How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space (Ultimate Packing Guide)

Learn step-by-step instructions and offer practical tips on how to pack a suitcase to make the most of the available space.
How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space (Ultimate Packing Guide)

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Are you tired of struggling to fit everything you need into your bag? Then you need to know how to pack a suitcase.

Packing efficiently can make a huge difference when it comes to maximizing space and avoiding unnecessary stress during your travels. I spend a lot of time in airports, so I’ve learned the ins and outs of using valuable space well. 

In this article, I’ll offer step-by-step instructions and offer practical tips on how to pack a suitcase to make the most of the available space. From organizing your belongings to utilizing smart packing techniques, I’ve got you covered.

(This advice applies to any type of bag you’re packing, not just your suitcase.)

Preparing to Pack

how to pack a suitcase - preparing to pack

Before you start filling your case, you’ll need to prepare your items.

Make a list of everything you need

Create a packing list of everything you’ll need. Do this a day before the trip so you have time to think it over. Consider the weather at your destination, the activities you’ll engage in, and any local customs are requirements.

The benefit of making this list early is that you can mull it over while you go about your day. Sometimes a bit of time helps you remember something important that you didn’t think of the first time. It also helps avoid overpacking.

Collect everything you intend to bring

Gather everything you intend to bring on your trip and put it in the same place, like on your bed or the floor. Having everything in one place will make your packing more strategic. It also helps you understand the scope of what you’re bringing. I remember packing before a cruise once and thinking, “Wow, this is way too much. I need to trim it down.”

Opt for versatile clothing options

To make the most of your suitcase space, pack clothing items that can be mixed and matched easily. Choose neutral colors and versatile pieces that can be dressed up or down. This way, you can create multiple outfits with a limited number of items.

Whenever we take a trip, my wife likes to bring lots of dresses. Dresses mean fewer pieces are necessary. They also look nice when you’re out casually or in a place that has a dress code.

Select your suitcase

Once everything is together, choose a suitcase that will contain it all. One mistake I’ve made in the past is filling a suitcase that turns out to be too small and having to start over with a bigger bag. Super frustrating!

If you have fragile items, opt for a hard shell suitcase that offers protection. If you’re just bringing clothes and shoes, a soft suitcase is better because it’s usually lighter.

How Many Clothes to Bring

how to pack a suitcase - how many clothes to bring

The number of items you bring depends on the length of your trip, what the local climate is like, and what you intend to do each day. Here is a general packing list to help you decide what to bring for a one-week (seven day) trip.

  • Pants – Three are usually enough, just bring different options that go with different outfits. Consider the temperature, as well. Shorts might make sense during the day, but you’ll want at least one pair of pants for evenings.
  • Tops – Bring four or five because it’s much harder to re-wear a top than bottoms. Opt for items that can be layered or worn under jackets, such as T-shirts, tank tops, etc. 
  • Undergarments – Don’t be stingy here. Bring one set for every day of your trip plus an extra. This applies to underwear, bras, pairs of socks, etc.
  • Sleepwear – Bring two sets of clothing dedicated just for sleeping. If you sleep in a T-shirt, your sleep shirt does not count as one of your day time tops. If you’re going to a hot climate or tend to sweat at night, bring more.
  • Shoes – Bring as many pairs of shoes as you need, but don’t double up. For example, you should only bring one pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals, etc.
  • Cold weather gear – If you’re going somewhere cold, you may need a jacket or hoodie. These are heavy items, so limit yourself as much as possible.
  • Dressier items – Dressy items for women are usually simple and lightweight, but for men, dressy items can add a lot of bulk. Be extremely discerning here. 

Optimizing Your Space

How to pack a suitcase - optimizing your space

Now that you’re ready to pack, let’s talk about optimizing the space inside your suitcase.

Roll instead of folding your clothes

One of the most effective packing techniques is rolling your clothes instead of folding them. This not only prevents wrinkles but also saves space. Roll each item tightly and place them side by side in your suitcase. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can fit by using this method.

Why does rolling work? Rolling clothes squeezes the air out from each item. Folding can actually trap air inside. Plus rolled items are more uniform, so there is less space between them.

(You can see this effect if you pile folded clothes on top of each other. Notice how the middle of the pile bulges upward, while the sides are depressed.)

Use the inside of your shoes

Don’t waste the extra space inside your shoes. Utilize this often-overlooked area by rolling up socks and underwear and placing them inside your shoes. This not only saves space but also helps maintain the shape of your shoes.

It’s also a good idea to choose versatile footwear that looks good in many situations. Shoes can take up a LOT of space, so don’t bring too many.

Make use of empty spaces

When packing, look for empty spaces that can be utilized. For example, fill in the gaps between rolled clothes with smaller items like belts, ties, or scarves. You can also place small items like socks or accessories inside hats or inside the corners of your suitcase.

Pack strategically

When placing items in your suitcase, think strategically. Pack heavier items at the bottom to create a stable base, and lighter items on top. If it helps, imagine you’re playing Tetris and looking to fill every inch of space before moving to the next layer.

Place fragile items in the center, surrounded by softer items for added protection. Distribute the weight evenly to maintain balance and prevent your suitcase from tipping over.

I routinely travel with a laptop and/or tablet in my checked bag. I just pack them tightly between layers of soft clothing. I’ve done the same with glass jars.

If your suitcase has any weird crevices or corners, consider which items could fill those spaces nicely. For example, if you look inside my carry-on suitcase, you’ll see impressions from the retractable handle. I can place small items between the two sections of the handle bars.

Use travel bottles for toiletries

Toiletries can take up a significant amount of space if not packed properly. Invest in travel-sized bottles and containers to store your shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and other liquids. Ensure they are securely sealed to prevent any leaks during your journey.

Frankly, I almost never bring these items with me. I just buy travel-sized options when I arrive at my destination. Though this doesn’t help if you’re traveling to a location that doesn’t have a store nearby or where these items are prohibitively expensive (such as a store on a beach resort).

Making Use of Your Carry-On

how to pack a suitcase - Making Use of Your Carry-On

If you’re traveling by air, most airlines let you bring a carry-on bag that can stay with you. Here are some tips to get the most out of this bag.

Pack essentials in your personal item

I like to put the items I can’t live without in my carry-on, such as a set of clothes, money, phone charger, medications, important documents, and my toothbrush. This way I won’t be too inconvenienced if the airline loses my luggage for a few days. It also lets me access these items on the plane.

Use vacuum bags for bulkier items

If you’re packing larger items like jackets or sweaters, consider using vacuum-sealed bags. These bags compress the contents, removing excess air and reducing the overall size. This technique is especially useful for maximizing space when packing winter clothing or bulky bedding.

The only problem with this tip is that it only works for one-way trips since you won’t have the vacuum sealer with you at the new location (unless you’re staying with someone who can provide one).

Maximize your carry-on bag

If you’re traveling with a carry-on bag, make the most of its storage space. Pack heavier items like shoes or electronics in your carry-on to free up space in your checked luggage. Remember to adhere to the airline’s regulations regarding liquids and restricted items.

That said, be mindful about not overstuffing your carry-on bag. If you’re taking a plane, the carry-on bag must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Pack your EDC items

If you’re part of the EDC community, it’s usually smart to pack those items into your suitcase rather than keep them on your person as you travel. You might find your knife, flashlight, or pen uncomfortable in your pockets, or you may worry about losing them, so store them in your bag. (This makes security checkpoints easier, too.)

First, prioritize the ones you consider essential for your daily routine, such as your wallet, keys, phone, and any other must-have items. You can probably leave behind the items you use every day for work.

If you have any fragile or delicate EDC items like sunglasses, cameras, or electronic devices, pack them in protective cases or pouches. This will help prevent scratches, dents, or other damage during transit.

It’s also important to consider TSA regulations. If you are traveling by air, make sure to check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations for carrying specific items. Liquids, sharp objects, and certain tools may have restrictions or require special handling. Ensure compliance with these rules to avoid any issues during security checks.

More Packing Tips

Here are a few more tips to make packing easy and efficient.

Avoid overpacking

Frankly, this is the most important tip in our list, but it’s the one travelers routinely ignore. I know I’ve neglected this rule myself a thousand times.

You don’t need to bring your entire wardrobe with you. I know it’s tempting to bring extra just in case. You don’t want to be caught in a new place without the things you need, but in nearly every case, you’ll just end up carrying too much stuff.

And if you pack too much stuff going on your trip, you definitely won’t have any room to bring home souvenirs or purchases.

Be selective and pack only what you truly need. Consider the activities you’ll be engaging in and plan your outfits accordingly.

It can also help to identify locations to buy things you may need before departing. For instance, if you’re staying with a friend in an unfamiliar city, check to see if there’s a Target or Walmart nearby to buy a hoodie if the climate is colder than you expect.

Consider on-site laundry

Rather than carry 10 or 14 days worth of items, consider using a local laundry facility. If you’re staying with friends or family, they might have a washer in their home for dirty clothes. Otherwise, check for laundry services in the area where you can turn your dirty stuff into clean clothes. 

Be careful with packing cubes

A lot of people will recommend using packing cubes to keep your items organized in your bag or suitcase. While packing cubes definitely help you store similar items together, they have a tendency to waste space unless you fill them completely and fill the gaps around them.

Personally, I think you can pack more efficiently by packing everything loose in your bag. That way you can fill every tiny gap with a small item.

Suitcase Packing FAQs

Still have questions about how to pack a suitcase? These FAQs will help.

Can I bring a hairdryer in my suitcase?

Yes, you can bring a hairdryer in your suitcase. However, it’s advisable to check the airline’s regulations regarding electrical appliances and make sure it fits within the allowed dimensions and weight.

Is it better to fold or roll clothes when packing?

Rolling clothes is generally more space-efficient than folding them. It minimizes wrinkles and allows you to fit more items in your suitcase.

Can I pack fragile items in my checked luggage?

While it’s possible to pack fragile items in your checked luggage, it’s recommended to carry them with you in your carry-on bag if they are valuable or delicate. This way, you can ensure they are handled with care.

How can I prevent liquids from leaking in my suitcase?

To prevent liquids from leaking, make sure all containers are tightly sealed. Place them in a separate toiletry bag or use plastic wrap to create an extra layer of protection.

Are there any weight restrictions for carry-on luggage?

Airlines have specific weight restrictions for carry-on luggage space, which vary depending on the airline and travel destination. It’s important to check the airline’s guidelines before packing to avoid any issues at the airport.

What are some essential items I should always pack in my suitcase?

  • Clothing appropriate for the destination and weather conditions.
  • Undergarments and socks.
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, etc.).
  • Medications and necessary prescriptions.
  • Travel adapters and chargers for electronic devices.
  • Travel-sized laundry detergent or stain remover.
  • Personal identification (passport, driver’s license, etc.).
  • Travel documents (boarding passes, hotel reservations, itinerary, etc.).
  • Cash, credit cards, and important contact numbers.
  • Travel-sized first aid kit.
  • Necessary electronics (phone, laptop, camera, etc.).
  • Snacks and reusable water bottle.
  • Travel pillow and blanket.
  • Entertainment (books, headphones, etc.).
  • Travel lock and luggage tags.
  • Any specific items needed for the purpose of your trip.
  • A small bag for day trips or outings.
  • Extra plastic bags for dirty laundry or wet items.
  • Basic sewing kit or safety pins.
  • A reusable tote bag for shopping or carrying extra items.

Can I pack liquids in my checked luggage, or should they go in my carry-on bag?

It is generally recommended to pack liquids in your carry-on bag. However, if you need to pack larger quantities of liquids or if they exceed the allowed size restrictions, it’s advisable to place them in your checked luggage. Be sure to comply with airline regulations and consider any restrictions on specific liquids.

Are there any restrictions on packing certain items in my suitcase?

Yes, there are restrictions on packing certain items in your suitcase, especially when traveling by air. Prohibited items typically include weapons, explosives, flammable substances, and liquids exceeding the allowed limit. Some countries have specific regulations regarding items such as food, plants, or animal products.

It’s essential to check the transportation authority’s guidelines and the customs regulations of your destination to ensure compliance and avoid any issues during security checks or customs inspections.

How do I prevent wrinkles in my clothes while packing?

  • Choose wrinkle-resistant fabrics like polyester blends or knits.
  • Fold clothes neatly and use tissue paper between layers to prevent friction.
  • Roll softer fabrics like t-shirts and casual wear.
  • Pack heavier items at the bottom and lighter items on top.
  • Use packing cubes or compression bags to keep clothes compact and minimize movement.
  • Unpack as soon as you arrive and hang clothes or use a travel-sized steamer if available.

Should I roll my clothes or fold them when packing?

Both rolling and folding clothes have their advantages, so it depends on personal preference and the specific items you’re packing. Rolling can save space, reduce wrinkles in certain fabrics, and make it easier to see and access your clothes. It works well for t-shirts, casual wear, and items made of wrinkle-resistant materials.

Folding, on the other hand, is better for dress shirts, blouses, and delicate garments that need to maintain their shape. For best results, you can use a combination of rolling and folding techniques based on the items you’re packing.

The recommended weight limit for checked luggage can vary depending on the airline and your ticket type. As a general guideline, many airlines have a weight limit of 50 pounds (approximately 23 kilograms) for economy class passengers.

However, it’s crucial to check the specific baggage policies of your airline as they may have different weight limits or additional airline baggage fees for exceeding the allowed weight. Some airlines also offer higher weight limits for premium class passengers or frequent flyers.

How can I keep my shoes organized and protected in my suitcase?

To keep your shoes organized and protected in your suitcase, use shoe bags or individual plastic bags to separate them from your clothes. Place them in a shoe compartment or use packing cubes to prevent them from getting squished or dirty. Consider using shoe trees or stuffing them with socks to maintain their shape.

What are some space-saving packing techniques or hacks?

  • Roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space and minimize wrinkles.
  • Use packing cubes or compression bags to compress and organize your items.
  • Utilize empty spaces by stuffing socks or small items inside shoes.
  • Pack versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched.
  • Consider wearing your bulkiest items during travel to free up suitcase space.
  • Minimize toiletries by using travel-sized containers or opting for solid products.
  • Use ziplock bags for organizing and separating smaller items.
  • Choose lightweight and compact travel accessories.
  • Research if your accommodation provides amenities like hair dryers or towels to avoid packing unnecessary items.
  • Be mindful of packing only essential items and avoid overpacking.

Can I bring my electronic devices and chargers in my carry-on bag?

Yes, you can bring electronic devices and chargers in your carry-on bag. It’s generally recommended to keep them in your carry-on to ensure their safety and avoid any potential damage. However, it’s always a good idea to check the specific regulations of the airline or airport you are traveling with for any restrictions or guidelines regarding electronic devices.

How can I pack efficiently for a business trip?

To pack efficiently for a business trip, plan your outfits in advance, selecting versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched. Roll your clothes to save space and minimize wrinkles. Use packing cubes to organize and separate different items. Pack essential toiletries in travel-sized containers and consider using a compact garment bag for wrinkle-free clothing.

Are there any guidelines for packing medication in my suitcase?

When packing medication, keep it in your carry-on bag rather than in your checked suitcase. Keep medications in their original, labeled containers to avoid any confusion.

If you have liquid medication exceeding the allowed limit, carry a prescription or doctor’s note. Check the specific regulations of your airline or destination for any additional guidelines or restrictions regarding medication.

What are some tips for packing a suitcase for a specific climate or weather conditions?

  • Check the weather forecast for your destination.
  • Opt for clothing that can be layered to give yourself some flexibility.
  • Research the local customs to ensure that you pack appropriate clothing items.
  • Opt for clothing items that can be mixed and matched easily.
  • Consider the activities you’ll be participating in during your trip.
  • Pack accessories that help you adapt, like sunglasses, gloves, scarves, or a hat.
  • Choose clothing made from breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics.
  • Bring toiletries and personal care items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, medications, and a first-aid kit.
  • Maximize space and minimize wrinkles by rolling your clothes instead of folding them.
  • Be mindful of any baggage restrictions or weight limits imposed by airlines or transportation methods.
Dennis Hammer
Dennis has been a part of EDC since he was young - before he even knew what it was! As an artist, he loves beautifully designed products that function well. He also likes to be ready for any situation, which makes EDC perfect for his lifestyle.

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