While packing may be a bit of an after-thought for many people, it has a huge impact on how much you enjoy your trip. Pack the wrong clothes and you’ll miss out on activities or be uncomfortable. Use the wrong luggage and you’ll be frustrated anytime you are on the move. Even just having your luggage organized can make for a more enjoyable trip.
Of course, how (and what) we pack does depend largely on what type of trip we are taking. Packing for a month of train travel across Europe is not the same as a two-week road trip across the US or a week-long cruise. Thus, some of our packing tips are generic and apply to any type of trip. Others are a bit more specific to a particular type of travel.
Regardless of where you are going and how you are getting there, if you follow our tips you’ll be packing like a pro in no time.
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Choose the Right Suitcase or Backpack
Before you actually start packing you need to know what type of luggage you are using. Think about this carefully. Having the right luggage can seriously impact your travel, especially if you are moving around a lot.
If you are flying, you want luggage that is durable. If you are on a road trip or doing a lot of train travel in Europe, you want luggage that is easy to carry. For a cruise, you’ll want luggage that can easily be stored out of the way. Trust me, you want to think about your luggage.
As a general rule, we use our backpacks. They fit in overhead bins and we can travel for a month or more with what we carry in a backpack. While carrying your luggage on your back can be tiring, it is better than dragging a suitcase across cobblestone streets in Europe.
That said, there are plenty of times backpacks are not the best piece of luggage for the trip. So, here are a few of our favorite pieces of luggage:
Our backpacks are definitely our most-used pieces of luggage. Grant uses the Lowepro HighLine BP 400 AW and I use the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible. Both are big enough for an extended trip but small enough for a weekend getaway. The best part about a backpack? Your hands are free for anything you need them for!
Seriously, we use these bags for most of our non-RV trips. We love these bags so much we have written extensive reviews on both. Find out more about these backpacks with the links below.
Hard-Sided Spinner Suitcase
A hard-sided spinner suitcase is perfect for air travel. If you are checking a bag, it has to be durable and able to stand up to the abuse of the luggage handlers.
We each have one large hard-sided suitcase that we use for long road trips, air travel and cruising. Sometimes we’ll each pack a suitcase and sometimes we share one. Yes, ours is large and a bit of a struggle to get under the bed and out of the way on a cruise; otherwise, it’s just about perfect.
Wheeled Garment Bag
If you are traveling for work or a wedding or anything else that you’ll need professional or dressy clothes, consider a hanging garment bag. We first bought one when we were flying to Florida for a wedding several years ago.
Admittedly, this bag does not get a lot of use from us (we’ve probably only used it 2 or 3 times in nearly 5 years), but when you need “special” clothes, you need special luggage. And, we have certainly found that hanging clothes travel better in a hanging bag.
When space is tight, packing cubes are your friend. We LOVE our packing cubes! We don’t use these for every trip, but when you’re trying to fit more clothes into less space, this is how you do it.
Packing cubes allow you to pack your clothes into small zippered “pouches” that are then a modular system. The best part is that the packing cubes do actually condense your clothes so that you can fit more.
Once you have the cubes packed, you can move them around as needed to make everything fit in your bag. I’m sure you would agree that moving around 3 or 4 packing cubes is much easier than moving 15 or 20 items of clothing.
We mostly use packing cubes when packing for extended trips in our backpacks. They can, of course, be used with any type of luggage, though. Sometimes we’ll pack the cubes based on outfits, other times we’ll group similar items together. It really just depends on your preference.
If you haven’t tried packing cubes, I strongly encourage you to do so! These lightweight cubes from eBags are durable and easy to use. There are many different sizes and variety “packs,” so choose what will work for your clothes and luggage.
Roll Your Clothes
Our second tip for saving space is to roll your clothes. I honestly don’t know why this works, but it does. My best guess is that you can condense your clothes a bit more when rolling versus folding. Whatever the reason, it’s an easy tip that doesn’t cost you any money!
Again, we don’t do this every time, but when you’re looking to pack a lot of stuff into a small space, it does help. Sometimes we’ll roll our clothes and use packing cubes; other times we’ll roll clothes and just pack them in the suitcase or backpack.
Choose Clothing Items Thoughtfully
When picking out your actual clothes, there are a number of factors to consider. First, be sure to check the weather. For cool mornings and warm afternoons, you’ll want to pack layers. If you are expecting rain (or snow), you’ll need some sort of raincoat, umbrella and perhaps waterproof shoes or pants.
You also need to consider what activities you’ll likely be doing. Want to do some hiking or exercising? You’ll need athletic wear. If you’re looking to go out for a nice dinner, be sure to pack a nice outfit. And if you love hot tubs as much as we do, be sure to pack a bathing suit, even in the middle of winter!
Most importantly, make a point to pack clothes that work with multiple pieces and that you can wear more than once if needed. Convertible pants may not be the most fashionable item, but they are sometimes a lifesaver when traveling. Jeans are versatile and travel well, but they also take up a lot of space. Thus, you may have to weigh how necessary the jeans are based on the space you have.
We like moisture-wicking clothes which are great for walking around town as well as out on a trail. Having clothes which serve multiple purposes means you can pack less.
Pack the Right Shoes
While you may be tempted to just grab a few pairs of shoes and throw them in your bag, shoes sometimes take up a lot of space, so choose them thoughtfully! Honestly, I sometimes pick out my shoes first and then choose my outfits around the shoes.
I usually try to take one pair of shoes for daytime wear and one pair of nicer shoes for dinner. Sometimes I’ll add in a pair of flip-flops. Grant often times can get away with just one pair of shoes. Yeah, men often have it easier when it comes to packing.
Again, consider your activities when packing shoes. If you expect to do a lot of walking, you’ll need comfortable walking shoes. That is different for each person, but for us that typically means sneakers or hiking shoes. If you’re going to Europe, or anywhere you are likely to encounter cobblestone streets, you definitely want something sturdy with a thick sole.
My current go-to shoes are The North Face Women’s Hedgehog Fastpack GTX Hiker. Grant loves the Merrell Men’s Moab Adventure Lace Waterproof Hiking Shoe. Both of these shoes are good for walking around the city, hiking and general travel days.
Wear Bulky Clothes & Shoes on the Plane
When luggage space is tight, another easy way to make extra room is to wear your bulky clothes on the plane. Yes, that might mean having one outfit of jeans and sneakers for all your travel days, but those are good clothing items for travel, so why not?
Seriously, it is a lot easier to pack a pair of shorts than a pair of pants or jeans. Likewise, flats and flip-flops take up a lot less space than hiking shoes or sneakers.
I also sometimes will strap a fleece or jacket onto the outside of my backpack if I don’t want to wear it. A backpack Pack Net can also help to keep extra items out of your bag but still easy to carry.
If you are traveling for more than about a week, consider doing laundry somewhere along the way. Yes, I know that no one wants to do laundry while on vacation, but it’s much easier than packing 2 or 3 weeks’ worth of clothes.
We spent a month in Italy in 2013 and a month in Eastern Europe in 2015. We each packed five outfits with a couple of additional pieces, plus what we wore on the plane. Yep, we did laundry on both trips. It’s not always fun, but it does provide a bit of mandated downtime at the hotel or laundromat, which can be nice.
Indeed, one of our favorite memories was relaxing by the river in Český Krumlov while doing laundry.
If you’re staying in a hotel in the US, most have a do-it-yourself laundry room. Of course, many also have a valet laundry service, but it’ll cost you a lot more. You can also find a laundromat in almost every city. A laundromat may not be quite as convenient, but it’s usually bigger meaning you can get more done at one time. Laundromats may also be a bit cheaper.
We also try to pack synthetic clothes that will dry faster than cotton. If you do have synthetic items, you could even wash a few items in the sink as needed. You could even carry a Scrubba Wash Bag, which allows you to wash a few small items in a hotel room. We have one of these portable laundry systems but haven’t used it yet.
However you do it, consider washing and reusing some items so you don’t have to pack quite as much.
Pack an E-Reader
If you are a reader, I highly suggest using an e-reader at least while traveling. While many people have embraced the digital reader, many still love the feel of paper books. I get it. But, a Kindle or iPad is typically smaller and lighter than a single book. And if you’re gone long enough to want more than one book, you’ll certainly save space.
We have hundreds of books on our iPads that we can read anywhere we go. And, as long as you have internet you can buy more books even if you’re not near a bookstore.
Currently, we each have an iPad mini that we use for reading (and surfing the internet, checking Facebook and playing games). We have used a full-size iPad in the past. The size of the iPad mini is a bit better for reading, at least for us.
Since it looks like Apple may be doing away with the iPad mini, we have our eye on a Kindle Paperwhite should we need to update our electronics. We had a basic Kindle several years ago, but I did not like that it wasn’t backlit. Honestly, one of the things I like most about reading on the iPad is that you don’t need a reading light.
Speaking of electronics, one thing you certainly don’t want to forget when traveling is charging cables. Whether you have a phone, tablet, e-reader or laptop, chances are you have something that will need to be charged. Heck, we even have a headlamp that charges with a USB cable.
For keeping everything charged, we love our AViiQ Portable Charging Station. We have had this for years and take it with us everywhere. If we leave the house for even one night, this comes with us. The newest version of this charging station comes with a battery pack so you can charge multiple items on the go.
Not only does this charging station allow you to charge multiple items at once time, but it keeps all your cords organized and under control.
Final Packing Tips
Whether you are traveling for a weekend, a week, a month or longer, what and how you pack is important. No one wants to carry around extra stuff or not have the things you need. Yes, you want to be prepared and but there are usually stores where you can buy the stuff you forgot. If you can get it right when packing, however, you’ll likely be much happier.
As you start packing, consider your mode of transportation, the weather and the activities you expect to do. Consider the unexpected but don’t dwell on it. You simply cannot be prepared for every possible situation when on the road. After all, overcoming obstacles is sometimes the best part of travel.
You may not always have time to make a list or know every activity you’ll do along the way but with a little forethought, you can still pack efficiently.