Packing Tips

Best Secret Packing Tips from Travel Experts

Some secrets are worth sharing. With airline bag fees on an ever-upward trajectory and carry-on bag dimensions decreasing, packing light is more crucial now than ever. So how do you maximize your travel gear with minimal space? We convinced some of our favorite veteran travelers to share their best packing secrets with us. With these tips, you can pack like a pro every time you go.

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Pack Proven Essentials

Despite the countless trips she’s been on, Jayne Clark admits that packing doesn’t necessarily get easier with time. “Before every trip, I have to really think about what goes into my bag,” she admits. Wherever she’s headed though, she favors mix-and-match items that can be adapted for different travel needs. “One indestructible multi-use item I’m rarely without is an over-sized scarf. I think I’ve had it for 20-odd years, during which time it’s done duty as a blanket, skirt, bathing suit cover, towel, blanket, pillow and, on occasions, a scarf.”

Clark has a proven technique for navigating around in-cabin two-bag limit (one carry on and one personal item) as well. She brings a “foldable tote bag big enough to conceal a purse; plus, a quart-sized zip-top bag that fills lots of roles, costs less, and can be tossed out.”

On her travels, Jayne also employs the physics-bending aid of packing cubes. Not only are these handy packing tools “fantastic for organizing clothing and keeping them neatly in place inside a travel bag,” they’re also able to compress clothing down to a fraction of their original size.

Jayne Clark is a former USA Today travel reporter, who also has been travel editor at the Los Angeles Daily News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The freelance journalist lives in Washington, D.C. You can read her latest SmarterTravel contribution about affordable off-peak fall destinations here.

Swear to Wear It

Leading travel columnist John E. DiScala, better known as Johnny Jet, took time out of a Bali trip to share his favorite packing tip—one that will save you on excess baggage fees: “Wear your bulkiest stuff on the plane. Instead of trying to stuff a big sweater and jeans—even boots, if you’re traveling in winter—into your bag, just wear them. Besides, planes are often chilly so you’ll be happy for that sweater!”

Johnny Jet, is founder of, and author of SmarterTravel’s story on getting the best seat on the plane. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyJet.

A Strong Case for the Rolling Technique

Johnny Jet’s wife and travel companion, Natalie DiScala, however, takes a different approach. Rather than opt for her husband’s wear-it-all technique, Natalie (editor of travel and style site Oh! Travelissima) maximizes the amount she can pack by rolling her clothes before packing them. “You’ll find you can fit many more items into your suitcase this way.” DiScala tallies her bag’s contents and proudly boasts of 61 clothing items (including 15 dresses, 14 tops, three cardigans, much more), five different types of footwear, plus two hairbrushes and a flat iron—all in a single carry-on bag.

DiScala says packing-by-palette is key to stylishly navigate the world with a single carry-on bag: “choose a color palette that you can easily mix and match; this increases your outfit combinations exponentially!”

Natalie DiScala is editor of the travel and style site Oh! Travelissima. You can follow this reformed-over-packer-turned-style-conscious-packing-expert on Twitter and Instagram.

Apply the 80/20 Rule

Heels just in case you go out dancing one evening? Instead, opt for the same comfortable flats you’re wearing to navigate the city streets during the day. A beach towel in case you find time to sunbathe? Use your oversized scarf instead. As someone who’s traversed the world without being weighed down by excessive packing, travel blogger Niall Doherty advises you to “resist packing for every occasion. Don’t bring dress shoes or high heels if you’re going to be spending most of your time in the great outdoors. Don’t bring a big coat if you’ll be primarily in tropical areas. Don’t bring a massive towel just because you think you might end up at a beach once or twice in the next six months.”

Doherty suggests de-junking your suitcase by “packing 20 percent of the [items you think] that you will use 80 percent of the time.”

Expert traveler Niall Doherty writes big words, builds digital things, and occasionally helps people figure out how to live a travel lifestyle. He hails from Ireland and now lives in Amsterdam. You can find out more about him over at

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