Plan, Pack, Fly: How to Pack a Suitcase Like a Pro

how to pack a suitcase

It’s 2018, but you’re still packing like it’s 2012 (remember those “dark days of travel” when smart luggage and instant language translators were but a twinkle in their innovators’ eyes?). Despite the many horrors of modern air travel, it’s never been easier to get properly organized for your next trip. Here are some of our favorite gadgets, tips, and bulletproof advice for planning, packing, and flying like a pro. Most importantly? How to pack a suitcase.

Make a List, Check It … Once

If you’re the sort of traveler who “wings” it when it comes to packing for your next trip, there may be no hope for you. Loading your suitcase with everything you might need is the least efficient way to pack, and the best way to ensure you’re carrying around a much too heavy bag full of useless goods. If you’re looking to foolproof your packing game for 2018, a proper packing app is the way to go. If you hate packing and would prefer an app that creates and dictates your packing list to you, there’s an app for that. If you fancy a bit more control, there’s an app for that too.

The best thing to do is create a master list of every item you might ever need to travel with. No matter the destination or length of your journey, work from that same list, crossing off and deleting things as you go. It may seem tedious at first, but it’s way more efficient than packing without it.

Divide and Conquer

If you’ve yet to experience the wonder of traveling with packing cubes, now’s the time to get on board. For around $20, you can score a set of packing cubes (typically sold in threes) from the likes of Eagle Creek, eBags, or even Amazon has gotten in on the game with their AmazonBasics line. They make it a snap to organize all the loose bits in your suitcase: underwear and socks in one cube, T-shirts in another, and loose cables, memory cards, and miscellaneous bits and electronics gear in the third. Packing cubes make loading and unloading of your bag infinitely easier on the road. As a bonus, they also help streamline the process of TSA tossing your luggage during random “secondary screenings.”

Eagle Creek Pack-It Travel Cubes
Eagle Creek Pack-It Travel Cubes

For garments where wrinkling is an issue — especially dress and collared shirts — Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Garment Folders are a lifesaver. On the other hand, if you’re unconcerned with wrinkles, traditional stuff sacks work almost as well and pack down smaller than packing cubes when empty. Plus, they’re great for stowing dirty laundry on your flight home. Just toss a dryer sheet in with your sullied drawers to keep things relatively fresh.

Pack Right, Pack Tight

It’s the ultimate goal for every savvy (and cheap) traveler to go “carry-on only.” The best way to achieve this, of course, is to pack purposefully and thoughtfully.

There are two schools of thought regarding packing your clothes: rolling and folding. The truth is that neither is best because it depends on the particular article of clothing. In general, it’s best to roll soft garments and fold stiffer ones.

When packing your bag, start with rolled clothing — jeans, cotton pants, and knit sweaters all pack well when rolled. These should line the bottom of your suitcase. Next go the folded garments including dress shirts and pants. Drape this entire pile with a dry cleaning bag which will keep the top, folded layer of clothing from getting caught on anything and winding up a wrinkled mess.

how to pack messy luggage

Depending on the material, roll belts into a coil, and tuck away wherever they fit; or snake them around the outside of your clothing to keep them straight. Wear your heaviest pair of shoes on the plane. Stuff the inside of your extra pair(s) of shoes with leftover bits (especially anything fragile like watches or sunglasses). Wrap the shoes in a gallon Ziploc bag or reusable stuff sack and place them to the side of your clothing pile. Last, fill any remaining gaps with the aforementioned packing cubes so the contents of your suitcase are tight and unlikely to shift, and therefore wrinkle.

For your outbound and return flights, be aware of everything you’ll need to remove from your luggage to pass through security. At the moment, this includes your one-quart bag of liquids, your laptop, and any electronics gadgets larger than a smartphone, and any loose objects in your pockets. Keep all of these in a single messenger bag or backpack to easily dispense with them in the TSA bins, then quickly retrieve them on the other side of security.

Of course, if you really want to breeze through airport security like a pro, sign up for any of the U.S. government’s official trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Average wait time for enrolled travelers is just five minutes!

When you’re ready to head to the airport, our travel playlist might coming in handy:


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