Effectively packing for a flight can be the difference between an enjoyable, stress-free trip and an on-the-road nightmare. Forget an essential item and you’re scrambling to find the nearest store; pack too much and you end up disorganized and having to pay extra for a bag fee. Here are 10 fundamental packing strategies that every traveler should learn from Caroline Costello at SmarterTravel.com.
Roll, don’t fold.
Many travel experts—including backpackers, who must stuff months’ worth of clothing into a bag the size of a box of wine—agree that rolling is superior to folding. Tightly rolled clothes take up less space than folded ones. Plus, they’re less prone to getting deep wrinkles from fold creases.
Make a packing list
When it comes to packing, procrastinators fall short. Start your packing process days or even weeks ahead of your departure date; this gives you time to craft a complete list, plus purchase any additional items you might need for your vacation. Creating a packing list is a fail-safe way to ensure that you never, ever forget to bring something important.
Know your airline’s baggage-fee policy
Figuring out the airlines’ tricky and befuddling baggage-fee policies is key to any budget-minded packing strategy. While most airlines permit travelers to check at least one bag on international flights, the majority of U.S. carriers charge big bucks for bags checked on domestic flights. Spirit Airlines—that notoriously customer-unfriendly discounter—even charges as much as $100 for carry-on bags.
Avoid bag fees with these packing tips
Before you begin packing, take a peek at your airline’s website and read its baggage policy. This is something you might even want to do prior to buying your plane ticket, especially if you’re set on bringing a checked bag or two. Consider flying on Southwest, which permits at least one free checked bag on domestic flights.
Know the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule
What happens if you don’t follow the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) 3-1-1 rule for carry-on luggage? If you attempt to bring a large bottle of shampoo or a full-size gel deodorant through the security line, a TSA agent will confiscate your stuff, holding you up in line in the process. So get familiar with the agency’s rules: All liquids brought onto planes must be in 3.4-ounce bottles or smaller and inside a single, clear, quart-size zip-top bag.
Use your personal item wisely
It’s standard for airlines to permit each traveler to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item onboard planes. This personal item is subject to specific size requirements (these vary by airline), but something like a purse, laptop bag, or backpack is generally acceptable.
In her article, “Five Tips for Fitting it All in a Carry-on Bag,” Caroline Morse advises travelers to leverage their personal-item allowance, suggesting, “Forget wasting my personal-item allowance with a tiny purse. I’ll bring a larger tote bag that I can stash under the seat but will still give me extra storage space. This will come in handy for keeping all of the things I’ll need to be on hand during the flight within arms’ reach as well.”
Wash your clothes on the road
If you’re staying in a hotel, call in advance to see if laundry services are available and how much they cost. Travelers staying in properties without laundry facilities or taking cruises—cruise lines are notorious for charging an arm and a pant leg for laundry services—can wash clothes in sinks and hang them to dry. Pack a travel-size packet of laundry detergent and a sink stopper to clean your clothes in the bathroom sink in your hotel room. Some hotels have them now, but just in case, purchase a portable laundry-drying line with suction cups that attach to shower walls for drying.
Pack dual-purpose garments
If it’s two-in-one, it’s one less thing to pack. Dual-purpose items, such as pants that turn into shorts or a jacket that turns into a travel pillow are worth their weight in airline baggage fees.
This advice is twofold: Wear layers and pack in layers. First, your on-the-road wardrobe should feature plenty of layers, which will help you jetset through multiple climates in style and comfort. Second, the items in your bag should be packed in neat layers for easy screening. According to the TSA, “Pack items in layers (shoes one layer, clothes one layer, electronics one layer, etc.)” so that the security agent screening your bag can get a clear picture of what’s inside. The faster the TSA agent can screen your stuff, the faster you’ll get through the security line.
Never check essential items
It’s terribly important to keep your valuable and essential belongings in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage. Your passport, identification, money, credit cards, jewelry, electronics, and other valuables should always be brought onto the plane with you. We probably don’t need to tell you why you need to keep your passport and wallet on your person. But if the airline loses your luggage (or if a TSA agent gets sticky fingers), you’ll regret stowing your expensive watch in a checked bag.
Use packing aids
To make your clothes even more compact, pick up an Eagle Creek Compression Sac. You can use it to shrivel your clothes into a tight, vacuum-packed bundle that takes up very little suitcase space. Other packing aids that can help you organize better and fit more into your bag include packing envelopes and packing cubes.