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The first key to efficient packing is reducing your load. Of course, it's always wise to check the weather reports for your destination so you won't bother hauling that bulky fleece if it's going to be 90 degrees. And, yeah, multi-purpose items are a great space-saver. Maybe you really don't mind using a shampoo that's also a shaving foam, or rockin' the pants with legs that zip off into shorts. We can even thank TSA for getting us all used to the idea of bite-sized toiletries with its nifty "3-1-1" decree.

But once you've done all you can to reduce the amount of stuff you have to fit into that suitcase, what else can you do to tame the heap of "essentials" mocking your lack of spatial intelligence?

Pack less air -- they have plenty wherever you're going
Not everything holds up well to rolling. Your dress shirts, for instance, might get a bit too wrinkly. Fold these as you normally would, then group them together in a large plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible before you seal it all the way. If you want to be fancy you can buy special compression bags designed for this purpose. They have one-way pressure valves that make it easy to chase out the excess air. But you can also just use one of those freaky big Ziplocs. Or better yet, reuse those zippered plastic bags that sheets sometimes come in. Either way, seal the bag almost completely then roll to eke out the last bits of air before you close it the rest of the way.

Join me after the jump for more packing tips.

These boots are made for stashing
Let no space go wasted. Packing one or more pairs of shoes? Stuff them with teeny things, like socks and undies. Of course, you want those clean y-fronts to stay clean, so place each shoe in its own plastic grocery bag first, using the excess bag to line the cavity where your foot normally goes. (Of course, this also keeps the cootied soles from defiling anything else in your suitcase.) You can even pack small electronics, like cameras and phone chargers, into socks that you then tuck inside your shoes -- saves space and provides some cushioning for breakable items.

Rock the roll
Your clothes will take up less luggage space if they're neatly rolled rather than simply folded. Note the word neatly. Fold in the sides and sleeves of that T-shirt as usual, but instead of then folding it in half, just roll it smoothly and tightly into a tidy taquito of a package. Do the same with pants, skirts, etc., and then distribute the rolls around the larger items (such as shoes) in your bag. They're especially handy for making use of the nooks and crevices at the ends and sides of a suitcase.

Happy trails!


  • Darlene

    Remember, though, there is a 50 pound weight limit on checked luggage. It's easy to squeeze more than that in even a small suitcase.

  • Tina

    I've done most of these space saving tips. There is one problem. Even if you have the lightest, largest piece of luggage you end up overweight at the airport and may have to pay extra for the weight. I also recommend that you take the maximum amount of luggage allowed per person, but make sure they are medium sized luggage when following these tips.

  • Frequent Flier

    First Class has zero weight restrictions on luggage. Ask your airline if they can upgrade you to First Class the day before your flight. Some airlines charge a $50 upgrade fee, others allow you to upgrade for free using dividend or frequent flier miles. So pack away to your heart's content!

  • Joann

    Remember there is a store on almost every corner or crossroad no matter where you go in the USA. You can purchase whatever you need.

  • dlo

    There is a luggage brand out there that actually weighs itself: Ricardo. My husband and I bought one when we moved overseas, as the airline we were flying is super-strict on weight. We bought another on a visit back to the US when we found out Ricardo is discontinuing the bags! Think you can still find them on eBags, though.

  • BJ

    Understand that TSA reps will open and inspect your checked suitcase. I have TSA locks and I always find a TSA inspection notice. Zip lock bags are good for small items. Rolling or folding is a personal preference based on clothing style. The key is to prepare and plan and see if it all fits at least 24 hours before you head out the door. Also, leave some extra space; it seems that dirty clothes take more room!

  • Ellie

    Just remember if you are going on a flight, DO NOT use those vaccume sealed bags. If you do use them and then your suitcase if full, what are you gonna do if your bags get searched. I used to work for airport security, and when your luggage comes into baggage controll, it has a code on your claim ticket. Even if there is no claim ticket, every 5th bag is checked at random. when they check those bags, they have to go through EVERYTHING!!! That means that the vaccume bag you had will be opened, and they have no way to close it back the way you had it. Just a little tip for all you people who love to fly.

  • William Crabill

    Frequent Flyer is WRONG! Depends upon the airline, each has their own rules, I've flown First Class on United & been nailed for overweight luggage. Worse yet, an airlines personal interpert their regulations differently in different locations, the folks at United at Londons Heathrow forced me to remove items from my luggage to reach their Max weight limit & abandon the items removed, yet these were the same items that caused no difficulties at United terminal @ Dulles in DC.

  • Jack Yousko

    Rule no 1 Pack a small bag of personals. Rule no2 pack a large bag of money.

  • Rick steven

    Great article-Hey I found a place that sells all brands of luggage and travel items for less. Tey are the oldest luggage store in Los Angeles. I deal with a guy there named Mark. 818-703-1313-They also give you the information you need to know-weight limit, size limit-they even sell a great scale there that we use too!!

  • Terry

    I've almost given up on flying. If it's 1000 miles or less, I drive. Flying is getting to be too much of a hassle.

  • Helen Oberdorf

    I can never understand why Airlines don't give passengers some kind of mask in case of fire with goggles that won't smoke up.

  • chris

    always travel with a carry on that has all your medications , 1 outfit and anything you can not replace quickly. in the event of lost luggage(it happens) this saves having to wear the same outfit 2 or 3 days and the cost of replacing clothes right away. i always take a small flashlight in my purse and matches. -if you have ever been on a flight where it went dark - you know why. always leave cc numbers at home so if lost you can phone a trusted person for the info.

  • Judi

    You should NEVER pack small electronics in your luggage, or expensive headphones, jewelry or pills. They are pilfered like crazy at airports. All luggage is x-rayed, and luggage handlers can see the camera, phone, watch, etc. tucked carefully into the toe of your shoe. Since we can't lock our bags, we must carry small valuables aboard in totes or briefcases.


    You can lock your luggage!! We use the locks required by the TSA and you create your own code in them--then, only the TSA people with the keys can get into them, if needed. Otherwise, they will rip the locks to pieces if you don't have the correct locks. In this day and time, your better off to purchase them--cheap, about 10.00.

  • Sheilah

    Remember to tip the baggage handler if you check in curbside. At some airports their is also a per bag fee. I overtip these guys and have no problems but once my husband didn"t give him enough and guess who had to open the suitcase and remove stuff to get the weight down? If you use the vacuum bags I have found that everything gets really squished and wrinkled.

  • jim

    Did anyone ever hear of a laundromat. I pack just enought for a change of clothes every other day and then wash what I
    wore the day before and never have more than three days of changes. I get on the plane with a carry-on, no baggage to wait for, go thru lines faster than u can believe when checking in. Just think two weeks of vacation time and in just one little piece of baggage.

  • Tori

    I recently made this amazing discovery. Roll your clothes in dry cleaner bags! Due to the "slippyness" of the bags, NO WRINKLES!
    I actually had a pair of ironed cotton shorts in the bottom of my suitcase for an entire week, and when I unrolled, very very few wrinkles. So yep,, roll your clothes ot save space and use dc bags to save ironing!!

  • jennyb519

    Jim, who wants to do laundry on vacation?? Not me!!!

  • peakview

    I have been around the world twice for three weeks at a shot and on many other long-haul trips with carry-on only. I already had used the clothes rolling and giant baggy tricks (I thought I invented the baggie one). The one thing I have found invaluable and never seen anyone recommend (including the famous, but that may be because he is shilling his own bag) is to use a simple zippered duffle as your main carry-on. You can get so much more in it than any other bag because of the lack of compartments, wheels, handles, etc. Up to 3600 cubic in. The giant baggies are your organizers. It is also easier to get it into the overhead than stiff-sided carry-ons. I have never had it rejected on a major airline as being too big to carry-on no matter how stuffed it is. Yes, you have to carry it. Just like the old days of ten years ago. Get a good shoulder strap. I am in my 50s and would never consider dragging a carry-on size bag around anyway. Eagle Creek makes some good ones and even has one with back pack straps (any extra feature like this will eat into your storage space though).

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