Busy Girls Share Their Best Packing Hacks

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Saint Augustine famously said, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." Travel can be a fascinating, enjoyable, often life-changing experience. Know what is none of those things? Packing.

My sister and I are like an allegorical lesson in travel-packing extremes, but we are both pretty terrible at it. She starts months in advance, makes endless lists, and ends up bringing far too much and paying an insane last-minute fee on RyanAir (damn you, crappy airline of magic and mystery!). I, on the other hand, put packing off until the last second and operate on the one-backpack-only method — and I'm talking a school-size backpack, not a hiking-size monster. This often leaves me trekking up trails in very unwise footwear and/or realizing too late that I've simply brought no pants. And did I mention I usually travel with a toddler, too?

Regardless of where on the Packing Drama Spectrum you fall, chances are you, too, could use a helping hand (or hack) now and then. What's the best way to decide which items are truly essentials? How can you bring everything you want without regretting it later? And, most importantly: How on earth do you fit it all?

Luckily, we know quite a few women who are up to the task. We asked around and got 12 hacks for how to pack efficiently, effectively, and still keep it light enough to travel. (Which is why you're packing in the first place, right?)

So read ahead, pack up, and the only thing you'll have left to worry about is jet lag.

1 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Because folding your clothes is so pre-Kondo.

"Roll your clothes army-style! I'm a chronic over-packer, and this trick definitely helps me save space (so I can make room for even more stuff)." — Cara, 30
Advertisement
2 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
As you likely learned via your middle school Trapper Keeper, color-coding is pretty and practical.

"Pick a color palette for your trip, and stick to it — no matter how much you love that one rogue piece. This ensures everything goes with everything, and you won't need to pack extra options." — Sloan, 22
3 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Because you can never have too many Ziploc hacks.

"Pack your underwear in a large Ziploc bag and squeeze the air out. Also: Bring an extra (large) Ziploc to put dirty laundry in. One rank pair of socks after a hike or wet socks from stepping in a puddle by accident can taint your entire wardrobe!" — Kim, 32
4 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Yet another thing you learned from that Trapper Keeper. Who knew sixth grade and jet-setting had so much in common?

"If I'm traveling internationally, I print out all of my travel docs (hotel info, flight info, whom I'm staying with, their address, etc.) and organize it into a binder. I pull this out of my backpack while in the customs line. Customs takes one look, can find everything easily, and I generally I breeze right through with no hassle. I've also found that picking an outfit for each day before I leave will help prevent over-packing — especially if you stick to clothes that can be used for multiple purposes (like an in-flight outfit that could also work for the gym, lounging around, or sleeping)." —Kas, 25
5 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
For when rolling just won't cut it.

"These packing cubes are a game changer! They keep everything organized, so that by the end of the trip, you aren't digging through a whole messy suitcase looking for a clean pair of socks. I'm a very organized person, and this way I can make sure my clothing is compressed but also neat and tidy. I even have a large-sized packing cube that comes with a T-shirt folding insert, so all of your shirts fold into the same size. I'm not sure if it necessarily saves space, but it saves me a lot of stress and anxiety." — Beth, 33
6 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
What really is a shoe other than an oddly shaped packing cube?

"I stuff my socks and underwear into my shoes when packing; it saves serious space and also keeps my footwear from getting crumpled." — Jessica, 26
Advertisement
7 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
On the other hand, shoes are overrated.

"My number-one packing hack is simply not packing any shoes at all. Of course I wear one pair to travel in (usually metallic Vans or metallic Birkenstocks, depending on the season), but that's it. This is probably best if your trip involves neither hiking nor a fancy party, but I have definitely worn the Vans hiking and the Birks to a wedding, so there you go." — Alice, 31

"Only bring two pairs of shoes, max: something comfortable for travel, and something a little nicer but still versatile, so you can wear it with multiple outfits. By skipping shoes, I manage to condense everything to a weekender bag. It sounds hard, but it can work. I've done it with a trip to Iceland (which involves big sweaters), and beach vacations as well. You just have to learn to limit yourself!" — Alex, 26
8 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Unless you're going on safari, that is.

"Remember that you can buy almost everything you forget at a local CVS or department store. (Can you tell I'm terrible at actually packing?)" — Torey, 30
9 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
There are definite benefits to the buddy system.

"If I am going somewhere my sister will be, I pack less because we can share — whether she agrees or not! This also works when traveling with friends or even a significant other, depending on the shared item (you do not need you own personal shampoo)." — Jen, 26
10 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It's likely the one thing you'll really regret landing without.

"ALWAYS pack your toiletries and underwear in your carry-on bag! I learned this the hard way when the airline lost my luggage for a work trip and there were no convenience stores open (and the hotel didn't have a shop). It was two days before I saw my stuff again. There's nothing fun about being in a remote area or overseas when the airline loses your luggage. Trust me, you'll want clean underwear and basic toiletries, at the bare minimum, until you're reunited with your belongings." — Ally, 29
11 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Just don't wear so many that you actually pass out, okay?

"Sweaters consume a lot of space in a suitcase. When I travel in winter, I wear my bulkiest sweater and carry the second bulkiest sweater like a scarf. Using this strategy, I can go to Utah for 10 days in December and bring only a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. I never check luggage anymore." — Grace, 32
12 of 13
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Let the wonder that is '70s Jeff Goldblum be a lesson to you.

"Before I leave the house, I chant my mantra: wallet, keys, phone (and for international travel, add passport). It helps to alleviate the 'I forgot something' anxieties." — Natalie, 24

"I always forget things. Like, I know what drugstores sell underwear and which ones don't. But once, I was staying with a family in Ireland When we were packing to fly to Italy, she said, 'Do you have your passport? Everything else you can replace or figure out.' So now, whenever I'm freaking out before a trip, convinced I've forgotten something, I take a deep breath and remember her advice. As long as I have my passport, I can figure the rest out!" — Amy, 29
13 of 13
Advertisement