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As a traveler, I’m proudly team carry-on, striving each time I fly, whether it be for a few days or a few weeks, to fit everything I bring within the confines of my Away carry-on bag.
There are other people, including maybe some reading this article, who prefer to check a bag so they don’t have to worry about cramming everything into one or two carry-on bags.
Whether you’re firmly team carry-on or team checked baggage, some universal tips can be helpful when packing, regardless of the size of your suitcase.
Read on for TPG’s best general packing tips.
General packing tips
Whenever the topic of packing comes up in conversation among TPG staffers, packing cubes are mentioned over and over again, and they will “change your life,” says TPG editorial director Summer Hull.
As a mom of two who frequently travels, Summer recommends families use cubes to divide up the packing by activity and day, rather than each person using a cube for all of their items.
If you’re looking to get started with packing cubes, Summer’s favorite option is a five-pack from Calpak for $68, which she raves about for the “thick mesh and polyester material that has held up extraordinarily well across our theme park trips, ski adventures, cruises and beyond,” along with the ability to survive multiple rounds of heat in the dryer without any noticeable impacts.
“Additionally, the cubes have waterproof pockets that you can use to keep wet or especially dirty items separate from the rest of the items, meaning that the last morning’s jump in the pool won’t make your whole bag a bit soupy,” wrote Summer.
The great thing about packing cubes is that you can use them to organize your items to your liking. For example, TPG senior editor Madison Blancaflor prefers to organize her stuff in packing cubes by item.
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“Packing cubes, packing cubes, packing cubes is my No. 1 tip,” Blancaflor told me. “Not only do they help you fit more stuff, but they help you stay organized while you’re traveling.”
As someone who frequently uses packing cubes myself, I’ve learned to pack things inside of things in order to fit the intended items in the cube, a concept Blancaflor referred to as nesting.
“Knowing how to nest things is helpful — having your belts lay around the outside edges, fitting socks inside your shoes, putting underwear inside bra cups, etc.,” she explained. “Any of those small space-saving things add up to a lot more space by the end of it.”
Like all things, though, even packing cubes have their downsides, which is why one TPG staffer recommended using vacuum-sealed bags instead.
“I will never fly anywhere without my vacuum-sealed bags and hand vacuum,” said TPG SEO senior associate Hannah Streck, who uses the bags for space-saving, cleanliness and organization purposes.
“I am able to pack so much more into my carry-on and able to see what I packed without having to open or take out the clothes, which is a downside of packing cubes,” she said.
Another tip to help you stay organized while packing is to color coordinate your outfits, per cruises editor Erica Silverstein.
“I color coordinate outfits to reduce the number of shoes I need to bring and try to pack pieces that I can dress up or down,” she shared. “For example, I could wear a top with a skirt at night and then with jeans the next day.”
One space-saving tip that I’ve been practicing for a few years is rolling clothes versus folding them, which TPG credit cards Ryan Smith echoed, and added that he keeps a toiletries bag ready to go.
“I keep a toiletries case ready at all times that I never touch it while at home unless I’m reloading it with supplies that ran out,” he said. “This way, I don’t have to worry about packing toiletries or forgetting them.”
Read more: I fly almost 100,000 miles per year and don’t travel without these packing cubes from Calpak
How to keep your clothes wrinkle-free
One inevitable issue I always seem to run into when packing is keeping my clothes from wrinkling while in my suitcase. I’ve long placed tissue paper in between articles of clothing, a tactic I learned from my mother.
Though this works to an extent, I am eager to try plastic dry cleaner bags, per the advice of TPG editor Melissa Klurman.
“I use plastic dry cleaner bags to keep my clothes from wrinkling — you pop one item in each bag, although I often double up, then fold them all on top of your bag,” she said. “The air in the bags stops the friction, and your clothes don’t wrinkle.”
Tips for packing carry-on only
One of my favorite features of my Away carry-on is the built-in battery pack since I know I’ll always have access to a charger for my phone if needed.
“I always have a portable battery pack in my carry-on since you never know when you are going to be stranded somewhere and not able to find an outlet,” said TPG’s Executive Editor Scott Mayerowitz. “It also lets you keep moving in delays, and you aren’t stuck next to an outlet.”
During the holiday travel season, many of us may be packing winter clothing items. Whether you’re departing for a cold destination or heading to the ski slopes, TPG editor Christine Gallipeau reminds us to wear those heavy items, rather than take up precious packing space.
“I wear my bulkiest items, which in the winter, usually means jeans, my thicker coat and boots,” she said. “That way, I don’t have to use valuable carry-on space for them since I never fly with a checked bag.”
As you head out on your next flight, keep these simple packing tips in mind.
Whether you try out packing cubes or vacuum-sealed bags for the first time or try rolling instead of folding your clothes, these tips should make packing a little less stressful, while saving you space, which is the ultimate goal.