15 of the best packing tips to use for your next trip

Gearing up for an overseas getaway – with carryon only? Here’s what you’ll need…

I pride myself on being a great packer. As a child of divorce who stuffed a bag to go between houses every weekend, I got quite good at the art of living out of a suitcase.

Whether it’s a year-long backpacking trip, a week in paradise or a weekend road trip I always find myself having exactly what I need – little more, little less.

Back in March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia’s total departures have once again exceeded one million – an annual increase of almost 900,000 departures.

Australian-based travellers are well and truly back on the move, and chances are most are finding themselves out of practice. In the spirit of being ‘overseas travel ready’ I thought it fitting to compile a list of my best packing tips for travel.

You’ll have to get used to lists if you want to become an expert packer…

best packing tips for a family travelling with luggage

1. Packing lists are your best friend

You’ll either love me or hate me for this one, but packing for travel and making a list go hand in hand, or at least they should

Making a list before beginning to pack can reduce overwhelm and the tendency to throw in more than you need (I’ve been guilty of this one too many times).

 A good packing list will detail all the essentials, such as:

  • travel documentation (passport, booking confirmations, etc.)
  • technology (phone, laptop, camera, charging cables, etc.)
  • toiletries
  • medications and supplements
  • shoes 
  • clothes

Bonus tip: Pack by outfit

When it comes to clothes it’s generally best to pack by outfit rather than by item. Think about the activities you expect to do on your trip – will you be wining and dining, hiking or both?

Packing by outfit ensures your pieces actually go together and eliminates that bright pattern t-shirt that doesn’t go with anything.

On that, you can’t go wrong with a good neutral colour pallet in your suitcase. A good capsule wardrobe will always have pieces you can mix and match, so always think ‘will this piece go with more than one outfit?’

2. Never pack in a rush

As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I’ve long been teased for packing by suitcase two weeks before a big trip, but the two-week rule works a treat for chronic over-packers.

While there are some things you can’t pack until the last minute, having the bulk of your clothing packed well in advance allows you to reflect and remove some things before heading off.

Remember to ask yourself whether you have a specific use in mind for each packed item.

Bonus tip: The elimination rule

As a general rule, I tend to remove at least one item from each category (one pair of shoes, one top and bottom piece of clothing, etc.)

The further in advance you think about packing the more time you have to eliminate those things that, let’s be real, you probably won’t wear more than once.

woman packing suitcase

3. Roll don’t fold

Rolling your clothes not only takes up less space than folding, but allows you to view your travel wardrobe at a glance.

For items that can’t be rolled (like underwear), packing cells come in handy. These can be picked up cheaply and are a great way to separate socks from swimwear to make living out of a suitcase more user-friendly.

Hot tip: Use tissue paper between clothes you don’t want wrinkled – this one comes in handy for business trips.

rolled clothes in suitcase

4. Find (and pack) dead space

Minimising dead space is another useful way to make sure you save room for souvenirs. Here are some tips to fill the gaps in your suitcase:

  • Condense vitamins in one bottle
  • Fill stack and fill your hats
  • Fill shoes with your socks
  • Use soft-shelled toiletry bags

5. Keep it dry

Arriving at your hotel wanting nothing more than a fresh pair of clothes only to find your liquids have leaked through your bag in transit is up there with the nightmare of losing your luggage.

Befriending ziplock bags to seal your bottles is always a good idea. It also pays to carry a large garbage bag to store any wet clothes (especially if you’re lucky enough to be on the move with wet swimmers).

6. Keep it clean

It’s always a good idea to have another bag on hand to separate yesterday’s dirty hiking clothes from this evening’s dinner wear.

It can also be handy to carry a small bottle of detergent and a travel clothesline (or a thin piece of rope). I like to wash my underwear and a t-shirt or two in the shower and create a makeshift clothesline in the hotel room. This tends to keep washing under control in between laundromat visits.

Lavender and rosemary are an easy and natural way to keep everything smelling nice on your travels, so be sure to pluck a few sprigs for inside your bag along the way.

woman packing suitcase

7. Keep it safe

Most hotels have a safe for your valuables, but not always. I’ve stayed in many Airbnbs without any form of secure lock up, in which case I’ll usually attempt to disguise my valuables to deter any potential break-ins.

Putting jewellery in an old vitamin container, a passport in a book and cash in jacket pockets (or anything you don’t expect thieves to be interested in) can be a good strategy to keep valuables safe.

Luggage locks are also non-negotiable for your bags in all kinds of transit – not just when flying. I tend to have an extra combination lock on hand, as some accommodations (mainly hotels and Airbnb) offer lockers with a BYO lock situation.

8. Invest in an e-reader

Travel without a good book simply isn’t travel if you ask me. If you speed through the novels when you’re away, investing in an e-reader can be a lifesaver, leaving less weight to lug around and more room for shopping.

I’m a sucker for a good paperback, so I was admittingly reluctant to make the switch, but this is another non-negotiable when travelling now.

e-reader in the park

9. Travel with carry on

Mastering the art of carry-on can be tricky, but it’s so worth it when you don’t have to worry about baggage collection (or the nightmare of losing your luggage)!

The trick is to have a good carry-on bag that allows you to maximise space, you’ll also want to take advantage of the personal item with a bigger handbag.

The golden rule here is to pack as if it’s the only back you’re taking. That means you’ll have a spare pair of underwear, clothes, essential toiletries and your valuables.

business traveller carrying hand luggage

10. Carry your valuables with you

Anything you need daily should accompany you in your carry-on luggage. Medication, valuables and money are important to keep with you in case your luggage doesn’t meet you at your destination.

Basically, you should assume you’re going to lose your main luggage when packing your carry-on.

11. Weigh in at home

It’s always a good idea to weigh your luggage at home to avoid any rushed unpacking at the airport. Most hotels will have scales (if not in your room, then at the reception).

There are many travel scales out there, but I tend to just jump on my home scales with my suitcase. This method usually works best if you weigh yourself first and then subtract that weight after you step back on with your luggage (watch your back).

weighing luggage with portable scales

12. Stand out from the crowd

The ‘ribbon on checked luggage’ trick is an oldie but a goodie, especially if you have black luggage.

Baggage collection is usually the last thing you feel like after hours in the air, so you’ll likely thank yourself for tying some bright ribbons on your suitcase!

I recommend picking up some patterned ribbons that you’ll easily recognise. Most dollar stores have a good selection if you don’t have anything lying around.

baggage carousel
<em>Opting for bright luggage is another way to easily spot your bags in a crowd<em>

13. Shop smarter

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to souvenirs – I’ve been guilty of stuffing large rugs and delicate ceramics into my bag. Zipping up my luggage on the trip home became a lot easier when I started collecting jewellery instead.

Whether for yourself or loved ones at home, rings don’t take up much room at all and can be worn on the trip back if you need – genius! Looking for lighter and cheaper souvenirs can also make sense if you are pursuing a frugal lifestyle.

14. Pack your travel apps folder

We have most answers at our fingertips these days, so having a folder dedicated to travel apps on your smartphone can make for smooth sailing.

From offline maps and booking platforms to tracking your flights and learning new key language phrases, travel apps are my best friend when I’m away.

travel apps

Check out our guide to the best apps for travellers to learn which ones you should download before your next trip.

15. Get a travel debit card

Budgets are often paramount when travelling, which is why spending your own money and avoiding foreign transaction fees with a travel debit card can be a good way to manage your spending when you’re away.

Like with many things, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to travel debit cards in Australia, which can be a blessing and a curse if you tend to get easily overwhelmed like me.

NAB debit card

You can read our best travel debit cards post to learn which card you should have on hand for your next trip. 

Top 10 must-have items to pack

From feeling and looking fresh to being prepared for the unexpected, these are the top ten travel items to have on hand.

  1. needle and thread 
  2. wet wipes 
  3. hand sanitiser 
  4. moisturiser 
  5. mints or gum 
  6. medication & first aid (including paracetamol) 
  7. hydration effervescent
  8. spare clothes & underwear
  9. drink bottle
  10. cash (in the currency of your destination)
packed suitcase
<em>Im betting this traveller probably doesnt need two beach hats<em>

Summing up: Better packing for travel = better trip

It’s no secret that packing well can make a trip away more pleasant. From rolling your clothes to mastering the art of hand luggage, there are many things you can do to pack better for travel.

No matter where you’re heading, using these 15 best packing tips will ensure that you level up your packing game before you jet off again.

What is your best packing tip?

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