How to pack a suitcase and make everything fit

Clothes on top of a suitcase
Clothes on top of a suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Packing for a vacation or weekend trip may seem simple, but it can often be a chore if you don’t know how to pack a suitcase and make everything fit. After all, how many times have you struggled to close your suitcase in a bid to squeeze everything in? 

Learning how to pack a suitcase efficiently will not only maximize space and weight, but will save time for a stress-free travel. While we tend to throw a pile of our favourite outfits and toiletries into the suitcase, there are clever techniques that will help you arrange your essentials better, and make the most of the space. What’s more, knowing how to pack a suitcase properly will cut down on clothing wrinkles, which is always handy when you don’t have an iron at hand.

So, whether it’s a beach vacation or business trip, follow these rules on how to pack a suitcase and make everything fit.   

1. Shortlist your travel clothes 

Overstuffed suitcase

Overstuffed suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

We tend to fill our suitcases with items that we think we need, but many rarely get used. Gather your clothes and determine what is essential to pack — and be ruthless. A general rule of thumb for what to pack for a 10-day vacation includes underwear and socks for each day, no more than three pairs of shoes (including the pair you wear to travel), five pairs of pants, including a few pairs of jeans and shorts, six tops, one jacket or sweater, one ‘evening’ outfit and a optional hat. You can always adjust this to suit your needs, if you need to take swimwear or exercise gear for instance.

2. Pack wrinkle-resistant fabrics 

Linen trouser

Linen trouser (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If possible, pack certain clothes that are less likely to wrinkle. Items such as jeans/denims and T-shirts are less likely to wrinkle, while linen trousers, shirts or rayon fabrics will wrinkle easily.  

3. Fold and roll clothes 

Rolled clothes for packing in a suitcase

Rolled clothes for packing in a suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Folding clothes is a basic technique of packing a suitcase, while rolling clothes can save you space, and reduce wrinkles. This method is also ideal if you’re travelling with a backpack and want to fill every inch of space. Experts recommend that you roll softer garments and fold stiffer fabrics. Casual clothes and fabrics such as denim, knits, T-shirts, underwear and knitwear won't wrinkle when tightly rolled. On the other hand, collared cotton shirts, blazers, or skirts should be folded. Be sure to read this if you need tips on how to fold a shirt neatly for your travels. 

4.  Pack your clothes in an order 

Woman packing clothes in suitcase

Woman packing clothes in suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

First, place your softer, rolled items at the bottom of your suitcase before placing your folded clothing on top. On the middle layer, start with the longest items such as pants and skirts, stacking the garments on top of each other, and alternating waists with hems. Always lay them the length of your suitcase to conserve space, and then wrap the draping ends of the pile into the center. Then you can lay shorter items, like shirts, at the hinge with the ends over the handles. If you have belts, snake them  around the perimeter of the bag so they take up as little room as possible 

5. Place small items in footwear 

Packed suitcase with small items in footwear

Packed suitcase with small items in footwear (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The key is to fill every inch of space, so put socks or any small items such as sunglasses, chargers or accessories inside your footwear. Next, lay your shoes together heel to toe at the bottom of your suitcase in shoebags like these SPIKG Shoe Bags for Travel ($9, Amazon), or a plastic, resealable bag to protect your clothes from dirt. When packing footwear, always follow the rule of three. This usually consists of one casual sandal or loafer, comfortable sneakers, and an ‘evening’ shoe. Also, wear the heaviest or bulkiest pair for your journey to free up space and weight.  

6. Put the clothes you’ll need first at the top 

Placing shirts on top of suitcase

Placing shirts on top of suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

This could range from nightwear, swimwear or your favorite shirts — it’s handy to place the clothes you’ll need first at the top of your suitcase. Depending on your destination and what time you’ll arrive, this will save you precious time in finding what you need. Plus, you won’t have to mess up your neatly packed suitcase each time you need an item. 

7. Place toiletries within easy reach 

Clear bag of travel toiletries

Clear bag of travel toiletries (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Ideally, toiletries or liquids  should be placed on the top of your suitcase in a clear bag. This is also handy for any airport checks that might be required. In addition, look for travel size versions of any essentials, and only bring toiletries that you need. Keep all your bottles three-quarters filled with liquid in sealed bags to avoid spillage and having your clothes ruined.

How to pack breakables in your suitcase

Packing a suitcase

Packing a suitcase (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Carefully wrap fragile items or breakables in soft clothing such as a cotton T-shirt to protect it. Make sure you secure these items firmly in your suitcase so they won’t  shake or move around. However, if you’re worried the item will get damaged in transit, it's better to pack fragile items in your carry-on luggage. This is also the case for laptops and any other electronic devices. 

Other handy tools when packing your suitcase  

Packing cubes — These soft plastic boxes have a zip lock that allows you to separate your various items into different compartments. It's also easier to see what’s inside each cube like these Amazon Basics Small Packing Travel Organizer Cubes Set ($22, Amazon). 

Garment folders — Garment folders are plastic bags designed to neatly fit delicate clothing such as silk dresses and cotton suits. These will also ensure that your outfits arrive wrinkle-free and ready to wear at your destination. We can recommend this PRO Packing Professional Travel Garment Folder ($21, Amazon) for your travels 

Compression bags — Essentially, these are plastic bags with an added vacuum-packing feature. They’re designed to remove excess air, so they take up less space in your suitcase. Compression bags like these Hibag 12-Pack Roll-Up Space Saver Storage Bags ($19, Amazon), are ideal for when you want to travel light or are short on storage space.

Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!