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From an Ex-Flight Attendant: Here’s How to Pack Like a Pro

As an ex-flight attendant, a frequent flyer, and a digital nomad, I’ve packed a fair few suitcases in my time. From packing weekend-away bags to big backpacks for year-long travels to suitcases for luxury holidays, I’ve picked up many tips and tricks along the way—like how to ensure your clothes stay wrinkle-free in your suitcase, what to pack in your carry-on versus checked luggage, how to easily pack as many or as few clothes into your bag as you need, how to pack all those darn toiletries and more. 

I’ve got you covered with these nine packing tips so you too can pack like a pro.

1. Roll, Don’t Fold

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I swear by the rolling method when it comes to packing clothes. Rolling garments not only saves space but also minimizes wrinkles in your clothes. This is especially important if you’ll be packing any formal outfits or clothes that tend to crease easily, but even for everyday items like T-shirts, it’s a game changer. Whether you’re attending a wedding or just exploring the great outdoors, who really wants to spend a holiday wearing wrinkly outfits? 

2. Pack Essentials in Your Carry On

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Always, always pack essential items such as medications, a change of clothes, any must-have toiletries (small toothpaste, small moisturizer, contact lens solution, etc.), important documents, and a phone charger in your carry-on bag. Checked luggage gets lost all the time, so always be prepared. 

I pack my carry-on bag imagining my checked bag will get lost, so I’ll be able to survive the trip just with my carry-on bag, if necessary. Don’t assume that if your checked bag gets lost that you’ll easily be able to buy replacement items in your destination—especially if you’re staying somewhere with limited resources, like a tropical island. Save yourself the hassle and pack your essentials in your cabin bag so you’re good to go, just in case.

3. Use Compression Packing Cubes

I love packing cubes. They’re a double win—not only do they keep you organized, as they allow you to separate your clothes and items so you can find them easily in your suitcase, but they also enable you to compress your clothes even more, giving you more space in your suitcase.

4. Your Handbag Is Your Secret Weapon

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My personal favorite tip is to make the most of my personal item allowance (aka, my handbag). You’re allowed your handbag, plus your carry-on suitcase in the cabin. Therefore, I bring a big handbag on flights and pack it with items I may need during the flight, such as my laptop, eye mask, headphones, phone charger, and snacks. 

Any space left over I use to pack other heavy carry-on items, which frees up space in my cabin suitcase for other things. This then makes my carry-on suitcase lighter, which is helpful if the airport staff ask to weigh it (we all know those pesky low-cost airlines that won’t let you be a single gram over the allowance). 

By putting everything I need for the flight into my handbag, it also means I won’t need to get anything out of my cabin suitcase for the flight. Instead of opening the overhead stowage cabinet mid-flight, I simply reach for my handbag.

5. Choose Versatile Clothing Items That Can Be Mixed And Matched

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If you’re backpacking or want to pack light for outdoor adventures abroad, choose your clothes wisely. Opt for versatile pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched easily with other wardrobe staples. Plain colored clothes and classic styles are a great way to go so that you can wear a variety of outfits in different ways. Creating multiple outfits with fewer items is a really smart way to save space and weight in your luggage.

6. Layering Is Key

Leading on from the last point, packing lightweight layers instead of bulky sweaters gives you more outfit choices without overloading your luggage. If you’ll be visiting somewhere cold, wear your coat and heavier clothes on the plane. Airplanes always get very cold, anyway. You’ll also appreciate having light layers when you’re out on the trails carrying your change of clothes on your back.

7. Remember the Clear Bag For Your Liquids

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To make sure you pass through security quickly and easily, pack the toiletries you’re bringing in your carry-on luggage in a clear, quart-sized bag when you’re at home. Don’t wait until you get to the airport to do this. Containers must be a size of 100 milliliters or less if traveling in the USA or internationally—don’t forget, otherwise you risk having your toiletry item confiscated. 

If you need to bring bigger toiletries, just place them in your checked luggage, preferably in a toiletries bag so they don’t run the risk of exploding over your clothes due to the pressure in the airplane. When you’re packing your carry-on luggage, always place your clear toiletries bag in an easily accessible place in your bag so it’s easy to get out when you reach security.

8. How to Handle Heavy Shoes

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Planning on bringing hiking boots? Always wear your heaviest and bulkiest shoes on the flight so they don’t take up valuable space in your luggage. Fill the rest of your shoes with socks or underwear to make use of empty space. Another great tip when packing shoes is to place them in a shoe bag so they don’t stain your clothes. This is especially helpful if you plan to get muddy while you’re on vacation.

9. Always Pack a Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is essential during a flight—it dehydrates you more than you think—and it’s also key for enjoying the outdoors, no matter where in the world you’re doing it. Drinking water is the best thing you can do for your body when you’re traveling, so bring a water bottle onboard so you don’t have to keep asking the flight attendants for water in the plastic cups. 

The water bottle will need to be empty for you to pass security, and once you’ve passed it, you should be able to find a water fountain or refill station in the airport. Not only does this allow you to save money at the airport, but it also reduces plastic waste. You’ll need that bottle as you explore your destination and then again on the return flight.

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