You’ve Been Packing Wrong All Along: 3 Methods to Pack Like a Pro

No one wants to arrive at a relaxing vacation spot with wrinkled clothing and the sinking realization that they forgot something essential.

To ensure you’ll never again have to endure mismatched items or a bag that’s held closed with only a hope and a prayer, read our tips to packing like a pro.

Step 1: Decide What You’re Taking

And, just as important, what you’re not. These streamlining guidelines will help, whether you’re bound for a beach or a boardroom.

Follow a simple formula:

Pack three tops for every bottom. Generally, pants and skirts take up more room than shirts, and when you wear them multiple times, no one is the wiser. Choose staples you feel most confident in so that you’ll be less inclined to bring alternatives.

Need inspiration? Search Pinterest for “capsule wardrobe” for ideas!

Three tops for every bottomImage: jellyshare.com

Stick to a color scheme:

Start with two neutrals for your core basics. Then, add two to three fun shades that coordinate. A dark palette hides stains and easily sails from day to night. If that feels too uptight for your jaunt to Margaritaville, try a breezy mix of white and lighter neutrals, while keeping easily-stained tops in darker tones.

Embrace the accents:

Chunky, colorful bracelets and necklaces draw the eye, so people don’t focus on the clothes. Satisfy your craving for variety with little things, like fun belts, bold jewelry, and printed scarves.

Be a lightweight:

Not all clothes are worth their weight. Leave behind pieces with bulky linings or heavy embellishments. Think thin and opt for pants made of polyester-rayon or acetate-spandex. Also, stretchy jeans or jeggings can take up half the space of regular denim.

Instead of bulking up, plan to control temperature with layers. Pack extra tees, tanks, and cardigans in place of those thick sweaters or a hefty jacket.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. 

Further lighten your load with multitaskers. While “multitasking” items can be especially difficult for ladies, know that it doesn’t have to mean those girl-explorer zip-off cargo pants. 

Instead, t-shirt dresses, leggings, tunics, and maxis take you from sightseeing to dinner. Yoga pants can moonlight as PJs or poolside cover-ups in place of a robe. 

If possible, wear a garment for the dressiest occasion early in the trip, when it’s less likely to be dirty. For instance, one tank can stretch for days: Pair it with a skirt and heels for dinner on Saturday, capris and sandals for shopping on Monday, and shorts and sneakers for a Tuesday hike.

Step 2: Fold, Bundle, or Roll

Rolling and folding are classic expert-packer methods. Bundling is advanced but ingenious. The best option depends on the type of garment and the baggage you’re carrying it in.

Rolling and folding packing methodsImage: wefollowpics.com

Rolling Your Clothes

Roll-packing is great for when you’re traveling using an unstructured bag, like a duffel or a carry-on tote. While the roll method keeps items safe from pulling or stretching, it can lead to wrinkles and is best used when packing stretchy knit fabrics such as tees, workout pants, light sweaters or jeans. 

Basically, this method is preferred when you’re maximizing what to stuff into your weekender without worrying about mussing up formal wear.

How to roll a shirt:

Lay the t-shirts flat. Bring the ends of the sleeves together and fold the shirt in half down the back. Lay each t-shirt on one side. Place the arms onto the body of the folded shirt, keeping them together, and then roll down from the collar.

How to roll a shirtImage: petitehues.com

How to roll pants:

Fold pants in half lengthwise so that the back pockets face outward. Roll tightly from the cuffs to the waistband.

How to roll a skirt or dress:
If the dress has sleeves, first fold each sleeve backward. Fold the entire garment in half lengthwise. Roll from the bottom hem up.

How to roll a winter jacket:
Zip it, then roll it the same way you would a top, trying to squeeze as much air out of it as possible as you go. Secure it tightly with string or large rubber bands so that it doesn’t come undone. Slip it into a pillowcase and you’ve even got a germ-free headrest for the plane.

Steps to Packing Rolled Clothing:

  1. Roll up all of your clothing tightly and set it aside
  2. Shoes should be packed around the sides
  3. Softer clothing that is rolled up goes on top
  4. Harder clothing rolled up, is stacked on the bottom
  5. Toiletries on top
  6. Anything that is wrinkle-resistant can go around the edges

Extra tip if you’re using a soft-sided bag, like a duffel or a weekender.

Place flat shoes along the bottom, with the soles pressed against either side of the bag. Add rolled clothes, packing them tightly to prevent shifting in transit. From there, lay heels and boots flat on top of the bag, then add the toiletry kit.

Folding Your Clothes

Folding is best done when traveling with a structured suitcase—the kind that won’t collapse if empty. While folding won’t allow you to save as much space as the rolling method, it’s a safer bet when packing wrinkle-prone fabrics, such as linen, rayon, and silk, tailored garments, or thick sweaters.

Folding a shirtImage: wikihow.com

How to fold a dress shirt:

Do it the department-store way: Lay a buttoned-up shirt face-down and flat. Center a magazine below the collar. Fold in the right side of the shirt, using the magazine’s edge as a guide. Take the arm and position it straight down, parallel to the shirt’s body. Repeat on the opposite side. Fold the bottom of the shirt so that the hem touches the shoulders. Slide out the magazine from the top. If you have several shirts of similar shape and size, you can stack them, folding them all as one to cushion the creases.

Folding pantsImage: lifehacker.com

How to fold dress pants:

Fold along the center creases or the side seams so that the legs stack on top of each other. Fold in half so that the waist touches the hem. Fold in half again.

How to fold a skirt or dress:

Fold it in half lengthwise so that the side seams line up—you’ll have an angle down one side. Fold the angled edge inward to form a rectangle. Fold the garment in half horizontally or, if it’s on the longer side, in thirds. To avoid wrinkles, put skirts and dresses in a large plastic trash bag; the slippery surface helps keeps wrinkles from setting. Finally, pack it on top of everything else in the suitcase.

How to fold sweaters and other non-tee tops:

The square fold is the way to go. Here's a quick primer: Button all buttons and lay shirts face-down on a bed or flat surface. Smooth away wrinkles. Fold the material in at the shoulders and lay arms flat along the body so that you create a roughly two-inch overlap of material on both sides. Now fold up a third of the material from the bottom and overlap a third from the top. You should now have a tidy package worthy of any chain retailer.

Steps for packing folded clothing:

Your goal is to use all your tidily arrayed garments to create a clothing jigsaw puzzle, where no empty spaces remain that would allow items to shift.

  1. Lay your bag flat and place folded clothes in a row down the center
  2. Place toiletries at what would be the bottom of your bag when it’s standing
  3. Large items, such as jackets, go in the spaces above toiletries
  4. Single shoes (they don’t have to be placed near each other!) and socks fill in remaining holes

Bundling Your ClothesImage: nanpalmero.com

Bundling Your Clothes

Really hate wrinkles? Bundling requires layering all your clothes around a core object, like an organizer pouch, so that there are no hard creases. Like folding, this method is also great for those using a structured suitcase—it won’t work at all with weekenders or duffels—and is best for those condensing a lot of options for a long trip.

How to bundle… Everything

First step? Lay out all your clothes. You can bundle everything besides underwear, swimsuits, and accessories. Each garment should be buttoned or zipped and placed face-up (but jackets should be face-down). You’ll need a core, like a packing cube, to bundle around. 

Follow the right order.

Here’s the general sequence from the outer layer in: jackets, short dresses, long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts, pants, long dresses, skirts, sweaters, knits, and shorts.

Start with a jacket laid flat face-down. (If you have another jacket, layer it on top, overlapping at the sleeves but at an 180-degree angle to the first.) If you’re not bringing a jacket, begin your bundle with any tailored garments that wrinkle easily, as they’ll be on the outside of the bundle, cushioned by both the other clothes and the core.

Then add pieces that are less likely to wrinkle (these will be near the core). Layer a short dress or a shirt face-up on top, in the opposite direction, overlapping at the sleeves. Alternate short dresses and shirts north and south.

Add a pair of pants (folded lengthwise) or a long dress horizontally, with the waistband aligning with the left edge of the pile.

To keep the bundle balanced, lay short dresses and tops vertically, alternating north and south, and long dresses and bottoms horizontally, alternating east and west. 

The coreImage: onebag.com

Add the core!

When finished, put the core—the object you’ll bundle your clothes around, like an organizer pouch or a packing cube—in the middle. Starting from the top of the pile, wrap each garment around the core for perfectly bundled belongings.

Final Tips on Filling ‘Er Up

Now that you’ve decided what to pack and considered your three top options to getting everything neatly inside your suitcase, here are a few final ideas to ensure you’re packing efficiently.

Before packing, line the bottom with a plastic trash bag.

After you’ve packed, add another one on top. This helps fend off wrinkles. Plus, if your luggage is off-loaded from the airplane in the rain, your clothes won’t get wet.

Stash heavy stuff along the wheelbase.

That way they aren’t crushing your more delicate items. Fill shoes with socks or bulky bangle bracelets, and then put them in individual bags (splitting up pairs saves space), with the soles facing the sides of the suitcase. Rest other heavy items, like a hair dryer and a toiletry kit, next to or on top of shoes.

Tuck or wrap your leftovers.

Belts can be wrapped around the interior frame of your bag. Swimsuits, hosiery, underwear, scarves can be tucked into corners and any remaining nooks.

Place a dryer sheet at the bottom of your suitcase.

It’ll keep your clothes smelling fresh and clean during travel.

Shower cap around shoesImage: vivavive.com

Put a shower cap around your shoes.

To make sure the dirty soles don’t end up getting surrounding clothes dirty, too. Protect those summer whites!

What to do with your undies and lingerie?

Buy inexpensive mesh laundry bags—they're made of nylon and are lightweight. Stow your delicates in here. Bonus: if your bag is inspected, no one need touch your underwear since an inspector will be able to see into the bag.

Getting ready for a trip can feel like a game of Tetris, in which you’re figuring out how to fit everything while frantically planning for each possible scenario. Now, instead of letting “what-ifs” lead to overpacking, you’re ready to use the above methods to eliminate unnecessary items and stress!

Do you have any awesome packing tricks? Did we miss any methods that are great for efficient travel? Let us know in the comments below!


Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.


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