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How to pack luggage: Take the stress out of travelling by packing with purpose

How to pack luggage, opened suitcase on bed

Forever struggling to close your suitcase? Here’s how to streamline your packing and make baggage-allowance anxiety a thing of the past

Wondering how to pack luggage for your next trip? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve racked up our fair share of air miles reviewing the best carry-on luggage and suitcases, and we’ve learnt a thing or two about what it takes to pack efficiently along the way.

Packing for flights can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. If you regularly find yourself sitting on your suitcase trying to force the zip shut or frantically repacking at the bag drop attempting to get under the baggage allowance, we’re here to help. Being methodical about your packing and having the right luggage for the job will make things a lot easier, and there are lots of handy tips you can use to streamline the process.

Here we delve into the topic of packing, answering some of the most common questions along with a step-by-step guide to help get your packing nailed every time you travel.

Do I need a checked bag?

The answer to this depends largely on where you’re going and how long for. “Checked-in baggage” (or “checked baggage”) refers to items handed over during the check-in process to be placed in the aircraft’s cargo hold, while “carry-on baggage” (or “hand luggage”) refers to smaller items you can take with you onto the plane.

Generally speaking, you should be able to get away with a carry-on bag (one that fits into the overhead compartment) for most weekends away and short business trips, but trips of five days or more will probably require something a little more substantial.

If you’re going away for a week or two on holiday, it’s probably a good idea to take a case big enough to accommodate seven days’ worth of clothing, and toiletries. Unless you’re a staunch minimalist who strives to pack as light as possible, this is probably going to mean checking in a suitcase.

READ NEXT: Best hand luggage

How big can a carry-on bag be?

This will vary from airline to airline. Many budget operators make their money from overcharging for baggage, so you may only be able to take something small enough to fit under the seat (if anything at all) without paying extra.

“There are almost as many carry-on sizes as there are airlines so it’s important to check the baggage policy of the airline you’re flying with,” explains Geoff Grisdale, packing expert and founder of blog and video channel One Bag Travels. “Some airlines like British Airways allow a generous 45cm x 25 x 56cm (WDH) cabin bag that can be up to 23kg (51lb) in addition to a 30 x 15 x 40cm handbag. While others like Ryanair only allow a small personal item of 25 x 20 x 40cm for their standard fare.”

That being said, a standard carry-on bag should be small enough to fit into the overhead compartment. This means it needs to be approximately 45 x 25 x 56cm (WDH) including handles and wheels. For complete peace of mind, it’s always worth checking before you fly.

Can I take liquids on the plane?

Rules around flying with liquids vary from country to country and airline to airline, but it’s safest to assume that anything above 100ml will have to go in your checked bag. Anything you do take on the plane yourself will usually have to be placed into a separate plastic bag to go through security.

Of course, once you’re through security you’re free to purchase larger liquids that can then be taken aboard the plane.

READ NEXT: Best backpacks

What sort of bag should I take for a weekend trip?

A holdall or a carry-on suitcase are good options for short trips of two to three days. These types of bags are small enough to stuff into an overhead compartment, but large enough to carry a couple of outfits, a laptop and your toiletries. Again, this type of bag should be no larger than 45 x 25 x 56cm (WDH) including handles and wheels.

What sort of bag should I take for a week or more?

For longer trips, a large suitcase is probably the best option. This type of bag usually measures somewhere around 67cm tall and will need to be checked in so that it can be transported in the hold.

How to pack a suitcase step by step

1. Invest in a good case

Buying a proper hard-shell suitcase with wheels, an extendable handle and perhaps even a combination lock is the first thing you should do if you’re looking to make packing and travelling easier and more efficient. They’re nice and easy to transport around the airport, great for keeping valuables protected and they’re less forgiving than soft cases, making it almost impossible to overpack.

2. Make a packing list

When it comes to travel, lists are your friend. Knowing ahead of time exactly what you need and being able to tick it off as you go takes the guesswork out of packing and can alleviate some of the potential for stress, forgotten items and being underprepared.

3. Start small

“Just like Parkinson’s Law applies to tasks expanding to take as much time as allowed for their completion, so does your gear expand to fit the size of your suitcase,” says Geoff. “Start with a smaller bag and force yourself to reduce until your stuff fits – you’ll be surprised by how much you can eliminate if you have to.”

4. Roll, don’t fold

Rolling clothes instead of folding them up can help to save space. It’s also less likely to leave your clothing crumpled and creased when you arrive at your destination.

5. Heavy items at the bottom

Packing your heavy items at the bottom of the case near the wheels is a good idea for a few reasons. Firstly, it will keep the centre of gravity lower, which means your case is less likely to be imbalanced and topple over. Secondly, it means your lighter items won’t get crushed and crumpled under the weight of the heavier stuff.

6. Treat it like Tetris

Be methodical about how you arrange your things, and try to make sure you use every bit of available space. You can put things inside your shoes to save room, for example. Or you could put all your largest items in first and use smaller bits to fill the gaps.

7. Use packing cubes

Using packing cubes is another way to help maximise space while keeping your belongings organised at the same time. These little zip-up fabric containers usually come in packs of a few different sizes which you can use to separate things like socks and underwear, tops, dirty laundry and toiletries. It’s a great way to ensure you’re organised from the minute you open your case.

8. Stash valuables and smaller items

If you’re taking valuables such as cash, jewellery or a particularly fancy watch, make sure to stash them somewhere safe and secure. This is a good time to make use of any little zippered compartments your suitcase might have. Or alternatively, you could put them in a zip pocket of a jacket and keep it folded somewhere in the middle of the case where it will be protected.

9. Wear what you can

“Wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane,” suggests Geoff. “Your bag only needs to fit the airline’s dimensions when you go through the gate. You can reduce the size of your carry-on by wearing your largest pair of shoes, jacket or other bulky clothes. You can even put heavy gear like chargers and tablets in your pockets while you board to reduce the size and weight of your carry-on.”

10. Pack a pillowcase

A genius laundry hack is to pack a pillowcase that you can use as a makeshift laundry hamper while you’re away. It will help you to keep your clothes organised, and it’s more environmentally friendly than using a plastic bag or bin liner.

READ NEXT: What items are not allowed on a plane in hand luggage?

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