Prepare For Holiday Travel: Packing Tips For Every Suitcase

At the moment, we’re just about as prepared for holiday travel as we are for the Arrested Development movie to finally come out; we’ve been looking forward to it for a long time but aren’t quite ready for it to actually happen. Since a lot of us will be traveling later this week, though, the time has come.

We’re gearing up for long lines, body scanners, and the ever-scrappy rush to squeeze carry-on bags into overhead bins. Like so many others, we don’t think it’s worthwhile to pay baggage fees, so we’re gearing up our expert carry-on packing techniques.

We’ve made you a friendly little diagram to break it down:

For the best way to pack your clothes for maximum space and minimum wrinkles, try bundle packing. Bundle packing involves wrapping clothing around a core, such as a dopp kit or a rolled up pair of socks. It's more space efficient and clothing-friendly than folding and stacking clothes, or even rolling. One of the method’s biggest proponents is light packing expert Doug Dyment, who has given his expert tips on NPRand The Wall Street Journal. Check out Dyment’s own diagram of how to bundle pack.

Pack larger bundled items first, saving heavier items like jeans and thick sweaters for the bottom of the suitcase. Save small items like socks and undergarments for last--after the major pieces are in, stuff them into every spare crevice: inside the hollows of your shoes and in the corners of your packed suitcase.

We know how it feels to have our favorite face lotion confiscated—and the feeling is decidedly not good. Skip the drama by making sure your containers with liquids or gels are all under 3 ounces, and that they all fit into a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag. Pack the bag toward the top of your carry-on because you may have to take it out and put it through the security scanner separately.

Although the TSA doesn’t allow items like knives or sharp scissors, know what you are allowed to bring. Safety razors like disposable razors are allowed, as are tweezers, knitting needles, nail clippers, and blunt or super-short scissors.

Shoes take up space, so pack ones that multitask, and limit yourself to a practical pair and a dressier pair. Comfortable flats with a bit of dressier detail (i.e. in patent leather, or with some embellishment) are ideal suitcase companions because they are light, take up little space, and can multitask for anything from walking around to going out to dinner. If you’re going somewhere warm, nice flat sandals can be your multi-tasker; if you're going somewhere colder, low-heeled boots work well. Place them in dust bags or plastic bags so they don't dirty the rest of your belongings.

Don’t forget chargers for your phone, music player, camera, and connector cables in case you’d like to upload anything to your computer. Tuck chargers into the outside pocket of your suitcase, if you have one, for easy access.

You’re allowed one true carry-on bag, plus one personal item like a backpack or purse. Think about which items you’ll want to have on hand during your trip, and which ones you’re okay putting away in an overhead bin. In your purse: Wallet, cell phone, iPod, books and magazines or digital reader, a bottle of water, lotion and lip balm for the dry cabin air, gum for takeoff and landing, and ear plugs in case you get placed next to a screaming baby.

Although some airlines allow slightly larger carry-on bags, you should be safe across the board with a bag that’s 22” x 14” x 9”. Remember that adding a lot of stuff to external pockets can add extra girth, which might get your bag rejected when it’s time to board. Leave a little extra room in your purse or backpack so that if your bag won’t fit into the test luggage sizer, you can move around some surplus belongings.

Include what you’ll be wearing as part of your packing list. Before you start packing, list out everything you’ll take, so you don’t over-pack too many “just in cases” in the end. If you’re having trouble fitting everything into your luggage, choose to wear some of the bulkier items like boots or jackets.

  • Ccovey

    Thanks LV! I was literally just thinking about looking for tips and a list like this this morning. This way, I don’t have to do the crazy procrastination packing in which I take way too much stuff just in case. Thanks for keeping me organized!

  • Carole

    Very good EXCEPT the shoes should be in shoe bags or at least plastic bags to keep from soiling your clothes.nCarole

  • alexavontobel

    Ha, I am packing today. great timing!

  • Marnie

    I am the QUEEN of light packing! (I also don’t have an aversion to wearing the same pants every day.) Awesome diagram, LV!

  • Igloonorth

    I have gone to Europe numerous times with nothing but one carry-on and a backpack. It can be done!

  • The Digerati Life

    Love these ideas! I don’t travel during the holidays because of the heavier traffic, but I’ll take note of this for times when I do travel. :)

  • Travel_Me

    Some great ideas but a heads up to anyone that ends up on this side of the world.  In New Zealand and Australia it is becoming increasingly common for airlines to weigh cabin luggage at the check in counter.  Some go as far as to tag the bags they have checked and only these will be allowed in the cabin, everything else is put underneath.