Are you traveling somewhere soon? If so ... hooray! It’s maybe a little geeky to admit, but I love to pack. I literally lived out of a suitcase for three months in Vietnam as the ultimate suitcase packing test. I also love quick weekend trips ... every trip requires different gear but the general principles are the same that will make your trip more enjoyable. I’m confident after reading this your next trip will be better.
Suffering From Overpack-Idus? Learn to Pack Less
The more you travel the more you’ll realize…you WILL THRIVE with bringing less stuff. If you have to sit on your bag and force the zippers on your bag to shut - you’ve brought too much stuff. Here are some concepts that will help you get in the right mentality before you even start your packing list.
Bring clothing you can wear often
No matter the weather there is clothing you own that you can wear more than once. I’m not saying you should bring so few clothes so you get all stinky and miserable. Jeans are a perfect example. I bring a black pair of 511 Levi’s with me on most trips because they’re classic, durable, and go with all my shirts I bring.
Certain shorts can do the same thing like my Patagonia Baggies - I can typically go a few days before a wash. That leads me to my next point...laundry while traveling.
Longer Trip Planned? (1+ weeks) Do Laundry While Traveling
Whether you are staying at an AirBnb, hotel, road tripping...there will be opportunities for laundry. For longer trips I bring about a week’s worth of clothing then plan on doing laundry halfway through my trip so I’m not lugging around dirty laundry (or making a massive pile in the corner). Domestic or international - most hotels have laundry service. Most AirBnB’s will have a washer/dryer. There is always a way.
I DREAD COIN LAUNDRY. For me, this is a last resort because I'm definitely not a fan of laundromats. And getting heaps of quarters? Who has the time (and patience) for that?!
Solution? Bring a laundry bag! Gravel makes one that’s rad. Its internal divider down the middle helps you separate any laundry if needed (damp swimsuit or something). It also hangs up!
Buying Things At Your Destination IS An Option
I’ll go over a few simple things you can do to avoid doing this but Walgreens is always on the corner of happy and healthy. If the weather shifts there are always department stores. The main point I’m trying to drive home is you don’t have to bring ALL that stuff “just in case”.
Packing Your Suitcase | Staying Organized & Compact
Picture yourself arriving at your destination. Are you the type of person that unpacks and puts your stuff into the drawers or do you live out of your suitcase? I do a little bit of both and the following helps in either scenario.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend investing in packing cubes. They’re inexpensive and will help you stay organized & more compact. It’s nice to categorize clothing. i.e. underwear/socks, shirts, etc. This makes it quick to throw all your clothing into drawers OR to know right where to grab your stuff.
Roll Your Clothing
It’s no secret but if you aren’t rolling your clothing you are missing out! Rolling keeps wrinkles away and also tightly packs the clothing - freeing up space. Many packing cubes work really well, especially with rolled clothing.
Rolling Tip - Try and keep the width size of your rolls consistent.
Traveling With Shoes?
Shoes can be awkward to travel with but when I know there will be pickleball ... I pack my Nike's. Here are a few tips. Pack them in a laundry bag so you can pack them in your main compartment without getting everything else gross. The inside of shoes is an empty gap that can be filled with socks! It maintains their shape and helps utilize that otherwise empty space.
Unpredictable Weather - Cold Nights, Rain, etc.
Weather patterns shift often. As I’m packing, I always check the weather for my destination for the most up-to-date forecast. That way, I'll know whether to bring something like a light rain jacket or a puffy one. I own a puffy jacket by Outdoor Research that packs down into a teeny little package.
(When stuffed into itself it get's super small)
My rain jacket is a Mountain Hardwear rain jacket - it’s a little expensive but I’ve owned it for 7 years and it’s still impermeable.
Traveling With A SLR Camera
Think of essential camera stuff you need vs packing everything. Do you REALLY need multiple lenses? Most likely you can get away with bringing one lens like a 50mm or one with some range on it. When I pack a suitcase I try and keep my camera gear protected by nestling it between my clothes.
DSLR Users - You can track down a few packing cubes out there - Google will be your friend.
SLR/Film Users - I travel with a Canon AE-1 with the smallest & sturdy case from Tenba.
Best Travel Gear
Bringing a blanket on a trip seems like the wildest idea although Gravel has designed the raddest travel blanket that is super lightweight, insulated, and packs down really teeny (as small as your fists) - the Layover travel blanket. It’s perfect for staving off the cold & adding extra comfort on the go.
I like to bring a little bit of everything but to stay compact I like to bring as many travel-size things that make sense. In fact, we wrote an article “Travel Size Toiletries | Ultimate Guide” that will help you maybe sharpen your item selection. I don’t think EVERYTHING makes sense to be travel-sized.
What Are the Best Toiletry Bags?
Quick story: In 2016, I realized I had been using the same toiletry bag for seven years or so. It worked, but I subconsciously hated using it. That’s what spurred designing a toiletry bag we thought would become the best possible toiletry bag and how Gravel started.
Here's a little video we made of that story:
My main advice is to find a toiletry bag that works for you. If it’s ours, great. If you already love yours, great. What matters is you are traveling and loving your gear.
Travel Toiletry Tips
Liquids: Separate liquids for easy passage through security checkpoints. Keep them separate from everything else so IF you do have a shampoo explosion - it’s contained. Our Explorer PLUS toiletry bag comes with a removable clear TSA bag.
Travel Bottles: Bring your own soaps using reusable/refillable travel bottles. Check out Gravel’s 3oz travel bottles. They fit together to take up less space and you can change the labels so you can quickly identify each liquid.
Carry-On Travel Bag Vs Suitcase
With the above packing techniques, there’s no reason for me to check a suitcase. Ever had lost luggage? It’s the worst. I now am geared for carry-on only.
There’s all sorts of travel bags out there and most likely you already have something. I’ve used duffle bags, backpacking backpacks, stuff from WANDRD, Peak Design, etc...and it really just boils down to this. Use what you love. Don’t worry about owning 30 travel bags.
That said - we designed our dream carry-on travel bag. It’s our 42L Carry-On Travel Backpack. “What does 42L mean exactly?” you ask? 42L is just the capacity - it’s great for really living out of. Remember how I was talking about doing laundry on the go? No joke it’ll be your home base and a fantastic bag for domestic or international. It was made as a duffle/backpack style and it’s seriously amazing.
The key to packing a suitcase is all about simplicity. You really don’t NEED those extra five pairs of underwear. Start with the essentials from your master list and build from there based on your destination. Consider investing in gear that compacts into small spaces and utilize organizational products like dividers, toiletry bags, and packing cubes. These were the game-changer for us!
I hope your question "How to pack a suitcase" was sufficiently answered! Feel like we're missing a key packing tip? We're always looking to improve. Please comment your top tip(s)!
Co-Founder @ Gravel