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Packing hacks are the best way to take your travel game to the next level. We have rounded up the top travel packing hacks designed to save you space, time and money – so you can focus your energy on enjoying your trip. Clever and inventive, packing hacks for traveling will enhance your packing skills and overall travel savviness.
Best Travel Packing Hacks
I used to be terrible at packing for trips; first I was an over-packer, then an under-packer. Now, as a full-time world traveler, I rely on packing hacks for travel to keep me organized and efficient on travel days. Some hacks for packing have become so ingrained in our travel routine that packing without them is unimaginable.
Our Travel Hacks For Packing
Our list of packing hacks ranges from absolute game changers to creative tricks. Some are tried-and-true traveling hacks for packing, while others are insider tips we gleaned from expert travelers. These packing hacks will work for all travelers – so whether you are seeking backpack hacks or cruise packing hacks, you will surely find a few gems on our list.
We have categorized our list into three sections: Hacks for Packing Clothes, Toiletry Hacks, Carry On Hacks and a few miscellaneous tips, too. This is a mega list of the best packing life hacks – so grab your coffee and settle in.
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#1 Clothing Packing Hacks
Because clothing is the main component to packing, we are kicking off our list with hacks for packing clothes.
Packing Cubes Hacks
Of all luggage packing hacks, packing with Packing Cubes ranks most supreme. Providing organization and structure to your suitcase or backpack, Packing Cubes are space-saving superstars. The cubes come in a variety of sizes, styles and materials – all of which need to be considered in order to attain your ultimate packing goal.
Pro Tip: We discuss the different kinds of cubes – and their purpose – in detail in our post: Ways Packing Cubes make Travel Easier.
Cheap Packing Travel Hacks
While Packing Cubes are – hands down – one of the best packing hacks that we use, the Packing Cubes are pricey! Personally, we think they are worth every single cent. However, if you are not ready to take the plunge and buy some, rather than packing using Packing Cubes, try Ziplock Bags. Gallon-size bags are ideal for organization and compression; however, unlike the quality Packing Cubes we use, Ziplocks have an incredibly short lifespan.
Pro Tip: I used to pack using Ziplocks (before I learned how incredible actual Packing Cubes are!). I would pack one complete outfit in each gallon bag and label it so I could easily find the outfit I was looking for. On the way home from vacation, I used the zip-top bags to conceal my dirty laundry, too.
Clothes-Rolling, Space-Saving Packing Hacks
Rolling clothes – rather than folding them – has long been one of the best suitcase packing hacks for saving space. Travelers can either roll each item individually – or, take it up a notch, and roll an entire outfit (pants, shirt, socks and underwear) together. By rolling a complete outfit, your suitcase becomes a grab-and-go destination when getting ready for the day’s adventure.
Pro Tip: For a tighter roll that stays together, use a ‘military roll’ or hair ties to secure the rolled clothing. If you use hair ties, you will also have backups if you lose or break one on your trip. (Plain rubber bands can be used, too, if you don’t use hair elastics.)
Roll vs Fold Debate
While many travelers rave about the benefits of rolling, it is not one of the packing luggage hacks that we use for our shirts and pants. We find that rolling is time consuming – and although many travelers claim that it can save even more space to pack rolled clothes in Packing Cubes, we have not found that to be true.
That said, the one item of clothing I do roll is my bikini underwear. I start by folding the underwear into thirds – folding each side in to the width of my small Packing Cube. Then, starting at the bottom, I roll up to the waistline. This is actually one of my airport hacks, as much as it is a packing hack, because this way, if my undergarment Packing Cube gets tagged for inspection, the agent rifling through my clothes will be less likely to touch the part of the panties that goes against my skin.
Pro Tip: Another clothes packing hack for underwear is to pack quick drying underwear that will be easy to wash in the sink and dry fast – if need be. A brand that fellow travelers love is Ex-Officio, but I prefer inexpensive and functional Fruit of the Loom. We talk more about clothing materials in a minute!
Folding Hacks for Packing
If you are like us and decide to fold your clothes (instead of roll), then it is key to fold all of your clothing to the exact same size. After spending 10 years working in retail, I am fairly skilled at folding random sized clothing into neat stacks. However, for travelers who find it challenging, one of the packing folding hacks is to use a Folding Board, which will ensure you get a perfect fold on every piece of clothing.
Packing Hacks: Travel Clothing
One of the top packing clothes hacks for traveling is to only pack clothing that travels well. There are numerous clothing lines that are designed specifically for traveling, but most travelers don’t need to get that technical – and many items you already own might fit the bill. The features of clothing that are most important when it comes to packing are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, odor-eliminating, wrinkle-resistant and washable clothing items.
That said, if you do pack clothing that wrinkles, bring travel-size Wrinkle Release Spray to avoid having to iron on vacation.
Pro Tip: While the right clothing material is essential for travelers, it is equally important to pack clothing that you like and are comfortable wearing…because if it is not comfortable, it will likely stay folded in your suitcase. I share more tips about my packing experience for full-time travel in my blog post, My Long-Term Travel Packing List: What I Pack To Travel the World.
Pack Multi-functional Clothing
There are no better packing hacks for traveling light than packing versatile and multi-functional clothing. One of the most useful items I have in my backpack is my wrap – and it has about a million uses. I have used it as a scarf, a beach cover up, a bath towel, a picnic blanket, a pillow cover, a bedsheet, a head cover, an ear cover, an eye cover, a curtain and a bus seat cover…just to name a few. As long as the wrap is lightweight, dark and washable, the possibilities are endless.
Convertible clothing – like this dress/skirt combo – are awesome packing hacks to save space. Other clothing that can be multi-function are yoga pants (which can double as sleepwear), leggings (which can be layered in cool weather), a casual dress (which can be a beach cover up) and bikini tops (which can be worn as a bra).
Pro Tip: A pillowcase is another good item to pack that is multi-functional. Use it to cover the pillow you sleep on in your accommodations, then fill it with dirty clothes for the trip home.
Capsule Clothing Packing Travel Hacks
Packing a capsule wardrobe is one of the smart packing hacks used by travelers. To assemble a capsule wardrobe, first, choose a color scheme of similar shades – like black, dark blue and shades of purple – and only gather clothing that falls into the color palette. Each item – tops and bottoms – need to be able to be mixed, matched and layered with all other items. Outfits can be accessorized with colorful scarves and jewelry. By using this method, you can pack minimal pieces of clothing that can be combined to make numerous different outfits.
In addition to coordinating my entire wardrobe, one item that I always like to pack is a black skirt. It is something that is comfortable and casual for sightseeing, but can be dressed up with a nicer shirt and a scarf for going out in the evening.
Pro Tip: A life hack for packing clothes for a vacation is to use the Countdown Rule. For example, if you are taking a 5-day trip, pack 5 shirts, 4 pants (or shorts/skirts), 3 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes and 1 colorful scarf (or bold piece of jewelry). Additionally, pack one pair of underwear for every day of the trip, but only one set of pajamas.
Clothes Packing Hacks for Vacation
One of the simple traveling packing hacks that is often overlooked is Destination Research. What I mean by this is that, before you start packing and choosing clothes for your trip, first check the weather forecast for your destination. Also, gain some insight to the destination’s clothing culture and have a basic understanding of what apparel is acceptable at tourist destinations, religious sites, restaurants and clubs.
Pro Tip: Use your itinerary to help decide what clothes to bring. Then, based on your planned activities select – in advance – which outfit to wear for each day of your trip. (To book your activities in advance, use Viator!)
Clever Packing Hacks for Clothing
One of the life hacks for packing that we have long used – and is commonly used by fellow travelers – is to pack clothing items for a trip that you no longer want to keep. After you wear them on your trip, you can donate the clothing at your destination (or, if there is really no life left in the item, just toss it!). This is an especially good tip for families traveling with growing kids.
Pro Tip: One of the truly Travel Light hacks is to reverse this idea slightly. When you leave for vacation, only pack personal items – like undergarments and toiletries. On arrival at your destination, make your first stop a thrift shop and buy new-to-me clothes for the entire trip. On the last day of the vacation, return to the thrift shop and donate all of the clothing back to the store. We have never personally used this hack – but heard about it from a fellow traveler and think it would be a fun way to kick off a trip!
Travel Hacks for Packing Shoes
To save suitcase space, on any trip, for any length of time, only ever pack three pairs of shoes – I even follow this rule as a full-time traveler! All shoes should be comfortable to wear for long days of sightseeing and, more importantly, they need to go with all the outfits that you are packing. (This idea goes back to the capsule wardrobe method!)
For more travel shoe tips, read our blog post, The Best Shoes for Traveling.
Pro Tip: A good way to keep grimy shoes from dirtying up the inside of your luggage is to fit disposable shower caps (the kind that are free at many hotels) over the sole of the shoe before you put them in your bag. The empty space inside your shoes can also be used to store items – like deodorant and shaving cream, just put it in a resealable bag first.
Resealable bags are one of our essentials for packing. Find out more tips in our blog post, Everyday Items for Traveling.
Clothing Airport Hacks
One of the ingenious suitcase packing hacks to save space is to actually wear your bulkiest items on travel days. In fact, this is one of the top Carry On Only travel hacks. Rather than using valuable luggage space to pack your coat and boots, wear them on the plane! Tie a sweatshirt around your waist or wear layers that can easily be removed once seated on the plane.
Pro Tip: You can also save space by tying your shoes to the outside of your bag – and if you carry a water bottle, clip it to the exterior of your bag if possible…or better yet, travel with a collapsible water bottle.
Hacks for Packing a Suitcase…Without Over-Packing
Over-packing is a downfall for many travelers – it certainly was for me when I was a novice traveler. But I have learned what an absolute drag over-packing can be. It can weigh you down (literally) when lugging your suitcase through an airport, down a cobblestone street and up the stairs of a boutique hotel.
One of the best life hacks for traveling and packing – or rather not over-packing – is to simply commit to packing in a carry on size suitcase. By limiting the amount of room you have, you will be less tempted to over pack, which is much more sensible! We discuss more specific carry on packing hacks later in the post!
Packing Suitcase Hacks
We pack in backpacks, but one of the best suitcase hacks I ever heard was to shift your perspective of your suitcase. Rather than packing stacks of clothing horizontally into the suitcase, pack vertically, from the wheels up.
Take this idea one step further and pack complete outfits in the order that you plan to wear them (according to your itinerary!). This way, when you get ready each day, all you need to do is grab the outfit from the top!
Pro Tip: Don’t let any space go unused! Take advantage of small crevices in your suitcase to slip in things like a comb or other small miscellaneous items.
Day packs and purses can take up a lot of room in luggage. Minimize how many items you carry by selecting one purse that will work for all occasions. It is even better if you pack a purse that can double as a day pack. If you think you will need a bigger bag for going to the beach or shopping during your trip, pack a lightweight foldable shopping bag.
Pro Tip: Read more about day bags in our blog post, The Best Day Packs for Traveling.
Packing a Suitcase: Hacks for Fresh Clothing
One way to keep your clothes smelling fresh during your trip is to layer each clothing item with a dryer sheet. And, later, if you need to do laundry while on your trip, you will have dryer sheets to use!
Pro Tip: Another way to keep clothes fresh is with Fabreeze. Pack a travel-size Fabreeze with your toiletries! And, don’t worry, we are getting to our toiletry packing hacks in a minute!
Holiday Packing Hacks for Souvenirs
If you anticipate collecting breakable souvenirs during your trip, a good suitcase hack is to use bubble wrap in between your clothes or outfits. Then, use the bubble wrap to protect souvenirs that you are bringing home. Other creative ways to better ensure breakables make the trip home undamaged is to pack them inside Pringles cans or even use the free hotel slippers as cushioning. Of course, if you are buying wine, actual wine protectors are best.
Pro Tip: In many cases, the best and safest way to transport fragile souvenirs is to ship them home…rather than trying to jam them into your suitcase.
Packing hacks for Traveling: Laundry
One of the best space-saving travel hacks is simply to plan on doing laundry during your trip. By planning to do laundry while you travel, you will only need to pack one week’s worth of clothing – or less! – even if you are on a 2-week – or longer! – trip.
We recommend booking accommodations with a washer and dryer (you can find amazing places at great prices on Airbnb, which is our go-to resource for finding the best places to stay!). It is a good idea to pack a few individual packages of liquid laundry detergent, just in case they do not provide any.
Pro Tip: If you accommodations do not have a washer and dryer, it is likely that there is a nearby laundromat – or even someone who will wash and dry your laundry for you – in destinations worldwide. Just remember to bring a packable laundry bag so that you have something to carry your dirty clothes in.
Sink Laundry: Packing Tips and Hacks
Learning how to efficiently do sink laundry is one of the packing hacks for long trips, when you will inevitably need to wash at least a few undergarments. Sink laundry is as simple as it sounds: It’s when you hand wash your clothes in the sink, bathtub or shower.
The most important thing to keep in mind when washing items in the sink is allowing enough time for clothes to dry (and, again, why it is so important to pack quick-dry clothing).
Many travelers wash clothes at night, before going to bed, to ensure they will dry. We, personally, like to take advantage of the sunshine (if possible) and wash them in the morning (but never the morning of a travel day!).
Sometimes we just use a bar of soap to clean our clothes, but Sink Laundry detergent is probably better. A sink stopper will help for scrubbing and rinsing in the sink – and a travel clothesline is ideal to hang up wet clothes. That said, draping socks over a heater or in front of a fan can help speed drying times…and a hair dryer works, too.
Pro Tip: A Scrubba Wash Bag is often touted by fellow travelers as one of the top packing hacks for backpacking, but we have yet to use one personally!
#2 Packing Hacks For Toiletries
Our list of packing toiletries hacks is full of brilliant ideas that will help you pack better for your next trip! These tips will hopefully help you avoid any spills in your luggage…and save you some space in your bag, too.
Travel Toiletry Hacks for Shampoo and Conditioner
One way to avoid any liquid shampoo and conditioner luggage incidents is to simply not pack it! Many hotels and Airbnb apartments provide shampoo and conditioner. And, if they don’t, you can always buy some at a local store when you get there.
That said, did you know that shampoo and condition come in bars just like soap? Well, you are now in on the secret! Using shampoo and conditioner bars – rather than packing bottled liquids – is an excellent travel packing hack that will ensure you don’t have spilled shampoo in your bag on arrival at your destination.
All-in-One Toiletry Travel and Packing Hacks
What better way to save space than to use products with multiple uses? The all-in-one Dr. Bronner’s soaps are organic and certified Fair Trade products that are designed for multiple purposes. The soap can be used on body, face, hair and teeth…and also to clean dishes, clothes, floors, windows – and even the toilet.
Pro Tip: The Castille soap collection comes in a variety of scents and is available in liquid or bars.
Liquids: The Best Packing Hacks for Travel
If you are bringing liquids in your bag, we have a few tips on how to keep them from spilling.
The best travel hacks for liquids is a 3-part process that includes plastic wrap, tape and a resealable bag. First, unscrew the top off the bottle and place a piece of plastic wrap over the top, then screw the top back on (over the top of the plastic wrap). Next, take a piece of tape and tape the flip lid shut. Finally, secure the bottles in resealable bags. By using the three-step method, suitcase spillage is highly unlikely!
Pro Tip: The bottles you pack in can make all of the difference! Liquid travel containers is not where you want to skimp on quality. Refillable GoToob bottles are specifically engineered for travel – and promise a spill-proof journey!
When A Little Dab Will Do
A phenomenal way to save space in your toiletries case is to only bring as much product as you will actually use on your trip. Rather than packing larger bottles of face creams and foundation, pour a small amount into a contact lens case. Use more than one case if you need to…but just remember to use a contact case with screw top lids.
Pro Tip: Small 10ml bottles also work great for liquids that you will only need a little dab of during your vacation. They are inexpensive and reusable, too!
Travel Size Items
When it comes to transporting liquids, we think that refillable travel-size bottles are the way to go. In fact, we think travel-size toiletries are the way to go in general when it comes to packing. It is amazing how many products are made in a smaller, space-saving size. Some favorites are a travel-size hairbrush, travel-size toothpaste, travel-size deodorant and travel-size shaving cream. Products we don’t use – but that other travelers do – are mini-magnifying mirrors, travel-size hair straighteners and travel towels.
Pro Tip: When your travel-size toothpaste runs out, don’t throw it away! The tube can actually be refilled from a regular-size toothpaste tube. Just securely hold the openings together and squeeze from the larger tube into the travel sized tube!
Shaving Cream Alternatives
Using a travel-size shaving cream is not the only way to save space in your suitcase. One of the best travel packing tips and hacks is to not bring shaving cream at all! Instead, just lather up soap or use hair conditioner in place of shaving cream.
Pro Tip: The Schick Intuition razor is another travel gem – in that the shaving cream is right on the razor!
Minimal Hair Products
While we love the innovative travel-size products that are available to travelers, the fewer you bring, the lighter your luggage. It can be tempting to pack a hair dryer, curling iron and straightener, but we don’t recommend it…even if they are all travel size! First, check to see if your accommodations provide a hair dryer, then, choose one low-maintenance hairstyle that can wear for the entire vacation. This way, you can limit the number of hair tools and products you bring on your trip.
Makeup: Packing for Vacation Hacks
Many minimalist travelers recommend leaving all makeup at home when taking a trip. While I have never been a heavy makeup wearer, I still travel with makeup – but I limit it to essentials only. I pack one powder, two small brushes, a travel eyelash curler and mascara…and that is it. At the very least, limit your makeup bag to only one eyeliner, one eyeshadow, one mascara and one lipstick (and make sure they go with your capsule wardrobe color scheme!).
Pro Tip: Makeup samples are also great for trips! If you have collected any sample-size makeup in the months prior to your trip, select a few to use on your vacation!
The Almighty Pill Box
While a Weekly Pill Box is excellent for its intended purpose, it is also a great space-saving travel organizer! Instead of packing bottles of Just-in-Case medications, store each of the assorted meds in a different day of the week. For example, store pain reliever in Sunday, vitamins in Monday, cold meds in Tuesday and belly meds in Wednesday. Pill boxes are also fantastic for storing and organizing jewelry for your trip!
Pro Tip: For something a little more flexible than a pill box, use individual travel jars and small 2×3-inch plastic resealable baggies to pack medications…and jewelry, too! Read more about what we pack in our first aid travel kit in our post, Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling.
Toiletry Life Hacks for Packing a Suitcase
One way to make packing toiletries so much easier is to invest in a Travel Toiletry Case that stays packed all the time! With a pre-packed toiletry case, all you need to do when it comes time to pack is grab the bag and go! Just starting out with traveling? This packaged toiletry case is great for beginners!
Pro Tip: Just remember to refill any used items when you return from each trip!
#3 Carry On Hacks
On travel days, we seldom check bags – and we each carry full-size travel backpacks and a day pack. To stay organized and efficient in airports, carry on luggage hacks are essential!
Carry On Travel Hacks: Airport Security
No one likes a traveler who holds up the line at security, but there are a few packing hacks for carry on luggage that will get you through checkpoints in a flash.
First, if you are carrying liquids onto the plane, make sure they are in 3.4-ounce bottles (100ml) or smaller…and that they all fit into one quart-size resealable plastic bag. Next – and a key to being quick at security – when you pack your bag, place the bag of liquids in an easy to reach spot.
Electronics – especially laptops, but sometimes larger cameras and phones – should also be placed in an easy-to-access part of your carry on luggage.
Pro Tip: Shoes often need to be removed, which is why I like to wear Slip On shoes or flip flops on travel days. However, if you are bringing boots on your trip, you will need to decide whether it is better to wear them to save space in your suitcase or pack them for a swifter pass through security.
Packing Hacks: Carry On Entertainment
The best way to pass time on an airplane is with on-board entertainment. Once I get settled in my seat, the first thing I do is create a list of movies to watch in-flight. Headphones, however, are essential to enjoying the flicks…so I always bring two pairs (just in case one fails me or gets lost!)
On flights where there is no seat-back entertainment, be sure to bring your own entertainment! Make sure your phone is fully charged…and make a few song playlists or download apps in advance. Bring your charging cord (many seats now have USB ports!) and a Portable Charger.
If you like to read on planes (or on vacation!) a Kindle can be a real space-saver! However, if you are like me and prefer the feel of paper books, then pick up one or two at a used bookstore…and then leave them at your destination when you finish reading them.
Pro Tip: Find out more of our in-flight tips in our blog post, Long Haul Flight Essentials.
Only Hand Luggage Hacks
If you are trying to squeeze all of your items for your entire trip into a carry on, then one way to make a bit more room is to wear a fanny pack onto the plane. This shouldn’t count as an extra bag and it keeps you hands-free! Besides that, it is a great place to store valuable items (like your passport and wallet), as well as items you want easy access to during the flight (like an lip balm, sleep mask and earplugs).
Pro Tip: Using a backpack instead of a suitcase will also keep you hands-free on travel days! Read more of the pros and cons of each style of luggage in our blog post, Backpack vs Suitcase.
Organizational Hand Luggage Packing Hacks
There is nothing more frustrating than when the plane is ready for take off…and you realize that your headphones and kindle are stowed in the overhead compartment (which now cannot be accessed until the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign). To avoid the inconvenience, prepare ahead and pack a small on-board tote that contains your flight essentials, which can fit under the seat in front of you. Items I make sure to have close at hand are sanitizer, wet wipes, water, snacks, phone, headphones, sleep mask, earplugs and compression socks.
Pro Tip: One of the top carry on luggage packing hacks to use if you are checking luggage is to travel on board with a complete change of clothes…just in case your luggage (and clothing) gets lost en route to your destination. I also like to pack a fresh pair of underwear (that I can change into in the airport bathroom to start my trip off feeling fresh!) – as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste to use to freshen up after a long flight.
Miscellaneous Packing Hacks
Our final travel packing tips and hacks are some tricks that we have picked up over the years that make packing so much easier!
Electronic Device Cable Organization
One of our suitcase life hacks is keeping our cables organized. Some of the essential electronics that we travel with are a mini extension cord (because the outlets are not always in convenient places!), a multi-port adapter (because there are multiple things to be charged!) and a portable charger that we carry with us while we are out exploring (because batteries always die!).
A good way to keep all these cords and electronics organized is with a Grid It board that keeps everything in place and easy to find!
Pro Tip: For travelers who make frequent trips, an even easier way to stay organized is to purchase duplicate chargers and cables for all of your devices. Secure them on the Grid It – and always keep them packed so they are ready to go when you are ready to go!
Cooking on Vacation
One of the reasons we love staying in Airbnb apartments is that we have access to our own kitchen where we can cook simple (or sometimes complex!) meals. That said, not all kitchens come fully equipped! If you plan on cooking during your trip, consider investing in a collapsible colander, a flexible cutting board and an multi-functional knife (but only if you are checking luggage!).
In our travels, we have found that it is best to pack the spices that we love! To easily pack our spices, we use small resealable bags (the 2×3-inch baggies are the best!) rather than carrying bottles.
Pro Tip: Not a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create your account and save money on your first stay!
Packing Hacks for Traveling As A Couple
One thing that we have learned as a traveling couple is to communicate about our packing list. All of the items that can be shared – from lotion to a travel umbrella to a portable Wifi device – are divvied up evenly between us so that we are not carrying unnecessary duplicates. Whether traveling as couples, friends or families, find out what items might be duplicates and determine who will carry what.
Pro Tip: Packing Lists are gold! Keep a list of all the items you pack for a trip. When you return, take a few minutes to jot down notes on what you used and what you didn’t and adjust the list to make packing easier for future trips!
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