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The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Pack a Suitcase

Don’t be caught with your pants down – or without any pants at all! Here are some of the important do’s and don’ts of how to pack a suitcase.

how to pack a suitcase

Learn to pack for a variety of occasions with this helpful guide.

(Photo: Fahkamram / Shutterstock)

In London in September of 2007, it rained 28 out of 30 days. I know because I was there and I counted. I counted because I wanted to quantify my misery and stupidity, states induced by the hole in my rain boot.

It was a rookie mistake, really. I was studying abroad for the semester and was permitted to bring two suitcases. Of course, like every know-it-all college student in her early twenties, I knew exactly how to pack a suitcase efficiently (yeah, right!) Rain boots, I decided, would take up too much room and were too heavy.

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So there I was, combating daily downpours and forever skirmishing against a seemingly permanent state of mist with my arsenal of eight cocktail dresses, eight coordinating pairs of heels – including the essential gold glitter pair – and a giant teddy bear named in honor of my stateside boyfriend.

With a less-than-favorable exchange rate and a shoe size that didn’t quite line up with a UK equivalent, I bummed a pair of galoshes off another American student and cursed those glitter heels as I taped over the sprung hole, and with every step as more water seeped inside and was rejected by the already-soaked fibers of my socks.

I spent the next six months traveling Europe, mastering the “Weekend-Getaway-in-a-Purse” and “Mediterranean-Cruise-in-a-Duffle-Bag” packing challenges. I discovered I could fit twice as many clothes into a suitcase when I rolled them instead of folded them, how to prevent (or at least contain) toiletry explosions, and that I really only needed two or three pairs of shoes. I became the Master of How to Pack a Suitcase.

Last year I returned to London, traveling with my best friend, who laughed when I showed up to the airport wearing my rain boots. They were too heavy for my suitcase and took up too much room, but there was no way I was I leaving them behind this time.

Fortunately, you have the advantage of benefiting from my mistakes and my chronically wet right pinky toe circa 2007. Whether you’re traveling abroad, to a beach destination, waterpark or theme park or are headed out on a camping or road trip, we’ve put together a fool-proof list of dos and don’ts when it comes to how to pack your suitcase; plus a few extra tips and tricks of the trade for your target destination.

how to pack a suitcase

How to pack a suitcase for a wilderness adventure

If you’re headed into the great outdoors for a camping or hiking trip, you’ll have to make a few tweaks to your packing list. Make sure your clothing is quick-drying or wicking, switch out the fancy attire for rain gear and be sure to pack a warm hat and gloves. If you are traveling by plane, use your backpack as your carry-on and wear your hiking boots on the flight to save space and weight in your baggage.

How to pack a suitcase for the beach or a cruise

If you’re headed for a warm, sandy locale or are counting down the moments until you’ll be sunbathing on the deck of an ocean liner, you’ll definitely need a swim suit. Gentlemen should pack two to three pairs of trunks; ladies can double the number of suits they bring by packing solid color tops and bottoms that can be mixed and matched. Choose a floppy hat that will fold in your suitcase versus a straw one, opt for the Kindle instead of a book (don’t forget the charger!) and pack lots of island white (it goes with everything!).

How to pack a suitcase for a theme park or water park

Heading out into the jungle of a Florida theme park is a completely different type of adventure and requires a unique form of preparation. Being ready for the unexpected is the name of the game. Tackle long ride lines with handheld games for kids and pain medications for Mom and Dad. When it comes to water rides and parks, preemptively prevent technological and subsequent emotional disaster with waterproof cases for phones and cameras, and be ready with a dry change of clothes and plastic bag for wet clothes and swimsuits.

How to pack a suitcase for a road trip

The idea of a road trip conjures up notions of fun, bonding and adventure, but how quickly we forget that more often the reality is too much bonding and boredom. Ward off the “are we there yets?” before departing by putting together a list of road games and making themed playlists for each leg of the journey. Whenever traveling by car, it’s also important to have a properly stocked emergency kit with essentials like a first aid kit, flares, snacks, flashlights and blankets. Remember to bring your AAA card in case you require roadside assistance. You can also request assistance with the AAA Mobile App.

Don’t forget!

Double check that you have these things before walking out the door: phone chargers, hair brushes, toothbrushes, cell phones, wallets, IDs, passports and, of course, your AAA card!

What was your worst packing mistake that you will NEVER repeat? Tell us in the comments!

Now that you know the dos and dont’s of how to pack a suitcase, find hotels and book your next trip today at


  • JOAN R.

    A colleague and I were on an evening flight for an early morning new business pitch. I wore my pink sneakers for the plane, and discovered I hadn’t packed any shoes for the presentation. My colleague would be wearing hers, we arrived after stores closed and the presentation was before they opened. So we arranged for me to be seated behind a curtained table and stay there the entire pitch. Unfortunately, when we were done, we were invited out to lunch, and I had to come out from behind the table in my pink kicks. The clients thought it was amusing, however, and we got the account.

    • Dana L.

      Haha! What a great story. Glad you got the account! 😉



    I overpacked my luggage and in addition to paying the $25 luggage fee, I had to pay an additional $25 for being over the weight limit by 1 pound. I also put my toothpaste in my carry-on bag and was able to get through security at Logan airport but when I landed in Italy, the luggage was screened again and the toothpaste was over the ounce limit by 2 ounces and was confiscated. The limit is Europe is slightly more strict than the number of ounces allowed in the United States.

  • LINDA C.

    Just went to Italy for 12 days w/1 suitcase. Been traveling lite for years. It’s all in the planning.

    • Dana L.

      You are my idol! Haha. I packed one suitcase each for my daughter and I when we went to Florida for THREE DAYS and I was amazed. Can’t imagine 12 days!



    Stick to a color theme – Black-and-white, or oranges/pinks/yellows/whites, or blues/ purples/violets, etc.. Make sure you have shoes and a bag that match your color scheme.

    • Dana L.

      Hi there!
      Great idea! I always try to pack coordinating pieces that will work with one another.



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