Thumbtack Top Pro and professional organizer Anna Bauer (owner of Sorted by Anna in New York) says one decision can change all your vacation-packing woes: choosing to bring only what fits in a carry-on.
You’ll end up with fewer unused items, less wrinkling and less hassle. Plus, checking baggage is expensive. “There are so many variables you don’t have control over if you check your luggage,” says Anna.
Here are Anna’s pro tips on whittling your suitcase down to just the stuff you’ll actually use—and packing it properly.
Read the Weather Forecast
A surprising number of people don’t actually look at the weather forecast for their destination. But while you may fantasize about a cloud-free sky in the Caribbean, the reality may involve some wet, breezy days. Pack accordingly.
Lay Everything Out Before Packing
Anna says, “Think about how long you’re going to be on the trip and what you’ll be doing. If you pack as you go, you’ll overpack.” Lay your items out on the bed before putting them in your suitcase. You may notice some redundant pieces you can leave behind.
Wear Your Bulkiest Items on the Plane
“If you’re packing for colder climates, always wear your bulkiest items on the plane,” says Anna. Those items take up too much space in the bag— and you may want them for the air-conditioned flight, anyway.
Light layers can still go in your carry-on. Anna recommends bringing a tote to use as your handbag for the trip and to carry layers when you need them. If you need an evening clutch, you can stash it inside the tote.
Pack Things That Are Universal
“You want to pack versatile pieces,” says Anna. “Neutral colors are easy to pack and play around with. Add a colorful scarf or jewelry to jazz up an outfit and make it pop.” Jewelry can create variety too, but only bring jewelry that you know works with the outfits you’re packing.
Make sure shoes are versatile (and realistic). Flat sandals can often be dressed up or down, Anna points out. And keep in mind that you should bring shoes you’ll actually wear.
“You’re the same person on vacation that you are in your everyday life,” she says. “Sometimes people pack with this mentality of, ‘I’m going to this tropical place, so I’m going to be this girl who wears maxi dresses and wedges.’ But if in real life you wear Adidas sneakers and shorts with a tank, you should be packing those things. Otherwise you end up packing outfits you never end up wearing.”
Don’t Take All of Your Toiletries
Toiletries are heavy, take up space and often need to get checked. Avoid that by planning to use toiletries at the hotel, or buying items locally.
What about specialty or must-have toiletries? Anna’s advice is to “give yourself parameters. If you want to use the gallon Ziploc, tell yourself, ‘Whatever my toiletries are, they have to fit in this bag.’”
Plan to Wash Socks and Underwear on the Trip
People usually overpack underwear and socks, says Anna. Doing laundry yourself—or even paying for laundry service—is still cheaper than checking a bag, and it saves you the time and hassle.
“The number one thing I remind people is that they can always hand wash or send laundry out while on vacation. You only need to bring five pairs of socks and underwear—wash three of them halfway through.”
Pack Things Logically
Start by laying shoes at the bottom of your suitcase. Use shoe bags if you have them, but if you don’t, putting your shoes at the bottom of the suitcase keeps dirt at the bottom of your bag and away from your clothes.
When it comes to clothes, Anna notes that “some people swear by rolling clothing and some people swear by folding. I am Team Fold. I think rolling certain items make them bulkier and more wrinkled.” She likes file folding, where you fold the items and then stand them up, rather than stacking them like pancakes. You can layer other items on top.
Another way to keep things organized (and unwrinkled) in your suitcase is to use packing cubes. Grocery bags or ziploc bags can work in a pinch.