Packing hacks

Handy tips and tricks for the space-saving traveller.

Packing it in

Whether you're a meticulous folder, a thrifty roller or a last-minute flinger, packing your bag like a pro requires some smart thinking - as well as learning a neat trick or two from other travellers.

Fit, damn it!

So it's all about fitting as much as you can into your bag, right? Not necessarily (see 'Why not travel light?' below), but if packing maximum stuff into minimum space is your goal, try these tricks:

  • For greater space and fewer wrinkles, roll your clothes rather than folding them. Or, try bundle-wrapping (think pass-the-parcel, but with clothes)
  • Use vacuum space-saver bags, but don't forget you'll need a vacuum cleaner to re-pack at the other end! Or you could opt for the less impressive and less space-saving travel variety, which you simply squeeze the air out of.
  • Fill the insides of your shoes with small items such as socks.
  • Think your bag is full? Think again. Zip it up (sit on it and bang it around if you have to) then open it again and see how many more T-shirts and pairs of socks you can wedge down the sides!

Why not travel light?

Of course there are times when you need to take as much as you can carry, but have you considered not using up every square inch of your luggage before you set out?

  • If you don't fill your bag, you'll save yourself the heavy lifting and save some space for souvenirs.
  • If you're planning some serious shopping, pack a lightweight duffle bag to use as an additional item of check-in luggage on your way home.
  • Rethink that second pair of jeans, that third pair of shoes and that hardcover novel. Tip: take an e-reader instead (see our e-reader reviews).
  • Think about weight and density: for example, your jeans are probably a lot bulkier than some of your other trousers, and a fleece jacket is likely to weigh much less than an ordinary jumper or hoodie, while keeping you just as warm.
  • If you're travelling somewhere cold, plan to dress in layers and pack good-quality lightweight wools and thermals rather than bulky synthetics. (Tip: even the thinnest woollen socks will keep you just as warm as a thick pair of synthetics).

Do you really need that?

Ever travelled across the world and back, only to realise half the stuff in your bag never even saw the light of day?

  • It's easy to forget that you can buy almost anything, almost anywhere. Don't stress about all the things you might need. As long as you've got your tickets, money and passport, almost everything else can be bought along the way.
  • If you're staying in hotels or bed and breakfasts, chances are you'll never need your own towel, soap, shampoo or conditioner.
  • Be sceptical about the word 'travel' when shopping for your trip. Some travel products are great, but do you really need that travel clothesline, travel iron or travel sewing kit?
  • Take a holiday from technology and try to limit your number of devices. It's unlikely you'll need a laptop as well as a tablet – in fact, could you get by with just your smartphone?
  • Think about how your clothes mix and match. You want as many outfit combos as possible, so consider packing mostly neutral tones and leave the hot pink high heels at home.
  • Your shoes are probably the bulkiest items in your bag. Take as few pairs as possible (we'd recommend one pair plus thongs if you're heading somewhere warm).

What you do really need

  • Underwear. It's small, it's essential, it's a hassle to wash and dry, so pack as much as you can!
  • Plastic bags. You'll need them to store dirty laundry, shoes, rubbish, wet towels etc.
  • Travel-size toiletries. Why take 100mL of toothpaste when you can take 25mL? If it comes in travel size (and if you need it), get it!
  • An adapter. Find out what kind you'll need for your destination, and consider a universal adapter if you're visiting more than one country. (Tip: many adapters now include a USB outlet, so you may be able to leave your phone/tablet charger at home and just bring the cord.)
  • A rechargeable battery for your phone (see our power bank reviews). This little gadget can be a lifesaver if you run out of charge and you need your phone for GPS, translations, transport planning or making hotel bookings.
  • Your regular medication. Don't assume you can buy what you need overseas. Always carry your medicine in its original packaging along with the prescription or a note from your doctor, and always check that your meds are legal in the country you're travelling to. Certain painkillers, sleeping pills and ADHD medications are classed as narcotics in some countries.
  • A money belt. Sure, they're daggy and can make you look about two inches thicker around the waist, but they're the best protection against losing your essentials. Keep a modest amount of cash in your pockets or purse, though, as you don't want to be fishing around under your clothes every time you need to make a small purchase. 

Pack smart

And now for the weird, wonderful and ingenious packing hacks, courtesy of the well travelled:

  • If you're worried about a garment getting wrinkled, place it inside a plastic dry-cleaning bag before folding it up. The plastic will prevent any major creases.
  • Place a rolled-up belt inside the collar of a business shirt to keep it from losing its shape.
  • Stack bras on top of each other then fold them over and fill the cup space with socks or underwear.
  • Use snap-lock bags to protect your passport and electronics from water damage.
  • A plastic soap case can be used to protect your camera from hard knocks.
  • Place a layer of cling wrap under the lid of moisturisers and other liquids that might leak under aeroplane pressure.
  • A contact lens case can be used to carry small amounts of lotion or powder.
  • Put a cotton ball inside powder makeup cases to prevent cracking and crumbling.
  • Coat the ends of cotton swabs with your favourite eye shadow then place them in a snap-lock bag ready to use. No need to take the whole eye shadow case!
  • Store necklaces in individual freezer bags or cling wrap so they don't tangle, and use pill boxes for smaller items like rings and earrings.
  • Use a button to keep pairs of earrings together. (Thread studs through the button holes and then attach the back of the earring.)
  • If your razor doesn't have a safety cap, use a bulldog clip to avoid nicks when rummaging in your bag. 
  • Hide cash inside a lip balm tube. Or if that's a little too fiddly, stash some in your shoe in case you lose your wallet.
  • Stick a 'Fragile' sticker on your bag or suitcase. Not only will it get gentler treatment from airport staff, it'll be placed at the top of the pile so it'll be first off the plane and first on the luggage conveyor belt.
  • If tangled headphone cords drive you crazy, try this neat little trick for wrapping them up:

    Video: Wrapping cords with Devils Horns.

Do you have any clever packing hacks you use when travelling? Share them below.