1. If you're flying: Carry. On. Your. Luggage. Or at least when you can.
I know it's not possible for everyone. Yes, I'm looking at you, parents with stroller-riding kids. But if you're a person who's going somewhere for an amount of time and a weather forecast will allow it, it will be much easier on you and will also force you into editing your selections as you go and not overpacking. Now, it's a habit that you have to form, but once you do, you'll be grateful that you've nailed it. Check out my guide on how to pack only in a carry-on suitcase.
2. Use a packing list to make sure you get every last thing you need. Alternatively, you can use a note on your phone, but sometimes, writing stuff down is just more effective for some folks!
I use a note on my phone that I copy over every time I have a new trip to make it even faster! Because yes, I am that level, and there are some items I always pack that aren't on a premade list like this.
Promising review: "We travel frequently and have two children. As any parent knows, packing for yourself and your children can be overwhelming — especially for a trip longer than a few days. I have found this list to be a lifesaver, and I also give it as a gift for other traveling families. It is easy to plan, organize, and list out items that are easily forgotten. You can also list the quantity of each item needed. Overall, a wonderful purchase and has likely saved me many forgotten items!" —Mike D.
Get it from Amazon for $7.
3. Pack your underwear first because you KNOW that's the most important thing. Just get it outta the way! And if you're on the prowl for minimal-size undies, I can't recommend these whisper-thin New Balance thongs enough.
4. Research any "extra" items (think: not toiletry or regular clothing) you may need on your trip so you don't pack something that a tour or hotel provides. Yes, this takes a few teensy extra minutes on the front end, but you'll thank me when you don't pack a bulky beach towel you don't need.
5. Also, lightly google whether you can buy toiletries near your accommodation on the cheap. You'll have to make easier packing decisions without sacrificing your go-to serum. (I always recommend buying sunscreen once you land because you SHOULD go through more than a measly carry-on-friendly bottle of SPF anyway.)
6. But if you absolutely don't want to show up empty-handed when it comes to SPF, a *solid* Neutrogena SPF 50 sunscreen is worth throwing in your bag.
I bought this for a weeklong Croatian vacation last year when I did carry-on, and as long as you are *thoroughly* reapplying, this stuff stays on pretty well. On a beach club afternoon, I did haphazardly reapply and missed a strip on one arm, but I tend to do that with spray-on or lotion sunscreen, too. Since then, I've packed this for any trip I've been on, including a two-day Disneyland trip where I toted this around in my bag and shared with friends. I sometimes carry it with me in my purse on my everyday adventures because I know it's so easy to apply. Also worth mentioning...I am about the palest lady you've ever seen, and swear by daily application of sunscreen. But when on a beach trip, I'm constantly swimming in the water and sweating. So yeah, this stuff works.
And if you're a bit hesitant about jumping on the solid-sunscreen bandwagon, you can pack a stick of this, knowing you have enough sun protection to get you through to finding some spray-on or lotion SPF at your destination.
Get it from Amazon for $8.99.
7. Have a designated personal item and designated carry-on item for your trips.
That's it. That's the tip!
8. If you're on the prowl for a new travel backpack to use as a personal item, I'm obsessed with the BEIS backpack. I always use it as my personal item, and the toiletry pockets make it easy to see what I've already packed. And it fits under plane seats!
I snagged this backpack after hearing my colleague Chelsea Stuart sing its praises. I had a trusty (now discontinued) InCase backpack I used as a personal item that served me well on dozens of trips for about five years. But I wanted a bag for some upcoming travel (two and a half weeks in Europe with *just* carry-on for five flights) that opens up like a suitcase for easier packing. Since buying it, I've taken it on two long-weekend trips (Amtrak to Newport, Rhode Island, for a wedding and a regional train to a Connecticut country lake house) with no complaints. In fact, for both of those trips, I packed MORE than I needed.
Inside, you'll find a mesh zippered pocket and a plastic pocket perfect for your toiletries. I can fit as many "wet" toiletries in the second pocket as I'd be allowed to carry on for a plane. In the mesh pocket, I put other necessities, like cotton swabs, medicine, and eyeglasses. The main compartment is deceptively deep, so you can easily roll clothes and Lego-fit them in together without using packing cubes. In fact, I fit all of the stuff in the second picture in that section (a romper, PJs, a bikini, sunscreen, five pairs of undies, a pair of jean shorts, a nap dress, three pairs of socks, two pairs of sandals, two T-shirts, a slip skirt, a sleep mask, a curling iron, a mini flat iron, a makeup bag, and a tote bag). AND it has stretchy X-straps to keep it all secure, like you'd see in a roller suitcase, so when I unzip it, everything stays put. But before I forget, there's a separate cushioned laptop pocket close to the backpack straps that I found works well for books or a Kindle if your travel leaves you laptop-less.
I love that this backpack has DEEP side pockets so your umbrella or water bottle won't fall out. In fact, I stuck a flashlight and an umbrella in one side pocket. (You can always use a flashlight.) Plus, it has a generously sized pocket on the front of the backpack with easy access for sunglasses, snacks, writing pens...all sorts of those little extras you need to access quickly. To top it all off, the backpack straps and top handle are STURDY. I felt totally secure toting it around and slinging it into those overhead storage compartments on trains. I love the look and construction of it, with faux leather and sturdy black canvas, as well as the trolley pass-through to easily fit on my roller suitcase I'm about to drag through a bunch of airports. At nearly $80, this isn't the cheapest backpack option, but if you're a frequent traveler, you'll get so much mileage on it and seriously save on some baggage fees, making it well worth the cost. This backpack and I are going places, for sure.
Now, when it comes to air travel, you won't be able to put your "wet" toiletries in the waterproof pocket (as I have in the above pic for a train trip). But lots of nonliquid toiletries and essentials fit in there just fine.
Get it from Beis Travel for $78 (also available in beige).
9. And then keep stuff you use JUST for traveling in that luggage so a lot of stuff will already be together when you need to pack it up for your next adventure.
That goes for toiletries and travel-specific accessories, like a coffee cup holder that slips onto your rolling suitcase handle, or a Bluetooth wireless adapter for plane TV screens. Also, a copy of your passport and emergency contact info.
10. If you travel often, invest in some carry-on-friendly versions of toiletries that are strictly for travel. There are lots of *good* solid shampoo and conditioners (that are TSA-friendly!) on the market so you aren't beholden to whatever's in your hotel or rental's bathroom.
This is me on my weeklong trip to Croatia last year with three city stops that I did carry-on-only for, knowing I had a tight layover in Amsterdam and would be riding two ferries. But, um, my hair had to look good for wonderful sunset photo ops such as this (the bar is Buza Bar in Dubrovnik; go there!). So I packed a shampoo bar by another brand that I felt pretty meh about and this wonderful new go-to bar. Here, I used hotel shampoo (it was pretty fancy, NGL), this shampoo bar, and my roommate's Moroccanoil curl cream. The bar is basically foolproof. You rub it directly on your wet hair after rinsing out your shampoo. I normally wash my naturally curly hair once or twice a week, but on this trip I was taking daily dips in the sea, so I washed my hair five times over a week. Because of this, I let the conditioner sit for a few minutes, though you probably don't need to do that if you're washing your hair your usual amount on your trip. Each bar is supposed to last 200 washes, and it might do a little less for me, but I know this'll be good for many future trips! I've used it on about five trips now, and it doesn't look any smaller than it did when I used it the first time.
Get it from Kitsch for $14.
11. And try out the TSA-friendly versions of toiletries (like this sensitive skin–friendly deodorant) you'll be using BEFORE your trip to see if they work well for you (and head off any potential allergic reactions or subpar results).
At home, I always use gel Mitchum deodorant and opted for a random solid deo at the drugstore labeled for sensitive skin for a trip in summer 2021. Let me tell you, my pits did NOT react well to it. It looked like I had chemical burns! Since then, I've switched to this Vanicream solid deo for traveling. It's super effective but doesn't irritate my sensitive skin. And there are lots of reviewers with sensitive skin who would agree.
Promising review: "I recently developed a serious reaction to antiperspirants. My underarms would break out in a horrible, painful red rash. So I tried different 'natural deodorants.' They did not break out my underarms, but they didn't really work! So I tried Vanicream after reading several reviews. IT WORKS!! My underarms don't break out, and it works as well as any antiperspirant/deodorant on the market. After my first order, I ordered two more. Couldn't be more relieved and happy to find this product!!" —Amazon Customer
Get it from Amazon for $9.99.
12. For your "wet" toiletries, decant your go-tos into smaller containers that'll easily fit into your toiletries bag instead of prowling for a mini version of your go-to conditioner at CVS. I swear by this set of six leakproof Cadence containers that are magnetized and will stick together in your toiletries bag.
Cadence is an AAPI woman–owned small business that was founded by Steph Hon as a way to eliminate single-use travel-size plastics. The containers are made from recycled ocean-bound plastic.
But I'm not the only fan on the BuzzFeed Shopping team. My coworker Abby Kass has these and loves them! Here's what she has to say about them: "I recently got a set of four of these, and wow, I love them so much. I used them on a recent six-day trip, and they were perfect. I customized the label so I knew which one was my shampoo vs. conditioner and did a general label for any other things I wanted to bring along. They do hold a surprising amount. According to the brand, they hold approximately one to two weeks of skincare products, more than two weeks' worth of serum, two to three days' worth of haircare, and more than 15 tablets (for medicine and such). And while two to three days' worth of haircare might not seem like enough, I found it held more than that for me, but I also don't wash my hair every single day. They were small enough to slip right into my toiletries bag and go through the Transportation Security Administration's checkpoints with no problem. The container was easy to open in the shower (even with wet hands), and I had no leakage from them (like I did from my face wash bottle, which will not be making the trip with me next time, SMH). These are an incredibly useful tool that anyone who travels will want in their luggage."
Promising review: "The Cadence capsules are worth the hype and money. I cannot wait to use them on an upcoming trip to Disney. If you are on the fence about these, go ahead and buy them. It's such a quality piece to add to your travel collection." —Jennifer S.
Get a set of six from Cadence for $76 (available in eight colors).
13. Consider a pocket-size, refillable travel perfume atomizer you simply pump on your normal-size perfume bottle to keep you smelling like your signature scent while you're on the go. Yes, I paid all that dough for a Le Labo, but no, I won't pay more dough for their (still very pricey) travel bottles.
^ That's me pumping my signature perfume into one of these travel atomizers I've been using for about a year. As the reviewer below mentions, it's great to just throw in your purse on the reg for a fragrance re-up throughout the day. As you can see, it's about the size of my thumb and therefore takes up very little room. Plus, it's smaller than most roller-ball travel fragrances you can pick up. This first one is working so well that I just have the other three in storage. But if this one bites the dust this summer during travels, I'll be OK with digging into my stores to use one of the remaining three...especially at this price point.
Promising review: "These work so great. Love it!!! I put my favorite perfumes in each one. When I wear a perfume, I put the matching one to the perfume I’m wearing for the day in my purse so I can freshen up my scent later! I like to smell pretty all day!!! They are small and compact but hold enough before you have to refill as well." —Nikki
Get a four-pack from Amazon for $8.99.
14. Label all your stuff so you aren't wondering whether or not that's a container of mouthwash or toothpaste tablets. (Yep, I've had to use mouthwash tablets as toothpaste tablets on a trip because of that mistake.) It also makes it so much easier to refill your stores while packing.
15. Pack the majority of your clothes into packing cubes (these are some great compression packing cubes) and then use the other room in your suitcase for other items, like shoes...or even save that room for souvenirs you'll be buying yourself on your journeys.
Be sure to look up any weight restrictions on carry-on luggage. I recently ran into that problem myself, but the person at the airport check-in counter who gave me some trouble about my bag just seemed to care about my roller carry-on. So I'd suggest using these in a backpack or tote bag you plan to put under the seat.
Promising review: "My daughter challenged me to travel her way, with just a backpack, on our recent five-day trip to Portugal. When I found these on Amazon, I thought they were just what I needed. I have cubes, but they don’t compress. I was so impressed that I bought a set for my daughter and son-in-law. The large one contains a swimsuit, cover-up, sun shirt, windbreaker, shrug, dress, cardigan, T-shirt, capris, and underwear. My husband’s medium bag contains swim trunks, shorts, two shirts, one long-sleeved T-shirt, and two pairs of underwear. The small one contains miscellaneous items." —Trish
Get a pack of four from Amazon for $25.99 (available in four designs).
16. And pouches are your friends! They'll let you easily organize stuff like important papers, tampons, and "dry" toiletries (think shampoo bars) together. Plus, soft-sided ones make it easier to Lego-fit everything into your suitcase. (It also makes it easier when TSA decides to go through your bag at security because you dared to buy a souvenir candle.)
17. Invest in just one universal travel adapter that'll also charge multiple devices at once so you don't have to worry about whether you brought the right converter for your specific country...and it covers 160 countries!
But remember that this is not a voltage converter!
Promising review: "If you travel a lot, buy one; just do it! Fantastic travel plug — to be able to plug something in and have four USBs, anywhere in the world. It's awesome! Couldn't be happier!" —Maggie A.
"Worked perfectly in Iceland. Love all the USB ports, plus the option to plug in via socket. We’re going to Australia and New Zealand next, and I love that everything we need is contained in one cube. Would definitely buy again!" —Chrissy
Get it from Amazon for $18.95+ (available in two colors).
18. Pack a set of laundry soap sheets to help you get a little more wear out of that perfect black one-piece that just looks oh so glam. Nope, no one whose opinion matters is going to say, "Oh, she wore that on her boat day in Capri AND on the beach in Positano?" It is perfectly fine and good to re-wear stuff on a trip!
Last summer I took a two-and-a-half-week Europe trip (I stayed in Nice, Barcelona, Mallorca, and Rhodes) and only had in-unit laundry in one of those places. These sheets were a lifesaver for washing underwear, clothes that I sweated SOOOOOO much in, and also swimsuits that were laden with very salty seawater. They got the job done, and I even found that the towel-warming rack in my Nice hotel did a fine job of hang-drying my hand-washed undies much faster! Now, I went through about half of the sheets because my friend and I were having to wash a lot. But it was such a small investment (size- and money-wise) to keep our travel loads significantly lighter.
Promising review: "This came SO in handy during my vacation to Europe! I was making lots of different stops to places with different types of weather. With these laundry soap sheets, I was able to wash my clothes in the sink — letting me pack just the right amount of clothes for all the different places I went." —Katie Fujarski
Get it from Amazon for $7.19 (available in four other styles, including hand soap and shampoo).
19. If you care deeply about making sure that you have some fresh new clothes for your trip, check out renting from Nuuly or a similar clothing service.
20. Try to pack only two purses, max. Yes, your bags are cute and you wear them proudly. But they also end up taking quite a bit of room in your suitcase...even when you stuff smaller items into them to save space.
I will never shut up about this wonderful JW PEI purse I've taken on multiple trips to different countries.
21. Wear your bulkiest stuff on the plane. Yes, it's the oldest trick in the book, but planes are cold and you probably want to wear long pants, a sweatshirt, and sneakers that completely cover your feet anyway. And if those are items you can wear during your adventures — even better!
22. If you're going on a beach vacation, try to pack only one or two cover-ups that also function as normal nonbeach outfits.
23. And try to opt for items made of thinner fabric so you can more easily fit stuff into your packing cubes. Slip dresses will look incredibly chic and take up a minuscule amount of space in your suitcase.
24. Let your products pull double duty for you, like a versatile lightweight shawl you can even wrap up in on the plane and then at night when it gets a bit chillier but doesn't quite call for a jacket.
Promising review: "Absolutely love this shawl! The color is a true red and will work beautifully for several outfits. I bought it specifically for travel...easy to pack in your carry-on bag and adds warmth without weight." —bojangles
"Wore on a trip to Morocco. Lightweight and versatile. Wear it as a traditional scarf, draped over front, or as a headscarf. Good quality and color pigment." —Micki R. Leesch
Get it from Amazon for $11.98 (available in 38 colors).
25. And, well, this won't necessarily help you pack faster, BUT I would recommend buying an Apple AirTag for each bag you'll take with you on your trip. I just used one to help me track a bag that Lufthansa left behind in Frankfurt.
Reviews have been edited for length and/or clarity.