Travel Light: Tips to Pack a Suitcase Like a Pro


Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like a Pro | Duluth Moms Blog

I love to pack. It’s an unorthodox hobby, but it just happens to be something I really enjoy. I’m always trying to outdo myself packing for vacations as lightly as possible for our family of four. I put myself to the ultimate test last summer when we moved to Ireland with only 6 suitcases, 2 duffle bags, 4 backpacks and 2 sets of golf clubs. Yep, we downsized a 4-bedroom house to just those receptacles listed above, no shipping containers or boxes. That was a challenge that I actually don’t fancy repeating in the near future, but I digress. I’ve honed my packing techniques over the past 13 years having made two cross country moves, the international move noted above and lots of domestic and international travel.

How I Pack Light

In two weeks time we’re going on summer holidays–woohoo!–and for our family of four, we’ll be bringing just two carry-on suitcases (checked luggage cost an arm and a leg) and 4 backpacks. We’ll be on vacation for 18 days and we will have a washing machine where we’re staying. The kids backpacks are Trunki brand and double as booster seats for the car (suitable for children 40 lbs and up). 

Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like a Pro | Duluth Moms Blog

When I’m preparing to pack for a vacation I do a couple of things to make the process easier on myself: 

  1. I try to figure out what the weather will be like where we’re going. You obviously can’t know for sure, but you can get a good idea by looking up what the weather actually was last year and the year before for the dates that you’ll be there, and of course by taking a look at the forecast. 
  2. Then I do all the laundry. This sounds daunting, but it’s so much easier to pick what you want to pack when you can see all your clothes in front of you and you don’t have to make mental notes to pack your grey tee shirt when it’s out of the wash (that’s a recipe for totally forgetting your grey tee!) 
  3. I designate a packing area usually our spare bedroom so I can work on it over the course of a couple of days, and then the clothes that are getting packed are out of sight so no one is grabbing clean tee shirts to wear out of “to pack” pile, (that means you, husband!)
  4. Sometimes I go so far as to write down each day we’ll be away on a sheet of paper and what outfit we’ll wear that day. I do that when we have specific events to attend, like a wedding, while we’re on vacation so we don’t forget something important. 

I like to pack as lightly as possible because there is nothing I hate more than shlepping multiple heavy suitcases through airports. It makes me sweat and it makes me cranky. (You can imaging how I felt about arriving at MSP on moving day with all the possessions we own in the world and having to drag them and two preschoolers to the ticket counter and beyond). No thank you, I’d rather rewear my favorite outfit 5 times while we’re on holidays than struggle with lots of heavy luggage. And the case has to be light enough for me to lift it in the overhead bin myself. Sometimes my husband and I don’t get to sit together so I can’t always rely on having him around. If I can’t lift it over my head, the case is too heavy. 

Principles to consider as you start to pack: 

  1. You need less than you think. 
  2. Packing cubes have completely changed my packing game and I highly recommend them. 
  3. If there is something you can’t pack until the last minute, write it down and keep the paper in a really visible spot so you can’t miss it or jot it in the ‘reminders’ app on your phone. I never rely on my memory, it will keep me awake the nights leading up to the trip. 

Here’s what we’ll pack:

Claire, age 4

4 sundresses
2 cardigans
3 pairs of shorts (she wears these under the dresses like bike shorts)
2 tees, 1 tank
2 bathing suits
1 fleece jacket
1 pair of leggings
3 pairs socks
6 pairs undies
2 jammies
1 pair of leather sandals
1 sun hat
1 pair sunglasses

On the flight Claire will wear a sundress with leggings and a cardigan so she’ll have one more of each of these items. She’ll also wear sneakers and socks.

Frank, age 4

4 tee shirts
4 shorts
1 button down shirt
1 pair pants
2 long sleeve tee shirts
4 socks
6 undies
2 bathing suits
1 fleece jacket
2 jammies
1 pair of Keen sandals
1 sun hat
1 pair of sunglasses

On the flight he’ll wear a tee shirt, a sweatshirt, a pair of pants with sneakers. 

Tips for Packing a Suitcase Like a Pro | Duluth Moms Blog
This picture is actually from a vacation a couple of months ago. All I will add is another bathing suit and another pair of shorts.
This is after the clothes are rolled and placed into a packing cube. It squishes the clothes down and they take up a fraction of the space. I love them. They also help me pack light, if it doesn’t fit in the cube, it doesn’t come with. The items not in the cube will be worn on the plane.












For Mom:

3 midi skirts
3 tees
3 tanks
2 shorts
2 dresses
1 pants
1 long sleeve shirt
1 cardigan
1 sports bra
2 outfits to workout in (shorts and tanks)
jammies (1 bottoms, 2 tanks)
3 pairs of sandals
2 bathing suits with wrap cover up
2 crew socks
6 undies/1 bra

These are the items I will pack. I will add one pair of shorts. It honestly feels like too much, I might drop the navy dress and one pair of sandals.
Bathing suits, socks, undies and shoes have their own spot in the suitcase and don’t go in the packing cube.

I tend to wear a lot of the same colors so my skirts, shorts, tees, tanks, cardigans all mix and match which allows me to have many outfits with fewer pieces. 

On the flight I’ll wear leggings, a long floral tee and light black cardigan and sneakers (if I have the space to put the sneakers in the case, I’ll wear sandals instead). Basically lots of layers for differing temps and comfortable. Our flight will be 8.5 hours. 

For Dad:

4 tees
2 polo shirts
4 shorts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 button down shirt
2 bathing suits
4 socks
6 undies
1 jammies

On the flight he’ll wear jeans, tee shirt, a 3/4 zip and sneakers. 


1 bar of Cetaphil soap in soap case for washing bodies and faces
Hair straightener, a couple hair ties and hair pins
2 Razors (one for mom and one for dad)
4 toothbrushes
Dental floss
Deodorant for mom and dad (solids so they don’t count against us for liquid totals)
1 small purse for Mom
2 puddle jumpers (we just clasp these to a suitcase for transporting them around and we’ll tuck them under one of the seats when we get on the plane, they’re really light)

Kid’s backpacks each contain:

Favorite stuffed animal
Fleece jacket
1 Sticker book (doubles as coloring book) + markers
2 reading books
1 Water bottle
Small container with magnets for playtime (when we’re at our destination, not on the plane)
Baggie of legos and little people for playtime (when we’re at our destination, not on the plane)

Mom’s carry on:

1 kids kindle tablet (with Netflix shows downloaded onto it)
Phone + charger
Water bottle  
1 book 
1 pair of headphones 
Toiletries in quart sized baggy: shampoo, conditioner, face lotion, foundation, dry shampoo, hairspray, toothpaste
Contact solution and case (in separate quart size baggie, doesn’t count against your liquid totals)
Snacks upon snacks upon snacks
Small pouch with wipes and a few OTC meds we travel with just in case.

Dad’s carry on:

1 kids kindle (again with Netflix shows downloaded onto it)
Phone + charger
Water bottle
Kindle charger x2
Toiletries in quart size baggie: Shave gel, toothpaste, contact lenses, sunscreen
Snacks upon snacks upon snacks

After we clear security we tuck the toiletries into one of the rolly cases so we don’t have to lug around the extra weight on our shoulders. We also fill up our water bottles after we get through security. When the twins were babies we brought enough empty bottles for them to have a clean one for each feed during the travel day. They took their first international trip at 8 months and I had finished pumping and nursing the month prior. We used the water from our water bottles to make their bottles. We carried enough formula (separated into formula dispensers) for about 2 full days just in case we got stranded somewhere. The twins were okay with drinking room temperature bottles at that time, but we did ask a flight attendant to set the bottles in a cup of hot water for a minute or two to warm them up. They were happy to oblige. 

Regarding the long haul flight: We don’t overdo it when it comes to activities for the kids. I used to pack a bunch of activities and cheap toys and they never got used. The kids generally take a nap, color, eat and have a lot of kindle time and this works for us. In the days leading up to the flight, we talk a lot about what will happen during our travel day what the schedule will be like. We set expectations by reviewing what happens in airports and on airplanes and how we behave in both those places. This seems to really help them be relaxed on the day, I hope I’m not jinxing myself here, but they’re pretty decent little travelers.

I hope these tips and tricks helps you get packed for your next adventure. Please share your best travel tips in the comments, I always love learning new tricks from fellow traveling moms!