The most important thing there is to be said about effective packing is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Packing effectively is a trial-and-error process that you will master with the experience you gain from each and every (well-packed and not) trip that you make. Additionally, there are different priorities and considerations you should have in mind depending on the length of your trip. That being said, I’m happy to share the top tricks that have worked for me for long-term travel*—when coming to Spain to study abroad and later teach abroad—in order to help you start out your traveling experience ahead of the curve!
1.) Plan ahead: The first step of effective packing happens before you even get out your suitcase. Make a serious game-plan for yourself. Divide your belongings in:
– Absolutely must-have (“I would die, physically or emotionally, without”)
– Basically need (“but could manage without, if need-be”) and
– Can fit? Can Go! (“totally unnecessary, but I may go to a 70s-themed party and wish I had these go-go boots”—hey, if you’ve got that much extra room, power to you!)
The ideal scenario is to have more things in your B and C-piles than your A-pile so that the necessities are easily packed and you can then be unexpectedly pleased with all the extras you can manage. If it suits you, write this stuff out in advance. Personally, I prefer to visually see everything is separate piles on my bed as it keeps me in check with reasonable amounts.
2.) Divide and conquer: Never underestimate the power of a stealthily-packed carry-on. This could be the answer to your not-going-over-the-weight-limit prayers! Airlines typically have a weight-limit on carry-ons, too. However in my experience, if the carry-on is within the size-restrictions it is not going to draw any attention or ever be weighed. Therefore this (and your personal item) is the perfect place to pack those heavy items such as books, electronics, certain shoes, even nail polish if that’s on your list.
Pro-Tip: Don’t forget about liquid size restricts and be sure to pack any liquids in a clear, sealed, gallon-sized baggie to leave the USa (but be forewarned that the baggie size may be reduced if you have a layover and need to go through security again in a European country).
3.) Leave no space unused: You would think this is a no-brainer, but how many of you had thought about packing your socks into your shoes? Uh-huh, that’s what I thought! Trust me, this is gold. A pair of gym shoes easily stores six pairs of ankle socks and boots can store six or more boot socks. Once you’ve got those shoes at the bottom of your bag, fill in any of the nooks and crannies—like those pesky unused corners—with small, malleable items (think underwear, bathing suits, scarves, gloves…). Finally, real-life Tetris!!
Pro-Tip: Feel weird about clean socks in your shoes? Throw them in a plastic baggie first. I also recommend putting the shoes themselves in grocery bags (because it’s cleaner and you never know when the extra bag will come in handy)!
4.) Rolling is the answer to most of your problems: You may have read elsewhere about the space-saving technique of rolling your clothing instead of folding it. I am a big fan! When I first learned this trick, I blindly rolled everything I could find. That is, until my mother—observant, wise woman that she is—pointed out that my jeans were actually taking up MORE space that way. She was right! So, my advice is to be logical about it; while rolling your tank tops, leggings, dresses, and even underwear (for girls) can be a life-saver, leave coats, thick pajamas, jeans, and probably your underwear if you’re a guy in their natural folded state.
Pro-Tip: These bulkier, folded items go best at the base of your suitcase or as the layer between your shoes and rolled clothes.
5.) Weigh way before you hit the airport: This is crucial to maintaining your cool on the day of your long-awaited flight. There are so many other important things going on in those moments, DON’T leave the weight of your bag as a mystery to be solved when you hit the check-in desk. Buy yourself a hand-held luggage scale and never look back! I seriously can’t recommend this any more. I bought myself one like this (after, admittedly resisting on my first round of travels) and the amount of stress it has saved me and my friends has been invaluable. Have I been annoyed and had to repack my bag multiple times before leaving for the airport? Yes. Have I ever been that traveler who is in tears, throwing things out of her suitcase next to the check-in line? Nope!! You choose your adventure/nightmare.
Pro-Tip: This one-time purchase can be packed in your carry-on and used on the way back as well. The benefits just keep on coming.
So there you have it. Five stellar tips to make your packing experience more effective. I hope you find them useful. Have you had successful packing experiences in the past? Has putting one or more of these techniques to use done the trick for you? Tell us all about it in the comments!
*Of course, I put most of these tips to use during all of my trips (with some adaptation in terms of having a checked bag or not) but they’ve been especially important for the big ones!