15 Packing Secrets From a Professional Traveler


I have been living out of my luggage since 2007 — literally. I sold everything I owned to travel the world with one checked bag in tow. And when I get a chance to leave the big bag behind, I travel for months on end with carry-on luggage only.

Here are 15 of the best packing secrets I've learned from seven years of full-time travel.

(See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)


Before you even start packing, there's an art to choosing a travel-friendly wardrobe.

Stick to Three Colours

By ensuring your entire travel wardrobe matches (including shoes!), you'll have infinitely more combinations of clothing to choose from.

Choose Multi-Functional

A sarong is a perfect example of multi-functional travel gear. It can double as a blanket, skirt, towel, beach accessory, privacy curtain, scarf, and more.

There are also many clothing choices (mostly for women) that can be worn multiple ways to suit differing climate or style requirements. One of my current favourites is the Chrysalis Cardi by enCircled.

Fly Quick-Dry

You'll probably end up having to hand-wash something at some point. (See my note on Ziploc bags below for how to make this easy.) Your travel wardrobe should be comprised largely of items that can air-dry (inside) in less than 24 hours, ideally overnight. Quick-dry clothing has the added benefit of being light-weight. (See also: The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List)

Buy Wrinkle-Free

No matter how carefully you roll or fold (see below) your clothing, if it wrinkles you'll continually look dishevelled, or you'll continually be in search of an iron. (And really — who wants to iron when they travel?)

Try a wrinkle-test on each item before you pack it: Bunch some material up in your fist for 5–10 seconds, then let it go. If if doesn't hang out satisfactorily, don't bring it.


Your luggage is your home on the road (or at least in-transit). If you're traveling at a fast pace you might never have a chance to unpack. Thus, your luggage is a very important help — or hindrance — to your trip.

Not Too Big

The larger your luggage bag is, the more stuff you'll try to pack into it. Then the heavier it will be, and all the more onerous to schlep through airports, on to buses, trains, up stairs, etc.

Choose luggage that suits your needs without being too big. If you're intent on bringing back loads of souvenirs, then pack a second bag that can be filled and checked separately on your return. Commingling lots of souvenirs with your luggage only confuses and elongates the re-packing process every time you move on.

Dividers and Separate Compartments

Things get lost in a big shell of a bag with no way to separate or organize your belongings. Even simple functions like elasticized mesh along the sides and separate zippered compartments will help you to easily find what you need, when you need it.

Easy Transport Options

Your exact luggage preferences will depend on the nature of your trip. If you plan on scaling mountainsides and camping, then a well-fitted backpack will be best. If you're staying in hotels and sightseeing, a more traditional suitcase might suit you better.

Wheels are essential for me; without them I get frustrated lugging heavy bags along in airport lineups, and walking any distance without wheels is laborious. For added versatility, I tend to travel with a wheeled backpack.

Packing Tips

You might end up packing and unpacking your luggage a few times throughout your trip. Thus, this process needs to be quick and easy.

Everything Has Its Place

Establish a packing system and stick to it. This way you won't constantly waste time rummaging through your luggage looking for something and wondering if you lost it.

Roll Clothing

By rolling your clothing instead of folding it, you can fit more in, access what you need easily without disrupting everything else, and often reduce the wrinkle-factor as well. (See also: Roll Don't Fold, and 10 Other Tricks for Packing Fast)

Wrap and Stuff

Stuff anything hollow (such as shoes) with small items like socks and trinkets. If you have delicate or breakable items, wrap them in heavier clothing for protection. (See also: Vacation Hack: 7 Tips for Single Bag Travel)

Keep Liquids Together

If you're flying with carry-on luggage only, keep your liquids together (sealed in a Ziploc bag to prevent leakage disasters) and pack them at the top of your bag for easy access, so you can cruise through the airport with grace. (See also: How to Get Through the Airport Faster)

Helpful Accessories

Here are a few more tools to make packing a dream.

Mesh Bags/Packing Cubes

As you'll note in my ultimate carry-on packing list, mesh ditty bags and packing cubes are very useful for organization. Packing cubes aren't particularly space-savvy, but the minimal extra bulk is a negligible trade-off for invaluable extra organization.

Plastic Bags/Ziploc Bags

I generally have a few plastic bags and Ziploc bags at the ready. Plastic bags are good for dirty laundry, wrapping up shoes, containing wet things, and lots more. Ziploc bags can securely separate and contain your liquids, protect documents and souvenirs, and even double as hand-washing tools if you fill them up with soap and water and shake them with small items of clothing (like underwear and socks).


This little gem of a packing aid is a new — and indispensable addition — to my travel entourage. The Hoboroll separates, organizes, and compresses your stuff. I keep a ridiculous number of miscellaneous items from undies to exercise wear to hard drives to scarves and more, all well organized and compressed to a fraction of its former bulk. It makes traveling with carry-on luggage a dream.

Bonus Tip: Take Notes

Whenever you travel, take note of what you use and don't use. The next time you travel you can apply this knowledge to streamline and improve your travel entourage even more. (See Also: Pack Faster and Lighter With This One Trick)

What are your packing secrets? Share in the comments!

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Guest's picture
Kimberly Gomez | Image Consultant

Nora, thank you so much for your invaluable tips. I'm an image consultant and advise clients on wardrobe for trips. I do advise them to stick with 2 neutrals and one color, which matches your 3 color rule. It's always good to have other experts back up your expertise so I'll be using this article as proof that I'm giving them good advice. :) Safe travels!

Guest's picture
Colin Brown

Great tips! A capsule wardrobe is a must for the space/weight savvy business traveller too! Keep photocopies of important documents with you. Don't behave like a tourist waving that big map around! Happy Travels

Guest's picture

I have learned to weigh my bag before leaving. I try and keep it under 25 pounds, plus I always bring a gym bag in case my souvenirs need a bag.

Guest's picture

The idea of rolling clothes sounds pretty logical, but I have never thought about it. Great tips!

Guest's picture

Bonus points if you use the ziplock bag as ultra-portable pillow!

Just blow it up a little (or to your preference), wrap it in some clothing: et voila! You have a very soft pillow that takes 'no' space when you don't need it!

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