Experts explain how to pack your suitcase to maximize space

Have you ever crossed your fingers while frantically trying to stuff your carry-on into the overhead bin, praying you wouldn't have to check it? Have you ever had to sit on your suitcase to unzip it, but still couldn't close it? Or finally packed everything, only to realize upon landing that you left all your necessary toiletries at home? As travel plans resume, many travelers may start to consider their own inner bag of overpacking. Learning how to pack your suitcase to maximize space can minimize hiccups while traveling.

When it comes to the best way to pack a suitcase, the problem is often not over-packing but a lack of planning. That means, with a game plan for staying organized and some trustworthy packing tips, you can figure out how to pack a suitcase to suit your vacation needs.

“I used to really hate packing and dreamed of hiring people to pack for me,” says Princess Cruises guest entertainer Ezra Freeman, whose job requires a lot of traveling (and packing). “But now, I know it’s an art that anyone can master!”

From new folding methods to handy packing cubes, here are some of the best, expert-approved tips for maximizing suitcase storage space.

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Ezra Freeman is a guest entertainer on Princess Cruises. She also runs a TikTok with 110,000 followers, where she posts videos about packing for long trips.

Kayleen Kelly is a professional organizer who uses TikTok to share organizational and mental health tips with her 305,000 followers.

Rebecca Schwesig is the owner of Destination Wonderland, a travel agency specializing in Disney vacations. On her TikTok, she shares packing tips and general travel and vacation tips with her 8,000 followers.

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1. Choose your luggage wisely

Before you pack your luggage, it's important to consider what type of luggage will best suit your needs. If you're packing a carry-on, Kelly recommends choosing a hard-shell suitcase so you can make sure it will fit in your overhead compartment. "The hard shell seems to hold everything in place. It's like a suitcase's corset." If you're packing a suitcase for check-in, Kelly recommends using a larger, soft-sided suitcase so you can "max Maximize utilization of storage space.

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If you know you need to bring a lot of stuff but don't have enough space to store your luggage once you arrive at your destination, the Freeman is definitely a "nested" suitcase. (Think: a collection of matryoshka-style bags that can be stored inside one another.) "I find the Samsonite Winfield 3 set to be best for people who need to pack a lot of stuff and then head to their destination. A place that doesn't have a lot of storage space," says Freeman Said, "It's like a cruise ship cabin."

Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner Wheel, Black

Samsonite Winfield 2 Hard Expandable Luggage, Set of 3

2. Fold smarter, not harder

Many amateur packers often overlook how much your folding method can save space in your suitcase. However, Kelly says folding and rolling your clothes can be a game changer. Just fold each piece of clothing as you normally would and roll it up neatly. "Think of it like making little burritos," says Kelly, who also notes that she's never noticed any wrinkles with this technique. Since rolled clothes become more compact and visible when packed, many people recommend this technique not only to save space but also to keep clothes organized.

Another method is to fold clothes by garment. "Garment folding is basically packing a garment into pieces," Freeman said. For example, Freeman explains that if you're going hiking one day, you can fold wool socks into your underwear, shorts, tops, raincoat, and ultimately create a small cube. The benefit of this is that you can keep your clothes more compact and avoid rummaging through your luggage for your clothes every day. Freeman said she tested both the rolling method and the folding method and preferred the latter because it works particularly well for overpackers.

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3. Sort your clothes into categories

Whether you prefer the fold and roll or the cube method, it's important to keep your clothes organized. Not only will this prevent you from blowing up your neatly packed bag when you first get dressed when you arrive at your destination, but it will also help you make the most of your luggage space in advance.

All three experts strongly recommend packing your clothes into packing cubes, which are designed to organize and compress clothes into small, neat boxes. If you choose to fold your clothes like Freeman does, then she recommends using a packing cube for each item of clothing. Kelly and Schwesig recommend organizing your closet by categories the same way you organize your closet—tops in one cube, pants in another, and so on.

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If you're the type of person who might bring items "just in case" but never wear them (for example, a pair of heels for hiking), Kelly also recommends sticking to the same clothing color. This way, you can mix and match items as you please. “Think capsule wardrobe on the go.”

Gonex Compressed Packaging Cubes

Bago Packing Cubes (set of 4)

4. Reduce the use of toiletries

No matter how extensive your skin-care routine is, there's a good chance you won't be able to bring your daily essentials with you on your trip—whether storage restrictions or TSA guidelines are stopping you. When it comes to packaging skincare and cosmetics, it's time to channel your inner minimalist.

Kelly recommends sticking to one makeup palette and cutting back to just the essentials. "If you want to save space, now is not the time to bring multiple newbies in and try it out," she said. "Hold on tight to your OG."

"In general, I like to use things I already have at home, fill up liquid travel bottles, and then buy other travel-size toiletries you need (deodorant, toothpaste, etc.)," ​​Kelly says. Schwesig recommends choosing reliable alternatives like shampoo bars when possible, and keeping hotel samples to get free travel-sized items.

Kelly recommends looking for combination products if available. "I recently went to Greece and didn't need to bring hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, lotion, and sunscreen, and I found a CeraVe product that contains them all," she says. "Four birds, one stone."

CeraVe Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30

5. Use hanging accessory storage boxes

All three experts highly recommend hanging bags for storing toiletries and accessories. “I received a hanging jewelry/accessory organizer as a college prep gift my senior year of high school and I’ve been using it ever since,” Freeman said. Kelly points out that hanging organizers can also make getting ready on the go easier, and Schwesig adds that organizers with clear pockets are even better. “If I could see everything, packing would go much faster.”

Since hanging organizers provide compartments to store toiletries, most hanging organizers end up being much more compact than if you just throw all your toiletries into a bag.

BAGSMART hanging toiletry bag

BB Brotrade Hanging Jewelry Organizer

6. Loading your personal belongings and aircraft equipment

Your carry-on bag does not have to serve as your carry-on bag. If you're traveling by air, remember that most airlines provide personal items and carry-on luggage. The general rule of thumb for how big a personal item seems to be is whether it will fit under the seat in front of you. If you want to optimize your storage options, consider choosing a roomy hiking bag or tote for your personal belongings.

"If your [checked bag] is lost, stash a few things in your carry-on that you absolutely need somewhere to stay overnight," Freeman advises. "Then pack your personal belongings to have what you need on the day of your trip. . ” Even if you only pack one carry-on, you can save space in your bag by making the most of your personal belongings (for example, for souvenirs or award club apparel).

Freeman and Kelly also recommend wearing your heaviest clothes when traveling to maximize space in your suitcase. Swap your flip-flops for boots and layer up. "Planes are always cold no matter what," Kelly said.

Bago 25L Hiking Backpack