How to Pack Lighter, Smarter, and Faster, According to T+L Editors

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suitcase with travel stickers
Photo: Getty Images

No matter the length of the trip — be it a weekend beach getaway or a three-week Himalayan trek — you'll need to pack a bag, and you'll want to pack it right.

There's a lot to consider when determining what to bring: the type and length of your trip, your itinerary, the weather, the size of your luggage, and any weight limits imposed by your mode of transportation. And with so many factors at play, it's easy to overpack or underpack, especially if you've waited until the last minute.

Related: The Best Luggage Brands for Every Budget

Enter: the editors at Travel + Leisure, most of whom can be ready for a trip at a moment's notice. We're sharing our favorite ways to keep your clothes wrinkle-free, your cosmetics spill-proof, and your souvenirs safe, whether you're packing for a solo trip or for your entire family (kids included).

Related: A Guide to Every Airline's Baggage Fees

You'll learn how to best organize your carry-on luggage, how to pare down to avoid those excess baggage fees, and a few easy tricks to help you remember the little items you're most likely to forget.

With these travel packing tips, you'll be packing like a pro in no time. The only question that remains: Where will you and your impeccable packing skills be heading to next?

01 of 18

Pack by Outfit

Pack suitcase outfit
Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

"There's nothing more annoying than struggling to stuff everything back into your suitcase at the end of a trip only to realize you didn't even wear half the clothes you brought. That's why I started strictly packing by outfit — not individual item — and only letting pieces I had a plan for make the cut. I'll take a skirt only if I know I'm bringing a top and shoes that I would wear with it, and I'll think about the activities on my itinerary and what I see myself wearing while doing them. I hate checking a bag but love clothes, so being realistic and planning ahead is key." Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor

02 of 18

Lay Things Out First

Packing Suitcase
Gary John Norman/Getty Images

"Even when I pack at the very last minute, I take time to lay everything out before any item goes into my bag. Grouping things together on my bed helps me see quickly what items don't pull their weight. A pair of pants that can only be worn with one top, or that requires shoes I wasn't already planning to pack? Back in the drawer. Seeing everything clearly before I start also helps me fit things into my bag in a logical way. For me, this means starting with my bulkiest items, then cherry-picking lightweight items to tuck into gaps around them to form a sturdy base layer to build up from." — Skye Senterfeit, Photo Editor

03 of 18

Have a Dedicated, Pre-packed Travel Dopp Kit

Rains Small Dopp Kit
Courtesy of Nordstrom

"One of the most frustrating parts of getting ready for a big trip is realizing that you can't zip up your bag until after you've brushed your teeth and packed the products you need in your toiletry bag. I keep a travel-only toiletry bag that has duplicates of everything I ever travel with ready to go in my suitcase." Tanner Saunders, Associate Digital Editor

To buy: Rains Small Dopp Kit, nordstrom.com, $34

04 of 18

Choose a Soft-Sided Bag

Soft Makr folding duffel luggage
Courtesy of Makr

"Packing in a soft-sided weekender or duffel gives you the flexibility (literally!) to shape your bag to what you're packing instead of the other way around. My canvas overnighter takes on a different shape depending on what I need it to hold and will squish, even when packed almost beyond its means, into spaces a hard-sided roller bag just won't go. I hope my current bag will last forever but I'm eyeing this simple weekender from Makr as its eventual replacement." Skye Senterfeit, Photo Editor

To buy: Makr Fold Weekender Revised in Navy Canvas, makr.com, $175

05 of 18

Have a Ready-to-go Health Kit

Health First-Aid kit
Courtesy of Amazon

"After going on international adventures and suffering food poisoning, sudden fever, cuts and scrapes, terrible bug bites, and other ailments — and then having to navigate a foreign pharmacy — I've learned to always pack a small medical kit. I keep a toiletry bag ready to go stocked with Band-aids, Neosporin, pain relievers, cold medicine, medicine for stomach trouble, itch relief ointment, antibiotics (you can ask your doctor for an emergency prescription before you travel), and ear plugs (life savers on long-haul flights and trains). And if you never have to use it, all the better!" Karen Chen, Editorial Producer

To buy: First Aid Kit, amazon.com, $18.99

06 of 18

Separate Jewelry With Snack Size Bags

Ziplock bags
Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"Buy 'snack size' plastic bags for packing necklaces. To prevent tangling, give each one its own bag and fasten the clasp." — Kathy Roberson, Copy & Research Chief

To buy: Ziploc Double Zipper Storage Bags, amazon.com, $19.94

07 of 18

Check the Hotel Closet

hotel closet pouch
Getty Images

"In the closet of most high-end hotel rooms, you'll find draw-string fabric bags for laundry and shoes. They're semi-disposable, but fantastic for packing. Trust me, using them to separate shoes and dirty laundry will totally transform your return-journey packing experience." — Flora Stubbs, Executive Editor

08 of 18

Be Prepared for Wet Swimwear

Man diving into a swimming pool
Getty Images

"I always pack a plastic grocery bag — or steal the shower cap from the hotel if I forget — to stash a wet bathing suit in for the return home. That way, we get to enjoy every last second on the beach." Jacqueline Gifford, Editor-in-Chief

09 of 18

Use Marie Kondo's Folding Method

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Courtesy of Amazon

"All memes aside, I've been living the Konmari lifestyle for a few years now, and her folding method may be one of the biggest takeaways. Not only does the method save room in drawers at home, but the folded clothes can go quickly in a bag or suitcase for extremely fast packing. Another perk of using the Marie Kondo method is being able to see your entire wardrobe at once so you don't have to waste time digging in boxes of storage for off season clothes when taking a warm weather vacation in winter months."Mariah Tyler, Visuals Editor

To buy: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo, amazon.com, $10

10 of 18

Roll, Don't Fold

rolled clothes

"I always overpack, so rolling up my clothes so that they take up less space in my luggage is essential." — Devin Traineau, Associate Photo Editor

11 of 18

Keep Essentials Packed and Ready to Go

Travel Smart by Conair Transparent Sundry Kit
Courtesy of Amazon

"I am a terrible packer. No matter where I am going, or for how long, or how far in advance I booked my trip, I will inevitably be up at 2 a.m. the night before, just one misplaced sneaker away from a complete meltdown. I've accepted this as an inevitability and tried to streamline the process where I can, so now, I always keep a clear toiletry bag packed with all my favorite products, so I can see at a glance what I have and add in a couple essentials (sunscreen for a lake trip, bug spray when there's hiking planned, etc.). I also keep a few plane go-to's — chargers, lip balm, eye mask, neck pillow — in my favorite travel bag, which helps me speed through the personal-item prep so I can get back to bemoaning my lack of good shoes and waffling on how many caftans and books I'll need for a four-day weekend." —Lila Battis, Senior Editor

To buy: Travel Smart by Conair Transparent Sundry Kit, amazon.com, $12.45

12 of 18

Invest in Luggage You Love

Courtesy of TravelPro

"For most of us, no matter how organized we are or how many times we do it, packing will just never be pleasant. The best way to make it more enjoyable? Invest in luggage you look forward to using, be it for functionality or style — or, ideally, both. As professional travelers, the T+L team spends a whole lot of time packing and unpacking, so we worked with top luggage brand TravelPro on a collection we knew we'd actually love to use. I have a set (including a checked bag, hardside carry-on, and tote), and all three pieces are sturdy, spacious, and basically do the organizing for you as you pack in their various compartments. I'm always happy to take them out of my closet and prep for a trip, and I feel good deplaning and exiting the airport in a new city with them in hand." Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor

To buy: travelpro.com

13 of 18

Create a Capsule Wardrobe

Sweater
Courtesy of This Is A Day

"No matter how hard I tried, I could never streamline my packing list — until I started thinking of it in terms of a capsule wardrobe with a specific color palette. I always start with a neutral (usually black or blue) and then build outfits based on the main events or activities happening during the trip. Usually it ends up consisting of two dresses, two pairs of pants, two tops, 1-2 sweaters, and a jacket. More brands, including Aday and Summersalt, are designing their lines so that everything mixes and matches easily, which makes building a functional but flexible packing list that much easier." — Sarah Bruning, Senior Editor

To buy: Wing It Sweater, thisisaday.com, $265

14 of 18

Wear Your Heaviest Clothes on the Plane

Passenger boarding plane wearing heavy jacket
Getty Images

"As a chronic overpacker, and someone who never, ever checks a bag, weight limits are no friend of mine. That's why I always stick to the following motto when it comes to packing light: If it's heavy, wear it. Bulky jacket? Cute boots? Chunky sweater? I'll wear them all, then throw the jacket in the overhead bin, slip off my boots and into some compression socks, and usually keep the sweater on – a warm and cozy antidote for those often chilly airplane cabins." — Alisha Prakash, Senior Digital Editor

15 of 18

Keep Masks and Hand Sanitizer at Hand

Suitcase packing for travel, COVID-19
Getty Images

"If you're traveling during the pandemic, you'll want to pack essentials like face coverings and hand sanitizer in your checked and carry-on luggage so you're never without. Keep them in an easy-to-access pocket so you can grab a fresh mask, wipes, or sanitizer whenever you need it." — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor

16 of 18

Prepare for Travel Shopping

Courtesy of TravelPro

"Admittedly, packing light isn't easy for me. The only way I can get myself to not prepare for every possible scenario (and end up packing ski goggles next to swimsuits for the same trip) is by promising myself a little shopping while I'm at my destination. This helps me to pack only essentials and a couple of favorite items I know I'll wear or use. Then, I leave at least a quarter of my suitcase empty, ready to be filled with souvenirs. If I don't end up shopping, it's even more of a bonus — there's nothing better than lightweight luggage." — Kendall Cornish, Associate Digital Editor

To buy: Travelpro® x Travel + Leisure® Compact Carry-On Expandable Spinner, travelpro.com, $380

17 of 18

How to Pack Delicate Clothes

Roll of brown craft paper
Courtesy of Amazon

"I always roll my clothes, making room for more things in my suitcase (admittedly, I'm an overpacker), especially with fabrics that tend to wrinkle or crease easily, like silk or satin. For items that are especially delicate (hello, slip dresses!), I always, always, always roll them around a piece of packing paper. I like that over tissue paper because it's sturdier and tends to hold its shape even if things in my suitcase move around." — Deanne Kaczerski, Digital Content Director

To buy: Brown Craft Paper Roll, amazon.com, $58.25

18 of 18

Wait to Wrap Gifts

An overhead view of a woman holding a wrapped Christmas present
Getty Images

"If you're traveling during the holidays, wait to wrap your gifts when you reach your destination. TSA may have to unwrap presents to see what's inside, so it's best to bring the packing supplies with you or opt for bags and tissue paper for easy-rewrapping." — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor

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