How to Pack for Any Vacation in 5 Easy Steps

This post contains affiliate links. Please read this blog’s disclosure post for more info.

Does it feel like Winter may never end? Are you already dreaming of warmer weather in some far-flung destination, or plotting your mountain escape to fully enjoy the snowy glow? Whether you’re a clotheshorse like me or just never know what to pack, this post is for you. Learning how to be a packing ninja changed my life for the better.

I’ve whittled all my best packing tips down to a simple, easy-to-follow 5 step list to make packing for your next trip easy and fun!

STEP 1: REMEMBER BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
Whether you’re going on a weekend getaway or a month’s long trip you’ll enjoy your trip a lot more if you don’t have to lug a huge suitcase around. There are few things less fun than having to run with a 50lb+ suitcase to a different airport terminal for a connecting flight, or that extra sad feeling of pulling heavy luggage to the airport shuttle on your last day of vacation. A small bag also keeps you from buying too many souvenirs. Give your arms a rest too; pack smaller!

Believe me, I understand how hard it is to choose from all the wonderful stuff in your closet or avoid too much pre-trip shopping temptation, but the biggest packing complaint over 75% of people had in a recent Condé Nast Traveler survey was packing too much for vacation. With airline fees ever on the rise for checked bags, it’s worth it to cull your packing list down to the absolute necessities. On our last several trips we’ve tried to only bring carry-on bags.

How do you accomplish this?

Here are some easy ways to decide what clothing to pack:

  • Pack versatile items that you can wear more than once. Unless you’re traveling to your destination wedding, don’t pack a dress you’ll only wear once. Think multipurpose. Choose a dress that’s special enough for a nice restaurant, yet casual enough to be worn in a day outfit too.
  • Limit yourself to one pair of heels if any, and no more than three pairs of shoes overall, including the pair you wear on the plane.
  • Before you pack it, ask yourself whether you’ll really wear an item or not. It’s very tempting to pack all our pretty clothing so we have the perfect pieces to wear but in reality you’ll likely end up reaching for the same two or three things repeatedly. We all relax on vacation and tend to forget how important dressing up is back home.
  • Lay out everything you’d like to pack on your bed. Then remove 2-5 items before actually packing your suitcase.
  • Do one final weather check 24 hours before your trip begins and remove any weather-related gear you won’t need.

 

 

STEP 2: PICK DISTINCTIVE LUGGAGE AND TAG IT.
Hopefully this has never happened to you. While on a work trip at a former job, my boss’s luggage was inadvertently grabbed by an attendant off the baggage claim due it being very similar to one of that party’s bags. The party didn’t realize it until they got to their destination — over an hour away from the airport and nearly two hours away from where we were staying. Although the party made huge efforts to contact us as soon as they realized their error (more on that a few paragraphs below!) my boss was unable to get his bag in time for a big client presentation. That lost luggage contained a work laptop with said presentation on it (which luckily I also had on my laptop) and my boss’s notes, which he was forced to present without. Not only that, my boss’s only suit was in his misdirected suitcase so he attended the client meeting in a sports coat and khakis which smelled like airplane.

Don’t put yourself in this avoidable situation! Instead of picking solid-colored luggage that could easily be confused for someone else’s bag, pick a bag that’s unique and special. Whether it’s something vintage-inspired with strong bold colors like the Sweetheart Small Carryon Bag ($780, also often available here) above, or something with a strong pattern like the options in the shoppable gallery just below, make your bag stand out! Avoiding the basic blacks, reds, blues and greens of most luggage will save you from de-planing or baggage claim confusion. If you really like those colors, look for a bag with texture or pattern to help it stand out from the pack.

 

 

What if you already own a bag that’s one of those basic or very popular bags? How can you make your bag stand out? With a great luggage tag! I personally like to match my luggage tag to my passport case because it helps should a situation arise where I need to prove a bag is mine. I carry my passport case even on domestic trips (sans passport) because it’s such a handy travel tool!

If you move or change your phone number, don’t forget to update to update your luggage tag! My boss’s reunion with his bag was delayed in part because it listed an old phone number and the party that accidentally grabbed it had a hard time tracking his new phone number down. Luckily, they didn’t give up! Make things easier on the airline, travel company or accidental bag-grabbers. Check before each trip to make sure your information is up-to-date on your luggage tag.

Below, some of my favorite passport cases and luggage tags.

 

 

 

STEP 3: SET ASIDE YOUR IN-FLIGHT  ITEMS.
Nothing is worse than having to repeatedly stand up, open the overhead bin, pull down your bag and get something out. If you’re not sitting in the aisle seat it’s also a quick way to make an enemy of your row-mates on a plane. Save yourself the trouble! Instead of trying to cram everything into your suitcase, make your personal item carry-on a large bag and use a mesh pouch inside of it with all your in-flight needs, such as earphones, earplugs, a pen, snacks, vitamins, Passport, wallet, playing cards, whatever. This way they’ll be handy when you need them on the plane.

Instead of groans when you get up, your rowmate will love you for having a pen at the ready when the customs forms come around or a tissue ready when they are struck by an unexpected sneeze.

 

 

STEP 4: USE THE MARIE KONDO FOLDING METHOD.
Has this ever happened to you: you’re sure you’ve packed something, but can’t find it in your suitcase until it’s much too late? Using the Marie Kondo folding method will help you avoid losing anything you’ve packed in your suitcase.

What is the Marie Kondo folding method you ask? This short YouTube video explains it perfectly.
Basically you fold your clothing in such a way that it makes a rectangle that stacks easily in your suitcase, like the spine of a book. Whether in a drawer at home or in your luggage for a trip,your clothing will take up less space in your suitcase using this method. Because it stands up and stacks perfectly you’ll be able to easily see everything you’ve packed! Plus this method makes unpacking at your resort or back home very simple and quick!

Above, I used the Marie Kondo folding method to pack for a recent Costa Rica trip. I like this method even better than rolling my clothes because I can see everything. I love how it was no mystery what items I’d brought once I arrived or where any item was in my suitcase. On vacation, things should flow and be hassle-free. This is the most hassle-free way to pack your suitcase!

Here are a few more space-saving tips:

  • Stuff your underwear, socks and other intimates into your shoes, hats, and bras to save space inside your luggage so you have more room for other items.
  • Buy uniform containers for all your travel liquids, which saves space in your toiletries bag and makes things stackable. PRO TIP: Many makeup boutiques and counters will give you sample containers that are teeny tiny and perfect for things like foundation! You can also use old pill bottles for things like lotion, Q-tips and so on.
  • Instead of packing potentially bulky items, like umbrellas which you might not even need, leave home things that you can purchase on your trip inexpensively.
  • Split certain toiletry packing, like sunscreen or shampoo, with a traveling partner so between the two of you there’s only half as much to pack!
  • Instead of bringing your own soap and shampoo, consider using the resort’s room offerings instead.
  • Use snack-sized Ziploc bags to pack your jewelry. This keeps necklaces separate so they don’t twist together, and eliminates the danger of losing a lone earring somewhere in your luggage.

 

STEP 5: PLAN AHEAD FOR TECHNOLOGY NEEDS.
It’s almost a guarantee that your resort room’s outlets will be in high demand. Amazingly, most hotels are lacking when it comes to plugs for guests’ many charging needs. Rather than fight with my fiance over outlets I just bring extra ones along with me!

My absolute favorite travel outlet solution is the 3 Outlet Portable Travel Surge Protector, which costs less than $15 and also has two USB ports. For sizing reference, it’s about as tall as an iPhone 6 and a little wider and thicker — but not much! The cord wraps neatly around the body and protects the prongs, making this a very easy item to pack. Coming in close behind is the Multi Outlet Wall Mount Adapter Surge Protector ($18) which has a better outlet layout and 4 USB ports (this thing can do a lot of charging!) but you can’t fold down the prongs, so it’s a little less handy to pack than my top choice.

Below, my favorite travel charging accessories that you need to bring on every trip!

 

Bestten Multi Outlet Wall Mount Adapter

$17.99
Bestten 3 Outlet Portable Travel Surge Protector, White

$14.99
Bestten 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector

$14.99
Apple White Battery Case for iPhone 6 and 6S

$86.99
Apple Charcoal Gray Battery Case for iPhone 6 and 6S

$86.99
Anker PowerCore 10000

$25.99
Anker 20100mAh Portable Charger

$41.99
Bestten Multi Outlet Wall Mount Adapter

$17.99
Bestten 3 Outlet Portable Travel Surge Protector, White

$14.99
Bestten 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector

$14.99
Apple White Battery Case for iPhone 6 and 6S

$86.99
Apple Charcoal Gray Battery Case for iPhone 6 and 6S

$86.99
Anker PowerCore 10000

$25.99
Anker 20100mAh Portable Charger

$41.99

 

What tips make your suitcase packing easier? When is your next trip or vacation happening?

 

46 Comments

  1. January 8, 2018 / 12:59 pm

    Such great tips! I'm notorious for over-packing, so Step 1 is definitely for me! Also love the folding method and space saving ideas.

    • January 8, 2018 / 1:08 pm

      Thanks Victoria, and ME TOO. I've been challenged to take my last 3 trips with only a carry-on…I didn't quite make it down to that on one longer trip, but I'm getting much much better at it.

      • Shari
        January 8, 2018 / 6:09 pm

        With the folding method, do the clothes wrinkle more than rolling? I am trying for business trips to find a packing method to reduce wrinkling (although some things just need to be ironed when dealing with suits).

        • January 8, 2018 / 6:11 pm

          Really crisp shirts might but for the most part you're loosely folding the clothing so no, they don't tend to wrinkle at all.

        • Eina
          January 9, 2018 / 2:31 pm

          I roll or fold depending on the item and how it tends to wrinkle. Depending on the trip, I sometimes also roll an entire outfit including underwear and tights or socks, but generally I prefer to fold. If need be, I borrow an iron, or hang the item in the shower to steam.

  2. Melodie
    January 8, 2018 / 2:15 pm

    Fiance? 😀 Congratulations!

    • January 8, 2018 / 2:18 pm

      Thank you! To be discussed in a future post and yes, we got engaged on Christmas Day. =D For now I'm keeping it low-key.

      • Anthropolitan
        January 8, 2018 / 3:13 pm

        Wow – Congratulations, Roxy!!! I'm so happy for you! 🙂

      • Sima
        January 8, 2018 / 4:09 pm

        Congratulations Roxy! That's wonderful news!

        • January 8, 2018 / 4:32 pm

          Thank you Anthropolitan and Sima!!

      • Tanda
        January 8, 2018 / 4:52 pm

        Congratulations!

      • Jess
        January 8, 2018 / 5:13 pm

        Wow Roxie! A Big Congratulations to you on your recent engagement!

      • amles
        January 8, 2018 / 7:41 pm

        Congrats, Roxy! I'm so happy for you! 🙂

    • Carrie
      January 8, 2018 / 4:46 pm

      Came here to say the same! I thought I must have missed an announcement. Congratulations, Roxy! That's wonderful news. Best wishes from a loooooong time reader.

      • January 8, 2018 / 5:35 pm

        Thank you Tanda, Jess and Carrie!!! 💝

    • Christina
      January 10, 2018 / 12:57 am

      Congratulations, Roxy–yay! I'm so very happy for you!

  3. Kate
    January 8, 2018 / 2:50 pm

    1. I have been told that the key to packing is to put all the clothes you plan to take and all the money you plan to take on the bed. Then pack half the clothes and twice the money.

    2. More realistically, I try to simplify my color palette. For instance, in the winter I often wear a lot of grays, blacks, and purples. So on a recent trip almost everything I packed was in those colors and thus easy to layer and mix and match.

    3. Kindle! I get a few new Kindle books before my trip and all my reading material is in one easy, light package.

    • January 8, 2018 / 2:54 pm

      Oh wow, I love your first tip Kate! I'd never heard that before but it totally makes sense. I also agree on having your Kindle loaded up — although my fiance loves to take paperbacks on trips and leave them in the resort's library after he's done.

      • Kate
        January 8, 2018 / 7:31 pm

        A friend told me the #1 tip many years ago, attributing the quote to writer Umberto Eco. He told me as a joke but there really is truth to it! As I did some Googling, it seems that it perhaps was actually said by another writer, Susan Heller.

        I too have taken paperbacks and left them at the hotel (I can't say I've ever really done a resort vacation–most of mine are active adventure trips) and once I foisted my Rolling Stone magazine on some people in the Mexico City airport. But I am a huge Kindle fan these days.

        Congrats on your engagement!!!

  4. Stefanie
    January 8, 2018 / 5:57 pm

    Congrats!
    And ps OT but more fresh cuts at Anthro today…. lots of accessories and shoes.

  5. ali
    January 8, 2018 / 6:35 pm

    Congrats!! Best wishes to you!!

  6. Ann
    January 9, 2018 / 12:58 am

    Eagle Creek makes super handy cubes, folders, sacs etc to keep clothes folded neatly and to allow you to divide various types of clothing / items in your suitcase so you don't have to burrow through everything. https://shop.eaglecreek.com/packit-original-start
    I really like one I bought a few years ago that has a zippered compartment for laundry…husband uses it for sportswear too when we go away…gotta separate that stuff!

    Also, I always put my name and phone number / email address on a separate sheet of paper INSIDE the bag in case it goes missing and all outer ID gets somehow destroyed. I don't put my address because…hey…worse case scenario I really don't want someone with my suitcase knowing where I live when I'm out of town 🙂

    On more then one occasion, the staff at check in has been super busy and mixed up my tags on my bag with someone else (they try and take care of 2 customers at once). Now I'm a nutcase for double checking that.

    Also notorious for overpacking…we tend to travel to wet cold places…so I keep a digital scale to keep me honest.

    Finally, I put EVERYTHING we spend on an airmiles credit card. We have a small business too so it adds up to enough to get us return flights somewhere every year. But not British Airways, they have notoriously high taxes and fees.

    • Ann
      January 9, 2018 / 1:00 am

      Just clarifying – the digital scale is for my LUGGAGE 🙂
      Last travel tip – NEVER weigh yourself on vacation! Just enjoy xxx

      • January 9, 2018 / 10:24 am

        Hee! This is an AMAZING set of tips, thank you Ann! I love the idea of putting a slip of paper with your info inside your suitcase, very helpful in case the luggage tag somehow gets lost.

  7. klj1
    January 9, 2018 / 10:09 am

    Yay! Congratulations!!!

  8. allwaysinfashion
    January 9, 2018 / 10:56 am

    Not Marie's way, but plastic compression bags, sold in packages of 4-6 for under $10— all you need for most trips— really work. Not only do they keep your clothes pretty darn wrinkle-free, but they free up a lot of space in those carry-ons (which are truly the worry-free way to go).

    • January 9, 2018 / 10:59 am

      Ok, so this is probably a silly question, but how do you make them compressed for the trip home? Do you use a vacuum?

      Also, if you have a link to compression bags you like please share away!

      • Eina
        January 9, 2018 / 2:15 pm

        I used compression bags for several years, but finally stopped and just radically cut what I took since I ended up taking more than I needed. Now I try to leave some space in the bag.

        I can see how useful they can be even when you don't have access to a vacuum and need to roll the air out. Travelling with kids they can be great, but none of the ones I had lasted longer than a season.

        • January 9, 2018 / 6:09 pm

          Space in the bag is always my goal too Eina. But dammit I have so many pretty clothes. LOL.

  9. Nancy
    January 9, 2018 / 11:39 am

    First congratulations!!!!!
    Second, do you really take that many bras on vacation? Lol
    Lol

    • January 9, 2018 / 11:47 am

      LOL! Thank you! It's three swimsuits, two bras and one sports bra. Yes, I really do take that much on vacation! When you're a 34DD you can't skimp on these things, especially not for an active trip that involves being in the ocean every day!

  10. soulrebel
    January 9, 2018 / 12:44 pm

    The packing cubes are essential to me-I have the three pack set from Eagle Creek. No vacuum pressure-I just roll clothes and am amazed at what fits in there. On a two week trip to Colombia in November, these cubes saved me $80 in Spirit baggage fees as I fit everything (2 dresses, 3 shorts, 2 pants, leggings, 5 tops, bikini, swimsuit, and all other essentials) in a kids Jansport backpack. I even had room for three pounds of coffee coming back:).

    • January 9, 2018 / 2:12 pm

      Ahhh very interesting, I will have to look into these further. Thank you much for the explanation soulrebel!

  11. Eina
    January 9, 2018 / 2:09 pm

    When you travel, no-one really cares if you wear the same things every day as long as you don't reek.

    A carry-on should be enough for a week or six months in any season or place (except Antartica?). Funny enough, I tend to check or gate-check my bag though, and just take overnight essentials on the plane with me in my cross-body.

    It does take careful planning, like you show here, Roxy, especially in winter when you have to have to wear the boots and coat on the plane, but for the rest it just takes layering and a pair of good gloves and hat/scarf.

    One year I had an unplanned extended stay in another country, and when it went from +10C to highs of -20C, my trench coat was fine with my thicker travel cashmere tunic pullover over two thinner layers. Most of my travel is to rainy places, so the clothes have been tried and tested.

    love silk, merino, cashmere, camel hair, including lingerie and socks, as they are so easy to hand wash and dry. I also take Eucalan or mild shampoo that can also wash clothes, and one plastic bag for clothes that need washing. Sometimes a small microfiber hand towel when I'm not sure of fresh towels, and I have a silk sleeping bag liner.

    The most important thing for me these days is a very sturdy, but very lightweight rolling carry-on that can be expanded in case you find some goodies. So many airlines have reduced their maximum carry-on sizes and weights, even for international flights.

    • January 9, 2018 / 2:14 pm

      Haha, so true Eina! You're going to see very few people more than once, and the people that you do see multiple times will hardly care if you're in the same outfit.

      That's amazing that you survived -20C in a trench! I can't lie, I normally love cold but I was SUPER bundled up in the cold spell that just broke here in NYC. We only hit lows around 0F, but it was brutal. Much worse than 0F ever felt in Colorado due to the humidity here.

      • Eina
        January 9, 2018 / 2:53 pm

        The winds in NYC are so much more brutal with the wind tunnels, at least in Mid-town.

        For that winter I did tire more easily, but still managed to walk for hours each day in the city. There may have been a sauna involved too (no clothes, no problem).

        I'm just happy that smoking is banned from all public places in Europe and in the USA. Wool doesn't need that much washing.

        • January 9, 2018 / 6:10 pm

          No lies detected. Also my work area, which is right near the Flatiron Building, has taken out many an umbrella. 5th Ave is like a wind tunnel down there!

  12. Eina
    January 9, 2018 / 2:11 pm

    @Roxy. May I wish you (quiet) Congratulations?

    • January 9, 2018 / 2:14 pm

      Absolutely! Yes and thank you so much Eina!

  13. Eina
    January 9, 2018 / 2:39 pm

    For toiletries, I have two smaller bags that I fill with morning (sunscreen, minimal makeup, etc.) and evening things (sunscreen remover, cream, etc.) I keep my toothbrush in my handbag.

    Another tip that has saved friends who had a close call in a very nice hotel: When in doubt, take a trash bag and tie that is big enough for your suitcase, and keep the case inside, and in the bathtub or shower when you're not using it. This way you're less likely to bring back uninvited guests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *