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How to Maximize Your Luggage Space and Pack Creatively

Packing cubes, someone wringing clothes in the sink, and someone using compression bags
Gonex/SinkSuds/Amazon Basics

One of the biggest challenges every traveler faces is packing. Whether you’re a chronic over-packer or try to get by with as little as possible, you’ve gotta get creative with your available luggage space. These tips and packing strategies will help you make the most of every bit of packing space in your suitcase, backpack, or duffel.

No matter what kind of luggage you have, or whether you travel for work or pleasure, everyone will benefit from knowing these packing strategies. They’ll help you stay organized, keep your bag count low at the airport, and leave more room for souvenirs.

Be Realistic

First things first: You gotta be realistic about what you can and can’t take with you. The best way to increase space in your luggage is to limit how much you bring on your trip. Obvious, right? But this is a lot harder than it sounds.

Try to avoid anything that falls under the “just in case” category. For example, if you’re going to Mexico to hang out on the beach every day, you probably won’t touch that pair of jeans you’re thinking about packing.

Make a list of all the things you’ll be doing on your trip and which clothing items you’ll need for each day and/or activity. Looking at suggested packing lists online for specific destinations or activities can be helpful, too.

Plan to Wash Your Clothes

Someone washes their clothing in a sink

If you feel like you have to pack a different outfit for every day of your trip because your clothes will get dirty, you’re not thinking like a minimalist packer. Washing some of your clothes on your trip can save you a ton of space.

You don’t need a hotel or rental unit with a washer and dryer to wash your clothes. While those are the most thorough options, a bathtub or sink will do just fine. Bring some travel laundry soap that you can use anywhere and wash soiled items in the evening so they have all night to dry in your room.

Socks and underwear are the easiest to wash because they’re smaller items that dry pretty quickly. If you’re planning on washing other items of clothing, opt for materials that will dry quickly like polyester, cotton, and merino wool.

If you don’t have a drying rack available, drape your clothing on shower rods, chairs, and whatever else you can find that will allow for good airflow. Or, make things easier and bring a portable clothesline.

Use Packing Cubes

A set of teal packing cubes and someone uses packing cubes in their suitcase

Packing cubes help keep you organized. Staying organized will help you make the most of your luggage and help you use every last bit of available space.

Some packing cubes, like these, also have slight compression features to help you fit even more in each cube.

Group items in your packing cubes like you do at home. For most people, that means there is a designated cube for undergarments, shirts, pants, and outerwear. However, some people find it helpful to pack outfits together or use a different method entirely.

Limit Shoes

A woman holding two pairs of shoes next to an open suitcase.
Alliance Images/Shutterstock.com

Shoes are bulky and take up a lot of room. When cutting down the number of things you’re bringing on a trip, start with your shoes.

Opt for one casual pair, like sneakers or sandals, and one nicer pair, like flats or dress shoes if you plan to dress up during your trip. Stick to neutral colors and styles that will go with any outfit in your suitcase.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but the goal is to be as realistic as possible to save on space. No matter how great your Insta photo would be in those knee-high boots you bought last week, leave them home if you’d only wear them once or twice on your entire trip.

Don’t Fill Your Newly Created Space

Hopefully, by now you’ve successfully created some more room in your luggage. Resist the temptation to fill any extra space with more items.

Traveling with a partially empty bag has plenty of perks. You’ll be glad you have room to take home some souvenirs instead of being forced to either check an extra bag or not being able to buy any souvenirs at all.

Packing Bulky Accessories

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of things you want to pack, you’ll want to maximize all the space available in your suitcase. Hats, scarves, and other accessories can take up a lot of room and also be awkward to pack.

The best way to deal with them is, of course, to avoid packing them at all. If you absolutely need them, though, try to wear them on the plane. This might not be possible for every bulky item, but just get as creative with your airline outfit as you can and wear as much as you can on travel day.

You can roll scarves and belts as tightly as possible and push them into the corners of your suitcase. If you have to pack a hat, place it in your suitcase upside down and fill it with smaller items.

How to Pack Jackets and Coats

Someone vacuuming the air out of a compression bag.
Amazon Basics

Limit yourself to one coat or jacket and wear it on the plane if possible (planes are cold, after all). Put whatever needs to go in your luggage in compression bags and suck out all the air before you pack them. This is particularly helpful for padded outerwear that’s stuffed with down or cotton.

You’ll be amazed at how much smaller they get when all the air has been removed. Just be sure to watch your luggage weight when using compression bags, as many airlines will charge fees for items over a certain weight.

Tips for Packing Clothing

Roll all of your clothing instead of folding it. It’ll take up less space and won’t get as wrinkled. Opt for clothes made from thinner materials whenever possible, as they’ll take up less space and be easier to wash if necessary.

Jeans take up a lot of space, so only bring one pair, if possible, and wear them on the plane. Jeans generally pack better when folded rather than rolled, but this will depend on the size of your luggage. Experiment to see which technique works best based on the space you have to work with and what all you’re packing.

Pack everything else first, and then stuff any small items, like socks and underwear, into all the nooks and crannies left over. You can put them in shoes, hats, corners, gaps, pockets, and any other available space.

Also, if you actually fold your underwear, you can save even more space.

Packing Toiletries

Six KIKOMO travel bottles in different colors and sizes.

Whether you’re only taking one carry-on or not, transfer all of your toiletries to travel-sized bottles. You don’t need a full-sized bottle of face moisturizer for a one-week vacation.

One exception to this might be shampoo and conditioner if you’re going on a long trip. But remember, you can buy those pretty much everywhere, so just pick some up when you get to your destination. If you’re staying in a hotel, there will also be some in the room.

You can avoid dealing with travel-sized bottles entirely by bringing solid toiletries instead.

Learning how to pack efficiently is a handy skill to have. All it takes is sticking to the essentials and getting creative with the space you have in your suitcase. If you do it right, you’ll even have enough room in your carry-on for those important accessories you need for a comfortable flight.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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