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This Is the *Only* Way You Should Pack Your Suitcase

by Sonali Karmarkar

Vacation: a wistful word that we endlessly dream about. The romance of walking through cobblestone streets, the breeziness of turquoise-lined beaches, and all the amazing Insta-worthy snaps in between. In addition to trying to fit vacations into our busy schedules, we plan them to perfection, which of course, starts with packing the perfect suitcase.

But how do you reconcile the desire to bring your entire wardrobe within the limiting confines of a suitcase (expandable options aside)? The answer is to plan ahead. Taking a more measured approach to packing can save you space in your suitcase, ensure you’re packing the right things, and save you the headache of struggling to close your suitcase at the end of the trip after all the vacay shopping (we’ve all been there!).

While we all love going away somewhere, we can all agree on hating the packing that comes before the trip. So here are some tips to become a packing pro for a more stress-free vacation.

Pre-Packing Philosophy

Before you start tossing pieces in a suitcase, take a step back to think about your goals for the trip. Not all vacations are the same and not all trips require the same level of methodology for packing. For instance, for a weekend trip visiting family, I tend to be more lax and just throw a bunch of things in a suitcase because if I forget something, I know there will be other options in the house. As for a foreign city or beach vacation, I like to ensure I am prepared and look chic, so planning ahead is key.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed before a trip because often there are a million looming errands that need to be completed before your getaway. There are loads of helpful apps out there to help you organize and keep sane. PackPoint Travel Packing List is a free app on both the iOS and Android app stores that uses information such as your destination, weather, and things you plan on doing while you’re there to generate a packing list best suited for your trip. Google Trips is another great app not only for packing lists, but for planning your trip itself. It syncs to your Google account, so it can aggregate information such as flights and hotel reservations from your Gmail and even make tailored recommendations based on your search history. It offers top things to do at your destination and editorial guides for over 200 cities, with all of these features available offline for those times you don’t have data or WiFi.

And with all these apps, there is still some magic left in paper and pen. My go-to is an old-fashioned list. My stage one of planning is to write a list of all the things I need to pack for my given trip. I segment my list into “general” and “last-minute,” the latter being items I can’t pack until the very last second (such as makeup, hairbrush, toothbrush).

In terms of timelines, for a vacation over a week, I tend to write my checklist and plan my outfits about a week prior and then add everything else to the suitcase as the week goes on. This ensures that my biggest priority (my outfits) are set and that I’m not stressing over this during the midnight hours right before my trip, when other issues are bound to arise. Having the week to slowly add things to your suitcase also allows you to preempt the item you may have been forgetting because you have more days to go through your mental and written checklists.

Plan Your Outfits

Taking some extra time to put together outfits not only condenses the number of pieces you plan to pack by limiting the number of random tops thrown in, but also makes finding things in your suitcase easier because you can just pull out an outfit set (rather than separately digging for a top and bottom). It is even more helpful if you know your itinerary because you can plan according to each activity as well as the highs and lows of the weather. Don’t underestimate how cold it may get at night!

When outfit planning, ask yourself how you want to display your style on your trip and work from there. For me, I like to have statement pieces (like wide-leg pants) and then find a top to complement it—or vice versa with a detailed top. I also opt for jumpsuits, rompers, and dresses when possible because not only are these pieces usually eye-catching, but they also are a pre-made outfit! And as a general rule, I like to plan about two outfits per day to allow myself to have daytime and evening selections.

Optimize Suitcase Space

For all you over-packers out there, space optimization is vital. I like to spread out bulky objects such as shoes and then roll my clothes to easily fit in tight spaces in between (or even inside your shoes to keep the shape and save space). However, when distributing your clothes throughout your suitcase, make sure to keep outfits together for easy finding; while all your clothes don’t need to be in one section, outfits should be together so that you don’t have to destroy your neat folding when you scrounge for that matching top.

Also, utilize suitcase pockets. Most suitcases will have a zippered section on one side—this is where I like to keep all my undergarments. As for jewelry, I like to condense my selections just to the essentials and will slip them into a little pouch that can fit in my purse. Since I am constantly afraid of my checked suitcase being lost, I like to keep my jewelry in my carry on when possible.

Bring a Light Jacket

No matter how warm the temperature is at my travel destination, I always, always, always pack a light jacket. Even the warmest places get breezy at night, so it’s best to be prepared. Even better if you plan your outfits ahead of time—you can strategize which jacket will match most outfits. Given how bulky jackets can be (and hard to fit inside the ever-confining suitcase), I rarely find it worth it to bring more than one no matter how chic both options are. Also, this jacket will be your protection layer on the freezing plane rides, which brings us to even better news. Wearing the jacket on the plane means you don’t have to condense the jacket into your suitcase—yay, more free space!

Shrink Your Beauty Routine

We know you want to look your most glam for all the vacation pictures, but chances are you don’t want to waste time doing a full skincare routine and contoured face while on your trip. So, before I go on vacation, I like to ask myself what are the top five skincare products and top five makeup products I absolutely cannot live without at the moment. For me, the essential makeup I must travel which is concealer, CC cream, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner, highlighter. I’m not saying you have to limit product to five in each category, but it is a simple rule of thumb to help you refine your selections—feel free to plus/minus the number of products as you see fit.

As for what to put your products in, I absolutely love the Pamela Barsky pouches, with sassy messages such as “I am fueled by a strong desire to succeed and way too much caffeine” (that’s what mine says). If possible, I highly suggest keeping your toiletries in your carry-on. This way, you can cleanse your face mid-flight and freshen up during a layover.
Keeping makeup in your carry-on also means that your products have to be under three ounces. For most trips, there is no need to bring more than three oz of a product, so this is a good volume condensing exercise. If you usually buy your makeup or skin-care items in bulk, I highly suggest either getting small reusable containers to put some of your product in (they sell these at most drug stores) or go to Sephora and get samples of your makeup (hack: they will give you these samples for free!). Plus, keeping makeup in your carry-on is a great precaution to ensure these valuable goods stay on your person in the event your baggage gets lost—because even if your clothes are gone, at least your skin will still be fresh!


Plan Shoes Wisely

Not to sound like your lame, pedantic mother, but it is very, very important to think about how much walking you’re going to do on your trip before choosing shoes. Looking chic is great until you’re limping around Italy, too tired to climb the Duomo. I’m not saying you have to pack sneakers (I personally don’t vibe with sneakers), but think about which shoes are the most comfortable while still meeting your style goals. And definitely leave behind those new shoes that haven’t been broken in yet—vacation blisters are the worst! And as the perpetual over-packer, I like to have options. In my recent years, I’ve narrowed down the options to my rule of one shoe in each category. For instance, for a summer trip, I like to have one-two pairs of walking sandals, one pair of flats, and one pair of heels I can wear for nights out or fancy evening dinners. Four pairs of shoes are the typical amount that can fit into a mid-sized suitcase without too much stuffing.

Hat Trick

Okay, so admittedly hats are a very specific fashion choice that not all of us consider in our style wheelhouse. However, after years of having the sun beating down on me during vacation leaving me wilted, hot, and lethargic, I have found bringing a hat to be one of the most essential pieces packed for a trip. A good hat can shade both your face and maybe even your shoulders, keeping part of you cool while hiding your precious asset (your face!) from the sun’s harmful rays. Hats are also surprisingly versatile in style. If you consider your aesthetic to be more tomboyish, you may want to opt for a baseball cap while those of you who go for more glam may prefer a good-old wide-brimmed sun hat. I personally prefer foldable sun hats for being able to easily be stuffed in my suitcase and for their wider brim being able to also obscure my shoulders from the sun.


Unless I’m traveling for work, I try to avoid bringing my laptop (unplug!). Plus for general vacation research, most browsing can be completed on your phone. So for vacations, I highly suggest sticking to tech basics (how do you explore while hiding behind a veil of tech?). My go-to’s are my phone, headphones, necessary chargers, and adapters if I’m going abroad to a country with different voltage. That’s it! I’m pretty satisfied with the camera quality of my phone, so I stick to that, but I know a high-quality camera is also a lot of people’s must-have on a trip. And generally, as a rule of thumb, keep all your valuable tech equipment in your carry on just in case your suitcase gets lost, though we hope this will never happen.

Be a Bookworm

Vacations are the best time to catch up on that book that has been sitting on your shelf for the past few months. It’s great for that dead time at the airport, on the plane, and the random down periods in the middle of your day or while at the beach. Getting lost in the language of a novel will also increase your zen and help you unplug further, so that you can come back home as refreshed as possible. Some of my favorite memories on vacation are spent while reading a book at a café!

Plane Time Self-Care

This definitely isn’t at the top of anyone’s list while packing, but planes are the best time to invest in self-care. You’re literally trapped in a metal tube for hours with nothing to do. Regardless of the potential stares, you may get from fellow travelers, it is SO worth it to bring along a sheet mask or two for the plane ride (preferably one that hydrates!). Masks are very compact and can easily be slipped into your carry-on. There is something about the stuffy, pressurized air in planes that always guarantees me for at least some type of breakout while on vacation (bleh), but putting in a little care on the plane may get you ahead of the problem, leaving your skin happy and fresh as you arrive at your vacay destination.

Featured Image via @manaateee

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