10 Clever Travel Packing Hacks for Your Next Vacation

packing hacks for next vacation

Written by Eileen Gunn on

Eileen P. Gunn is a veteran journalist, parent, and traveler. She’s written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News and World Report. She’s traveled on five continents (three with her daughter). She also founded the family travel website FamiliesGoTravel!

packing hacks for next vacation


Find it a struggle to pack light on vacation? Do more with less by packing these 10 items—complete with travel packing hacks and clever tips to get more out of the space in your carry-on bag. 


Too many people pack for vacations by bringing along anything (and everything) they think they might possibly need.

But you need a different approach if you’re traveling for an extended period or you want to travel with just a carry-on (after all, the best airfare deals seldom let you check a bag any more).

You have to consider, what can I get away with not packing? It’s easier to improvise when you back items that do more than one thing. Here are 10 items and travel packing hacks that can help you to pack less and get away with it.


The Right Bag

First, you need the right carry-on when you’re planning on packing light. This is, perhaps, the ultimate travel packing hack as it influences how everything else you bring fits. You need a bag that has sections to keep you organized and pockets that keep handy those things you need to grab easily.

The 40 Cargo Hauler Duffel has deep side pockets with inside mesh pockets that zip, plus a main compartment that’s divided in two. It has side handles, a padded shoulder strap, and hideaway backpack straps so you can carry it however you like best.

Use Pack-It Specter Cubes to keep clothes, electronics, and other items organized and easy to find, and separate dirty clothes from clean as your trip progresses. Pack-It Compression Sacs help bulky clothes like a fleece or puffy jacket take up less space and create more room.


Shoes That Do It All

There are destinations where you want to pack a few shoes for every outfit, including a few stilettos.

But when you’re packing for efficiency, one clever travel hack for women is to pack sandals, flats, or boots that can carry you through daytime sightseeing and then look good with with the dress that you don for an evening out.

Men should pack the equivalent in loafers, sneakers, or boots.

Ugg, Dr. Scholls, and Clarks are brands known for comfort, but they all have women’s shoes that are cute, stylish, and versatile enough to be also your go-to travel shoe.

A lot of guys fall back on Sperry topsiders or step-in sneakers like Toms Shoes for a one-shoe trip. My husband usually relies on Born and Clarks for sturdy walking shoes that also look like proper shoes when that’s called for in our destination.


High-Tech Clothes

High-tech travel clothes can do many things for you at once.

Synthetic mesh or bamboo underwear and merino wool t-shirts breathe, wick sweat, and repel odors so you can go longer between washings. Each item also rinses easily and dries quickly when you do need to launder them.

ExOfficio is my go-to brand for travel underwear, while Icebreaker makes merino wool travel tops, and Smartwool makes great wool socks.

ExOfficio is also one of a few brands that sell clothes embedded with bug repellent or are made with particularly tight weaves to offer UV sun protection. The ideal tops and bottoms do both at once. Pack a few of these shirts and trousers for your outdoor vacations and you can leave the sunscreen and bug repellent home.

The one clever item veteran backpackers don’t leave home without is a sarong—and guys travel with them as well as women. Of course it’s a handy cover-up at the hotel pool or when staying in a hostel. But in a pinch it can also be a towel, beach blanket, or bed sheet.

The right sarong can even double as a wrap skirt with a casual top for women. I often keep one tucked in my backpack in case I’m wearing an above knee skirt or shorts and want to go into a church or temple, where that’s frowned upon.


Health and Beauty

A lot of veteran travelers swear by bar soaps, shampoos, and conditioners instead of liquid as their number one travel hack. These items take up less space, are lighter, and last a long time—plus you don’t have to worry about meeting liquid restrictions when you fly.

Whether you choose liquid or solid, several brands combine shampoo and body wash for travel, so you have one less item in your toiletry bag. The Honest Company offers a line in fairly gender-neutral scents that’s easy to find.

Look for tinted sunscreen for your face. It offers sun protection and water-resistant daytime make-up all in one. I love Babo Botanicals’ SPF 50 tinted mineral stick. It stays on all day and evens out a surprising array of skin tones. It’s also compact enough to throw in a tote bag and is another flight friendly non-liquid.


Tech Multi-Taskers

A few years ago I traded in that bag of random electric outlet adapters for a single multi-adapter with two to four USB ports. It’s compact and let’s you charge several things at once, which is handy for families.

A good TSA-safe multi-tool can save the day for those looking for true travel packing hacks. The Victorinox SwissCard classic or SwissCard light seem to pass muster with most airport security checks. Both include handy basics like scissors, a sewing needle, tweezers, a ballpoint pen and screwdrivers. The lite version adds a magnifying glass and LED light.

No matter where in the world you travel, the Pack-It System of packing cubes and space-saving items are the single best way to stay organized and pack like a pro.


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