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Plan Before You Pack: Steps to Take Before You Open Your Suitcase

Written by Going Places

This blog post was updated on January 24, 2023.

Packing for travel is a pain for most people. It can be so stressful that travelers often overpack or wait until the last minute. Which, of course, only makes matters worse. In order to have a successful trip, it’s best to carefully plan out exactly what you’ll need to maximize your packing process.

Yes, that’s right, you too can become an organized (and calm) travel packer.

Whether you’re traveling domestically or taking an international flight, it pays to plan in advance. That way you won’t have any surprises pop up at the last minute without any chance to do anything about them. Here are some simple steps to make your packing experience easier — before you even open up your suitcase.

Inspect Your Suitcase

When packing for travel, you’ll need to give your suitcase a careful check for damages or potential problems before you start packing. Sometimes problems arise not from what we place in our luggage, but rather from a defective suitcase. That’s why it’s important to inspect your luggage to make sure it will hold up successfully. If you find holes, loose strings, broken zippers and the like, it might be wise to purchase a new bag or seek out a replacement. Those problems will only get worse as your bag is tossed from airplane to conveyor belt.

Check the Weather

Before you can even decide what you’ll need to bring, you have to check the weather. If you haphazardly throw items into a suitcase without a bit of research, you could end up spending too much on what you forgot once you get there. Most guidebooks have a section detailing what each time of year is like at different locations. And, of course, in depth weather coverage these days is only a Google away. Keep these details in mind before you open up that suitcase to start packing.

Consider Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are a minor miracle. They bring order to the chaos of packing and managing your luggage while you travel. Before you begin packing, you might want to shop around for different types of packing cubes that will make the process simpler, especially if you hate packing. Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes and colors, so you can organize your stuff any way you want: by clothing item, by outfit, by weather, by destination, etc. Some cubes allow you to suck out the air to create more room for your stuff. If you don’t feel like shelling out for packing cube accessories, try some Ziploc bags to help you organize and save space.

Make a List

There are tons of packing apps that can help you make a list of the items that you need to fit into your suitcase. Not so tech-savvy? Go old-school and pull out a pen and paper. Part of the problem many travelers face with packing is that they wait until the night before the big trip and then have to rush to get everything done. It’s hard to remember what you need or what you have packed if you’re already frazzled. If you have a set list to go before you even consider packing, you can check off items as you pack to ensure you don’t forget anything or pack unnecessary items.

Related: Winter is Coming, But These 9 Packing Hacks Will Help You Chill Out

Create Luggage “Zones”

Do you already have your vacation itinerary organized by destination or by activity? You should apply similar logic to your luggage. For example, you might dedicate one corner to beach days and bundle together your swimwear, sunblock, and towel. A different corner might be the fancy zone where you keep your nicer clothes for going out on the town. Another variation of this packing method is to simply prepare all of your outfits in advance. Pro tip: Don’t pack any clothes unless you know how you’re going to pair them and wear them during your vacation.

Get a Dopp Kit

Dopp kits are small toiletry bags that contain travel essentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste. You can think of them like carry-on bags within your checked luggage: They’re small, easy to grab, and should be packed right on top so that they’re always accessible when you need them. Some travelers even like to create a Dopp kit with daily essentials and a regular toiletry bag with items you occasionally need, like aspirin or antacids.

Plan for Dirty Clothes

Your clothes are going to get dirty and smelly. Your bathing suit is going to get wet. Are you prepared for these situations? How will you handle packing your luggage when this occurs? The simplest solution is to carry some plastic bags with you. But if you like to travel in style, you can also dedicate a packing cube or two to dirty laundry or purchase some drawstring fabric bags. Some will even come with extras like odor-blocking liners to keep the rest of your luggage fresh.

Leave Yourself Some Space

You’ll probably accumulate things on your vacation. They could be souvenirs, books, or new clothes you bought on impulse. They’ll need to fit into your suitcase somehow. You’ll also want to account for the general chaos of living out of your luggage for days. For example, unless you’re meticulously rolling your dirty laundry just as carefully as the clean stuff, it’s going to expand in size for your return trip. Be sure to give yourself some wiggle room during the packing process.

Consider Airline Restrictions

Don’t forget about the airline’s luggage restrictions! It’ll be a real hassle to have your hair gel confiscated by the TSA because it isn’t in a properly sized container. Airlines are dead serious about weight limits, too. So if you’re stuffing your duffel bag to the brim, make sure to step on the scale before you go. If you’re getting close to the weight limit, consider employing a few traveler’s tricks to get around it. For example, a common tactic of hikers and skiers is to layer up and wear their heaviest jackets and boots on the plane so that their gear doesn’t count as part of their luggage.

Do you have any packing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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Going Places

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