The 16 Ultimate Packing Hacks Every Traveler Needs To Know

Learn the secret tricks experienced jet-setters use to pack their bags without wrinkling their garments—or forgetting their socks.

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For travelers, nothing is quite as invigorating as heading to the airport for a big adventure they’ve been planning for months, if not longer. Packing that suitcase, however, can be the opposite of exciting. Few things are more nerve-wracking than making sure you have everything you need, carefully folding each garment to avoid a wrinkled nightmare when you arrive at the hotel, and, of course, squeezing every last item into a tiny carry-on bag. After all, who has time to wait around for checked bags these days? Packing can be a drag. So what’s a jet-setter with a serious case of wanderlust to do? For starters, she gets savvy. There’s a certain art to packing a bag. It starts with staying relaxed while stuffing that suitcase full. It definitely requires organization throughout the entire process. But to truly take your packing skills to the next level, you’ll need to learn a few tricks of the trade. Here are 16 travel hacks that will send your luggage-packing anxiety, er, packing.  

1. Use a packing checklist.

It’s all too tempting to just grab a bunch of your favorite outfits, toss them in a bag, and call it a day. But inevitably, you’ll end up overpacking while simultaneously missing essential items, which is the worst of both worlds. A packing list can help make sure you bring along everything you could possibly need—nothing more, nothing less. Ideally, you’d create a custom packing list to fit your exact needs. For example, if you can’t live without a stash of chapstick, your moisturizer, and your lucky hat, better add them to your list! Until you’ve got your own list locked down, though, a pre-made packing checklist can help you stay on track. It’ll remind you about the clothes, personal hygiene products, and accessories that belong in your suitcase, and give you reassurance that nothing important is left behind.

2. Try packing cubes.

It’s a fact: Your carry-on bag will never be as spacious as you need it to be. And those overhead bins aren’t getting any larger! You’ll need to condense your belongings down as much as possible to make sure everything fits in a couple of tightly packed bags. Fortunately, packing cubes seem to make the impossible possible when it comes to packing a ton of stuff in a small space. Roll your garments and tightly squish them in each cube, working to squeeze out as much air as possible. A large packing cube can contain a week’s worth of clothes, while still leaving you plenty of extra space in your suitcase. Plus, they help you stay organized at the destination. Each cube acts as its own “drawer” when you unpack and can keep your dirty and clean clothes separated. Once you start using packing cubes, you’ll never go back to tossing stuff directly into your suitcase.

3. Bring a mini steamer.

Everyone has their own technique to avoid wrinkling their clothes in a suitcase. Some roll their garments, while others swear by tucking each item between squares of tissue paper. But no matter what, your clothes are going to end up with at least a few creases—it’s the nature of being stuffed into suitcases for days on end. That’s why stylish travelers also throw a portable steamer and iron into their luggage. These little gadgets weigh almost nothing, take up a minimal amount of suitcase space, and work far more effectively than that dingy old iron in your hotel room. Plus, a portable iron can help your outfits look pristine in minutes. They’re perfect if you’re taking a business trip, heading to a destination wedding, or just want to look your best, wherever you are.

4. Get foldable clothes, shoes, and accessories.

If you’re racking up a lot of frequent flier miles every year, it’s worth investing in some travel-friendly clothing. You may have noticed what a pain it is to lug around a big, heavy coat, or how impossible it is to pack one. A packable down jacket that squishes into a handy pouch is just what you need to stay warm without the added bulk. Think about your shoes, as well. Footwear can eat up an enormous amount of suitcase space—if you let it. A pair of foldable flats is just what you need to save space without compromising your style. You’d be surprised at just how many foldable items are available for travelers. They even make foldable headphones that you can stash in the smallest bags!

5. Buy reusable travel containers.

You never know what kind of amenities will be available at your hotel. It’s safe to assume that soap, shampoo, and conditioner will be on offer—but will they be any good? Many travelers prefer the peace of mind that comes with packing their own toiletries from home. Rather than shelling out for those overpriced travel-size versions of your favorite products, invest in a set of TSA-approved silicone travel bottles that you can refill over and over again instead. They slip into any carry-on bag with ease. And, having access to the amenities you already know and trust when you’re on a trip is like a little taste of home. Pop them in a resealable plastic bag and you’re good to go!

6. Power up while you’re on the go.

The most ubiquitous feature in today’s high-end suitcases is a built-in phone charger. It makes sense—who couldn’t use some extra juice when they’re scrolling through social media as they wait to board a flight? But even if you don’t have a fancy bag, you can still recharge your batteries on the go with a portable power bank. Many of these devices can completely refill your iPhone battery three or four times on a single charge. There’s nothing like finding out your smartphone battery is dead when you want to snap a pic of a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Fortunately, portable chargers are a lifesaver when you’re traveling in remote areas (say, hiking in the jungle or taking a safari).

7. Print is dead, go digital instead.

Books and travel go together like peanut butter and jelly. Travelers rely on guidebooks to help them find the best places to eat and sleep in a new city, wind down from a busy day of sightseeing with a story in their hotel rooms, and get lost in novels while they sunbathe on the beach. However, books are heavy and bulky, which is not ideal when you’re trying to pack light. An e-reader is one of the smartest investments traveling bibliophiles can make. They can store thousands of titles in a device that weighs as much as a single paperback novel. Plus, if you finish up a book or two and still crave more literature when you’re on the road, you can just download a fresh novel and dig in, wherever you are.

8. Use a handbag with lots of pockets.

Airlines generally let you bring a rolling carry-on bag, as well as a “personal item,” like a handbag or backpack—and smart travelers take advantage of every inch of allowable space. Finding a handbag with a lot of pockets is one of the best travel hacks for jet-setters who want to stay organized on a flight. Nothing’s worse than digging around your bag on a cold, dark airplane when you’re trying to find your hand lotion. A handbag with lots of compartments allows you to create a dedicated space for each of your essentials. Some even come with pockets specifically designed to hold crucial items, like your keys, passport, sunglasses, and wallet. There’s nothing like the peace of mind that comes with knowing where to find every last item in your bag.

9. Tiny containers are your best friends.

When it comes to travel hacks, tiny containers are incredibly versatile tools. They can store all kinds of things that you probably want to travel with. While you might never think you’d need a contact lens case if you don’t wear contacts, it’s worth investing in one or two. They’re the perfect size to store the tiniest bit of moisturizer, toothpaste, or even perfume. And if you thought pill organizers were solely reserved for travelers with medical needs, think again. These convenient cases can store your necklaces, earrings, small cables, and other items that might otherwise get lost or tangled. You’d be surprised at just how useful these cases and organizers can be for carefully storing small items in a big suitcase.

10. Pack a quick-dry towel.

It’s always a good idea to have a towel in your bag when you go on a trip. Sure, your hotel might have one—but what if you take a spontaneous trip to the beach, or go camping? You’ll definitely want your own. While those plush terry cloth towels you have in your bathroom might be soft and snuggly, they take up too much room in a suitcase. Invest in a microfiber travel towel, instead. Favored by athletes and travelers alike for its ability to absorb moisture really quickly, this kind of towel also has another valuable feature: It dries super fast. Just hang it out on a balcony, drape it over a chair, or toss it on a tree branch, and it can dry in roughly 20 minutes. There’s no risk of a gross, mildewy towel stinking up your bag and making everything damp.

11. Put dryer sheets in your bag.

Speaking of a stinky bag, don’t be surprised of you get a whiff of something less than fresh when you’ve been traveling for weeks on end. Between your dirty laundry, the strange places you’ve stored your bag, and everything else that comes with having an adventure, you’re bound to experience an odor at some point when you unzip your suitcase. It’s wise to pack a few aromatic dryer sheets in a resealable plastic bag to fend off strange smells. Not only can they make your clothing smell like it just came out of the wash, dryer sheets can also be used to deodorize a musty hotel room, reduce static electricity, freshen up a rental car for a road trip, or mask the lingering smell of a room-service breakfast long after you’ve finished your eggs and toast.

12. Personalize your luggage.

What color is your suitcase? Let us take a wild guess: It’s black. Pretty much every traveler has a run-of-the-mill black bag. That’s fine, until your bag goes missing and you need to tell a hotel clerk or airport agent what to look for when searching for your suitcase. Finding ways to help your bag stand out from the sea of other black suitcases is a particularly smart travel hack. Try buying a distinctive luggage tag to dangle off the handle of your bag. Look for one with bright colors, unique shapes, and fun designs so you can recognize your suitcase right away. Suitcase stickers are another way to make your bag stand out. May we suggest travel-themed stickers that convey your passion for exploring the world?

13. Separate your in-flight necessities.

You know how airlines are super strict about how many bags they let you take on board the plane? We get it—there’s limited space available. But sometimes you just need one more bag. That’s why it’s worth popping a foldable reusable grocery bag in your carry-on luggage. It’s the perfect place to stash your in-flight essentials, like a snack, chapstick, a book, your phone, and your headphones. Board the plane with two bags and when you get to the seat, pull out your reusable grocery bag and store the rest of your luggage for the duration of the flight.

14. Use a jewelry organizer.

Traveling with jewelry presents its own set of challenges. Obviously you want to store things in as small a package as possible, but nothing’s worse than finding a tangled rat’s nest or broken jewels when you reach for your favorite necklace. A jewelry case can help you keep all your precious trinkets safe when you’re far from home. This case has separate compartments for necklaces, earrings, and rings, plus lots of padding. And here’s a secret: A jewelry case can also be used to store your cables for your electronics.

15. Get a universal travel adapter.

Experienced travelers don’t have the time to fumble around with an assortment of power adapters, trying to figure out exactly which one they need for the country they’re planning to visit. Instead, they pack a universal travel adapter. These nifty devices can help you fit your electronics into outlets in more than 100 countries. The extra USB outlets on the travel adapters will also come in handy when you want to charge multiple devices at one time. Having access to power wherever you are is one of the most useful travel hacks you can adopt.

16. Always pack a sarong.

Travelers, meet your new best friend: the sarong. You may already have one of these garments left over from a beach vacation, but trust us when we say they are useful for so much more than throwing on over a bathing suit. These make the best blankets when you’re freezing on an airplane, can double as a towel when you forgot to bring one, stand in as a blanket for an impromptu picnic in the park, and become a fashionable dress for beaches and resorts. You can also tie them up to create a little pouch for your gear. Once you see how useful it is to have a sarong on a trip, you’ll never travel without one again.

Joni Sweet
Joni Sweet’s journalistic pursuits and adventurous spirit have taken her around the globe—rafting down the Ganges, hiking the jungle of Borneo, and hot air ballooning over Cappadocia—only to land her in the most thrilling city in the world, New York. When she’s not traveling, she can be found taking yoga classes, trying out trendy spa treatments, discovering new vegan restaurants, and, of course, writing. She’s been published by National Geographic, Forbes, Thrillist, and more. Visit her site to see her latest articles.

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