In Spring of 2011, my boyfriend (now husband!) and I started packing for a four day trip to the Bahamas. Not only was this our first vacation together, but we were staying in a five-star hotel and had booked an afternoon experience of snorkeling and swimming with Dolphins during our stay. This was going to be very exciting! My anticipation of the casino nights, island exploring, and countless other activities we may or may not decide to do within those four days, had me packing my suitcase like a wild woman in preparation.
So, when I got to the airport the morning of our flight and had to fork over the extra fee because my suitcase exceeded the weight limit, was I shocked? No. When we returned home after four days of fun in the sun, I realized I hadn’t used three of the five pairs of shoes I brought with me and I had more clean clothes waiting in my suitcase than those to be laundered. Again, was I shocked? No, because, you see, I had to take these items with me “in case we decide to do this” or “in the event we did that” and even as I emptied my suitcase I remember reassuring myself this was totally normal. Over the years to come, I would slightly refine this process.
Learning to Pack Better
Fast forward to 2019, my year of living my best travel life. I was traveling almost non-stop from May to November, hitting four major US cities, exploring National Parks, and then off to Europe. In this time frame, two of the respective trips I took were extended stays of ten days, which meant I had no room whatsoever for “incase I decide to” items. I had suitcase fatigue by mid point of this travel whirlwind and, I had realized, packing a suitcase felt more like a chore rather than a celebratory ritual I’d felt it had always been.
I was ready to start packing in a more simplified way. Over the course of this wonderful year in travel, I asked all of my friends for suitcase secrets, then practically read the entire internet to see what packing hacks made sense for real people, who can’t live without a few extra options besides packing basics. To my delight, I learned and put to use some invaluable tips that brought back the warm and fuzzy feelings that packing for a trip should bring. For anyone who may be packing their suitcase today in the same way I was years ago, this post is for you! But let’s be honest, some of us haven’t packed a suitcase in a while. Even for you pro-packers, I hope you’ll feel inspired to book your next trip or share your tips and tricks with the Wild Bum community as well!
1. Make a list
First things first. It’s probably not necessary to write down each. and. every. single. item. you will pack for your vacation but it might be helpful to jot down categories of items to bring, for example: “makeup, hiking clothes, dinner attire”, etc. The list component can be cleansing by providing you with a starting point to build on rather than winging it. If you happen to forget anything, chances are you can either buy it at your destination or you’ll learn you didn’t really need it in the first place!
2. Check the weather
Begin checking the weather at your destination about 10 days out from your departure. The Weather Channel is my bible for this. Weather forecasts and conditions can change frequently, so being ready for varying temperatures will help you to determine if you need to pack clothing in terms of layering pieces. Keeping an eye on the weather in advance is also tremendously helpful for pre-planned activities on your itinerary; staying ahead of the game might allow you to reschedule an outdoor activity in advance if it’s looking more like rain than shine.
3. Pack for space
Packing cubes are the ultimate, whether you are going for an overnight stay in the city with your bestie or getting away for a week with your family, always use cubes! These little guys allow for effortless organization when getting ready for a vacation. Designate one for your toiletries, one for undergarments, another for tops, etc. They’ll fit nicely inside any suitcase or duffle bag. I bought a set of five nylon packing cubes from Amazon in 2019 and they are still serving me well. I like that they are a space-saving, machine washable travel companion that doesn’t have to be a steep investment.
The rolling method is the most widely used form of smart packing, whether you are using cubes or not. It’s life-changing. Folding your articles of clothing in half, either horizontally, or vertically, and then rolling them up tightly is not only a huge space saver, but it eliminates a lot of wrinkling.
Another essential tip I had learned was that of packing my wardrobe in terms of a “capsule”! For example, I will usually plan my outfits around the bottoms I plan on packing, whether it be a casual selection such as jeans or dressier options for a work trip. I’ve learned to select three bottom options and twice as many tops so that I can mix and match to create many different looks, for those “what if” moments! Consider which accessories you might be packing, too, as that will definitely add some versatility to your selection!
Female travelers read next: 15 Female Travel Products You’ll Find In Our Suitcase
Consider what you are wearing on the plane to be a part of this capsule. For extended stays of 7+ days, I am a huge fan of travel sized steamers and Downy Wrinkle Release spray, I bring both with me wherever I travel because some fabrics can be stubborn and some hotel irons can be iffy! I also take travel packets of Tide Sport with me to refresh basics, if needed.
4. Plan for potential lost luggage or delayed check in
I remember getting a text from my sister when she traveled to Italy in 2018. It read something like “My luggage didn’t make it to my connecting flight and I have no idea if or when it will get here”. While it definitely put a damper on the next 24 hours, she was thankful to have her jewelry in her handbag and medication packed in her carry-on. She was able to grab some inexpensive clothing at local boutiques to make do and her luggage arrived on day 3, but some travelers aren’t as lucky as she was.
Some luggage ends up in an unknown abyss never to be seen again! My takeaway? Keep your valuables close! Another great pointer, for warm weather destinations, pack your swimsuit and flip flops in your carry-on so if you arrive before check in or your room isn’t ready on time, you can spend your time at the pool instead of in the lobby!
5. Invest in a luggage set or carry-on that you love!
In one way or another, we are all guilty of splurging on things that aren’t a necessity. Designer sunglasses, expensive face cream, a cashmere loungewear set (hello, quarantine!) , but I say a splurge on luggage and travel accessories is a necessity if you are a frequent traveler! There are so many brands to choose and all at different price points. Companies such as Tumi, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Away, Samsonite, all make beautiful luggage that is unique in appearance and built of good quality.
Many brands that specialize in travel merchandise offer some form of warranty or maintenance service which justify the investment, just as much as the feeling you get when walking through the airport carrying it! Let’s not forget about neck pillows, blankets, or sleep masks! Unless you are flying Emirates everywhere you go, nobody can guarantee your standard of comfort except for you. I recommend a Google search to find your perfect travel accessories but Target, Overstock, and Calpak have some excellent options.
There is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air that begs the question- what will be the very first trip I will book after a long, difficult year? As your imagination runs wild and you start your search for that perfect place, remember that feeling and keep it with you every day that you count down to this vacation- even when it comes down to sitting down and packing that suitcase!! Packing shouldn’t be stressful; but I can’t guarantee the long lines and traffic at the airport won’t be.