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How to Pack A Suitcase Efficiently

I’ll admit, packing for vacation is one of my least favorite parts of preparing for a trip. Because of baggage fees, I never want to overpack and need to maximize our luggage space. However, I also don’t want to forget anything – especially when traveling on a cruise or internationally when it can be harder to get replacement items.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to pack a suitcase efficiently, without paying extra fees or forgetting anything important for our trips (usually!).

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Packing a suitcase with rolled clothes

How To Pack A Suitcase Like a Pro For Your Family Vacation

Start With Packing Lists

I always start with basic packing list templates and then add on from there. I usually go through these a few days before my trip. That way, if I’m missing anything, I’ll have time to go shopping.

Our packing lists include a master list and an individual list. That way, you can provide the individual lists to your children to get them started packing. Even if my kids do their own packing, I make sure I check everything before it goes into the suitcase.

I also create an inventory of each bag. That way, when we are leaving the house, I make sure we’ve taken each of our packed bags. We learned this lesson the hard way because we’ve left a garment bag, a laptop bag, and carry-on items fully packed just sitting in our home. The important thing is to make sure each bag you’ve carefully packed ends up going with you.

Find all of our packing lists here.

Purchase the Best Luggage for Your Trip

You may be tempted to save some money and purchase the cheapest luggage you can find. However, the least expensive suitcases will not always be able to stand up to the abuse of luggage handlers and the baggage carousel. One hard fall and your suitcase could open on its own, causing all of your belongings to spill out onto the carousel (or worse, on the tarmac)!

If you are a family of frequent travelers, I’d recommend buying a good set of luggage in a unique color. That way, your bags don’t get lost among the others on the baggage carousel. The right suitcase can last a long time through dozens of vacations.

I really like the luggage from Away, which comes in some fun, unique colors. Be sure to also include a luggage tag with your personal information. I put my name and cell phone number, but not my home address (for security purposes).

Packing cubes in different sizes

The Best Packing Tips: Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes can be a complete game-changer when it comes to packing a suitcase. These are inexpensive and help you to completely organize your clothing, as well as take up less space. You can get different colors for each family member and can take them right from your suitcase and put them into the dresser at the hotel.

You may be wondering, “how do I use packing cubes?” It takes a little while to figure out, but once you develop a system, you’ll love them. I typically put outfits together in the cubes, so I’m all set once I arrive. This is especially helpful if you are staying in more than one hotel room during your vacation.

To add the items in the cube, I recommend using the rolling method for your clothes. You’ll be able to fit more into the cube, and this method helps prevent wrinkles and maximize luggage space.

Typically, packing cube sets come in multiple sizes. You can put bulky items in the larger cubes, outfits in the medium cubes, and underwear and small items in the smallest cubes.

As you place the packing cubes into the suitcase, you can fit them nicely into the bag. I find that the compression from the packing cubes and the rolling of the clothes combine to give me a lot of space in my bags.

Separate Items For Each Family Member

If you are traveling with multiple family members and multiple suitcases, it may be tempting to use one suitcase per person. That’s the easiest way to pack.

That is not the best way, because it’s always possible that a suitcase will go missing. So instead, I pack each suitcase with a few outfits for each person. That way, if the airline loses any of your luggage, you may still have some essentials for each person. If you use packing cubes, put two or three of each family members’ cubes in each bag.

Effectively Pack Toiletries In Your Suitcase

Because I travel frequently, I keep a small toiletry bag filled with essentials like deodorant, toothpaste, floss, and a toothbrush, as well as contact solution, makeup, and moisturizer. Before I leave, I always check the expiration dates and make sure that each container is full enough for my trip.

When I go on a long trip, I put everything into a hanging toiletry bag that I can hang on the back of the bathroom door. For shorter trips, I usually use a smaller bag that can go on the bathroom vanity.

Toiletries can sometimes be fragile, so I always try to pack my toiletry bag in the center of my suitcase, surrounded by clothing.

Use a Luggage Scale

If you’ve ever gotten to the airport and been charged extra for excess baggage weight, then you know it’s important not to bring too much when you travel. No one wants to sit on the airport floor trying to repack their bags. So, I recommend purchasing a cheap luggage scale so you can be sure of your bag’s weight before leaving your home.

This one from Amazon goes around the handle and gives you a good estimate of the weight. Then you can pack it and use it when you are coming home. Remember that you are likely to come home with more than you left with, so don’t fill your bags up to the limit on the way to your destination. Leave some extra space for souvenirs.

Packing Shoes in Your Luggage

Shoes, especially boots, can be tough to fit into your suitcase. If the soles of your shoes are dirty, it can be a good idea to tuck that pair of shoes into an inexpensive shower cap.

I typically put shoes in the bottom of the suitcase, or along the sides where I can fit them. For boots or larger shoes, I’ll put things like power cords in them to save space.

Packing Liquids For Travel

If you are traveling with sunscreens and other liquids, you’ll most likely need to put these in your checked luggage due to the TSA regulations. Because there’s always a chance these can leak, I always put them in a sealed plastic bag.

This helps ensure that if I do encounter a leak, it won’t ruin my other items. Be sure to save those bags for the return trip in case you still have leftover liquids to pack.

Carry on bag on top of suitcase

Packing a Carry On Bag

With most airlines charging for any checked bag, sometimes you may just want to travel with carry-on luggage, especially for a shorter trip. If I’m traveling with a carry-on only, I make sure that I bring the largest one allowed. Then, I use packing cubes to fill it with as much as I need. Remember to follow the TSA rules for liquids.

If I’m checking a bag, I focus on including fragile items, electronic devices, travel documents, and important items in my carry-on bag. I also add one change of clothes per person just in case our bags get lost.

Your personal item (your under-seat luggage) should include anything that you’ll need during your flight. For me, that’s usually headphones, reading material, a water bottle (filled past airport security), and my bullet journal. I like to have easy access to those items, especially when the seatbelt sign is on.

Packing Dirty Clothes To Come Home

So, what happens when you pack to come home? If you haven’t laundered your clothing during your trip, you’ll probably be left with a bag full of dirty clothes. I usually travel with a cloth laundry bag, and I add my dirty clothes to the bag each day.

If you have room in your suitcase, you can just place this laundry bag into the center of the suitcase. However, if you arrived with a full bag, efficiently packed in cubes, you may find that this laundry bag doesn’t fit. In that case, I’d recommend re-rolling your dirty clothes, and keeping the clean clothes separate.

Once you get home, be sure to separate the dirty items and wash them as soon as possible.

What are your best packing tips?

Headed out on a family vacation? Here are some suitcase packing tips that will have you prepared for your vacation.

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More Packing Tips Resources: Looking for more packing tips and recommendations? Here are all of our posts including packing lists, product recommendations, and ideas for specific trips.

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