How to pack a suitcase

Flying carry-on luggage has long been an art form practiced primarily by those traveling with budget airlines. After all, why bother stuffing 100ml bottles and rolling up your underwear if you have free checked baggage? But 2022 and its air travel problems have completely changed things. Now, hand luggage is all the rage.

Want to skip the queues at check-in? Travel in hand luggage only. Hate waiting on the treadmill for your stuff? Travel in hand luggage only. Don’t want to lose your suitcase or wait three days for your bag to arrive? Well, you have a point.

But what and how to pack to maximize your hand luggage? And what about your checked baggage? Here’s what you need to know.

Main photo: Pack carefully to save time and money (Getty Images)

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Decant cosmetics into smaller containers to save space (Alamy)

How to make the most of your baggage allowance

Before you even start packing, it’s worth laying out everything so you can do a quick inventory to see if you actually need everything. Toiletries can often be decanted into smaller containers, and you probably don’t need as many outfit changes as you think.

Also consider the type of clothing you bring. Garments made from specialty fabrics such as micromodal are odor resistant, which means you potentially wear more wear with the same outfit and don’t need to bring as much. In cold weather, a puffer jacket is likely to be much less bulky than a wool sweater, while still keeping you warm.

Don’t forget there’s also the outfit you’re traveling in – sometimes it’s best to wear the bulkiest items, especially sneakers, jackets or hats.

To make the most of the space in your suitcase, get some packing cubes. These help compartmentalize everything and compress your clothes in the process. Fold or roll your clothes before putting them in the packing cubes to make the whole process easier and ensure you have fewer creases to deal with at the other end. If you’re packing shoes, handbags, or even hats, you can always stuff them with socks or underwear to help them hold their shape and save space at the same time.

Pack your hand luggage carefully to save time and money
It pays to be organized when packing (Getty Pictures)

What to put in hand luggage

If you’re only going away for a weekend, there’s really no excuse to do anything other than pack only hand luggage. But even for week-long trips, it’s totally doable depending on where and when you’re traveling and who you’re traveling with.

Obviously, summer wardrobes are not as bulky as winter outfits. And if you’re flying with BA or another flagship airline, you can usually take a small under-seat bag and a cabin-sized trolley on board. But even on premium tickets with easyJet and Ryanair you can get a decent enough allowance to make it work – just be sure to check your bag measurements first.

There are essentials for every trip abroad, such as your passport, travel documents (which may involve a vaccination passport), a face mask if needed, and cash. Otherwise, for a weekend, here are some essentials to take into account for your cabin luggage:

• Two tops, one formal
• A pair of pants/shorts/skirts
• Socks and underwear for the number of nights you are away
• Pajamas
• Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, moisturizer, makeup, hairbrush and anything else you might need)
• Glasses/contact lenses if you wear them
• Essential drugs
• Travel adapter, chargers and any cables
• a bottle of water (to be filled at the airport)

A travel pillow is a good addition to try and store in your carry-on
Space to spare? You might want to pack a travel pillow (Alamy)

Optional extras

• Travel pillow
• Eye mask
• Earplugs
• Swimsuit (provide a waterproof bag if you plan to swim just before leaving)
• Sunglasses and jewelry
• Hat
• An elegant outfit, if you are planning a fancy dinner
• Clothing for wet/cold weather
• Change of footwear (trainers, dress shoes and/or flip flops)
• Camera
• Listeners
• Power bank
• Tablet/book
• Solar cream
• Sun glasses
• Mini first aid kit (headache tablets, antacid, diarrhea medicine, insect repellent, bandages, etc.)
• Tote bag, for outings and dirty laundry on the way back

What to put in checked baggage

Going on a longer trip? Well, if you have the luggage space and don’t mind lugging your suitcase around, it’s perfectly acceptable to bring a little extra comfort. If you just need the basics, here are the essentials to pack for a week or more.

• A mix of smart and casual tops for every day you’re away, especially if you’re going somewhere hot and likely to sweat
• Two or three pants/jeans/skirts/shorts depending on the weather
• For women, four or five dresses: feel free to reduce the number of other outfits accordingly or keep them for the evenings
• One or two pairs of shoes/trainers/flip-flops, depending on the activities
• Socks and underwear for the number of nights you are away
• Pajamas
• Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, moisturizer, makeup, hairbrush, etc.) as well as all grooming tools such as razors, nail clippers and tweezers
• Glasses/contact lenses if worn; spare lenses and solutions if necessary
• Mini first aid kit (headache tablets, antacids, diarrhea medicine, insect repellent, bandages, etc.): carry the essentials in your hand luggage
• Travel adapter, chargers and any cables: carry a spare cable in your hand luggage
• Tote bag, for outings and dirty laundry on the way back

There's room for more in your suitcase if you're checking baggage on a flight
Take extra if you’re checking bags, but don’t overdo it (Getty Images)

Optional extras

• Special outfits for parties or events
• Sunglasses and jewelry (or take them in your hand luggage)
• Hat (or wear it)
• Solar cream
• Mini first aid kit (headache tablets, antacid, diarrhea medicine, insect repellent and bandages, etc.)
• Small sewing kit
• Clothing for wet/cold weather
• Swimsuit (provide a waterproof bag if you plan to swim just before leaving)
• Small sports equipment such as a diving mask or dry bag

About Marion Alexander

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