Terrible at packing? Our guide on how to pack a travel suitcase: tips to prepare effectively for any trip

No need to stress about preparing a holiday case this Summer: whether carry on or a check-in suitcase, this is how to make the most of your luggage allowance

How to pack a suitcase for holiday: tips to pack efficiently and effectively for a tripHow to pack a suitcase for holiday: tips to pack efficiently and effectively for a trip
How to pack a suitcase for holiday: tips to pack efficiently and effectively for a trip

I have, in my time, been a terrible holiday packer. My lack of skill in preparing adequately has run the gamut, from the times I threw together a suitcase at the last possible minute, only to arrive in a foreign country without adequate weather protection or a plug converter, to hiking holidays where cautious over-packing left me carting 22 kilos of nonsense on my back, when half that weight would of done.

I have been told that I am not alone. Many travellers dread packing for a trip, either erring on the side of much too much, or doing their packing just before making tracks and cramming still-wet-from-the-wash clothing into a too small bag. This makes sense to me: packing is an act of future-proofing, after all, forecasting ahead both to what sort of holiday or trip you want, but also making contingencies for if things go awry. No wonder so many of us are poor at it: looked at from one angle, packing is holiday anxiety manifest.

But I promise you it doesn't have to be. Even if you are not an organised person (my hand is shooting up), following these hard-learnt guidelines has helped me prepare for my trips in a stress-free, methodical manner. Adopting these strategies, my holiday kit has, almost paradoxically, become far more comprehensive and useful but weighs much, much less. Here's what to do.

The bigger your suitcase, the more you'll pack

Discipline yourself by bringing a hard-sided suitcase, with a structured shell: you won't be able to squeeze any extras into it. A 22 inch suitcase works as large carry-on and stops you from being overly be-laden as you travel (Antler and Away make the best). The exception? You're headed somewhere with a guaranteed pick-up and airport transfer, and large airplane luggage allowance. But if you have those luxuries you're likely not reading this. So let's proceed.

Write a list

"Revolutionary," you may mutter, losing immediate faith in this article. But I'm not talking about a shopping style list of bits and pieces you are might bring. Instead, a timetabled, sectioned list (Excel nerds, rejoice) itemising your trip: the days, events, and requirements of each. Whether a business trip or a lengthy holiday break, taking 30 minutes to do this will save you a world of stress, I promise.

Day one, for example, may involve hitting a selection of city sights (sensible walking shoes, a comfy carry bag), an evening theatre show (a blazer thrown over a smart top, red lipstick), and a morning swim (bathing suit). Day two might be similar, but with a gym trip and swanky evening dinner.

Itemising your schedule this way can give a clear overview of everything you'll need, allowing you to identify double ups (one pair of smart shoes will suffice for multiple days, as will jeans and shorts), and account for enough socks/pairs of underwear (a fresh pair for every day + a change for any work outs, for example, although I wash and repeat on longer trips).

To the right of this schedule, make a list of non-negotiable essentials: charging cables, plug converters, medication, hygiene items, phone, etc. Write your list a few days ahead of travel, so you have time to launder any necessary clothing, stock up on prescriptions, and purchase anything you definitely need but don't already have to hand.

Taking a pineapple and fully blown-up inflatables in your holiday packing is Right Out, Readers. Photo credit: AdobeTaking a pineapple and fully blown-up inflatables in your holiday packing is Right Out, Readers. Photo credit: Adobe
Taking a pineapple and fully blown-up inflatables in your holiday packing is Right Out, Readers. Photo credit: Adobe

Lay everything you are planning out across a flat surface

Not your suitcase or backpack. Lie things flat across a clear space like your bed, for example, to survey what you have. Place like with like - tops in one piles, bottoms in another, etc. This allows a clearer idea of extraneous items - two jumpers when one will do? - and where you've missed something crucial. If you're hoping to wow from a fashion perspective, it also allows you to see what clothes might pair with what.

Don't throw in 'just in case I need it' items

I used to be a fiend for this, until I realised it left me carting dead weight around foreign locales. My back did not thank me for it. Extra shoes 'just in case'? Very rarely needed. Two pairs will always be plenty (arguably three, if you work out on holiday and don't want to wear your gym shoes as walking shoes due to the smell - I confess, this is my packing Achilles' heel).

If you're going to warmer climes, you'll only need one warm jumper or sweater for the flight or when the evening cools (I always choose a black or neutral colour for this warmer layer, for optimal outfit pairing). Hairdryers are a faff to carry around, towels absolutely uncalled for unless you're camping (we will cover camping/hiking holidays in a separate article). Never forget, as well, that (putting aside things like prescription medicines) if you find yourself away without something you really do need, you can always buy it.

You gotta roll with it

When it comes time to pack, roll, don't fold your clothes. It helps maximise space, minimise wrinkles. Fold t-shirts and skirts inwards to form a narrow rectangle. Trousers, jeans, fold down the middle - then roll as tightly as possible, like a fat bratwurst. Your suitcase should be stuffed with clothing sausages, tightly bundled. Conversely items you shouldn't roll: shirts, blazers, anything collared.

Packing the bag

Packing cubes are great for keeping your clothing sausages compact, outfits ordered. Place shoes in one side of the suitcase, sole-down - if you have shoe bags, use them, otherwise a plastic bag will do. Wear your heaviest pair onto the plane, but try to avoid bringing clompy shoes or boots on holiday unless it is winter. A plastic bag for gym gear is useful - once you have sweated into it, it will keep the smelly clothes separate from the unsoiled clothing. Gym gear should go on the same side of the case as the shoes.

Whatever sweater or jumper you're using goes in your hand luggage if you're checking a bag in: airplane air con is brutal, and the bulk of a sweater isn't useful for keeping the weight of your luggage down.

Any clothing that is unrolled is now placed on the other side of your case, flat, arms loose outside the case. Then, place the rolled fat clothing bratwurst into the case. Think of this as three-dimensional Tetris. Place rolled socks inside shoes. Every inch of space should be used. When you have packed out the clothing compartment of the case, roll the arms of the collared 'base layer' of clothing across the rolled up clothing sausages. It will keep your collared clothing relatively unwrinkled.

Keep your holiday toiletries in a dedicated bag, never unpack it

If you're a frequent traveller, keep a separate set of holiday toiletries in a designated bag, ready to go: toothbrush, facial wash, contact lenses, and all-in-one creams that combine foundation, moisturiser and sunblock. By doing so, you'll never forget anything vital, because you have a ready steady kit to go. If you're checking in luggage, this can be in handsome toiletry bag- just keep it at the top of your case, for ease of access. Hand luggage only? Double bag in clear plastic to avoid spillage. Quickly: Never take facial oils on holiday. Please, learn from one who lost her favourite dress to a Clarins Blue Lotus Night Oil.

If you have beloved skincare products, such as a dedicated shampoo or a great moisturiser, the purchase of a series of small, cheap travel bottles (Muji and Flying Tiger are ideal for such purchases, or Amazon, of course) to decant your preferred product is great. Powder products, such as blush or bronzer, can be protected by inserting a cotton wool disc into the compact.

Paperbacks, paperbacks, paperbacks

Never bring a hardback book. I have a Kindle and I love it for being able to store multiple holiday reads at once, but if you are not in possession of one, always bring a (ideally second hand, in case it gets lost) paperback with you.


I don't wear jewellery abroad, because it seems like hassle to me, but those friends of mine who do advise a 7-day pill box, traditionally used for medication, are great for transporting jewellery safely.

Know your luggage allowance ahead of arriving at the airport

... and weigh your case before you go. Better to be rationalising what to leave at home while you're still there, rather than frantically abandoning belongings on a terminal floor. I aim to come in two kilos under my allowance, in case - be it due to souvenirs or simply the odd physics of worn clothes vs freshly washed - the pack ends up a little heavier on the way back.

One last word on packing cubes

If you have invested in packing cubes - and I think they are fabulous, if you're a frequent flyer - they are ideal for compartmentalising your dirty clothes, away from the fresher clothes, when moving locale or heading home.