How to Pack A Suitcase in Six Easy Steps

Whether you're travelling for a long weekend or a month-long tour of the continent, here's how to pack a suitcase in six easy steps. Tip number 3 may surprise you!

Yes, this is enough luggage for five weeks of family travel.

I was taught the Art of Packing a suitcase by my mother. She was a master at filling every nook and cranny to ensure every item found a place in our bags. It’s a simple system that incorporates many common sense elements, and I swear by it when packing for a weekend or a one-month holiday.

How to Pack a Suitcase in Six Easy Steps

1. Assemble

Gather the items required from the Check List in one place where you can see each family members clothing and personal items. You can do this one person at a time, or whatever way works best for you. I like to do the kids at the same time – it helps to cross-reference with each pile.

One of my trusted packing strategies is to lay out my clothes of choice on the bed and pair up clothing items into outfits. That way I can see at a glance how many clothes I’m considering to pack, and what items match well – and most frequently – with other items. For women, the mix-and-match approach can be freshened up with different scarves and jewellery accessories, which don’t take nearly as much room in your bags as two extra sweaters or pairs of pants.

I’m also a late convert to the magic of using packing cubes. I find packing cubes easy to fill with related items (i.e. underwear, socks) so that there equally easy to find once you’re on the road or in a hotel room. The cubes fit easily into the suitcase and keep clothing protected and organized.

No matter your travel style, it's important to pack smart for your vacation. These packing cubes and accessories show how to pack a suitcase with ease. | thetravellingmom.ca

2. Heavy Items on the Bottom

Heavy and bulky items should go at the bottom of the suitcase. These include shoes, boots, compact hair dryers, and books. Shoes can be laid on their sides to help flatten out the bottom layer. So pack the shoes in shower caps or together in plastic bags. They may be dirty when you pack them up again upon your return.

3. Fill the Gaps

Fill empty shoes, sandals and boots with rolled up socks, underwear, belts or even small kids’ clothing items. The key is to fill every available space, so there’s more room left in the suitcase for other items you will need to pack.

4. Lay Clothing Flat

Next, cover the bottom layer with t-shirts, shirts, and light sweaters laid flat. Tuck in the ends of the clothing items downwards each time. Some people advocate for rolling up clothing, but the end result is a lot of wrinkled clothes, and not that much saved space, in my opinion.

5. Lay Delicates on Top

Now more clothes; pants, shorts, skirts, blouses, scarves, sweaters. The more delicate the item, the closer to the top I place it to avoid crushing things. Pyjamas make up the last layer on top, which is just my personal preference.

6. Last Item is the Toiletry Bag

The toiletry bag really requires a check list all its own. It’s usually the last item I finish in my packing routine, which is why it’s last to go in the suitcase. In carry-on luggage, liquid or gels cannot exceed 100 ml or 100 g in quantity, and must be packaged in a clear, plastic bag that is removed from your luggage to go through security screening. Many common toiletries – such as shampoos, shaving cream and toothpaste – are made in smaller sizes and are readily available at the drug store. You can also purchase empty plastic containers to fill with your favorite products from home.

In terms of packing toiletries, and liquid medicines, remember that for a family of four, you can have one ‘liquid bag’ per person, so plan accordingly! Pack a ‘medi-bag’ with your assortment of required meds – such as children’s Tylenol, Gravol, cough medicine – and remember in whose bag it will be packed for easy access if needed during the travel portion of your journey.

In terms of the rest of your toiletry bag, I recommend purchasing a good-quality bag with several good-sized zipped storage compartments, rather than one big sack hold-all. It should be foldable so that you can lay it flat on the top of your packing – saving space. I also like to wrap my bag in a plastic bag to eliminate any possible accidents and leakages. You just never know what might burst at altitude!

Of course, what you pack in your toiletry bag (other than liquid items) is totally up to you. Just remember – no nail scissors or other sharp objects that are still prohibited by law.

For detailed and up-to-date information for Canadian travellers, please visit the Canadian Air Transport Authority.

[travellingmom tip: Pack 5 small and 5 larger-sized Ziploc bags in one of the pockets of your suitcase. These bags will come in handy during your travel, whether to store a wet bathing suit after your last dip in the ocean before your flight, or to bring back some special souvenirs.] 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. Photo Credit: S. Laroye

What are your suitcase packing tips? Share your packing wisdom below.

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11 Comments

  • Dana says:

    Lots of great tips! I love my packing cubes. How I pack the cubes depends on our travel plans for each trip. If I know we will be spending a coupe of nights in a hotel before moving on to the next, I’ll pack all our clothes for those 2 nights in one cube. That way, I only have to pull out our toiletry bag and the one cube. Other times each family member gets their own cube set – we have 4 colors.

  • Bryanna says:

    What a great list of tips for packing! I haven’t gotten the packing cubes yet . . . I am still a shove it all in kind of packer. But after reading this and seeing how organized it is I totally want to rethink my packing style!

    • Claudia says:

      It’s worth giving the cubes a try, Bryanna. I was skeptical at first after 40+ of tried-and-true packing style, but using the cubes has distinct advantages. Cheers!

  • Sarah Ebner says:

    I have heard loads of good stuff about packing cubes – perhaps we should actually get round to purchasing some. Love your tips. My personal best tip for packing is to get my husband to do it as he has a very good, logical mind. But I’m afraid I’m not about to share him!

  • Katja says:

    I only recently discovered packing cubes and they have, quite literally, transformed my (packing) life! Given that I pack for all 5 of us, they have made packing and unpacking so easy and I’m not sure how I travelled without them! Yes, I am fairly evangelical on the subject of packing cubes 🙂

  • Lillie says:

    YES to the toiletries being last and in a good-quality bag with spill-proof containers! Ahh, bad memories of the exploded shampoo bottle in the bottom of my bag many years ago…

  • Kimberly says:

    Great tips – I love how packing can become a personal science depending on your needs. I’m actually a roller, but recently bought packing cubes to try for the first time.

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