Experts reveal their trusted, time-honored packing techniques.

By Theresa O’Rourke
Updated August 14, 2019
Advertisement
Getty Images

Why does packing always seem like more of a chore than it needs to be? It can be a tedious task on its own, sure, but a lot of packing stress likely stems from the anxiety of not really knowing what you're going to need when you get to wherever you're going. (What if it rains the whole time? What if your luggage gets lost? What if you don't end up doing half of what your itinerary originally said you'd be doing?) We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to somehow, miraculously, pack only exactly what we might need—no more, no less—and keep things wrinkle-free in the process. Here are some helpful packing techniques to ease the burden of filling your suitcase efficiently and keeping your clothing in tip-top shape while en route.

The Best Ways to Pack Your Clothes

Think Big, Then Edit
Gather all the garments you anticipate needing—then put half of them back. Select clothes in the same color family, packing more tops than bottoms. For a five-day trip, you’ll likely need five shirts, two pairs of slacks or jeans, and one skirt, says Kathleen Ameche, author of The Woman Road Warrior ($15, amazon.com). The average 22-inch carry-on bag fits roughly two pairs of jeans, three sweaters, two dresses, and five shirts.

Pack Wrinkle-Resistant Fabrics
If you can, choose knits, wools, and cottons because these fabrics tend to resist wrinkles and be versatile (some garments can do double duty, like yoga pants that moonlight as pajamas).

Roll and Fold Items
Using a bit of each packing technique is the most efficient way to get things into your suitcase. Roll softer garments and fold stiffer ones. Underwear, T-shirts, jeans, cotton pants, and knitwear won’t wrinkle when rolled tightly, says Judy Gilford, author of The Packing Book ($13, amazon.com). Stiffer fabrics, such as starched cotton shirts, blazers, dressy pants, and skirts, should be carefully folded.

Arrange Clothing Thoughtfully
Place your softer, rolled items at the bottom of your suitcase first. Next comes your folded garments: For your middle layer, start with the longest items, like skirts and nice pants. Stack the garments on top of each other, alternating waists with hems. Lay them the length of your suitcase, draping leftover fabric over the opposite end. (This conserves space since thick waistbands won’t be piled on top of one another.) Wrap the draping ends of the pile into the center. Next, lay collars of shorter items, like shirts, at the hinge with the ends over the handles. Fold the collars and ends over once and fold the arms in. Finally, snake belts around the perimeter of the bag so they take up as little room as possible (and add another layer of snugness around these three layers).

Cover the Pile With a Dry-Cleaning Bag
Because of the dry-cleaning bag’s slippery surface, folded clothes don’t stay in one place long enough for creases to set. Easy upgrade: Place a bag between each layer of clothing. To get to a certain layer easily, simply pull the ends of the bag up on either side.

Place Clothes You’ll Need First at the Top
This could be anything from a dress to a bathing suit to pajamas, depending on where you're going, what time you arrive, and what the plan is when you get there.

How to Pack Shoes

Follow the Rule of Three
Consider one casual sandal or loafer, sneakers, and an evening shoe to be your holy trinity. “Because of their shapes and heels, shoes take up the most room,” says Marybeth Bond, author of 50 Best Girlfriends Getaways ($16, amazon.com). Wear the heaviest, bulkiest pair and pack the other two.

Have Your Shoes Do Some Work
Depending on how clean your shoes are, stuff them with other items like socks, sunglasses, and electronics chargers, says Anita Dunham-Potter, a cruise columnist for MSNBC.com. This will end up saving you a bit of room here and there.

Place Shoes Into One-Gallon-Size Resealable Bags
Then set them along the sides of the bag, says Gilford. This will keep dirt and germs from your shoes from getting onto your packed clean clothes.

How to Pack Toiletries and Beauty Products

Opt for Travel-Size Multitaskers
Choose a tinted moisturizer that serves as foundation, a soap, and shampoo in one, and wipes that clean hands and face. (If you’re flying with a carry-on bag, check current regulations for liquids at tsa.gov.)

  • RELATED: This $13 Trick Has Saved Me $300 on Carry-on Bag Fees
  • Fill Empty Bottles With Your Favorite Brands (But Not to the Top)
  • Evelyn Hannon, creator of journeywoman.com, a travel-advice website, swears by a four-inches by four-inch Dopp kit she stocked with eight clear, travel-size containers for lotions, contact-lens solution, and the like. Fill them three-quarters full. “The storage department on a plane is not pressurized, so items filled all the way to the top will overflow,” says Bond, who learned that the hard way when a sample of Pepto-Bismol exploded all over her clothes.

Group Similar Products in Sealed Resealable Bags
Designate one bag for cosmetics, one for hair products, and one for skin-related items. Tuck the bags in the side corners of your suitcase or in a zippered outside pocket.

How to Pack Jewelry

Stow Inexpensive Pieces in a Seven-Day Plastic Pillbox
Or store them in a 35-millimeter film container lined with tissue. If you must take precious gems, wear them during your travels to reduce the risk of loss or theft, suggests Gilford.

How to Pack Fragile Objects or Breakables

Use Clothing as Padding
Wrap fragile items in thick, sturdy clothing. Place them in the center of your bag surrounded by a buffer, says Laura McHolm, co-founder of NorthStar Moving, a Los Angeles–based company that relocates 5,000 people (and their precious porcelain) each year. If you’re carting liquor bottles, secure them in the bottom center of your bag.

How to Pack Dirty Laundry

Shrink It
Jessica Ellis, a graphic designer who travels between New York City and Chicago every other week, piles clothing into Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor bags ($40 for set of two, rei.com). “Zipper them, and they take out 80 percent of the volume.” Warning: This can have wrinkly consequences, so if the clothes don’t yet require laundering, lay them flat and place fabric-softener sheets between them. Consider your fresh-smelling clothes a welcome-home present.