Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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When it comes down to it, packing for a trip (domestic or international) can be stressful. Do you wait until the last minute? Put off researching what you’ll need for certain activities or weather at your destination? Get distracted easily, or have young kiddos that need attention? It happens to the best of us!
On one hand, if you under-pack you might not be prepared. But if you over-pack, you run the risk of incurring hefty baggage fees or missing out on space to bring home that lovely souvenir. If you forget an essential travel document, you could even miss your trip altogether! We get stressed just thinking about it!
That’s why Upgraded Points is bringing you a guide full of packing tips and tricks, a printable travel checklist, a list of apps to help you out, and reminders for to-do’s around the house before you leave.
We’re here to assuage your anxieties and make sure you’ve got what you need, you’ve cut what you don’t, and there’s no wallet/phone/swimsuit/teddy bear left behind!
Hot Tip: Don’t forget to also check out our “Carry-On Travel Essentials” guide where we’ve compiled a “His” and “Hers” list of some great products that we simply can’t do without when we travel!
General Packing Tips & Tricks
Before you even take your suitcase out of the closet
Check the weather at your destination.
This seems intuitive, but you’d be surprised how many people are stuck traveling in rainy season without a raincoat.
Note how many days/nights you will be away.
This will help you decide the number of necessary outfits. Obviously, how often you prefer to wear the same clothes plays a part in this as well.
Note any special activities/events you may partake in.
Traveling for a birthday? You don’t want to forget that heartfelt gift you bought weeks in advance. Going to a wedding? It’d be a shame if you showed up without your suit. Hiking in Hawaii? Your water-shoes won’t get much use if you leave them behind.
Make a packing list early and review it at least twice. (Yes, twice.)
You can easily find printable vacation packing lists online (like ours above), or you can write out your own. There are also a number of apps you can utilize if you prefer something more tech-based. Read about several of these below!
Timing is key here. If you jot things down or review your printed list in advance, it gives you the opportunity to take a second look with a fresh mind. All too often you’ll remember something you didn’t yesterday when your brain was thinking about pizza instead of packing.
If you’re printing a list that’s not trip specific, review it first and immediately cross off items you won’t need. Why bring a winter coat to the beach?
Take items you can grab at your destination off the list.
If you’re planning to travel with only a carry-on, this tip is especially important as it will save space (at least for your outgoing journey!).
Most times when traveling, your hotel will provide shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, etc.; why waste space packing them? If you’re a little picky about your toiletries or you’re not staying at a hotel, you’ll probably still encounter a drugstore where you can buy anything you might need.
Purchase travel-sized containers or toiletries if you plan on bringing your own.
Remember regulations for the amount of liquids you can bring in a carry-on for a flight. You’ll want travel-sized containers if you plan on carrying liquids this way.
Even if you’re flying with a checked bag and are allowed more liquids, do you really need that 16oz bottle of shampoo for a weeklong trip? Cutting it will save you room for other essential items.
Choose the right luggage.
Yes, different airlines have different restrictions on sizes for carry-ons and checked bags but stick to some general guidelines and you should be safe.
For carry-ons, you’re generally accepted at/under max linear dimensions of 155cm/45in. For checked bags, you’re generally safe under 158cm/62in max linear dimensions. However, be sure to check the airline you’re flying with prior to packing, as some can be stingy!
You also want to seriously consider the type of bag you enjoy traveling with – shoulder bag, backpack, roller bag, hard shell, soft shell, etc. There are definitely loads of options so just remember, your bag shouldn’t stress you out, it should make traveling easier.
When you’ve done your prep and you’re almost ready to pack
Gather your most important items first. This includes all travel documents such as your passport, ID/driver’s license, boarding passes, hotel reservations, etc. This also includes anything you’ll seriously regret forgetting and can’t purchase while traveling: wallet, credit cards, camera, cell phone, etc.
This being said, there are a number of apps that can assist with itinerary management and decrease the number of printed documents you’ll need to carry. See our list of helpful packing apps at the end of this post.
Choose an appropriately sized suitcase.
If you only have 1 suitcase, then you’re set. If you’ve got more options, attempt to use the smaller one – most people tend to overpack when their suitcase is too large for their trip. You don’t really need an extra sweater, 2 more t-shirts, and another pair of boots just because they fit! Plus, your baggage will be a lot easier to handle if it’s smaller and lighter, which will cut your stress level significantly.
Lay everything out.
Laying all of your items out allows you to plan outfits and account for your days/nights away. When everything’s laid out, you can clearly see how much you’re bringing and spot missing items easier. This also includes shoes, accessories, toiletries, etc.
Dividing items into sections based on where they’ll be packed is also helpful.
Lastly, don’t forget to lay out your plane/travel day outfit and consider it with your other pieces.
Pick simple mix-and-match pieces to prevent overpacking.
In general, choose simple tops and bottoms that can be mixed and matched to make multiple outfits. Did you know that just 3 bottoms (pants, shorts, skirt, etc.), 4 tops (tee, tank, etc.), and 2 outer layers (sweater, coat, or cardigan) can make up to 24 different outfits??
Depending on the reason for your trip, you might need to pack a special item that can only be worn once (suit, bridesmaid dress, etc.), but try to keep these to a minimum! This step is key if you’re pressed for space.
PUT STUFF BACK!
Once you’ve laid out all your items, really consider the number of days you’ll be on your trip. Chances are you could stand to put a few things back in the closet in order to pack more efficiently. Remember, no one wants to pay a fee for overweight baggage or lug around extra clothes for no reason!
Pack it up.
You never thought we’d actually get to this step, did you? There are a number of recommended packing tips when it comes to getting everything neatly in the suitcase. This can be overwhelming, but if you pick up the right habits packing will seem much less stressful.
Check, double-check, and triple-check your essentials.
Put a checkmark next to each item you’ve packed and DON’T TAKE IT OUT OF YOUR BAG. If you’re not ready to pack an item, do NOT check the box! That’s exactly how you leave your phone at home on the charger next to your bed. “But the box was checked!!!” you’ll say…
(Note: this rule actually goes for everything, not just essentials.)
If you’re notorious for leaving essentials at home, print an extra travel checklist just for those items and tape it to your front door the night before you leave. Make a promise that you can’t walk out without reviewing the list one final time.
Fold, Interfold, Bundle, or Roll?
By now you’ve probably heard that old-fashioned folding isn’t the best method to use when it comes to packing, especially in tight cases. If you have the room to spare, virtually any of these methods will do.
Interfolding involves layering clothes on top of each other in a top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top format, then interweaving them as you fold them together. If you fold the items in accordance with the size of your suitcase, you’re left with a neat little bundle that will fit right in. Additionally, this style of folding will leave your clothing virtually wrinkle-free.
Bundle packing is very similar to interfolding, but you are tightly folding or wrapping your clothing items around a soft core (like a dopp kit, stack of underwear, cloth zippered jewelry bag, etc.). Bundle packing is also said to reduce wrinkles and save space.
Many people also recommend rolling when packing your clothes – at least for softer items and jeans. Again, this method tends to save room and reduce creasing in the process.
If none of the above methods are doing the trick and you don’t have the option of a hanging garment bag, it may be beneficial to learn the proper way to fold nicer items (like a dress shirt or suit coat) for the best results.
Pack liquids in secure bags.
Toiletries that can leak will leak. These should be placed in a plastic zippered bag or another secure bag of your choosing. Some travelers even encourage cutting small squares of plastic wrap to cover the opening between bottles and their lids in attempts to prevent further seepage.
Utilize shoe space when you can.
Rolled-up socks, belts, gloves, stocking caps, and other small items can easily fit into shoes (as long as they’re relatively clean and not smelly!). This also helps the shoe hold its shape throughout your travels. Rolled-up belts can also be used to keep a shirt collar stiff if needed.
Prevent dirty shoes from soiling clothes.
Pack them in a separate space or utilize plastic bags/shower caps to cover the bottoms and prevent dirtying the rest of your clothing. Have a delicate pair of dress shoes or heels? Pack them in their own bags if possible, or clean the bottoms and wrap with a durable garment.
Toss a dryer sheet into your suitcase to keep things smelling fresh.
While you’re at it, grab a stain pen or stain wipes for your carry-on. If you happen to spill on one of the only tops you’ve brought and don’t have laundry facilities, you’re cutting your number of outfits drastically. If you know you’ll have laundry facilities or need to wash your clothes by hand, you can purchase individual detergent packets.
Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on.
By packing a change of clothes and undergarments in your carry-on, you’re covered for at least a day if your baggage gets delayed or lost. Some travelers may want to pack an extra pair of shoes just in case.
Similarly, if you’re heading to a beach locale, pack a swimsuit and sandals. If you have to wait to check into your hotel, you can head to the pool while the concierge keeps your luggage.
Keep expensive/irreplaceable items on your person.
As a general rule of thumb, you should leave irreplaceable items at home. This includes objects such as expensive jewelry and heirlooms. If you must travel with them, these items should be kept with you at all times. Do not trust them to be safe when placed in checked baggage; if your suitcase is lost, delayed, or stolen, you’re out of luck.
Similarly, if you must travel with official documents such as birth certificates or social security cards, check to see if a certified copy will suffice. Or maybe take a photo on your phone for less hassle. Otherwise, the same rule applies to these irreplaceable documents.
Follow the TSA 3-1-1 rule for liquids in carry-on baggage.
3 – Travelers may carry liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in containers of 3.4oz (100ml) or smaller.
1 – These items must fit into 1 clear plastic quart-sized bag.
1 – Only 1 bag per passenger is allowed.
Remove this bag from your carry-on and place it separately in the screening bin. This is meant to slightly expedite passing through security.
Apps for Packing Assistance
The following apps can be ultra helpful for those who prefer a mobile device to the standard pen and paper methods.
Evernote: While Evernote isn’t technically travel-oriented, it’s all about lists and can be a big help for packing. With Evernote, you can sync your packing list across all your devices, making it easy to keep track of things no matter where you are…even out at the store buying items from your list!
Evernote also enables sharing notes with others, which is especially helpful for group trips. Need reminders? No problem, you can set alerts in Evernote to keep you on top of your game.
This app is everything you ever wanted if you’re a list maker, and everything you didn’t know you needed if you’re a forgetful person. Packing Pro helps travelers get organized via packing lists. From templates and suggestions to customizable designs, Packing Pro has options for every type of traveler. Users are allowed an unlimited number of packing lists of an unlimited length, and you can even add images, alerts, and mark “need to buy” items.
It also has iCloud support and the ability to share your lists via email, AirDrop, Dropbox, etc. You can also export and edit your lists with Excel, Numbers, or Google Docs. If you’re the type that physically needs to cross things off, you can send directly to a printer too.
The Expert List-Making Assistant is a cool feature if you’re low-maintenance: it will take your parameters (number of people, destination, weather, etc.) and automatically create lists for you.
PackPoint’s purpose is to take the guesswork out of packing. The app pretty much tells you what to pack based on how long you’re traveling, where you’re going, the weather when you get there, and any activities you have planned (chosen from a pre-defined list in the app). With PackPoint Premium, users can connect to TripIt, share their lists across devices, and add customizable packing items/activities.
Travel List seems to have fewer bells and whistles. You can do many of the same things as with Packing Pro and PackPoint: create customizable packing lists, sync across your devices, share with other people, and create alerts/reminders. One nice component is their calendar view, which gives a different type of visualization that some people really prefer. And this one is compatible with Apple Watch, which can be a huge organizational perk.
This app keeps things simple for general to-do lists and is super easy to use. See your list’s percentage progress for a clear visual on how much you have left to do/pack before jetting off and set yourself reminders and share lists with your travel companions.
Apps for Itinerary Management
The following apps are helpful for keeping all your travel information in one place. From flight itineraries to hotel confirmation, event tickets to dinner reservations, they’ve got you covered. Plus, this means fewer printed travel documents you need to worry about carrying with you.
In a nutshell, Google Trips seamlessly integrates reservations (flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.) from your Gmail and creates a specific “trip” in the app. These trips are like folders of information including some basic categories like Reservations, Things to Do, Saved Places, Day Plans, Food & Drink, Getting Around, and Need to Know.
It also provides opportunities for travel inspiration, traveler reviews, dining/drink options, and encyclopedic information on several hundred top cities and attractions around the globe.
Also good to note: when you download your trip, everything is available offline in case you’re stuck without WiFi or data.
Part of Kayak’s main app includes a platform called Trips, which acts as an itinerary management app to keep all your pertinent travel information together. With Trips, you can forward your booking confirmations to firstname.lastname@example.org, where your itinerary is managed for you in a nice timeline format with maps and important info all on one screen.
Kayak Trips gives you the ability to send other people access to your travel plans through sharing options, link to your calendar app for planning consistency, and receive SMS and email flight alerts.
TripIt is one of the most popular travel organization apps on the market. The app automatically imports flight, hotel, rental car, and other booking confirmations (concert tickets from StubHub, dinner reservations from OpenTable, etc.) from your e-mail. If you don’t appreciate the e-mail scan, you can always forward your emails to email@example.com or manually input all the information into the system.
TripIt then creates an itinerary in an easy-to-read format, including space for directions between airports, rental car pickup, and hotel details. TripIt also allows for calendar syncing and makes it easy to send your travel info to family/friends by sharing via text, Evernote, LinkedIn, Slack, or WhatsApp.
With TripIt Pro, users get real-time flight alerts, help to find alternative flights, an airline seat tracker for better seats, reward program points tracking, and interactive airport maps.
Before Leaving the House
In this section, we list some steps you might forget to take when you’re in a hurry to leave for vacation.
- Download your travel resources (guidebooks, language apps, etc.)
- Notify credit card companies of upcoming travel if required (international trips)
- Set an email auto-responder if necessary
- Take out the garbage
- Check the washing machine for wet clothes
- Check the dishwasher for dirty dishes
- Turn off all lights and electronics
- Set lighting timers
- Water the plants
- Drip taps (in cold climates where pipes could freeze)
- Close/lock all doors and windows; pull all curtains
- Set alarm system
For longer trips, don’t forget to:
- Empty the refrigerator/pantry of perishable food
- Unplug electronics
- Put a hold on your mail
- Consider having a friend check on your house from time to time
The Upgraded Points team is always jetting off somewhere and even we still have trouble packing sometimes!
However, if there’s one thing we’ve got down, it’s the Carry-On. Want to see what’s in our bags? Dig into our post that covers carry-on travel products we just can’t do without.
Additionally, if you’re interested in “the best of the best” travel products to up your packing game, check out these posts:
- All Our Best Travel Product Reviews – In One Place
- The Best Checked Luggage Bags For Any Traveler
- The Best Carry-on Luggage Bags for Any Traveler
- The Best Travel Duffel Bags on the Market
Lastly, if you’re looking for the top travel-related gifts, we’ve got you covered with our Best Gifts for Travelers.
Featured Image Credit: Pormezz via Adobe Stock
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether it’s better to fold or roll clothes for your suitcase may depend on a number of things. If you’ve no concern about saving space, folding could be just fine. However, if you’re trying to fit a lot of clothes into a small bag, there’s no shortage of youtube videos out there which prove rolling clothes can help with this task.
Additionally, interfolding and bundling are other techniques that could be helpful space savers. However, to save the most space, vacuum bags will be your best bet – just keep in mind your weight limit when packing a lot of things into one case!
Packing cubes don’t necessarily save space but they definitely help you stay organized when packing.
They can also help by keeping items separated — who wants smelly gym clothes next to their fancy dinner outfits?
To maximize space when packing, try using these methods for your contents: roll, bundle, or interfold (explanations above). Each has its own special technique but all can help you save space and fit more into your luggage of choice.
Another quick space-saving tip? Utilize typically unused space. For example, pack socks or belts inside your shoes.
Here are a few quick tips to decrease wrinkling when packing your clothes into a suitcase: iron first, use a roll or interfold method, pack wrinkle-prone items in garment bags or utilize tissue paper between folds and layers, and/or choose fabrics that are less likely to wrinkle in the first place (wool, Tencel, knit, cashmere, polyester, nylon, spandex).
When packing toiletries, you’ll want to be sure they’re kept separate from your clothes in a special bag or case. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — a Ziplock baggie will do — but this will prevent the leaking of liquid onto your clothing items.
Additionally, you can place a small piece of cling-wrap between the bottles and lids of your liquids to prevent leakage.
If you’re bringing them in your carry-on, you’ll want to be sure you’re adhering to the 3-1-1 rule (use 3 oz containers max, in 1 quart-sized bag, with one bag per traveler) in order to pass easily through security.
Always keep valuable items on your person while traveling. This includes identification cards, passports, visas, money, credit cards, jewelry, important medications, etc.
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