My best packing tips

So, you’ve budgeted and saved your money; planned your trip; and booked all your flights, accommodation, and transport options.

You are ready to hit the road!

Just one thing left to do…. PACK.

Love it or loathe it, packing is generally the final step in planning for your adventures.

It doesn’t have to be a chore; in fact, packing can be fun!

Let me show you how…

Obviously what and how you pack largely depends on where you are going, and what time of the year you are travelling. Thick, woolly winter clothing takes up so much more room in your luggage than say, bikinis and sarongs!

But, there are a few tips and tricks worth keeping up your sleeve in order to successfully pack for your next holiday.


Suitcase or Backpack?

One of the first things to think about when travelling overseas is the kind of luggage you want to take with you.

I personally prefer a suitcase, but I must admit to often being envious of other travellers who simply sling their giant packs over their backs while we struggle with our wheels. Each to their own.

Wheelie suitcases are great from a mobility perspective—just pull it behind you and away you go.

However, they are not great on the cobbled streets of Europe, or in the Canadian snow! That’s not to say they are impossible—we’ve used them and survived; it just takes a bit of patience and care so you don’t throw your hands in the air in frustration cursing your decision to go with a wheelie.

When it comes to luggage, size DOES matter.

Think about:

  • where you are going
  • what kind of transport you’ll be taking
  • how many destinations you are visiting
  • how long you are going away for
  • whether or not you’ll need to leave room for shopping/souvenirs etc.

All these factors will help you to determine what size luggage will be best for you. If you’re taking a lot of public transport (think: buses, trains, flights) you don’t want luggage that is too big and bulky to easily be loaded on and off, or into luggage racks.

On the other hand, taking smaller luggage can also have its draw-backs. If you’re planning on shopping or bringing home souvenirs with you, you’ll want to make sure your luggage of choice can accommodate this. Obviously you can always take an extra bag with you, buy one on holiday, or just send your purchases home by post; but ideally you want to stick with one bag to avoid baggage charges, or looking like a pack-horse.


Packing cubes are your friends

My life changed for the better once I discovered packing cubes.

I got mine from Eagle Creek, but there really are so many out there now, that you can’t go wrong.

Although they don’t look much when empty, packing cubes are like Hermione’s magic handbag when it comes to packing all your stuff in one bag.

You can fit so much into one little cube, and they not only keep your luggage neat and tidy; they help ensure you can fit more in, and also makes it easier to unpack and get settled at the other end—just pull them out by the handle and pop them in a drawer or wardrobe.

An example: on our recent jaunt to the wintery depths of Canada, I packed at least two hoodies, two pairs of pants, and a long-sleeve tee in my regular Pack-It Cube. This took up a fraction of the space in my suitcase than it would have if I had packed the items straight in. Winning!

Packing cubes come in a range of sizes, so you really are spoilt for choice, and will be able to find one to suit your needs.

Roll, roll, roll

I know it has been said one hundred times before, but I’m going to say it again: roll your clothes!

Not only does rolling up your clothes keep everything nice and compact, it also makes it much easier to pack everything in to your bag in the first place.

Pro tip: even when using packing cubes, I roll my clothes up before packing them in—ensuring I get the most out of each cube.


Clothing options

The best tip I can give you here is to pack items that you can interchange: choose colours that can be worn together; pick tops and bottoms that can be mixed and matched; and select shoes that can be worn during the day and the night, with both dresses/skirts and pants.

Trust me when I say that you really do end up wearing the same few items over and over again when travelling, so make sure you pack clothing that not only makes you feel good; but that is comfortable to wear, too.

Essentials for winter holidays:

  • Thermal underwear—long johns and long-sleeve polypropylene tops
  • Thick gloves and socks—wool is best for freezing temps, but I would also suggest thin polypropylene (or similar) liners that you can wear under your regular gloves or socks
  • Wooly Hat/s—at least two or three, as you’ll likely wear one every day
  • Boots—waterproof boots are ideal, but in some areas, thermal boots are the only way to go!
  • Scarves or neck warmers
  • Sunglasses—because the sun does still shine in winter, and when it hits that snow…
  • Lots of layers—thin, warm layers are perfect for colder climates. I warm up pretty quickly, so usually wear two-to-three layers at a time, depending on the temperature. You can always take a layer off if you heat up; but if you don’t have enough layers on, it can be very uncomfortable, and even dangerous.

Essentials for summer holidays:

  • Sunscreen—Sunscreen is essential, and also one of the things you tend to forget when packing. Worst case: buy some when you reach your destination. Be sun smart, people!
  • Jandals/thongs/flip-flops—whatever you like to call them, it’s most likely what you’ll end up walking around in on a daily basis, so make sure they are comfortable
  • Swimsuit
  • Hat—if you like the wide-brimmed, floppy kind: fill the inside with soft clothing, and place it in your suitcase. Then cover the brim with more clothing to ensure your hat doesn’t get damaged in transit
  • A warm layer—whether you prefer a hoodie, a jacket, or a sweat-shirt; make sure you have at least one warm layer with you, as hot summer days can turn into cold nights, especially if you’ve been out in the sunshine all day
  • Towel—although beach towels can take up a lot of room, it is so worth taking your own. They can also double as a blanket or pillow, which totally improves their cred.


Toiletries and makeup

Often it is not worth taking all your toiletries with you when heading overseas. You can generally find whatever you need at your destination; so I recommend either purchasing miniature versions of your can’t-live-without-it items, or filling small containers or bottles with your favourite lotions and potions.

If you’re packing your toiletries and makeup into your main piece of luggage, make sure you pop everything in a plastic bag. This will save your clothing if you spring a leak, and will also contain any spills.

If you prefer to pack these items in your carry-on, you will need to make sure you follow the guidelines of your chosen airline. Generally, all liquids must be 100mls or less, stored in a plastic bag. You will need to show these items when going through customs, so make sure they are easy to grab out of your carry-on bag.

As far as make-up is concerned, you don’t need to take as much as you think you do! Generally, I take an ‘all day errday’ approach to makeup; which is not only unnecessary, but also hard work when trying to reduce my luggage!

However, I have managed to narrow down my makeup into a few essentials:

  • BB or CC cream—great for travelling, as they act as a hydrator while also adding a bit of colour to your face
  • mascara—because eyelashes!
  • blush—just for a pop of colour on your cheeks and temples
  • lip colour—whether you’re a gloss or lippie gal, a swish of colour on your lips completes this simple look.

I usually also pack one or two eye shadows—let’s be real, it’s more like a full palette—but I normally use the same colours each day.


Carry-on luggage

When it comes to carry-on luggage, there are two rules to remember: you must be able to carry it by yourself; and if you can’t lift it over your head without assistance, it’s probably too heavy.

Items to pack in your carry-on include:

  • a blanket, jacket, or scarf—to keep warm during the flight
  • water—hydrate yo self!
  • chewing gum, mints, or a toothbrush and toothpaste—for minty fresh breath
  • an eye mask—for long haul flights especially, so you can get some shut eye without being disturbed
  • some form of entertainment—a laptop, ereader, tablet, or book
  • Headphones—because it’s always nicer to use your own, if you can
  • camera—if you’re taking a camera with you, pack it in your carry-on to ensure it arrives safe and sound
  • medication—if you require it; there’s always a chance your main luggage might not arrive in your destination with you, so this will prevent you missing a dose.

Check out my post on Surviving Long Haul Travel for some extra tips and tricks!

Don’t forget to:

Make copies of your itinerary, passport, and other travel documents. Keep one copy in your main luggage, one in your carry-on, and one on you at all times. That way, if any of your bags get lost or stolen, you’ll have proof of your identity, and will save yourself time, money, and stress.

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Packing Tips



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Author: Michelle

Michelle Harvey is a kiwi traveller, writer, photographer, list-maker, coffee drinker, and wanderer. Winter holidays are her favourite kind.

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