16 Essential Suitcase Packing Tips: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Packing

Psssst, FYI - this post probably contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. For the full scoop on what this means, feel free to check out my Privacy Policy and Disclosure.

On the hunt for suitcase packing tips?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

If you’re anything like me, odds are: you’re a hopeless over packer. But, no need to stress! After all, some of us are just born a little weird… like “I need to pack this parka just in case” weird or “of course I’ll read all 7 Harry Potter books this trip” weird. Regardless of the reason, I’m here today with great news: you CAN learn to be a smart packer.

Now, over the years, I’ve accumulated my fair share of packing wisdom, from the basic ‘no duhs’ to some unconventional gems of genius. Today, I’d like to share all of my best tips with you! While I’m still the world master of ‘panic packing’ (aka throwing all my stuff in a suitcase while sobbing), having these tips in mind often helps me hold things together. Without further ado, here are my golden essential tips for smart packing.

Must-Know Suitcase Packing Tips

After five years of travelling professionally, these are my best tips to help you pack your suitcase like a smartie!

1. Always start with a packing list

I know, this is such a ‘mom’ tip, but there’s a reason why moms are always right. Especially in the stressful few days before a trip, it’s all too easy to forget items you need. That’s why I always make a packing list to keep myself organized! Feeling lazy? You can steal a comprehensive printable checklist from me below.

Or… if you’re a serial stationary hoarder like me, this stack of printed packing lists is practical, fun, and will last you a long time.

THE absolute best list for packing tips. This post and packing guide will change the way you pack! Any traveller should make use of these epic packing hacks and tricks that will make your next trip a breeze. Includes a free packing checklist!

2. … and always end by reviewing your packing list

It’s silly how often people forget this step. There’s a reason you made that list! Make sure you go through all the items the night before you leave (or the morning of) to make sure you haven’t forgotten a single thing, especially the small stuff.

For extra paranoid parrots like me, I always write a “HARDCORE ESSENTIALS” note on my phone that I review the morning of my flight. Things like passport, money, hair straightener (sorry, I’m vain), and sunglasses (the #1 thing I manage to always forget). This way I know I have everything I absolutely need.

Again, if you buy a packing list pad like this, you can just leave it on top of your bag the night before so you don’t forget to double check it!

3. Know your airline’s baggage fee policy

The inconsistency among airlines (especially the budget variety) is pretty infuriating. Avoid surprises at the airport by knowing what you’re working with right from the start. A quick Google before you pack can help save you loads of stress (and potential overweight fees!)

If you don’t have one already, I highly recommend buying a compact looking carry-on suitcase. A lot of the time, attendants don’t care to weigh luggage (when you’re travelling carry-on only) and all they do is take one quick look at the size, so if you have a nice suitcase that doesn’t look huge, you’ll be much less likely to get stopped.

Which would I recommend? Well, this one is near-identical to the Samsonite I travel with, and I’ve never once been stopped for bag inspection! I love the ease of mind it gives me and it can hold a surprising amount of stuff. I travel with it on pretty much every trip!

4. Roll your clothes

Game. Changer. One of my best suitcase packing tips is for you to simply roll your clothes! Seriously, if you’re not currently rolling your clothes instead of folding them, do it! It saves lots of space, especially when coupled with magical compression bags like these ones (no vacuum needed!) packing cubes (which I’ll discuss later).

5. Pick out what you think you need, and cut it in half

The first time I read this tip, I thought it was absolute insanity. Then, one time I actually tried it, and you know what? I didn’t regret it at all! While this may initially feel like a slow painful form of packrat torture, doing this will cut you down to the exact essentials you’ll actually need. I honestly think that overpacking is hardwired in us, which is why doing this exercise is so helpful.

6. Make use of packing cubes (or in a pinch, Ziplock bags)

Packing cubes are my favourite things ever. They not only help you stay organized, but also save loads of space in your suitcase/backpack. These are my #1 travel game changers, and if you buy a good quality set, they’ll last a super long time.

Here’s an awesome packing cube set from Amazon.

7. Always pack your absolute essentials and one outfit change in your carry on

As much as we all like to think we’re invincible, even the best of us will have our luggage get lost, go missing or uh, accidentally taken by someone else (true story). Having your essentials and extra clothes on you will bring precious peace of mind, so you’re never that angsty person waiting in fetal position at baggage claim.

8. Bring a few extra bags (e.g. totes, ziplocks, etc.)

You never know when you’ll need them, especially for things like dirty clothes, which are always an afterthought. They weigh nothing and come in SO handy, so don’t forget a few!

And if you (like me) are working at reducing plastic usage while travelling, I recently discovered these re-usable silicon Ziploc bags (and mesh produce bags) that would definitely come in super handy for travel as well! Check out reviews and prices here.

FRIDAY ROUNDUP: Avoid Plastic When You Travel w/ these Amazing Products Under $30

9. Keep your liquids in a bag and separate them from your other goods

I just throw mine in a clear toiletries bag like this one (much more durable than Ziplock). It’s important to separate liquids because you never know when bottles will spontaneously explode or leak!
If you haven’t yet invested in an excellent travel toiletries bag, I highly recommend you do so. They’re one of the best investments I’ve ever made for travel! You’ll never want to use a dinky single-use Ziplock ever again.

Looking for a durable and affordable toiletries bag for your upcoming travels? Click here for my full roundup of the best ones you can buy online, or check out this summary table below:

ProductNameCostCapacity/FeaturesPrices and Reviews
ProCase TSA Approved Toiletry Pouch$*Best minimalist option
8.26 x 7.25 inches
TSA Approved
Check Reviews & Prices
TRAVANDO Hanging Toiletry Bag "FLEXI" + Reusable Bottles $$*Most versatile
9.4 x 2 x 8.3 inches
5.3 ounces
Check Reviews & Prices
Narwey Hanging Travel Toiletry Bag$*Best cheap option
10 x 7.5 x 3 inches
7 ounces
Check Reviews & Prices
Premium Hanging Travel Toiletry Bag for Women and Men$$*Best overall hanging bag
8.5 x 4.7 x 10 inches
10.2 ounces
Check Reviews & Prices
Vetelli Hanging Toiletry Bag $$$*Chic design
12 x 8 x 2 inches
1.24 pounds
Cruelty-free leather
Lifetime guarantee
Check Reviews & Prices
ODESSA Hanging Toiletry Bag$*Best compact option
26.7 x 13.8 x 0.5 inches
8.8 ounces
Compact, fold-up design
Check Reviews & Prices
16 Large Toiletry Bag for Men and Women$$*Most spacious
9.8 x 4.3 x 9.4 inches
5.6 ounces
Hanging hook
Mesh pockets
Check Reviews & Prices

10. Always wear your bulkiest items of clothing on the plane

*Puts on Captain Obvious cape* Coats and boots are heavy. If you plan on bringing them on your trip, make sure you’re wearing them so they don’t hog up all the space (and weight) in your luggage.

This is an extreme example (that I do not recommend!!) but check out this hilarious coat that you can stuff all your luggage into. [Also ideal for smuggling movie theatre snacks]

11. Forget full sized liquids, pack mini versions and buy if you need more

This is one of the top suitcase packing tips I recommend to newbie travellers. Seriously, put that full-sized bottle away! There’s zero reason for you to bring it. There WILL be toiletries to buy where you’re travelling. It’s not worth the unnecessary weight to bring a giant bottle of everything (which I have seen many people do).

If you don’t have any already, I really recommend buying some reusable travel bottles. That way, you don’t need to rely on single use mini-toiletries (which are terrible for the environment), and you can always make sure you have some of your favourite products on you! These leak-proof silicon bottles are perfect for this, and dirt cheap too, but I’ve summarized some other popular options in the table below.

Pssst, if you need a little extra help, click here for my full roundup of the best travel-size bottles you can buy online.

ProductNameBottles IncludedCostSpecial FeaturesPrices and Reviews
Klickpick Home Leakproof Squeezable Containers6$$Leakproof
Check Reviews & Prices
Luxury Leakproof Toiletries Set 10$$$Leakproof
Waterproof labels included
Chic Design
Check Reviews & Prices
PERRTY Penguin Silicone Travel Bottles4$$Leakproof
Switchable labels
Check Reviews & Prices
BARIHO Cream Jars for Travel5$Check Reviews & Prices
30mL (1oz) Travel Squeeze Bottles6$30mL/1oz capacity (better for short trips)
Includes kraft paper labels
Flip-top caps
Check Reviews & Prices
AMMAX Silicon Travel Toiletries Containers4$Leakproof
No-drop valve
Check Reviews & Prices

The Ultimate Toiletries Packing List (+ Free Printable Check List)

12. Use tissue paper to avoid wrinkles

I haven’t tried this one myself, but many travellers swear by rolling their clothes with sheets of tissue paper, or putting sheets of tissue paper between folded shirts. This apparently minimizes the friction/pressure, which then reduces wrinkles. Magic!

13. Bring dryer sheets to avoid “weird clothes smell”

If you’ve travelled any time in your life, I’m sure you’re familiar with that “weird clothes smell” that can quickly permeate your suitcase. Well, packing a dryer sheet or two in your bag will keep that stench at bay! Not only are they very light, they’ll keep your luggage smelling freshy fresh.

Need a recommendation? These ones smell like lavender and are both vegan and cruelty-free.

14. Plan to layer for warmth

Rather than bring chunky sweaters or puffy jackets, think about bringing many layerable items instead. This gives you more outfit choices too! Learn more about how to travel light here.

How to Travel Light & Not Look Like a Slob: The Lazy Girl's Guide

15. Never pack things “just in case”

Let’s be real: more often than not, that case will not come up! And if by some miracle, you’re in need of a special item, just take that opportunity to indulge in some shopping. Learn from my mistake: I lugged around a raincoat for 6 weeks in Europe and used it maybe twice… the amount of space it took in my backpack was embarrassing!

And if letting go of the “just in case” mentality sounds impossible, you might benefit from my minimalist packing post over here.

16. Last but not least, don’t forget to leave a little extra space

A list of suitcase packing tips wouldn’t be complete without this important (but often forgotten) gem of wisdom.

Here’s the thing: you’re human… You will inevitably buy something. The worst feeling is falling in love with an item abroad and having zero space in your suitcase to bring it home. Pro tip: I have some friends that bring an extra duffle that folds up small so that they have an extra bag for the way home (to hold all the shopping!)

And by ‘friends’, I mean my brother, who once came home from Japan with a suitcase full of Pikachu dolls.

THE absolute best list for packing tips. This post and packing guide will change the way you pack! Any traveller should make use of these epic packing hacks and tricks that will make your next trip a breeze. Includes a free packing checklist!
So there you go, years of packing wisdom squished into a single blog post. Hopefully you found it helpful, and don’t forget to download my free packing list to help you ace your next trip!

Did I miss any of your favourite suitcase packing tips?

Let me know in the comments!

Want to travel smarter and more often?

Opt in graphic 2

Join over 80,000 followers who love what I have to say! Enter your email here & you'll gain instant access to my special VIP zone, featuring freebies like checklists and printables... plus exclusive content, tips and updates!

I hate spam just as much as you! None of that - just 100% goodness. I promise! Powered by ConvertKit

Watch my latest video: