Updated: Mar 10, 2021
No matter the length of the trip — be a weekend beach getaway or a three-week African Safari — you'll need to pack a bag, and you’ll want to pack it just right.
There’s a lot to consider when determining what to bring: the type and length of your trip, your itinerary, the weather, the size of your luggage, and any weight limits imposed by your mode of transportation. Weight can especially be very important. And with so many factors at play, it’s easy to overpack or underpack, especially if you’ve waited until the last minute.
I will help organize your carry on luggage, how to pare down to avoid those excess baggage fees, and a few easy tricks to help you remember the little items you’re most likely to forget.
Use Packing Cubes
There's not much that makes me feel like an organized human as much as dividing my belongings into color-coded cubes. It's so wonderful to know exactly where everything you brought is as soon as you unzip your suitcase. Plus, you can very easily move your cubes into the drawers of your hotel dresser and instantly be done unpacking and ready to go.
Roll, Don't Fold
I always over pack, so rolling up my clothes so that they take up less space in my luggage is essential. This may be my golden rule for packing.
Pack by Outfit
There's nothing more annoying than struggling to stuff everything back into your suitcase at the end of a trip only to realize you didn't even wear half the clothes you had brought. That's why I started strictly packing by outfit — not individual item — and only letting pieces I had a plan for make the cut. I'll take a skirt only if I know I'm bringing a top and shoes that I would wear with it, and I'll think about the activities on my itinerary and what I see myself wearing while doing them. I hate checking a bag but love my clothes, so being realistic and planning ahead is key.
Lay Things Out First
Even when I pack at the very last minute, I take time to lay everything out before any item goes into my bag. Grouping things together on my bed helps me see quickly what I really need and what I don’t. A pair of pants that can only be worn with one top, or that requires shoes I wasn’t already planning to pack…Back in the drawer. Seeing everything clearly before I start also helps me fit things into my bag in a logical way. For me, this means starting with my bulkiest items, then cherry-picking lightweight items to tuck into gaps around them to form a sturdy base layer to build up from it.
Be Selective About Footwear
To pack light, I only bring items that I can wear in more ways than one. No matter how many nice 'going out' outfits you bring on a trip, the likelihood of you defaulting to comfy T-shirts and leggings or breezy dresses (one-piece outfits are a packer's best friend) is much higher. The same philosophy goes for shoes: Since they take up so much precious space, make sure they're putting in the work to deserve a spot in that carry-on. Ditch the heels you might wear for one fancy night out and instead opt for dressy sandals that are comfortable enough to wear while sightseeing as well. Or pack a pair of all-purpose sneakers that can easily go from day to night.
Have a Dedicated, Pre-Packed Travel Kit
One of the most frustrating parts of getting ready for a big trip is realizing that you can’t zip up your bag until after you’ve brushed your teeth and packed the products you need in your toiletry bag. I keep a travel-only toiletry bag that has duplicates of everything I ever travel with ready to go in my suitcase.
Pack Sample-sized Toiletries
Next time you're at the hair salon or Sephora (or the dentist), ask for samples — as many as they'll give you. You can also buy sample/travel sizes, but maintaining a steady supply of free samples is the real goal. I keep a box of them in the bathroom and grab what I need before a trip. Throwing a sample-size shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, face wash and moisturizer (and a face mask and some makeup while you're at it) in your toiletry bag saves space and time. Travel-sized soap dispensers are also great, but samples are easier. As my collection of skin-care products continues to expand (I’m not 20 anymore), so has the time required to sort through it all — at the last minute, with my Uber to CHS honking outside. I recently started keeping a separate stocked with travel-size duplicates of all my essentials. This means I can just grab my toiletries and go, with no risk of forgetting some crucial cream or spray — plus it gives me an excuse to go nuts on all those cute mini items in line at Ulta or Sephora.
Have a Ready-to-go Health Kit
After going on international adventures and suffering food poisoning, sudden fever, cuts and scrapes, terrible bug bites, and other ailments — and then having to navigate a foreign pharmacy — I've learned to always pack a small medical kit. I keep a toiletry bag ready to go stocked with Band-aids, Tampons, Neosporin, pain relievers, cold medicine, medicine for stomach trouble, itch relief ointment, antibiotics (you can ask your doctor for an emergency prescription before you travel), and ear plugs (life savers on long-haul flights and trains). And if you never have to use it, all the better!
Keep Essentials Packed and Ready to Go
I try to keep a clear toiletry bag packed with all my favorite products, so I can see at a glance what I have and add in a couple essentials (sunscreen for a lake trip, bug spray when there’s hiking planned, etc.). I also keep a few plane go-to's — chargers, lip balm, eye mask, neck pillow — in my favorite travel bag, which helps me speed through the personal-item prep so I can get back to bemoaning my lack of good shoes and waffling on how many caftans and books I’ll need for a four-day weekend.
Separate Jewelry With Snack Size Bags
Buy 'snack size' plastic bags for packing necklaces. To prevent tangling, give each one its own bag and fasten the clasp.
Check Your Closet for Shoe Bags
Most of us have bought a pair of shoes that come with a shoe bag. They’re semi-disposable, but fantastic for packing. Trust me, using them to separate shoes and dirty laundry will totally transform your journey packing experience.
Use Dryer Sheets to Stay Fresh
Put Bounce dryer sheets between items of clothing in your suitcase to keep everything fresh.
Be Prepared for Wet Swimwear
I always pack a plastic grocery bag — or steal the shower cap from the hotel if I forget — to stash a wet bathing suit in for the return home. That way, I can enjoy a last minute swim.