being realistic and planning ahead is key.”
“As my collection of skin-care products continues to expand (I’m not 20 anymore), so has the time required to sort through it all — at the last minute, with my Uber honking downstairs. I recently started keeping a separate Dopp kit stocked with travel-size duplicates of all my essentials. This means I can just grab my toiletries and go, with no risk of forgetting some crucial cream or spray — plus it gives me an excuse to go nuts on all those cute mini items in line at Sephora.”
“When I went on my first international trip, I was advised to pack everything I’d like to take with me — and then remove half of it from my suitcase. I find this really helps in terms of figuring out what I actually need for a trip and bringing just the essentials.”
“Packing in a soft-sided weekender or duffel gives you the flexibility (literally!) to shape your bag to what you’re packing instead of the other way around. My canvas overnighter takes on a different shape depending on what I need it to hold and will squish, even when packed almost beyond its means, into spaces a hard-sided roller bag just won’t go. I hope my current bag will last forever but I’m eyeing this simple weekender from Makr as its eventual replacement.”
“The more you pack, the easier it gets (or at least, the easier it should get) — so make being ready to travel part of your everyday life. Collect travel-sized toiletries when you have the chance: Get an extra toothpaste when you go to the dentist, ask your hair stylist for shampoo and conditioner samples, and keep all of them organized in a ready-to-grab toiletry bag. Learn which items of clothing work best for travel: They shouldn’t wrinkle easily, they should work for day or evening, and they shouldn’t take up a lot of space in your bag. And always pack less: What didn’t you use on your last trip? Don’t bring it.”
“To save more space in your carry-on bag, try packing your socks inside your shoes. Not only will that save space in your bag, the socks will help your shoes retain their form and prevent the shoes from getting squished in an overpacked bag.”
“After going on international adventures and suffering food poisoning, sudden fever, cuts and scrapes, terrible bug bites, and other ailments — and then having to navigate a foreign pharmacy — I’ve learned to always pack a small medical kit. I keep a toiletry bag ready to go stocked with Band-aids, Neosporin, pain relievers, cold medicine, medicine for stomach trouble, itch relief ointment, antibiotics (you can ask your doctor for an emergency prescription before you travel), and ear plugs (life savers on long-haul flights and trains). And if you never have to use it, all the better!”
“Buy ‘snack-size’ plastic bags for packing necklaces. To prevent tangling, give each one its own bag and fasten the clasp.”
“In the closet of most high-end hotel rooms, you’ll find draw-string fabric bags for laundry and shoes. They’re semi-disposable, but fantastic for packing. Trust me, using them to separate shoes and dirty laundry will totally transform your return-journey packing experience.”
“Put Bounce dryer sheets between items of clothing in your suitcase to keep everything fresh.”
“Instead of relying on hotel shampoos and soaps, pack your favorite products. Nalgene has a cheap, simple travel kit that allows you to fill a few bottles with your own body wash, shampoo, and other toiletries. It’s TSA-approved, spill-proof, and comes in a translucent carrying bag, so you don’t need to worry about getting through security.”
“I always pack a plastic grocery bag — or steal the shower cap from the hotel if I forget — to stash a wet bathing suit in for the return home. That way, we get to enjoy every last second on the beach.”
“My favorite tip is to waterproof my bag using what I’m already bringing with me. I line my suitcase with water-resistant things: rain boots on the bottom, for example, zip-locked toiletries and makeup bag on the sides, and a rain jacket on top. Voila: instant weather-tight luggage.”
“Bring a mesh or collapsible laundry bag with you. When you’re traveling to your destination, you can lay it over all your clothes to keep things in place. During your trip it helps keep your clothes off the hotel room floor and on the way home, it helps separate dirty clothes from clean — easy to grab and do your wash after a trip, too!”