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How to pack your luggage like a pro traveler

Two women traveling with backpacks in Las Vegas.

I have done my share of traveling over the years, both for business and pleasure. At one point in my career, I was traveling for week-long trade shows and quick round-trip business trips, sometimes with a few extra days for pleasure as well. Now, while I travel less often for business, my family and I still take annual trips somewhere sunny to get much-needed rest and relaxation, while my gal pals and I love to take the occasional weekend trip, whether it’s to a spa a few hours away for an overnight rejuvenation or a weekend in New York. Needless to say, I have extensive experience with packing and traveling, and have acquired tips over the years that will help when packing, organizing, and prepping for your getaway.

Prepping and packing for travel

One of my favourite things to do when prepping for a trip ahead of time is to make a packing list. I’ll organize the list into categories: clothing, toiletries, tech, and other essentials. I like to keep standard lists for each type of trip – short business, long business, vacation, and overnighter – and keep them in a notebook. This makes it easy to refer back to the same list each time you travel and simply add/remove items as necessary. You may also wish to make two of each list to accommodate for cold and warm/hot weather.

Once I have my list, I pack the items I won’t be needing prior to the trip ahead of time. This might include my carry-on luggage or travel backpack with things for the plane, like a good pair of noise canceling headphones, portable charger (charged up ahead of time), passport, pen (useful for filling out customs forms), travel pillow, travel funds in the local currency, and so on. I always like to pack a small toiletry kit with essentials (travel toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, night creams, make-up, and so on) in small 3.4-ounce containers that meet carry-on allowances for liquids, and I refill them when I return so I can simply grab it and pop the kit into my carry-on each time. I also always pack one set of clothing in my carry-on, including undergarments, a simple T-shirt or tank, and tights or shorts. If an airline has ever lost your luggage or it has been delayed getting to your hotel, you will appreciate this tip!

Once you have packed your appropriately sized luggage, weigh the suitcase to make sure it won’t classify as overweight and incur a hefty fee. If you don’t have a luggage scale, a handy trick is to step on your bathroom scale, log the number, then step on again while lifting the suitcase. Subtract the first number from the second and voila! That is how much your luggage weighs!

While large luggage is perfect for longer trips, I recommend getting a suitcase that just meets carry-on specifications as well but is large enough for a weekend trip so you can avoid checking luggage for short jaunts. Ideally, get a luggage set with multiple sizes so you have one that is suitable for each type of trip. See our comprehensive luggage buying guide if you need help choosing the right set or suitcase.

When packing for longer trips where you might require different outfits, such as a resort where you’ll need swimwear, evening wear, and casual day wear, I recommend packing cubes. I recently invested in a set and it works wonders for keeping items organized, and fit more. They can also be used to keep dirty clothing separated from the clean, which makes laundry a breeze once you return. Whether using cubes or not, a neat trick is to roll your clothing, which reduces wrinkles and allows for fitting more in a smaller space. If you don’t have a garment bag, for dressy clothing, a useful trick is to keep them on hangers and in plastic dry cleaning bags. Lie them down at the top of the suitcase, folding over about a quarter if needed. Then, simply grab the hangers and hang clothing in the hotel room when you arrive.

When it comes to larger luggage, it’s a good idea to choose something brightly coloured or with a pattern that will stand out. If you prefer basic black or another darker, solid colour, however, consider wrapping a ribbon around the handle so it’s easy to spot among a sea of bags that all look the same.

What tech should you pack for travel?

When it comes to tech, there are some items that are must-haves for travel, no matter where I’m going, for what reason, and for how long.

Phone and useful protective case: The most obvious item, I keep my smartphone housed in a handy phone case that has a kickstand on the back so I can prop it up on the airline tray table to watch movies or TV shows I have downloaded from a streaming site.

Tablet: Having a tablet on hand is great for a larger screen, especially if you have kids. For short work trips, if you can get away with just bringing a tablet, it will be lighter than a laptop.

Charging cables and adapters: Don’t forget the AC adapter along with the USB, microUSB, or USB-C cable in case the hotel only has pronged outlets.

Portable charging bank: I always bring a portable charging bank, often two of them, so I can have power no matter where I am. I have many times sat on an airplane only to discover the USB outlet isn’t working at my seat, and these were lifesavers.

Noise cancelling headphones: When it comes to headphones, noise cancelling headphones are a must, whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile (passengers only, of course.) I prefer a wireless pair, though you need to ensure they have generous battery life and are fully charged ahead of time. I also love ones that can be used just for noise canceling if I want to have a quiet nap without listening to music.

Country adapters: If you’re traveling to a foreign country, don’t forget the appropriate travel power adapters so you can plug in your devices.

Mini power bar/sure protector: It’s never a bad idea to bring a mini power strip/surge protector so you can extend a single wall outlet into two or three, plus USB ports. Many hotel rooms don’t have a lot of outlets.

Point & shoot or compact DSLR camera: While most smartphones take wonderful pictures, you might also want to pack a decent point and shoot camera so you aren’t draining your phone’s battery to capture those moments. Especially for vacations, I’d look for a rugged, waterproof camera one that you can even use in the pool, by the beach, and throw into your purse or backpack without worry.

When should you pack more or less?

When it comes to clothing and toiletries, that is a personal choice. Some people (my hand is raised here!) love to have multiple options so they can go with the flow based on how they feel, the weather, and how others are dressing. Others love to have their outfits planned in advance and bring exactly what they need for each day. No matter where I’m going and at what time of year, I always like to bring one jacket, shawl, or sweater just in case. If you’re returning home to colder weather after traveling somewhere hot, make sure you pack an appropriate outfit to wear for your return.

If you are staying in a hotel, chances are the room will have a hair dryer so you don’t have to lug yours with you. Consider packing lighter by leaving toiletries at home that most hotels offer, like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. If you have special hair care tools or other items, consider going wireless so it’s neater to pack.

I am one of the many people plagued with an issue called overpacking. Sometimes, less is more. But you also never want to get into a position where you didn’t bring enough. I always advise to bring an outfit for each day you’ll be gone (including one for the plane ride home) plus two. If you don’t want to bring that much, at least bring extras of the basics, like undergarments and socks. If you’re traveling somewhere that has unpredictable weather, bring layers so you can take them off and put them on as needed.

Also consider how much shopping you will be doing. If you plan to buy clothing, toiletries or other items, leave some things at home. If you plan to bring back items for friends and family members, leave extra room in your luggage.

For formal business trips, one blazer and pair of shoes can be worn multiple times combined with different pants/skirt and shirt. If it’s a long business trip and you want to pack light, you can always look into the cost of using the hotel’s laundering services or ask an AirBnb owner if you have permission to use the washer and dryer.

You’re ready to travel and pack like a pro!

Now that you’re ready to pack like a pro, no matter the destination, reason for or length of travel, it’s time to gather up all the right gear and enjoy. Find plenty of travel essentials at Best Buy Online.

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