Packing can be a challenge if you can only bring a small suitcase. Luckily, there are several ways to ensure that you'll have everything you need on your trip. Start by narrowing down your packing list, using tried and true strategies like the 5-4-3-2-1 rule and picking a color scheme. Then, maximize the space in your suitcase with some of the best tips and tricks that seasoned travelers use. When you're ready to pack, use the sandwich technique to fit everything into your small suitcase in a neat and orderly fashion.
Method 1 of 3:Selecting What to Bring on Your Trip
1Write down everything you will need for your trip. A packing list is an excellent way to get organized before you start packing. Write down everything you think you will need for your trip, such as a underwear, socks, pants, shorts, T-shirts, sweater, jacket, swimsuit, shoes, toiletries, phone charger, jewelry, or anything else you want to bring along.
Make sure to specify if there are any special items you want to bring on your trip, such as your favorite dress and pair of shoes for a night out.
Include in the list any documents you'll need as well, such as your passport and copies of your passport, driver's license, plane tickets, and hotel reservation confirmation printouts.
If you take any medications (prescription or over-the-counter), make sure to list these on your packing list as well.
2Follow the 5-4-3-2-1 rule to choose clothes for weeklong trips. If you want a simple way to decide how many items to pack for a short 5-7 day trip, stick to this rule. You may have to do a load of laundry once during your trip, but most hotels have laundry facilities. Choose items that you can mix and match and pack the following items:
5 pairs of socks and 5 pairs of underwear
4 tops, such as T-shirts, tank tops, or button-downs
3 bottoms, such as jeans, trousers, or skirts
2 pairs of shoes, such as flats, heels, or sneakers
1 hat, such as a wide-brimmed sunhat, baseball cap, or knit hat (for colder climates)
Tip: Plan to bring 1 casual pair of shoes and 1 dressy pair of shoes. This will ensure that you have something to wear no matter what you have planned.
3Plan what you'll bring on the trip based on activities, not trip length. A common mistake people make is to bring 1 outfit for every day of the week, but this might not account for what types of clothing they'll actually need. Instead, think about what you have planned for the trip and what you will need the most of. Then, plan out what to bring based on what you'll be doing.
For example, if you have plans to go hiking on 1 or more days of the trip, you'll need a weather-appropriate active wear outfit, such as leggings or shorts, a T-shirt or tank top, and a sports bra (for women).
If you'll be going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant during your trip, you may want to bring a dress or a suit.
4Choose a color scheme to ensure that you can mix and match. Limiting the items in your suitcase is an important part of fitting everything in. One trick for limiting yourself is deciding on a color scheme for the items you will pack. This will help to ensure that you can mix and match everything you pack and create more looks with fewer items.
For example, you could stick with a black and white and denim scheme and only pack black and white items of clothing, such as 2 white tops, 2 black tops, 2 pairs of jeans or jean shorts, and 1 little black dress or suit.
Or, you could opt for earth-toned items, such as brown, beige, cream, and khaki-colored items.
Tip: Remember that you can always spice up your outfits with a piece of jewelry or a hat. You might even find something special on your trip!
5Opt for travel-sized shampoo, lotion, and other toiletries. Check out the travel-sized toiletry section at your local grocery store to find items that are small and space-saving. This will allow you to bring your favorite brand of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, toothpaste, and anything else you regularly use without taking up a huge section of your bag.
For extra space-saving power, choose toiletries and makeup that can do double-duty, such as a combination moisturizer, sunblock, and foundation, or lipstick that you can also use as a blush.
Method 2 of 3:Maximizing Your Available Space
1Roll clothing tightly rather than folding it.Expert SourceMarty Stevens-Heebner, SMM-C, CPO®Certified Professional Organizer & Senior Move ManagerExpert Interview. 14 January 2020. Folding your items and then rolling them up tightly can help to save space in your bag and the items may even end up with fewer wrinkles than if you folded them. Fold an item neatly first, and then roll it in one direction to compress it. Place a rubber band around it or slip it into a re-sealable plastic bag to keep it in this shape.
If you have any items that wrinkle easily, keep them unfolded and lay them over top of everything in your suitcase instead.
For example, if you are bringing a blazer or a silk blouse, these items might end up wrinkled if you roll them.
2Use compression bags to squeeze clothing down to a smaller size. To maximize the space in your suitcase even more, place the items into plastic compression bags. These are special packing bags that you can vacuum or squeeze the air out of and they will press the items into a very compact cube.
Tip: Keep in mind that items can wrinkle more easily if you are compressing them tightly. Only use these bags for items that are wrinkle-resistant or that you aren't concerned about getting wrinkled, such as socks, undershirts, and underwear.
3Try packing cubes if you want to keep items separated. Packing cubes are small bags that you can fill with items. The bag will compress your items while also keeping them separate from everything else. You can even get packing cubes in different colors if you will be sharing a suitcase with someone else or if you want to color-code the items in your suitcase.
For example, if you're sharing a bag with your significant other, you could use red packing cubes and they could use black packing cubes.
Or, if you want to color code your items using packing cubes, try placing all of your underwear and socks in a yellow cube, tops in a green cube, and bottoms in a red cube.
4Fill contact lens cases with small amounts of eye cream and moisturizer. Instead of bringing multiple bottles and jars of lotion, cleanser, or whatever else you use in your skincare routine, get a couple of contact lens cases and add a few squirts or a dollop of your product. Then close the lids tightly, place the contact lens case into a plastic bag, and pack it in your suitcase.
This is a great option if you don't have or don't want to buy sample sizes of your facial products. It will also save even more space since contact lens cases are so small.
Make sure that you label the compartments so you will know what you put into each chamber.
5Use press-and-seal plastic wrap to organize any jewelry you bring. This kind of plastic wrap will stick to itself when you press 2 pieces together, so you can use it to prevent your jewelry from getting tangled in transit. Lay out a sheet of the plastic wrap, arrange your jewelry on it, and then lay another piece over the first one. Press around the edges of each piece of jewelry to lock them into their own little chambers. Then, roll up the plastic wrap and slip it into a side pocket or shoe in your suitcase.
You can purchase a roll of press-and-seal plastic wrap in a grocery store.
Another option is to place your jewelry into the chambers in a pill box. Place 1 necklace or pair of earrings into each chamber. This works well for small pieces of jewelry, but it might not work for bulkier items like watches and statement earrings.
Method 3 of 3:Organizing Items in Your Suitcase
1Lay out everything you want to bring before you start packing. When you're ready to pack, gather everything together and lay it out on a table or bed next to your suitcase. This will help you to ensure that you have not forgotten anything. It's also a good opportunity to weed out any items that you won't really need. Look over everything and eliminate anything that you are packing “just in case.”
For example, if you have included a sweatshirt in your items for a trip to the Caribbean just in case the weather turns chilly, remove it. If it actually does get cold and you really need a sweatshirt, you can always buy one.
2Place the heaviest and bulkiest items into the suitcase first. When you're ready to start filling up the suitcase, start by lining the bottom of the bag with your heaviest items, such as your shoes, jeans, and sweaters. Push the items together so they are tightly-packed in.
Also, consider where the items will be when the suitcase is upright. Place the heavier items, such as sneakers or boots into the section of the suitcase that will be nearest the ground.
You might also consider wearing your heaviest or bulkiest items if it's practical to do so, such as wearing a sweater and your bulkiest shoes during the plane or train ride to your destination.
Warning: Don't put anything into the bottom of your suitcase that might wrinkle or get crushed under the weight of everything else.
3Stuff socks, underwear, and other items into shoes and hats. Use any open spaces in your suitcase to maximize your space, even if that means filling up your shoes and hats with clothing and toiletries. If you don't want to put items right into your shoes, place them into plastic bags first.
As an added bonus, filling shoes and hats with items will help them to keep their shape rather than getting squished by the other items in your suitcase.
4Fill in the middle of the suitcase with clothing. Layer your tops, bottoms, socks, underwear, and any other items of clothing you're bringing in the middle of the suitcase. If you've rolled your items, make sure to keep them tightly rolled as you place them into the suitcase. Press them together so that they are in a single layer.
If you've used packing cubes or compression bags to make your items even more compact, layer these in the bottom or middle of your suitcase.
5Lay wrinkle-prone items of clothing on top. Anything that might wrinkle if it's rolled, compressed, or folded will fare best if you place it on top of your other items.Expert SourceMarty Stevens-Heebner, SMM-C, CPO®Certified Professional Organizer & Senior Move ManagerExpert Interview. 14 January 2020. Leave the item unfolded or only fold it once and place it on top of the other items you're packing. Then, smooth it out before you close the suitcase.
Tip: You may also want to place an outfit on top that you'll need right away when you arrive at your destination, such as if you're short on time or too tired to unpack. For example, you could place your pajamas at the top of the suitcase so that you can grab them quickly without having to search for them.
6Fill external pockets on your suitcase with small items and toiletries. Suitcases often have pockets on the outside of the bag that you can pack with small items, such as toiletries, electronic accessories, and socks. If you run out of room inside of your bag and you still have some small items to pack, start filling the external pockets. This is also a great place for your toiletries, since it will make it quick and easy to grab them.
You can also place a few items in the external pockets that you might want to access during your trip, such as your phone charger, a book, headphones, or an eye mask.
Having your toiletries separate from your clothing will also make it easier for airport workers to check them if needed.