Packing guides

9 top tips for packing your suitcase like a pro

1 May 2011 | Updated 11 August 20218 min read

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman packing her things into a suitcase at home before travelling

Whether you’re travelling with hand luggage only or have the luxury of a full 30kg on a long-haul trip, packing your suitcase always seems to be balancing act.

Editing down your packing list to fit the weight limit and feeling confident you’ve remembered it all isn’t always easy. And according to our latest survey, many of us struggle to find the balance, with more than one-third of Brits finding packing very stressful.

Not only this, but 92% of Brits say they pack one and a half times more than what they need for their holiday, while half of those surveyed admit they end up forking out £30 on items they forgot in the first place. A pretty hefty price to pay every time we choose to travel, right?

So if you’re in need of a little assistance to get it right, we’ve compiled our expert tips on how to pack your suitcase like a pro.

1. Know your allowance

Before you even reach for your suitcase, make sure you’re across your airline’s baggage rules. That doesn’t just apply to the weight of your bag, but also its size – airlines can be ruthless when it comes to luggage, so remember that the wheels and handles must be included when you measure your case.

It pays to check the rules every time you fly too. Luggage rules can change, especially among low-costs carriers, and you don’t want to be caught out paying to check a slightly too-big bag at the airport.

Know you’re prone to over-packing? Consider embracing it from the get-go and pre-book extra baggage ahead of time. Not only is this cheaper than having to pay on the day at the airport, but it’ll also save you from having to decide between your two favourite pairs of jeans.

2. Consider your itinerary

It may seem obvious but having a general plan for your holiday – and knowing the weather forecast in advance – can make the packing process so much easier.

Whether you’re headed for a stay in sunny Spain or a windy weekend in Wales, simply go through your itinerary and decide on your outfits for each day, noting how many shorts, trousers, long-sleeved shirts and shoes you may need.

By looking ahead to what you might do each day and how the weather may fare, you’ll maximise your organisational skills and set yourself up for a successful packing session. If you start right with an itinerary, overpacking will become a distant memory – and it'll save you from having to hike in a pair of flip-flops (you thought you'd only be on beach, after all).

3. Be ruthless with your clothes

Thanks to our survey data, we now know that 60% of 18-24s find holiday packing stressful and that younger holidaymakers are more likely to over-pack than more experienced travellers.

So, this one is perhaps for the youngsters looking to avoid having a jam-packed suitcase: be as ruthless as possible with your contents. Look at your freshly made itinerary, make a list of all the clothes and shoes you think you’ll need, then half it!

Okay, maybe you don’t need to be so cutthroat but you get the gist. Remember to prioritise tops over shorts and trousers and leave those ‘just in case’ items behind. You’ll lift some weight off your shoulders (and suitcase) and can instead use the room to bring home some souvenirs.

4. Practice your packing techniques

Every packing pro swears by their technique, be it packing cubes, folding, rolling or bundling. We think a combination works best:

  1. Pack your shoes into a shoe bag or plastic bag and place around the edges or bottom of your suitcase. If you’re really trying to maximise your space, you can stuff them with your socks and tights
  2. Throw the rest of your underwear and swimwear into a packing cube and nestle it in
  3. Roll your shirts and tops and file them in next – the idea is to get a flat surface for your clothes that are more likely to crease
  4. Lay items such as wrinkle-prone items such as dresses, trousers and jackets on top so they stick out over the edge of the case. Then place any extra delicate items on top of those and fold the lose edges over on to the top.

And there you have it! Your essentials, such as your passport and electronics, should be carried with you in your hand luggage or personal bag/backpack.

5. Get a handle on your hand luggage

When it comes to packing, everyone knows that hand luggage can be a treacherous place for toiletries – especially if you’re unorganised. It’s important to note that you can take as many toiletries as you like in your hand luggage, as long as each product is no larger than 100ml and you can fit them all in a plastic zip bag.

To save on space and over-priced mini toiletries, we suggest decanting your at-home products into smaller containers.

You could also save the zip bag from the airport to reuse on future trips. Not only will you get serious eco points, you’ll be able to organise your liquids before you get to security. Pop it at the top of your hand luggage for easy access and you’ll look like a seasoned pro when prepping your security tray.

6. Be realistic about your pamper routine

With nearly a quarter of Brits forgetting their toothbrush and toothpaste and one in ten forgetting their suncream, it’s clear that packing our toiletries isn’t our strong suit.

So, have a real think about your everyday pamper routine before you start to pack: is it realistic that you’ll want to spend an hour on a 14-step routine instead of exploring your destination?

If it is important to you, pack away! But getting rid of the random razors and rose-scented bath bombs, and boiling it down to the essentials (we’re talking suncream, toothpaste and moisturiser) can save you lots of space in your case.

Trust us, you’re unlikely to forget the essentials and overdo it on odd items if you plan and be resilient with yourself. A little tough love never hurts.

7. Look out for leaks

Is there anything worse than unpacking at your hotel or homestay and finding a suitcase full of sodden clothes? It’s practically a holiday horror story and one that we’d all rather not read at that.

So if you’re packing your toiletries into a checked bag instead of your hand luggage, keep them safe in sealable bags, packed tightly side by side. This way, even if your shampoos and soaps do leak, they’ll be contained inside the bag.

Another way to reduce spillages is to go old school with a bar of soap instead of liquid body wash, and invest in a solid shampoo bar and an all in one beauty balm for skin, hair and nails. Opting for these more sustainable solid options will see your suitcase avoid spillages and you’ll free up a little space too.

8. Find eco-alternatives

Decanting your toiletries and trying out solid shampoo bars isn’t the only way to make your suitcase more sustainable.

Try packing a zero-waste kit made up of your reusable water bottle (which you can refill at the airport to save money on a plastic bottle) and coffee cup, some metal straws and reusable cutlery.

If you’re travelling with little ones, you may want to even consider packing food storage options for when your kids don’t want to eat all of their meal at a restaurant. Foldable storage containers can slip easily into your suitcase without taking up too much space or, if you have the space, you can opt for a stainless steel lunchbox.

9. Parents, write out your priorities

When it comes to holidaying with the family, a million and one things can seem essential. As so many parents in Britain (88% to be exact) buy replacement items on holiday for things they’ve left behind, we say ditch the extra debris and print out a list of what needs to be packed as a priority.

Items that are harder and more expensive to replace should be at the top of your list, such as your child’s favourite toy (the ultimate peace offering) and any medication your child might need. There are some things, like snacks and nappies, that you can buy while you’re on holiday.

Here’s a list of a few fundamental things to pack if you’re travelling with kids:

  • Baby wipes, because the mess is guaranteed
  • A sippy cup for your toddler as many restaurants don’t have cups with lids
  • Sandwich bags for packing snacks while you’re exploring (ideal for avoiding tantrums when they need a treat or two)
  • A first aid kit – just in case
  • A portable changing mat, especially if you have young children
  • Hand sanitiser

It also helps to know your luggage allowance when travelling with infants, as many airlines allow you to take at least one essential item, such as a pushchair or car seat, on board for free. Some will even let you take both.

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