Travel Packing Hacks & Tips

Travel Packing Hacks & Tips: The Ultimate Guide

Preparing your suitcase or backpack for your next trip can sometimes be a struggle.

So many things to take, very little space!

And let's not talk about the weight.​ You also have to lug that thing around the airport, or between locations.

Lucky for us, many travelers before us have come up with some great travel packing hacks, tips and tricks we can use to make our lives easier.

So, I collected all the tips I could find, and added some more of my own.

Here I present you with the ultimate guide to travel packing!​

Tip: You can use the quick links below to jump to each section.

Suitcase Packing

Take the right suitcase or bag

This might be obvious for some travelers, but depending on where you are going and the kind of travel you are doing, you might want to take a suitcase, duffel or backpack.

I use suitcases for when I am not moving around much and I have to keep some clothes in good shape for nights out.

Shorter trips are also great for carry on roller suitcases.

Bigger backpacks I take on mutli-week trips or longer trips when I know I will be using public transport or hauling my stuff around. Nothing worse than trying to roll a suitcase around a city on a bus or metro or just while looking for your Airbnb!​

Roll your clothes instead of folding to save space

It always seems obvious that you should fold your clothes, but actually rolling them can help decrease the wrinkles and save space.

Bonus Idea:

Want to save even more space or organize your case better? 

Try a space saving travel bag that can compress things insanely well.

You can either use the simple plastic compression bags, or the more luxurious and easier to pack Eagle Creek Bags.​

Pack clothes in dry cleaning bags to reduce wrinkles

Got some super-wrinkle prone clothes, fold them while inside a dry cleaning bag and it will reduce the wrinkles while traveling.

Pack bras the right way

Bras are prone to getting crushed and ruined when packed in a suitcase. 

Instead of just laying them in their and praying, layer them on top of one another (cup in cup) and at the end, pack the cups with soft items to keep the shape (socks, or undies).​

Bonus Tip:

If you want to take it to the next level and really protect your bra investment, why not buy a dedicated bra travel bag to keep them safe and sound.​

Protect breakables inside socks

Not all breakables are going to fit into your shoes, so you can at least simulate some bubble wrap by using a sock or two.

Simply slide the glass bottle or whatever it is inside your sock, maybe even wrapping it around to get 2x the layers.

Bonus Ideas:

  • If you are on a beach holiday and have some kids floaties they can be use to protect wine bottles.
  • Bring some bubble wrap to use in case you buy any breakables
  • Buy a wine skin (specific wine-shaped bubble wrap)

Pack breakables inside shoes

I often buy things I did not expect when on the road, and sometimes they are glass! Not great for having inside your suitcase, which we know gets thrown and crushed on a plane.

So, what I do is push smaller jars and breakables into my shoes, then wrap them in a plastic bag and if need be, wrap that in even more clothes.

Wrap your shoes in a shower cap

This stops the soles of your shoes from dirtying anything else in your bag.

Bonus Ideas:

Don't have a shower cap handy, try one of these other ideas:

  • Use those plastic doctors shoe covers you get at spas or hotels (or if you happen to be a doctor and head into surgery, grab a few spares!)
  • Pack your shoes in a ziplock bag
  • Worst case scenario (the one I use most often) just wrap shoes in a sturdy plastic bag you got while at the department store

Fill your shoes with small items

Even if you don't have anything breakable, shoes make a great place to gain a little extra packing space. Try shoving in some socks or other smaller clothing items (that you don't mind putting in your shoes :>).

Keep your collars perfect on shirts

Ever tried to wear a shirt that has been flatted in a suitcase? Not pretty! The collars can get ruined if not packed correctly.

Next time you have to travel with a shirt or two, arrange it so that a rolled up belt is pushing against the collar. It will work wonders! 

Split clothes across suitcases

If you are traveling with someone else, and have two cases, it pays to split your clothes.

Sometimes a bag goes missing or arrives the next day on another flight. Don't be left without all your clothes, give some to your travel buddy and vice versa.​

Bonus Tip:

If you have space, you could put them in your carry on instead.

Stash some spare cash

You never know when your wallet is going to get stolen. And when you are far away from home, it can take time to get it all sorted out.

So, rather than get left empty-handed, why not store some cash somewhere safe in your luggage. I often hide it in the lining of a bag or inside my toiletries (inside and empty chapstick tube or similar). Somewhere no one will think of looking (just you remember where that is!).

Keep your clean clothes fresh

Who doesn't love arriving home with a fresh bag of laundry from the dry cleaners? Well, why not do the same on your travels, where you clothes may go without washing for a while!

Just grab a few of those​ dryer sheets you use at home and stick them in with your clothes. You will open your case and...fresh!

Bonus Idea:

Want to save even more space or organize your case better? Try a space saving travel bag that can compress things insanely well.

Take a dirty laundry bag

The biggest problem with long-term travel, especially when changing destinations, is keeping your dirty clothes away from your clean clothes.

If I am not so well prepared I just use a big and durable plastic bag (often from a nicer store - they like thick plastic).

But, there are lots of other ideas you can try:​

Nylon Dirty Laundry Bag and Backpack

Freshen your dirty laundry

If your laundry is packed away, but just starting to stink, grab a small bar of soap from the hotel and throw it in there. Another option is to use one of the dryer sheets I mentioned earlier. Not quite as strong, but worth it if you have nothing else on hand.

Take a small extra packable bag

There are so many reasons to take an extra bag with you, just make sure it is not a big one.

You might need it for:

  • A day trip to a town or city
  • A trip to the beach
  • To bring back that extra stuff you had not planned on buying

Of course, you know where you are going and how you normally travel, so pick a bag that is suitable for that trip and possible uses.

If you want to check out a few options, here are some you might like:

  • Packable duffels (gives you lots of extra space, but packs down reasonably small)
  • Packable daypacks (in between, gives you options for day trips or bring back souvenirs)
  • Foldable bags (really tiny, but give you options for beach or similar activities)
Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

Pack last what you will need when you arrive

The clothes you put in your backpack or suitcase last are the ones that come out first. 

So, make sure they are the ones you need when you arrive (jacket if it's cold?) or the next day. Saves you unpacking like a madman looking for some clothes when you could have put them on top when you left :>

Clothing Packing Hacks

Wear your heaviest clothes & shoes

This is a great way to save weight and space when traveling by air. A big jacket or even bulky jeans or sweater can be worn on the plane. 

The bonus is, you can use it as an extra pillow or back rest on the plane too.​

Bonus Tip:

Wear your hiking boots, or any other heavy footwear.​ It also takes way too much space and can often be a huge weight saver!

Wear something multipurpose for the flight

For the ladies it could be a scarf. 

Great for blocking those annoying air-con breezes modern planes seems so fond of. Doubles as a pillow, or even an eye-mask if you want to get some shut-eye​

For the men, it could be a sweater with a hood or an extra sweater. I always use my fleece sweater to arrange my crazy sleeping positions on planes! And sometimes to just block out the reading lamp of the dude behind me!

Dress for your destination

If you are going to a foreign country with different religion or customs it pays to be aware of what is acceptable to wear.

We in the western world often trample around the world assuming a low cut top or shorts is ok everywhere it is hot.

It is not.

Many countries are offended by blatant displays or skin or even your head. So be culturally aware and do some research before you pack and travel.

cultural aware travel

Pack a multi-purpose sarong

This one's for the ladies. Sarongs are so versatile and my girlfriend swears by them when we are traveling. You can use them in so many different ways:

  • Scarf (when it gets a little chilly
  • Head cover (great against the sun or visiting religious sites)
  • Doubles as a towel (no need to pack that suitcase filler!)
  • If you are creative - can be used as a dress
Pack a Sarong

If you want to see a whole lot more, check out this great post.

Take some leggings

Another great one for the ladies. Rather than take a whole bunch of different clothes for the plane, the gym and other general comfy purposes, just pack or even wear (on the plane) some leggings. Other great uses include:

  • Pyjamas
  • Cover your leg at religious sites
  • Long johns/thermal underwear when it's cold
  • Wear under skirts
Leggings for travel

Mix & match clothes

Remember, you are limited to the size of your suitcase (or maybe you could be packing lighter).

So, instead of bringing every combination and outfit you own, bring items that can be mixed and matched for various days and occasions.

Take zip-off hiking pants

This is great for both men and women, and to be honest I would not go on a longer trip without them.

Zip off hiking pants are easy to wash or just clean with a sponge. They are also fast to dry, and made of durable material.

On top of that, they double as pants and shorts, so save you an extra item of clothing.​

zip off hiking pants

Prepare for rain

If you have the space, always pack a small carry-size umbrella for each person if possible.

If you are more space and weight conscious, a poncho might be a better bet.

Take layers instead of big clothes for the cold

When you are traveling it is always a bonus if you can re-use an item of clothing for more than one temperature or purpose.

So, instead of taking a huge jacket in case it gets cold, consider layering your clothes.

Depending on what you own and where you are going, you can take some thermal underwear to fight off the cold.

Or, add a fleece or merino wool layer or thin jacket which can double as a sweater for a day when there is just a light breeze.

zip off hiking pants

Carry-On Packing Hacks

If you are flying then your carry on is your home away from home while you are rammed into that economy seat for up to...12 hrs? So, make sure you have everything you need, but not too much, as you have to haul it around the airport.

Pack a few essentials

Ever had your suitcase go missing for a day or two (or forever, not so common but it happens). Best to prepare for the worst on a longer trip. Pack a few essentials in your carry on such as:

  • Spare underwear
  • Toothbrush and small toothpaste
  • Make up or other beauty essentials you would die without

The list is endless, but just have a think about what you could not live without if you case did not make it!

Pack all your papers in an organizer

Get some peace of mind when your passport, credit cards, paperwork and tickets are all in one place.

Pack it all in a handy organizer, like this quality one from Victorinox.

Or, at the very least, put all your tickets, car rental papers, and hotel bookings in a plastic sleeve (in reverse chronological order) so you can get to them quickly and easily when you arrive.

Keep your valuables secure in a money belt

I am a little more paranoid than most, especially when traveling outside the western countries. And why not? If you get your passport or credit cards stolen, it can be a huge hassle and ruin your vacation.

So, I always travel with a money belt that is tucked inside my pants.

Sure, it's not so comfortable, but I mainly wear it between destinations or just to carry a credit card when out shopping.

Take a pen

Don't be stuck at the customs waiting for everyone else to finish with the complementary pens you need to fill out your form.

Bring your own, and even better, fill out your form as soon as the air hostess gives it to you.

Then, you can cruise by and get into line way faster than everyone else!​

Take a snack

Whether on a plane or on the road, nothing beats have a few snacks to keep you going.

You never know when your next meal is going to be, or if you are going to get something you like. So, be prepared and at least bring a few things you like to fight hunger off when it comes knocking!

Here are some quick ideas to get you started​

  • Granola/Muesli bars
  • Nuts or nut and sultana mixes
  • Crackers or other healthy snacks

Avoid just taking sweets or chocolates as they don't really fill you up, and you will already start stacking on the kilos before you have even started the holiday food feasts!

Take an empty water bottle

No water through security, of course!

But, once you get on the other side, or on the plane, take the first opportunity to fill up your water bottle.

It's also handy to have with you when you arrive if you head to the beach or go on a hike!

And, if you don't own a great travel water bottle, you can't go past the BPA-free Nalgene! You can drop these babies from quite high without damaging them.​

Nalgene travel water bottle

Consider an electronic guide book instead

I cant't count the number of Lonely Planet books I have on my shelf (I can actually, 17). 

Save yourself the massive weight, space and bother of taking it home only to never read it again.

Buy a kindle version and read it on your kindle or ipad. This is especially useful if you are traveling to many countries (like I did in South America years ago) where you often can't get all the guide books in English anyway.​

Nalgene travel water bottle

Keep your valuables safe

Not always practical, but as much as possible take your valuables on a carry on - always!

Luggage gets lost, inspected and sometimes stolen. There are so many opportunities to lose or have something stolen. Don't give someone the chance.

I always take my "cannot live without" stuff with me, and have my wallet and passport on my body. You can replace everything else.​

Take only liquids that are allowed

The TSA and other worldwide aviation bodies have rules about what liquids are allowed on board a plane. Be aware of these before packing liquids (including creams and gels or similar types of foods) in your carry on.

In general you are allowed to:​

  • Take a quart-sized, see-through bag
  • Take 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) per liquid

Here is the perfect bag and bottle set you can take with you.

There are exceptions such as baby food, duty-free alcohol and so forth, but be sure to check the rules before you make any purchases or take any liquids you don't mind losing at security.

Jewelry Packing Hacks

As you probably know, jewelry is a nightmare to transport. When you arrive, everything is mixed up or lost. Here are a few handy solutions to help you arrive with a smile next time you travel.

Leave your expensive jewelry at home

Two big reasons for this:

  1. It is more likely to get lost or stolen while traveling
  2. If you wear it while in a foreign country, you might become more of a target of theft​

Keep your jewelery safe

Not always practical, but as much as possible take your valuables on a carry on - always!

Luggage gets lost, inspected and sometimes stolen. There are so many opportunities to lose or have something stolen. Don't give someone the chance.

I always take my "cannot live without" stuff with me, and have my wallet and passport on my body. You can replace everything else.​

Store small jewelry easier

This is a great way to keep your jewelry sorted and separate. Great for smaller pieces like ear rings and rings, but also helpful for necklaces and bracelets. Although if you necklaces still get tangled, read on, we have some more great solutions for you!

Keep ear rings together

If you have just a few ear rings or still find them getting mixed up in their container, try putting them together on a button. One ear ring through each hole. 

Stop jewelry from tangling

Grab 2 layers of cling wrap that are big enough to cover your jewelry. Lay the jewelry on the first layer, then the second layer over top. Now compress the two together with the flat of your hand - which wraps the chain in place and stops it from tangling.

Bonus Tip:

Thread your necklaces through a straw to stop them tangling. Easier to repeat the process to take them home (compared to cling film).​

Toiletry & Make Up Packing Hacks

Buy a hangable toiletry bag

Hotel or Airbnb rooms don't always have the bathrooms of our dreams, and sometimes you end up putting your toiletry bag on the floor

Rather than do that, why not buy one with a hook so you can hang it from the towel rail or door handle.

Save your having to bend over to get every single item you need!​

Wrap cling film around bottle openings

Ever opened your toiletry bag to find a wet mess? Let's face it, liquids have a tendency to seep out of packages, even when they are sealed tight. 

One simple way to fix the liquids you know are prone to leakage is to wrap the top of the bottle with cling film, then re-attached the top. It might not be 100% sure, but it will certainly stop any random leaks when the top pops open in transport.

Bonus Idea:

An even better way to solve this problem is to put the leakage prone bottles in a ziploc bag. Maybe eve in combination with cling wrapping them. It depends how keen you are.

Put a clip on the end of your razor

If you razor is sharp then you might find it damages your toiletry bag. Try clipping a big paper clip over it to protect the razor and anything it is inside.

Have enough medicine?

Be sure to bring all the medicine you need while away (or get repeat from your doctor).

Also, be sure to pack at least the basics so you don't need to hunt for a pharmacy when you get a headache, stomach problems, or are stuck on the toilet for hours! Sometimes these things come in the middle of the night too.​

Take small sized toiletries

Whether you collect them from visits to hotels, or buy them at the supermarket, travel sized toiletries are great for shorter trips.

Bonus Tip:

Another great idea is to buy small refillable containers that you can fill with your own shampoo and conditioner, and even body lotion or face cream.

Save space, save weight and have your own brands with you!​

Take small amounts of lotions/concealer in contact lens case

Contact lens cases are great because they are super water tight and great for storing a small amount of liquids. So, if you are heading on a short trip and need to pack some lotion or make up (concealer) you can simply squeeze enough into a contact lens case.

Pad your make up case to avoid cracked lids

Plastic lids on cases tend to break when pressed because their is space beneath them. So, an easy way to protect your make up cases is to add some cotton padding between the make up and the lids. Give it a try on your next trip.

Use an all-in-one make up case instead

I know you love your favorite shade of lippy, but when it comes to travel, sacrifices have to be made. An all-in-one make up kit can save you from taking a load of make up and still get you through those nights out when you really need it.

Store hair pins & ties

Trying to keep track of the small things in your suitcase or toiletry bag can be frustrating. So, instead of rummaging around looking for your bobby pins or hair ties, why not use an old tictac box. The bobby pins should fit right inside a large one, and you can wrap your hair ties around it too.

Electronics Packing Hacks

Consider a tablet instead of a laptop

Do you really need to take your laptop on vacation?

Of course, it's up to you what you need to do while you are away. But for me, unless I plan on doing some work on the road...it's tablet only. 

Saves you lots of space and the big one - weight!​

Bring a portable charger so you don't run out of power

We all use a lot of gadgets on our travels, and it's hard to keep them all charged and ready.

Rather than have your phone die just when you are about to take a picture, make sure you bring a portable charger and you will be good to go for the whole day!

Another option is to take a dedicated power case for your phone, if that is the one device you need to keep running all day.​

Pack your cables/chargers in a sunglasses or glasses case 

We all have way too many cables, chargers and connectors these days, and traveling with them is a nightmare. They all end up tangled and in different pockets.

Why not just wind them all up and store them in an old glasses or sunglasses case. Easy to open and find.​

Bring a power strip if you have lots of devices

Depending on how much electronics you bring with you, you might want to think about at least a travel power strip.

Especially if you are heading to a foreign country and you only have one adapter. You can connect the power strip to it, and charge four things at once!

Bonus Tip:

If most of your devices use a USB, you can also find international adapters that have one normal plug and a few USB ports to charge from. Usually that is enough for a phone, laptop and ipad.

Wind up your earphones

Tangled earphones are something we all have to live with, and when you are traveling it seems to only get worse.

Instead of dealing with that when you arrive, or sit down on the plane to watch a movie, why not wind them up before you leave.

There are a few things you can use to do this including:​

  • Plastic cards (like membership cards)
  • Big paper clips (aka bulldog clips)
  • Any number of stylish earphone holders including these puppies from TopHome. Nice huh!
TopHome Earplug holders

Seal your electronics in ziplocs if you are heading to the water

Nothing worse than worrying about dropping your phone in the water, or just getting it wet when heading to the beach.

A simple solution is to take a bunch of various size ziploc bags, and place your electronics in those. You can even double bag if you want to be 100% sure (say you are heading out in a kayak or canoe!).

I hope you found some killer hacks in there. Something to make your next trip even more awesome.

If you have some extra tips you think are worth including, I would love to hear about them in the comments. Don't be shy now :>​

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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