How to Pack Your Luggage Like a Pro This Winter Break
Packing can be either incredibly frustrating or incredibly satisfying.
For me, an artist, packing is just another art form that satisfies my organized mind. I love being able to neatly fit my entire life into a suitcase—and have it still be under the airline’s weight limit.
I remember one winter holiday when I was packing for a flight back to PCC. My suitcase was already full, but I still had many more items to pack into my carry-on duffel bag—including my new espresso machine.
My father helped me with this particular challenge of traveling with an espresso machine in a carry-on bag. He’s a pilot—a frequent flyer and a professional suitcase-packer. He taught me everything I know about packing. He had me memorize and recite the order of how the items in the carry-on needed to be packed, in case TSA needed to inspect and unpack the bag. Everything worked out well in the end.
You might not be trying to bring an espresso machine back home with you this winter break, but maybe you’re concerned about trying to fit all of the winter clothes you bought during Black Friday into your small suitcase.
If that’s the case (pun definitely intended), keep scrolling for some tips on how to pack your bags like a pro!
1.) Bottom-heavy, top-light
One thing that’s quite bothersome to travel with is a top-heavy suitcase that keeps toppling over when it should be upright.
When you’re packing your suitcase, pack heavier items closer to the wheels, and your lighter items closer to the handle. Also, if you’re concerned about your luggage exceeding the weight limit, pack your heaviest items into a carry-on. I carry books in my purse.
Wear your bulkiest, heaviest, and most awkwardly-shaped clothing articles for the flight. Yes, it might seem a little weird to wear a coat, boots, and hat to an airport in tropical Pensacola, but you’ll be glad you did: such items are burdensome to pack. Plus, wearing bulky items will keep you warm in the plane, when the cabin gets chilly.
If you’re traveling with fragile items, you’ll want to be very careful about packing these. Either wrap them in excessive cushioning and pack these at the very top of your suitcase (where they won’t be crushed by the weight of your other items) or carry them yourself. The crew that will load your luggage onto the plane will NOT be gentle with your suitcase. I recommend carrying any fragile items as your carry-on.
Clothes usually make up the bulk of luggage space, and they can take more room than necessary if they’re not smartly folded.
Some globetrotters swear by rolling clothes to save space. For me, rolling clothes isn’t effective because my clothes vary in materials and sizes, so my “rolls” end up being uneven lumps. But if you only travel with one or two types of clothing—t-shirts and skirts, for example—rolling might be your best folding option.
My preferred folding method is the single fold. What causes a clothing item to become bulky is the number of folds it has. When an item is folded, it traps a thin layer of air between each fold, increasing the overall bulk of the item exponentially. Folding an item only once prevents this. If your suitcase is large enough, you may not even need to fold. In my medium and large suitcases, I can lay a skirt flat and still have room around the edges.
3.) Maximizing space
Pro-packers maximize the space of their luggage.
To maximize the space you have, you need to be organized: think of your luggage compartmentally, or like a game of Tetris. Every gap created by an item has to be filled by another item. Try to work in layers.
Start with an even plane. You know those ribs at the bottom of your suitcase—the ones caused by the suitcase’s extendable handle? Don’t lay your clothes flat on this. Create a flat layer first by fitting small items between the ribs. These spaces are perfect for undergarments, lightweight books, and other thin items. Once you’ve filled the bottom of your suitcase into one flat layer, then you can lay down one large clothing item (like a t-shirt or pencil skirt) to cover them. Then start adding your other items, folded or rolled.
After you’ve packed all of your folded or rolled clothes, use the awkward leftover crevices and crannies to add things like socks and hair-straighteners. Use the larger spaces for shoes—and stuff your shoes with loose, small items, or fragile items like a cologne bottle (stored in a Ziplock).
Don’t forget about outside pockets on your suitcase. Use these areas for flat items you don’t mind getting wrinkled or bumped around (laundry bag, fuzzy slippers, toothbrushes, etc.)
4.) Packing smart
You don’t need your entire closet for a five-week vacation. If you’re a lady, that means not bringing more than five dresses: you only have about five Sundays. Frankly, you can get by with only two dresses: a fancy one for Christmas parties and a neutral one that can be dressed up or down with accessories.
… Or do what I do and don’t pack any: that way you’ll have an excuse to buy new dresses. 🙂
Gentlemen, do the same. Pack one or two suit jackets that can be mixed and matched with a variety of shirts and pants.
Pack only two or three skirts or pants. The majority of your clothes should be tops: you’ll need more of these because they require more frequent washing and provide a broader scope of variety for outfits.
If you can avoid packing things like shampoo and hairspray, do. Buy these when you get home. But if you must pack them, store them in Ziplock bags in case they leak.
5.) Having a checklist
You don’t need to write a checklist for every item you plan to bring, but you should at least have a checklist for essential items.
The key is to start writing it early. As you go about your daily routine, think about the items you use regularly: belts (I’ve forgotten to pack these in the past), glasses, wallet, inhaler, hair gel, phone charger—whatever would make your life difficult to live without. Jot these things down.
Also, have a carry-on checklist. Ask yourself what you absolutely need to pack in your purse or backpack. Usually, for me, I need: gum, iPad, iPhone, wallet, tissues, chargers, sanitizer, passport, green card, boarding passes (if not on my phone), checked baggage receipt, and proofs of residency and schooling (just in case—one can’t be too careful!).
It’s better to have ID on your person rather than in your checked baggage. That way, if TSA or customs ask you questions, you can answer promptly and honestly, with proof. And if your checked luggage is delayed, you’ll still have ID to help you get around.
If you’re traveling somewhere new—a new city or even a new country—you may even want to write a checklist of things to do at the airports or bus stations. Traveling can be nerve-racking if you’re not sure what you’re doing or where you’re going. So think about the steps you naturally follow when you’re at an airport or bus station you’re familiar with. Jot down some notes and make a plan. If you’re traveling to a country that speaks a language you’re unfamiliar with, use a translator to figure out keywords like “airport,” “carousels,” “restrooms,” and “customs.”
Don’t let pro-packing overwhelm you—the point of packing smart is to simplify your life, and to make traveling easier on you.
Packing is a puzzle, and like all puzzles, it has a solution!
To find the solution to your packing dilemma, all you need is a little forethought, patience, and problem-solving… and maybe a roommate to sit on your suitcase so you can zip it closed.14
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