The Best Way to Pack a Suitcase – Tips from a Pro

I’ve never really known how to pack a suitcase efficiently. I was born without an organization gene.

It doesn’t matter that I’ve traveled the world for over 17 years, I’ve only ever packed a suitcase one way – throw everything in the bag, sit on it, and then zip it up.

And then get the shits three weeks later when I can’t find anything. It wasn’t too bad when I had my backpack because the different compartments helped me stay a little organized.

My shoes would go in the bottom compartment of my backpack, my clothes in the top rolled and strapped down and my towel laying on top of that. It was pretty simple.

But, now we are road tripping, with kids, we have suitcases, and a little more room. The disorganization was driving me insane. I could never find the shirt or pants I really needed as it was one tangled up mess. And finding the kids clothes was a constant shambles.

And then I discovered packing cells.

Why did I never know about these before? God, I live under a rock sometimes.

I found some in the Kathmandu store in Melbourne, but held off buying them because I felt they were too expensive to justify the benefits I’d get from the organization. I’d just keep sucking up the mess.

But, then it would lead to head explosion, so I marched down to Kathmandu determined to just put it on the credit card and pay it off later.

I believe in the magic of the Universe. When you set your intention for your heart’s desire it delivers – this time with a 60% off sale. Hello cheap packing cells.

Hello organized suitcase and a return to sanity.

How to pack a suitcase efficiently

Packing cells are bloody awesome. In each packing cell, I have rolled up each item and arranged my clothes based on type and season.

  • Cell 1: Dresses and skirts
  • Cell 2: Singlets and T-Shirts
  • Cell 3: Shorts and work out gear
  • Cell 4: Winter clothes (btw the so-called Aussie summer is crap in Melbourne right now)
  • Cell 5: Swimmers and sarongs
Summer Clothes
Dresses & Skirts
Pack & Go
Pack & Go

I’ve done similar packing arrangements for the girls. I have a mixture of large packing cells and smaller packing cells. You can get a pack of different sized packing cubes from Amazon here. (cheaper than Kathmandu)

In the top zipped section of the suitcase is where I put my underwear. And on top of the packing cells I lay out my folded jackets and shoes.

Not only has it made finding my clothes that much easier and faster, it also saves a lot of extra room in your suitcase.

UPDATE: I have since found the ultimate packing solution for your underwear!

All my cells
All my cells

Before my trip to Kathmandu, I also had my toiletries scattered across a few different bags, which was also driving me to the loony bin. The large toiletry bag I had my eye on for ages was also on the 60% sale – woohoo!

toiletries
toiletries

Happy happy days.

Now it’s all in one place and I just pick it up and walk it down to the showers when it’s time to freshen up.

This travel cosmetic bag on Amazon has rave reviews.

It’s pretty easy to learn how to pack a suitcase efficiently. It’s best to spend the extra money for the packing cells to give you a little more sanity.

Trust me, after 15 years of world travel, I’d say this is one of the best inventions ever!

More Packing Tips:

Do you use packing cells? How do you pack your suitcase efficiently?

65 thoughts on “The Best Way to Pack a Suitcase – Tips from a Pro”

  1. I have never heard of packing cells. Don’t know if they have them in Canada. Worth checking out. When packing for a longer vacation I do my best to limit what I take and I roll up everything, a trick I learned. I find it takes up less room and I could put in more stuff if I have to.

    1. Maida

      Yes, you can find packing cells in Canada at any MEC store or you can order them at LL Bean. I swear by them and have given them to gifts to all my travel buddies.
      Glad you have become a convert Caz.

    2. I just purchased packing cubes at Target in Canada. Three cubes for $34 I think. You can probably find some online for way cheaper.

  2. I have never used packing cells – will have to get my hands on some. I am a big fan of rolling clothes, rubber bands (great especially for kids outfits),ziploc bags and lately the compression sacks from EagleCreek.

  3. elizabeth arthur

    thanks for that …about 15 years ago i made similar for us to travel , packing undies in one and tops in another etc …and when traveling for a long time halving the case with winter on one side and summer on the other ( of course i use both for layering ) but it does separate the woolen wear ……. its so good that we can now buy them and not home made !!!! no more making for friends i will send them to the store !!! thanks again liz

  4. Have always packed that way. Started off using department store bags then the zipped ones. Im not a roller. Im old fashioned and like ironed clothes so I when I use a roller suitcase I pack from the bottom up. Everything is folded small. Works a treat for us..

  5. Completely agree!!!! I bought 2 each for my boyfriend and I (an XS and S) prior to our Canada trip that started in May – also on a fabulous sale at Kathmandu! So handy, as we ended up living out of our truck for 3 months, and loved having my clean knickers all together and easy to find! Come Christmas this year, when everyone was asking “what do you want for Christmas?” I figured we couldn’t go wrong with more packing cubes, seeing as we’d be on the road another 8 weeks, and traversing both Canadian winter and tropical Pacific Islands, our clothes needed to be sorted!

  6. Caz, I love how you write! You’re so real and write how you would speak, I need to learn that! Brilliant, will look at this idea for our bicycle -tour at end of the year!

  7. We had a couchsurfer stay who introduced me to packing cells and I instantly knew they were the answer. We ordered one each from and we are now packed for our adventure with everything fitting beautifully and leaving room in our bags for other things

  8. I haven’t done this yet but now with that sale I just might πŸ™‚
    Would highly recommend you look at soniastravels YouTube channel…. AMAZING packing tips and hints including the cubes πŸ™‚ plus just general travel tips and destination ideas!

  9. I’m going to throw a pebble in the pond. I have some packing cells but I’m not a total convert. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t committed to packing everything this way or if it’s just because when I pack flat I leave fewer gaps, although I agree it’s a stressful crumpled mess. That said, if my underwear isn’t packed in a cell it finds its way to the four corners of the earth, and that’s never good πŸ˜‰

    1. That’s right, and that’s where I bought mine. They a freakin’ awesome and very affordable. One can find ours at Ikea’s travel/ Familycard section and they helped me packing all my stuff in a tiny carry-on. Love it !

  10. Caz, I have always used the equivalent of a packing cell. For my first big trip over 20 years ago I bought a collection of various sizes and colours of fabric bags with drawstring tops. I have a bag each for clean underwear, dirty underwear, other clothes, toiletry bag, miscellaneous bits and pieces etc. The newer style zippered packing cells also look great and it help if you can also see inside.

    They definitely help to keep things organised (and you sane…) so congrats on getting your suitcase organised!

  11. Uhm, why buy these packing cells? I’ve done it for years just with (firm) plastic bags that I get for free (for example in clothes shops). These days a lot of shops give quite fancy bags. For my laundry I even use a bag made out of 100% cotton, got it for free years ago. A lot of those bags even have fancy zippers and buttons or have easy ways to tie them up. And since I use a lot of different ones, I know that each bag stands for something different (skirts, swimmers, …). Not only did I get those bags for free, I believe a thin plastic or cotton bag even takes in less place then those cells. Though I do have to admit: a good bag for toiletries is essential (I have an other big one just for medicine stuff). By the way, something I do in my backpack: in each bag goes clothes that can be worn as a set, for example a singlet + a T-shirt + skirt. I put it all on top of each other, and when I unzip my backpack completely it looks like I have a closet with shelves πŸ˜€

    1. Great tips. Thank you. Love the different coloured bags to know what is in what idea. I was thinking of getting labels, but your idea is even easier

  12. Nice post Caz. My wife bought a whole heap of these before our 8 months backpacking and I was teasing her about them. After a few weeks on the road I had wished I had got some of my own. Next time πŸ™‚

  13. Ahaha I love this. I only go on really short trips (read: I don’t bring enough to make a mess) or reeeeeally long trips (read: I transfer everything to a closet when I arrive). But I just roll everything and stick it in too! I never have too much of a problem though because of the aforementioned points, but the travel cells do actually sound weirdly tempting… I like accessories.

    belle + compass

  14. I love packing cubes for travel. You can get a set of 3 cubes for about $25 on amazon. I like to use a combination of packing cubes and travel space bags(great if you want to pack a lot in a suitcase).

  15. This is awesome! I essentially do the same thing with my backpack, except it’s way more ghetto. πŸ™‚ I like to separate shirts, bottoms, skirts and dresses, and undergarments all into separate plastic bags. That’s it! It makes living out of a backpack SO MUCH EASIER! No more “backpack throw up” everywhere. yay!

  16. I am not a total packing cell convert although I have found some vacuum pack cell things (that do NOT require an actual vacuum) that pack my clothes down nice and neat. I just love having my things packed in an organised manner rather than just chucked in. I do think that all toiletries in the 1 pack is good and not to over pack those things as you can get most things shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser in many places (if you don’t use designer- expensive type). nice post Caz – I am trying to teach others the joys of packing πŸ™‚

  17. I have tried the packing cells and am a believer! Instead of taking everything out of my suitcase to find one items, I just need to find the right cell. It is a time saver and just makes the process of packing a little bit more enjoyable.

    1. Yes! Kalyra got into my suitcase the other day and took everything out of the cells and threw it in the bag. It was one gigantic mess and totally stressed me out. I was appalled that this was how my suitcase once looked. I don’t know how I ever managed. Thank goodness I found the way!

  18. I love packing cubes! They are amazing when traveling in both suitcases and backpacks. I use a small one every day to keep my gym clothes and towel organized from everything else in my bag.

  19. I am also a frequent traveler and a terrible packer. And now that we travel with a baby, I’m realizing I’d better improve in this area, and fast! Thanks for the tips. πŸ˜‰

  20. Instead of spending the money on packing cells, I’ve always just used mesh laundry bags to separate and organize my luggage/bags. Admittedly it’s no packing cell, in terms of accessibility; you sometimes have to dump them out to get to that pair of pants you rolled at the bottom. Still they are cheap, light weight, come in many shapes, sizes and can be used as a laundry bag too.

    1. My packing cubes are similar to net laundry bags, too. I believe I got a set of three from my Regal lady for about $7.00 CAD. They are see-through and flexible – always an advantage at security. I watched a lady’s “exploded” suitcase coming onto the baggage carousel last year which really made me appreciate the organization of my suitcase.

  21. I bought some of these recently and they make it so much easier to find things when you are living out of a suitcase. I’ve bought some for my daughter who is travelling overseas soon.

  22. I’ve been using packing cubes for years and love them. I’ve even converted a number of people to using them. I’m a folder of clothes as no matter how neatly I roll them they always come out so crumpled that I have to iron. If you fold the clothes to the size of the packing cube things fit in far better than rolling! I use a number of them in different colours – that way I know what’s in each one. I also take one (with things I’ll need on a flight) in my carry on bag and put it in the seat pocket when on long flights – that way everything is handy and in one place. I now also have a number of items that I leave permanently in my suitcase (in a packing cube of course), like nail clippers, nail file, eyeshade, phone charger etc so I don’t have to keep packing and unpacking them. I also have a laminated packing list in my suitcase so when it’s time to pack I tick off the items with a non permanent marker, then just wipe it clean ready for the next time.

  23. I love love love packing cells. Now that I travel with my husband and 2 kids, I have different colours for each person and then different sizes for each type of clothes. Even when we arrive in a hotel there is no need to unpack the items just stay in the cells. I also mix up the cells into the suitcases or bags so if one bag gets lost by the airline then one person has not lost everything.

  24. I used Kathmandu packing cells for the first time on a recent trip and they are so much better than plastic bags! The cells are breathable and there is no noise! That rustling plastic used to drive me crazy. I bought a selection of different sizes and colours to easily identify and categorise my things. Our backpacks were checked by customs when we came home and the custom’s officer was really impressed by our packing cells!!

  25. Love them, yes to rolling clothes and a couple more ideas:
    Tightly pack the cells as they act similar to compression bags. I prefer small/medium ones for that reason.
    We travelled Europe for 10months in a self converted van. Used the cells strung onto bamboo poles which attached to the van walls to keep clothes in as we were very short of space. πŸ™‚

  26. I have not purchased a packing cube product but have adapted to a pre-sorted bags and cases within a larger suitcase or travel bin and backpack. An important part of packing and unpacking is having the toiletries well organized. I prefer an essentials case for teeth and eye care, a wet case for in the shower (and everthing that can be a suitcases liquid nightmare), and an after shower case with everything else sorted into pockets. These items now live in their travel cases so I feel at home when retrieving my nail clips from the same pocket of the same case no matter what my zip code.

  27. How do I prevent my cloths getting wet when in the rain forest.
    I was in South America travelling from the rain forest to the airport.
    When I arrived at my destination everything in my case was soaking wet.
    Would appreciate any advice

  28. Love this article! Covet this bag! Do you know what the name of the bag is??? I can’t find it anywhere. I am horrible with organization and fell in love with the bag.

  29. I also found that you really need separate bags inside your bag when you’re traveling. Like you, I learned that the hard way. I thought that the bag will only get in the way. I did not know how easy it is to pull out what you need with these cells than digging through your stuff.

  30. I love packing cells – bought some on Amazon last year, then discovered them at Ikea of all places. Bought them for my whole family for Christmas this year. I travelled to Mexico last year – they have a button you push to determine if your bags are searched. I got the red button and toddled over to the customs guy. He unzipped my bag and looked in amazement at all my packing cells, shrugged his shoulders and waved me through!

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