Flying overseas? How to pack luggage like a pro

Illustrated luggage.

At last, the world is our oyster. European cities, summer beaches, winter skiing – here we come! But hoo boy, we’re a little out of practice. With more people travelling overseas for a holiday, it’s time to reevaluate how we pack our bags. This one’s for the rusty but wanderlusty. 

Here's how to pack your bags like a pro.

Step 1: Figure out your packing style

A young woman makes a list while packing her luggage.

When it comes to packing for international travel, there are generally two schools of thought:

“I fear no god, just gimme my toothbrush.” And, “But what if I cack my dacks 25 times on this two day trip? Better pack a 26th backup, just in case.”

No judgement either way – everyone should feel empowered to lessen their stress, whether it’s going with the flow or preparing thoroughly. But knowing your packing style can clue you into some of the best ways to go about it. For instance ...

If you’re an overpacker…

Mate, you’ll never read those books on the plane and you know it. But it’s okay! We don’t need (or use) as much as we think we will on holiday. Plus, your back, shoulders, and wallet will thank you for forgoing the two extra suitcases and emergency board games. 

If you’re an overpacker, start by planning a list of bare minimums. Think about what you use in your daily life: outfits, toiletries, money, electronics, and important documents. These are the essentials, and these are all you need. Your goal is to reel it in the other direction: your version of underpacking may end up just perfect. 

If you’re an underpacker…

Mate, we are sick of you asking to borrow everything from us on holiday – though secretly jealous of your lean, mean, fighting machine philosophy of life. 

If you’re an underpacker, the list is also your friend. You don’t want to forget anything, and hey, you’ve still got room for souvenirs. Plan what you’ll need ahead of time and if you’re feeling frisky, add a bonus item like an extra shirt. Lord knows you’ve got the room…

Step 2: Invest in good quality bags

A good quality yellow suitcase on a blue background.

Lost, stolen, or damaged luggage are the most common claims made on travel insurance policies. If your bags have fallen apart over the years, or gone mouldy in the back of your closet during lockdown, it might be time to upgrade.

Opt for good value, not just the most expensive designer item. Some handy features to have include:

  • Slash proof material to prevent pickpocketing.
  • Smart tracker chips that can connect to your mobile. This way, you can keep an eye on your luggage’s journey overseas.
  • Durable handles/wheels. Ain’t nothing like a broken suitcase wheel to ruin your day at the airport.
  • Easy to carry. Backpacks may not look super sexy, but they’re far easier on your body than a shoulder-strap. 
  • Weatherproofing. This can depend on your destination, too: a waterproof bag is a great idea for rainy or snowy places, not necessarily for the desert. 
  • Pockets and straps. Hook your water bottle, stuff in a plane snack, and keep your documents within arm’s reach.

Once you’ve landed the right bags for your trip, it’s time to fill them up.

Step 3: Lay it all out

A woman carefully lays out travel clothes on her bed.

Lay out everything you want to bring with you beforehand. This helps you get a sense of what you’re missing, what you need, and what you could probably go without. If you can, group things together by type and assemble outfits you plan to wear. (This also saves you packing five shirts with one pair of shorts). 

Here are the basic genres to pack:

  • Clothes.
  • Shoes.
  • Toiletries (especially prescriptions).
  • Travel documents.
  • Electronic devices.
  • Travel money.
  • Emergency items you can’t live without.

Plan for a carry-on bag to take with you on the plane, and if relevant, your checked luggage allowance. Your checked bag should contain big ticket items and anything else you don’t feel like carrying through the airport. Don't put anything in your checked bag you’d be heartbroken to lose. 

Pack your carry-on like you might be stranded for three days. You don’t have to go overboard and become that person trying to stow a small house in the overhead compartment, but a little preparation can go a long way. Opt for a nice light bag you can grab, go, and be okay with if you miss a connection. 

PRO-TIP: Unless this is your hundredth rodeo, do not pack last minute. You will forget something – we promise.

Step 4: Roll and stuff

A woman rolls her clothes before packing them in her travel luggage.

Stacking your clothes in layers is the most maddeningly inefficient way to pack. Storage space is limited, so roll your clothes like tubes and pack tightly. (Rolling also helps avoid wrinkles). Stuff socks, underwear, bras, and other small garments into shoes. Wrap precious valuables in clothes to protect them. Then pack, stuff, and rearrange till you’ve gotten all the essentials in. 

Got leftover wiggle room? You can make the call on whether to include any bonus items or save the space for souvenirs later. 

PRO-TIP: Hate that weird travel smell? Chuck a dryer sheet in your bag. You’ll feel hella fresh later.

Step 5: Weigh it

A packed suitcase framed within a doorway.
Photo by Convert Kit on Unsplash.

Be mindful of how heavy your bags have become: not just for the airline, but for what you can reasonably carry. Have a practice lugging it all around the house or around your street. If it’s too heavy, repeat steps three and four until you can manage it. It’s way better to pack reasonably for your ability than it is to overdo it and throw out your back on holiday.

Step 6: Consider buying travel insurance

A couple debates buying travel insurance.

Most people roll their eyes when they hear ‘travel insurance’, deeming it either a waste of money or needless precaution. But travel insurance has become increasingly necessary in the last two years. Whether it’s covering the cost of lost luggage, cancelled or delayed flights, or accidental injuries and illness (like COVID-19) while you're travelling abroad, the right travel insurance policy for you could save your travel budget (and sanity) a lot of grief. 

Unsure where to start? You can compare travel insurance policies below or through our hub page. Here’s how to read the terms and conditions so you know what’s covered. Also, be sure to avoid these five travel insurance mistakes

And just like that, you’re all set! Bon voyage. 

RELATED: 11 ways to save for travel

Compare international travel insurance policies - last updated 13 August 2022

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