Top Tips for Packing a Suitcase

We’ve all had trouble with packing our suitcase at one time or another. Something leaked all over your clothes or that perfectly folded shirt wrinkled anyway. You end up swearing as you try to scrub away that stain or re-iron that shirt.

On all of the trips I’ve been on, I found one common problem that drove me nuts and no article about tips for packing a suitcase addressed it. I had to dig through all of my stuff all the time, spewing clothes and toiletries all over trying to find that one item or outfit. Then, I’d re-pack my suitcase. This would happen over and over during the road trip and would get more and more frustrating.

Then I found a method that solved this problem completely and it’s described here.

These tips for packing a suitcase will help you get everything to your destination in the best possible shape, plus make it easier to "live" out of your suitcase, the way you’re forced to live when you’re on a road trip. I doubt you want to unpack and repack your stuff at every stop (I certainly don’t)!

Perfectly packed suitcase

Top Tips for Packing a Suitcase:

  • Start by getting a bunch of sealable baggies. You’ll be putting all your "leak-ables" in these. For more details on the use of baggies when packing, see my article The Joy of Baggies.
  • Get a mesh or canvas laundry bag for your dirty clothes. If you want to do a little laundry on the road, pack a gentle soap like Woolite.
  • Figure out what you’re going to wear on your trip and in what order. I usually lay out my outfits in chronological order on my bed to make it easier. If there are items you will be using on that day of the trip but on no other day, put these with the selected outfit as that’s when you will need to access that item (for instance, a bathing suit if you’re going to the beach that day).
  • Fold pants and skirts lengthwise and then roll from the hem of the garment up. Button buttons and close zippers before rolling anything. Fold arms behind shirts/sweaters/other tops and then roll from the bottom of the garment up, rolling so the front of the garment is on the outside. Keep all outfits together.
  • Smooth all garments as you roll them and roll them at a medium-tightness – not so loose they could fall apart, not so tight as to cause the wrinkles you’re trying to avoid.
  • If you’re wearing a pair of shoes with an outfit and that’s the first time you’ll be wearing those shoes during the trip, put them next to the outfit. The same goes for any bulky accessories like belts, handbags, etc. I recommend you keep all shoes, handbags, and belts to a minimum. Try to pair these things with multiple outfits to streamline your packing.
  • Put anything that can leak into a baggie as well as any other toiletries, brushes, etc. in a pile. If there is something you will not be using until one of the later days of the trip (sunscreen, for instance), pair it with the outfit of the day you’ll be using it. Make sure that items in the baggie are not so tightly packed as to create a problem sealing it – you want a nice tight solid seal.
  • Put your underwear, socks, and nightclothes/robe in a separate pile.
  • Now you’re ready for my top tip for packing a suitcase! Good packing is all about layering. You want the things in your suitcase to be available as you need them, always at the top of your suitcase so you can work your way down as the trip continues. The worst thing is to have to dig through all your stuff to find something, ruining all your efforts to keep your clothes in order.
  • Layer each rolled up outfit starting with the last day of your trip (so the last day is at the bottom of your suitcase, then the next to last day and so on). When shoes or other bulky items are necessary, place them on the periphery of your suitcase. Shoes should have the soles facing the inside lining of the suitcase, not the clothes, so that no traces of soil will end up on your clothes. If your shoes are very dirty, clean and dry them first or put them in baggies. All items should be layered so that they are available on each day of your trip with the exception of things you will be using the entire trip (like shampoo).
  • Next, put all toiletries and other grooming items on top of all of your clothes (don’t forget the baggies!). Layer your nightclothes/robe on top, also rolled if you want them to be wrinkle-free. Add your slippers now if you’re packing them.
  • Ideally, your suitcase has separate section where you can put your underwear and socks. If so, add them to this section. If not, put them in a large plastic bag on top of everything else.
  • Last, place your laundry bag on top. As you use your clothes/underwear/socks during the trip, add them to the laundry bag and keep it on top of everything else for easy access.
  • If you have something that you’re very concerned about wrinkling (like a formal dress or suit for an event), it’s better to hang the item in the car if there’s room. Those sections in the suitcase that are advertised as areas to keep hanging items never live up to expectations and you end up with wrinkles anyway. Alternately, consider ironing the item again when you get to the location where you’ll be wearing it. Most hotels offer irons and ironing boards, so it’s usually not a problem – call the hotel to be sure.
  • Your suitcase should be comfortably packed – not too tight (having trouble shutting it) or too loose (stuff rolling around in there). Too tight or too loose equals wrinkles. If you have too much, streamline your outfits and other items more so that you have less to pack or get a small second bag for overflow. If it’s too loose, add some towels to get rid of any movement of your stuff. I find that I always need an extra towel, so towels are a good choice as a filler.
  • If you’re bringing anything fragile, make sure to pack it between the top layers of your clothes to create a cushion.
With these tips for packing a suitcase, you should have a much easier time on your road trip. Each outfit will be at your fingertips when you need it and wrinkle/stain-free. No need to dig through your bag or wonder what to do with your dirty clothes. You’re good to go!

EXTRA: Got this tip from one this site's readers, Kevin. He recommends packing cubes - they've really helped his packing. There are all kinds of makes and versions, but they help compartmentalize your suitcase.

Here is what Kevin had to say about packing cubes: "They have revolutionized my travels. At first I thought they were pointless but after buying a few I bought many more. They make packing so organized, I save lots of time not having to search through bags and cases to find items and I find you can also pack more into a small space."

If you're looking for a great "new" way to pack, packing cubes may work for you (they can be found in many stores, and - of course - on Amazon).

Not sure what to pack in the first place? Check out my packing tips and lists (link below) and get a handle on what you’ll need to bring.


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