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No matter how experienced you are with traveling, packing can be a daunting task. Whether you’re trying to fit most of your life into a carry-on to avoid fees or the liquid restriction is just a little too…well, restrictive, packing usually isn’t one of the most fun parts of a vacation. After having our luggage lost on a couple of continents, leaving countless items behind, and generally being unprepared a couple of times, we’ve put together 15 of our best packing tips to help your trip be smooth sailing.
Get the right bag
Important factors to consider when choosing a bag include weight (the lighter the better), expandability, quality of materials, and ease of carrying/mobility. No one bag is ideal every time. Depending on the destination, we usually go with a standard backpack or a lightweight roller suitcase. We generally prefer a roller but find that backpacks can be easier if we’re moving several times using public transportation or dealing with a lot of cobblestones.
Know your bag limitations
Airlines around the U.S. and around the world have different rules about bags, from the size of your carry-on to whether a personal item is allowed. So before your trip, it’s important to know size and weight restrictions as well as possible fees charged by your specific airline—both for checked bag and carry-ons.
Check the weather
Always check the weather for the week ahead and make sure to notice both the high and low temperatures as well as precipitation. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ve been caught off-guard before. Some places that are hot during the day can be quite cool at night, and you’ll want to be prepared.
Make a packing list
We’re planners and can’t really go anywhere without making a packing list. If you start to plan a couple of days before you leave, you’ll have time to make a complete list, buy anything you may need, and minimize the risk of leaving something important behind.
Copy your travel documents
– Having copies of your boarding pass and passport (if you’re flying internationally) and the address of your accommodations can make your life a lot easier. They’re a few of the 13 essentials we recommend having in your carry-on.
A hard copy boarding pass helps if you get upgraded at the gate or have a problem like a cancelled flight while a copy of your passport is critical if you need a replacement in another country. Knowing the address of where you’re headed can also be helpful, especially if you need to fill out immigration information on the plane. It also means you don’t have to worry if you don’t have immediate internet access when you land.
Dress for your destination
Making an effort to blend in with the locals can make you more comfortable and attract less attention, especially when traveling to another country. In certain places, this just means leaving your visor and fanny pack at home. In others, it might require having a light sweater or shawl to cover your shoulders or knees when visiting churches or mosques.
Also consider bringing one nicer item – like a collared shirt or dress – that doesn’t take up a lot of room. You never know when an opportunity like a concert or nice dinner might present itself.
Pack with a partner
This is perhaps our best packing tip because there’s just about nothing worse than when the airlines lose your luggage. If you’re traveling with a friend or family member, consider having each person pack half their clothes in one bag and half in another. That way, if one bag gets delayed or lost, you can still begin your vacation with half your clothes. (We started doing this after Lance’s bag was delayed on the way to a cruise.)
Roll, don’t fold
Whether you’re packing for a month, a week, or a weekend, rolling your clothes is the way to go. It took us years of packing to finally follow this advice, but rolled clothes do take up less space than folded ones and are less likely to wrinkle.
Use packing squares
Packing squares (sometimes called packing cubes) are small cases for separating different types of clothing or outfits, and they’re very helpful for organizing a bag of any size. Buy a variety of sizes to accommodate different clothing items and a variety of colors so that you can easily find what you’re looking for in your bag.
Throw in a plastic bag
We always travel with a regular plastic grocery bag because it can do just about anything. If you need something at the grocery store, you won’t get charged for a bag. If you have a bathing suit that’s not-quite-dry, the bag it the perfect place. If you want to separate your dirty clothes from the rest, it works for that, too. Our favorite use is wrapping up a souvenir bottle of wine.
Cover your shoes
Shower caps make perfect covers for your shoes (or, if you’re fancy, you can use shoe bags). Not only do they protect your shoes, but they help ensure your clothes don’t get dirty before your trip even starts.
Follow the 3-1-1 rule
You can fly with a quart-sized bag full of 3.4-ounce (100 milliliters) containers of liquids, gels, and creams. Make sure to only use a quart-sized bag (not gallon-sized) and separate it from your carry-on luggage when you go through security. Trying to take in too much liquid can cause issues.
Use travel container alternatives
For a short trip, you may not need all the liquid that can fit in a 3.4-ounce travel-sized container. If you can manage with less, try filling contact lens cases with the products you need and save the room.
Bring a spot treater
If you don’t have enough room after you’ve made the most of the space in your bag, throw in a Tide To Go. It will let you address any minor spills along the way to maximize the clothes you brought.
Ask yourself if you need it
Sometimes it’s best just to pack as light as possible. If an item isn’t absolutely essential, leave it at home. If it turns out you truly need it, you can almost always buy one on your trip. You’ll likely find that you didn’t really need it at all!