I wrote a post a while back on how to pack your carry on bags (specifically, “like a boss”). So I figured it was high time we talk about packing your suitcase or your checked bag.
Organizing a suitcase is no joke. Whether it’s a suitcase, a car, or a backpack, I’ve always been a grade-A packer (thanks, Dad, for passing on those skills!).
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I actually didn’t realize this was even a skill until I met my husband Craig. When we were packing for our first trip together, we decided to take one bag. He dutifully gathered the things he wanted to bring and folded them carefully. And then looked at me helplessly.
This is a guy who has been an Army officer for almost 30 years and who has done multiple tours in many of “the bad places.” He is one of the most capable people I’ve ever known. But packing a suitcase is his kryptonite.
So I’m going to break it down in a way that anyone can implement – and I’ll even put Craig to the test! 😉
Before You Start To Pack: Your Bag
What’s your suitcase situation? I’m not at all saying everyone needs to go buy fancy luggage (although I’ll be honest, we were super lucky and got some as a wedding gift and love it). But there are three important factors you need to consider in any luggage you’re considering:
These days, there is simply no reason to use a heavy suitcase. Airlines are increasingly cracking down on luggage weight. Would you rather use up your allowance on a heavy bag or making sure you’re well dressed on your trip? I thought so.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to find a light bag. There are plenty of reasonably-priced options on Amazon and other sites.
I highly suggest a rolling suitcase. The kind with not just rollers, but spinning rollers. That way you won’t have to drag your suitcase through your airport or hotel. Being able to wheel my suitcase alongside me has helped immensely with my back issues.
These Patagonia bags can survive pretty much anything.
If you insist on a duffel style bag, for crying out loud, get one that also has backpack straps. Or better yet, wheels AND backpack straps like this Patagonia on the right!!
We really like the hard-sided luggage. You don’t have to worry about rips or tears, and regardless of how much it gets thrown around, it’s going to stand tough.
There are a ton of options out there for hard-sided luggage. Do the research and find one that is lightweight (see above) with spinner wheels and has good reviews. You don’t have to spend a ton of money if you do a little research. It’s worth your time.
If waterproof is important to you, Patagonia has a great line called the Black Hole. While most of the bags don’t have wheels, there are a couple in the collection that do. I’ve used this line on trips literally across the world and trust me when I tell you they are virtually indestructible.
Now, Let’s Get Packing!
Step 1: You Need A List
Okay, not everyone is a huge listmaker like me. But I’m here to tell you if you can gather your packing thoughts before you start, it will make the task much less overwhelming. Especially for a long trip.
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If you need help getting your list together, don’t worry! I’ve done all the hard work for you. Click here to get access to my resource library and download your FREE packing plan (along with a bunch of other free stuff)!
When I am pulling together my pack list for a trip, I look at my itinerary first. I look at what I’ll be doing each day and write out what that means I’ll need. Then I think about the other necessities I want to bring – things like chargers, workout gear, documents, etc. If you need help organizing your thoughts, check out the packing plan I’ve put together!
Step 2: Gather Up Your Stuff
Here’s where you’ll pull together all the items you wrote down.
I feel like when I’m cleaning out a room or a closet, it always looks way worse before it looks better. Packing is like that.
You’ll have piles of stuff all over your room as you get it organized and packed. But once it’s done, it will be neat and easy to find when you’re traveling.
I usually put everything I’m going to pack on my bed so I can see it all and spread it out as I proceed to . . .
Step 3: Separate Your Stuff Into Categories
This is important – less for getting the clothes in your suitcase and more for staying organized when you travel. I separate my clothes into categories that reflect the type of trip I’m taking. Here are a few of the categories I use:
- Work Clothes
- Casual Clothes
- Workout Clothes
- Underwear and socks
So, for example, if you can pack your work clothes in one place, then you can keep those things generally together during your trip. Having a few categories makes it easier to find the things you need and to stay organized. Once you have your things separated into categories, you’ll want to put them all into . . .
Step 4: Packing Cubes
I can’t even express the love in my heart for packing cubes. They are the best thing to happen to packing since wheeled suitcases.
I was not introduced to packing cubes until a few years ago. Any of my friends who traveled with me prior to my packing cube obsession will attest that on pretty much every trip I took, my clothes would explode out of my suitcase all over my hotel room. Let’s just say I am not a naturally neat person. I like to have a neat house – but I really have to work at it.
Seriously, it was lifechanging when I discovered packing cubes. They are so worth the investment!! Amazon has a great selection and, I’ve found, is generally the most economical.
What kind of packing cubes do you need?
You’ll want to get a variety of sizes. The brand and the color don’t matter. I’d find a color and style you like and go with that.
Or mix it up and get a bunch of different colors. You can go as muted or as loud in style as you want. Have fun with them! But unlike many other things in life, the size of the cubes does matter.
Craig has used this shirt-folding packing cube on every trip he’s taken since he bought it.
I use a large cube for my clothes. I use a medium size for pajamas and swimsuits. And I’ll use a small size for underwear and socks. There is an almost infinite combination of sizes out there. You should spend some time considering how you’ll use them before you buy.
Craig has one that’s a weird narrow rectangle shape that I would never know how to us, but he uses it for socks and it works great. And he recently bought one that helps him fold his button-down down “dad shirts.”
Step 5: Fit it All In!
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you’ve done the first four steps well, you’ll have no problem fitting everything in. Here’s one side of my suitcase from a recent trip:
One half of my organized suitcase on a recent trip.
Notice my shoes. I’m fairly particular about how I pack them for a couple of reasons.
First, shoe soles (and where they may have been) gross me out and I don’t want clothes I’m wearing to rub up against them in transit. Second, I spend good money on my shoes and I don’t want them to get all crushed up in my suitcase.
So you’ll see here that I’ve loaded them in so that they’re all on one side of the suitcase, and so that the soles are only touching each other. This takes a little practice – and you may not be as neurotic as I am – but I’ve found it to be a solid technique.
You can also use inexpensive shoebags like these. Sometimes I do, but I find they take up more room, so most of the time I just pack the uncovered shoes.
Download our FREE plan so you can pack your suitcase like a boss – and share with others!
Step 6: Toiletries and Jewelry
Don’t forget to leave room for your toiletries. Those will be the last thing you’ll put in and there’s nothing worse than having a perfectly packed bag and then remembering you somehow have to cram all your makeup and toiletries in.
Jewelry always goes in my carry on. Always. This is important: do NOT put anything of high value in your checked bag. Especially jewelry and electronics!!)
If you’ve packed right, you’ve paid attention to Step 4 and left space in your suitcase for your toiletries to fit right into.
Step 7: Make Sure You Didn’t Forget Anything
How often have you arrived at your destination to realize you’ve forgotten something major? Like when I forgot my makeup on a work trip and had to make an emergency pitstop at CVS to restock. Before you close up that suitcase and put it in the car, run through your checklist one last time to make sure you got everything.
If you want to make sure you’ve thought it all out, did I mention you can download my packing plan here? I promise, it will keep you organized!!
Step 8: Head Out!
You now have all the tools you need to pack your suitcase like the boss you are. Whether you can keep it that way on your travels? That might be another story!