These 3 packing hacks changed my life
Or at the very least, made it easier to fit everything into my suitcase.
Frequent flyers can be a smug bunch—which I don’t mean as a neg, since I count myself among them.
Because for all the headaches that travel causes (delays, overbooking, airport terminal awfulness…um, where shall I begin?), you can’t really blame anyone for being psyched that they’ve mastered a part of it.
Especially when it comes to packing.
And what I’ve realized interviewing some of my favorite healthy frequent flyers is that if you’ve packed, unpacked, and repacked enough, you’ll eventually have an a-ha moment where unlock some secret to filling your suitcase.
After a year of a lot of travel—some of it long haul—there have been three things that have fundamentally made my packing life easier. Call them a-ha moments, call them smug tips, whatever—they have helped me travel better, and I’m very willing to share them with you.
Packing Hack 1: Get Doubles
If I had a penny for the number of times I forgot to pack a toothbrush, I’d have…enough pennies to buy myself a toothbrush. Which I did a lot because, again, I would always forget to pack a toothbrush. (Phone charger was a close second.)
It was a travel frustration I just kind of shrugged my shoulders about until yogi Claire Fountain shared with me that she has a set of essentials she uses just for when she’s away from home. “‘Grab your toothbrush’—no! You have a separate toothbrush,” she told me. “I have two of a lot of things. That is a life hack.”
I just grab my travel doubles bag and throw it in my suitcase.
The concept honestly blew my mind, and by the end of the week I created a mental list of things I always brought on trips that I also always used at home—and gathered a set of them that would be just for travel. For me that includes the aforementioned toothbrush and phone charger, along with toiletries (from floss to lip balm), a notebook, and an eye mask.
It means that whenever I’m gearing up for a trip, I don’t have to include these things on my to-bring list—and then make sure I’ve remembered to actually pack them. Instead, I just grab my travel doubles bag and throw it in my suitcase. In other words: Yes, this is 100% a life hack.
Packing Hack 2: Keep a List
I have no problem dressing myself like the adult I am every morning…until it comes time to pack. Then, suddenly, it’s like I’ve forgotten about half the clothes I own—and the other half is filled with statement styles, prints, and colors that don’t really play well with others.
For years it meant that I almost always overpacked, because each statement shirt I insisted on bringing needed its own matching pair of pants and shoes. The easy fix is to just wear black when you travel, a la photographer Christina Lonsdale. “My biggest secret is I pack all black,” she explained. “That way everything matches, and if it gets dirty you just rub it with a water cloth and it’s fine.”
If all-black’s your vibe: done. But honestly, that’s just not my outfit style, so when I had to pack for a two-week trip to India, I didn’t really have an option: I had to get smarter about what I packed.hen I came back I wrote my clothing packing list down in a notebook, and gave future me some feedback.
When I came back I wrote my clothing packing list down in a notebook, and gave future me some feedback.
After I spent a lot of time laying out faux outfits on my bed (some were winners, some…not so much) I came up with a slew of looks that were mixed and matched from just six pieces. And here’s the really important part: While not all of them worked when I was actually traveling, when I came back I wrote my clothing packing list down in a notebook, and gave future me some feedback. (Think: “Wished I had an extra white linen shirt,” “Didn’t wear the ballet flats once,” etc.)
Which seemed like no biggie, until I went to pack for another two-week trip (this time to Bali); instead of being struck with that momentary outfit forgetfulness, I referenced my notes and followed my revised packing list. It worked out pretty well—so well, in fact, that when I came home I updated my notebook with the details. (New learnings: I didn’t need the extra swimsuit, wished I brought a poncho.)
Now, after every trip I take I add my packing list to the notebook. I try to generally categorize each entry—beach weekend, work trip, epic surf vacay—so I can quick reference them again depending on my destination.
It definitely helps me pack more quickly; I’m also convinced it makes me pack less. Either way, I know that wherever I’m going, I’ll wake up to a suitcase filled with clothes that I’ll actually want to wear together.
Packing Hack 3: Go Cubed
The most passionate thing I hear from the members of The Pack is about how they put their clothes into their suitcase. A few swear by stacking (and their reasons are good), but most are hardcore rolling acolytes—which is to say: They believe that the most efficient way to pack is by rolling up each item of clothing first.
Take actress Tiffany Lighty, who told me, “I roll up my clothes so that they’re really small and compact; that definitely saves space.”
In my experience, that is 100% true, and the times that I’ve gotten lazy mid-trip and stopped rolling my clothes is when I’ve had the most issues trying to zip my suitcase back up. But I’ve taken it a step further by adding packing cubes to the mix.
Instead of having to turn my suitcase upside down trying to root out a specific item, I just pull out the easy-to-spot cube that I know is holding that thing.
For the uninitiated, packing cubes are exactly what they sound like: zip-up cubes (often made with some combination of nylon and mesh) that help hold your rolled-up things so that they’re not flopping around in your bag.
There’s the OCD factor (it’s an added layer of protection between the clothes I need to keep clean and the imagined dirt that’s in my bag), but there’s also the sheer functionality of it: Instead of having to turn my suitcase upside down trying to root out a specific item, I just pull out the easy-to-spot cube that I know is holding that thing. Need an extra pair of socks? I’ll just reach for my sock-and-undies cube. Getting cold and need to grab that extra layer? It’s in the tops-and-bottoms cube. (Yes, being a cube person means you become a themed cube person.)
And if you’ll be hotel hopping and need to be able to unpack and repack often, they are a true godsend. Eagle Creek has a version that gets the most rave reviews online, but for more cubes for you buck, I’ve been testing out Shacke’s cubes and am generally happy with the results. Which, when compared to all the other stresses of travel, makes it feel like I’m somehow gaming the system.