Packing tips and tricks from flight attendants

Heading out on a summer vacation? Check out these wonderful packing tips from flight attendants in The New York Times’Packing Tips from Travel Pros.”

Now that nearly every airline is charging baggage fees, travelers are motivated to pack as efficiently as possible. And who knows more about packing than professional flight crews? In interviews with a dozen flight attendants and pilots, one theme emerged: to pare down and still have everything needed at the destination, think strategically.

Heather Poole, a flight attendant interviewed for the article, can fit more than 40 pieces of clothes and two pairs of shoes into her carry-on bag. She primarily rolls her clothing, but also “wraps” her nice clothes around her rolled casual items (which, are mostly 50-50 cotton-polyester).

Also, don’t miss the 12 image slide show that accompanies the article with step-by-step photographs showing how Heather Poole fits it all in her bag. It shows how-to instructions for even packing clothes you don’t want wrinkled.

38 Comments for “Packing tips and tricks from flight attendants”

  1. posted by Elisa on

    I went to Italy for 2 weeks a few years ago with the same size suitcase and about a third of the stuff she took. My suitcase was mostly empty, which left plenty of room for a few souvenirs and a bar of laundry soap. I even had a dressy outfit that I never wore.

    If I packed my bag like her, I would have had to unpack and re-pack every time I needed something.

  2. posted by Jenny on

    I wish I could find some advice on how to pack when you are bringing exercise clothes — I can pack a carryon, but fitting my sneakers is what kills me!

  3. posted by adora on

    The latest episode of “The Crew Lounge” podcast was also talking about it.

    I don’t buy the rolling technique. You do get wrinkles, you get ripple of wrinkles along the shirts instead. When you overpack with rolling, they turn into squares. That’s where the ripples come from.

    I opt for total wrapping. Stack all your clothes on your bed with the nice ones at the bottom, place your shoes and toiletries in the center and wrap your clothes around it. You’d get fewer wrinkles.

  4. posted by kersti on

    The problem I find is not fitting my stuff into the small bag allowed, but fitting my stuff into the weight allowed.

    Some flights only allow 7kg which is mind-blowingly light for a long weekend if it involves a work day too.

    A typical 3 days trip for me will include the following
    – outfit for wearing in an office, inc appropriate shoes
    – computer, no can’t afford to buy a teeny tiny computer, have to make do with what I’ve got
    – outfit for walking/sightseeing, inc appropriate shoes
    – outfit for going out one evening (I often choose a different top to the daily wear and re-wear the jeans from the day)
    – a few toilettries in tiny bottles
    – a book to read
    – phone/purse/passport etc
    – most of the year, coat, scarf, hat

    How do you get all that within 7kg???

  5. posted by Sky on

    That is a lot of clothes, etc. to fit in that suitcase! I try not to take that much on trips but her ideas are great.

  6. posted by Janet on

    I saw this when it first came out and it seemed like she didn’t pack any underwear. I’ve always wondered how to pack a spare bra and not have it be crunched.

  7. posted by Carolyn on

    I’ve had good success with the rolling technique. It’s not entirely wrinkle-free, but still, does pretty well. It is also easy to select what you want from your bag without unpacking the whole thing. I’d love to know what cosmetics she takes … I’m a minimalist there, but my cosmetic bag looks a lot bigger than hers!

  8. posted by Sue on

    She is packing for a ten day trip; I think she easily has twice as many clothes as I would pack for the same trip.

    three pairs of shorts
    three pairs of dress pants
    one skirt
    three pairs of casual pants or jeans
    three nightgowns
    three bathing suits
    one sarong
    three lightweight sweaters
    four dresses
    10 casual shirts
    six dress shirts
    a clutch, toiletries and two pairs of shoes.

    She’ll wear the third pair of shoes, as well as jeans and a longer sweater.

  9. posted by luxcat on

    I agree with the weight concerns… I never have trouble getting what I need into a carry on, but I’ve had the ticket counter weigh my bag and then not want to let me carry it on a couple times… especially Euro airlines. I’m not talking crazy weight either, some Euro airlines allow only one carry on item the size/weight of a large purse. It pays to read the specific guidelines of each airline you plan on traveling on.

    I used to roll my clothes until I found Eagle Creek packing folders. I was skeptical at first, but those things really work! Hint, take one extra one to pack DIRTY clothes into so you don’t have to mix them with your clean ones to fit everything back into the bag.

    The article wasn’t very helpful to me, but then I’ve been working and re-working my pack lists for many years as I travel a great deal, both in USA and overseas. The one thing I noted was the pilot who packed olive oil in his shoes/carry on… um… TSA doesn’t let us normal people do that!

  10. posted by Rue on

    @Jenny Try wearing your sneakers on the plane, and pack your other pair of shoes (which are probably smaller)! 🙂

    I find it hard to believe how much Ms. Poole says she packed into that suitcase, even though I saw the pictures!

  11. posted by Jo on

    Beware of complicated packing schemes if you travel overseas. When returning to the US these days you may have every item in your carry on bag checked (read rifled through) by TSA. The less you have and the more simply it’s packed the easier that will be. I watched dozens of people struggling to repack their bags at the gate after screening on my last trip. They looked very stressed out.

  12. posted by Sian on

    I love her ideas of fitting lots into her suitcase, but she packs the same amount of stuff I’d take for a 2 or 3 week vacation-not ten days, which isn’t so uncluttered. Still it is organised.

  13. posted by tabatha on

    I would never take that much stuff for a ten day trip. I spend 4 days in Vegas and wore mostly the same pair of jeans and rotated a few t-shirts. I recently went on a trip that lasted several days with a back pack and a small lunch bag. It was in a car so the size of the bag wasn’t a big deal. But my relatives where like “that’s all you brought”? One of my cousins had a huge bag for just purses and shoes and another for clothes and then a smaller one for cosmetics and toiletries, plus a purse. It was crazy, she couldn’t even bring her stuff in by herself and the trip was only three days.

  14. posted by Anca on

    I like mesh packing cubes to separate my clothes into “chunks”. Don’t waste money on the high-end ones from travel stores; I found ones at a dollar store. Then I can stack them together in the largest section of my standard-size backpack. By researching laundromat locations beforehand (see Rick Steves books) I’ve traveled to Europe for 2 weeks with nothing more than a backpack and purse.

    When you’re away from home, no one’s going to judge you for not having enough variety in shoes or bottoms. Just bring enough to be able to change into dry pants/undies when you spill on yourself on the plane (happened), or lose your shoe hiking along a ravine (seen it). (And don’t forget to take anti-bedbug precautions before/after the trip.)

  15. posted by chacha1 on

    Re: workout shoes: this is just a suggestion based on observation. Many folks like to do a workout while they’re traveling. However, most such folks do their workouts in the hotel where they happen to be staying.

    For a gym workout, you really don’t need shoes. You might look into Vibram Five Fingers footwear. They provide protection against slips, dirt, and rough surfaces while providing free movement of your foot (better for you). Also they are very lightweight, flattenable, and washable.

    My husband – a personal trainer – has been wearing them since they first became available, and absolutely loves them. He recently wore a pair of Five Fingers trekkers on a five-hour hike in Kings Canyon and says they worked absolutely great.

    I was filled with envy and plan to get some for myself soon!

  16. posted by Angela on

    If she had packed nothing but a toothbrush and a pair of underwear, some commenters would SWEAR that THEY went to the North Pole with less.

  17. posted by Another Deb on

    But THREE swimsuits?

    I’m going to refine my car-camp and music festival routine this summer and packing questions have come up. If I only wear the same pair of shoes at work, how many do I need for relaxing?

    I think I can get by with a pair of sneakers and Tevas. ONE swimsuit, a very thin beach towel, a hand towel, seven changes of underwear and socks, two bras, two pair of capris (I don’t do shorts), three twill slacks in various colors and five tops. For sleeping, yoga pants and a tank top. I can exercise in them as well. One hoodie. One skirt for dancing by the stage.. 🙂 Bandana and straw hat. Jeans are too hot and take up too much space, unless I can find a terrific lightweight jeans skirt that will save me on laundry.

    If conditions warrent, I will stop at a thrift store and get another layer.

    Now, the other suitcase will be for the laptop and the books I plan to read….

  18. posted by Re on

    I thought this was very interesting. I’ve given up on trying to be a super light packer as I have been burned by it so many times.

  19. posted by JC on

    1. I’m a fan of the packing cubes (eagle creek or ebags or whatever). Neatly folded clothes squash down quite compactly.

    2. Shoes. I’m a gal who travels frequently for business. I pack my gym shoes and wear a pair of great looking boots that are comfortable to walk in and coordinates with jeans or work trousers.

  20. posted by Jane on

    Some people and their minimal packing obsession. Everyone’s needs are different, and depends on the location and reason for your travel. Not to mention that people usually have some baseline of required things to pack regardless of trip length, and from there, compensating for longer travel time does not dramatically increase the size of what you want to pack. My weekend trip baggage is identical to my two week baggage with the exception of adding maybe another pair of shoes and a couple more changes of clothing, and ditching small shampoo bottles and similar to just buy what I need at my destination.

    It’s really not a total shocker that if you have access to laundromats and you’re on a two week long trip, or even a monthlong trip, you’re going to be packing less if not the same amount as the flight attendant mentioned above.

  21. posted by on

    I too am a ‘professional packer’, well not by TRADE anyway but i have the ability to cram more things into tight spaces than anyone i have ever known. Friends and family marvel at my ingenuity ..haha

    I use space bags in my cases. You really can cram a lot of items into one space bag. I then will usually roll up the space bag on top of that.

    Shoes are the worst travel hog there is. If you must take shoes look for the smallest least bulky ones that you own and wear your clunkers. Fill your shoes with every item you can cram into them (the ones in your case, not on your feet of course).

    Take smaller versions of everything. (toiletries, layer garments instead of bulky items, etc) Think light and ask yourself as you are packing, “will i really use/wear this and would the world come to an end if i didn’t have it with me?”

  22. posted by toobusy2 on

    I agree that Heather packed way too many pieces for a 10 day trip. We are a traveling family and have learned to pack way less. I went to Europe last year for 8 weeks with my 2 daughters (10, 13) and had everything in a carry-on that would fit on Ryanair. American type wheelie suitcases won’t fit in many budget European planes. The weight of the suitcase alone will limit the amount of stuff you can pack. I opt for very lightweight suitcases – patagonia makes great bags. For 8 weeks, I had 4 bottoms (skirt, skort, shorts, pants), 4 tops, 1 dress, and 4 pairs of shoes (dressy, walking, chaco sandals, and gym shoes), jacket, 3 sets of underwear, nightgown. I buy lightweight, washable clothing. I weighed each item and chose the lighter item if I couldn’t decide. I folded a patagonia parachute like backpack in my bag for day. I roll my clothing. Stuff, socks, undies in plastic bags in the gym shoes. If you don’t work out, then don’t bring the gym shoes. They are a pain. Or bring a pair that you can leave behind. My husband can get 2 weeks of work clothes (including a suit), and rock climbing gear, swim trunks in 1 carry on bag – he uses the wrap technique, not the roll technique. It works better for unstructured bags. Also went to asia for 3 months with less clothes but more homeschool items – that was a pain!

  23. posted by Aeon J. Skoble on

    There are two ways to deal with one’s worries about wrinkles. One is if turns out that rolling or special folding boards or whatever can somehow prevent wrinkles. I’m fascinated by this, but skeptical. The other is to accept that there will be wrinkles. If you’re travelling on business, you are probably staying at a decent enough hotel that there will be an iron and ironing board in your room, and even budget hotels have one at the front desk you can borrow. If you’re going on vacation, either you’re at a hotel with an iron or staying with someone. When I travel on business, I need 2, sometimes 3 suits, plus the corresponding shirts, ties, underwear, socks, shoes, belt, plus something to relax/exercise in and toiletries. I can get that all in a carry-on just with “regular” packing, and when I get to the hotel, I put on some music and iron everything. 20 minutes, no big deal.

  24. posted by Anita on

    I wasn’t terribly surprised that she could fit everything in that carry-on (then again, my boyfriend and I once packed his entire apartment — minus furniture, of course — in 2 suitcases and a carry-on, all of which we could barely lift but that’s another story), but I too was surprised by how much she packed for a 10-day trip.

    Agreed, everyone’s packing needs are different; however, she’s supposedly illustrating the article’s point about travelling light. And cramming as much as possible into a given case is a little at odds with the article’s message of paring down and doing away with excess. And 3 bathing suits for 3 days sounds like excess to me.

  25. posted by Anita on

    Sorry, that should say “3 bathing suits for *10* days”. Oops!

  26. posted by For other folks traveling to the Lane Bryant conference next week | Fat Chic on

    […] found this great post on packing tips over at Unclutterer. Thought you all might appreciate, especially if you’re on an airline that […]

  27. posted by WilliamB on

    My problem is shoes, too. I’m a runner with problem feet so my minimum number is 2 pair: running shoes and supportive sandels. Neither are small, either are crushable. I could save space by wearing the sneakers but then security is a hassle; I could simplify security by wearing the sandals but then I have less packing space.

    If I need to dress up for work or fine dining, I add one pair of work shoes.

  28. posted by Sammy on

    Is cramming as much stuff as you can into a carry on a smart idea? For a 10 day trip, I think she simply is packing too much due to the lack of organization & clothing coordination.

  29. posted by timgray on

    Most people take way more than they need. I can pack everything I need for a 3 day weekend in a single small duffle bag that is smaller than most womens purses. (15X12X8) That includes an extra shirt, extra underwear and socks, and entertainment like ebook reader, camera, and PSP with 6 games and all chargers.

    It’s not hard to pack light. and when you do a lot of cross country travel on motorcycle you learn to pack really light. Try a 2 week motorcycle trip with 2 shirts and two pairs of jeans… every night you do laundry at the hotel. works great. When you travel nobody cares you wore that shirt 2 days ago… Fashion Faux Pas’ just don’t happen unless you plan on only doing the 5 star restaurants and need to have formal wear.

  30. posted by soshi on

    dont forget a nice casual pants

  31. posted by What am I Reading? 5/27/10 Edition « Destination England on

    […] Packing Tips and Tricks From Flight Attendents – Some really awesome tips! Be sure the check out the link for the side show as well.  @unclutterer […]

  32. posted by Claycat on

    I’ve learned to pack less as the years go by. I refuse to wear polyester, so I just have to be wrinkled. 🙂

  33. posted by MsD on

    The electronics overload comment made by the pilot can be greatly mitigated with a few smart purchases. I recommend investing in a loaded smartphone with a good quality camera. The new androids are impressive in this regard. I have the motodroid…in fact, I’m writing this on it. It can do 90% of what my computer can, including opening PDFs for maps and whatnot. If you need to take notes, but can get by without full computing power, you can buy very compact full keyboards for most smartphones, and free apps can hold your notes. I can even connect it to wifi in the airport, plane, hotel, or hotspot. While I take my good, full-body camera, I don’t have to haul it around constantly in order to catch pictures of my friends being goofy at karoke or something, and I don’t need to bring a separate compact camera for those times. And it’s an MP3 player, so I don’t need to worry about an iPod.

    Ear-bud noise-cancelling headphones take up much less space with comparable quality at about the same price.

    As for numerous chargers, buy an iGo and tips for all your stuff. It even comes in car format if you’re flying an airline w/those outlets and must have power. 1-2 chargers instead of 10, just bag the tips in a ziplock. I use the iGo in my office when not traveling, so I don’t have to haul my good charger around, risk losing or forgetting it, or worry about how much juice I have in the morning (plus, using my phone for 75%+ of my computing means I can burn through a battery in 4-6 hours). For shorter trips, I just fully charge 2 of the rechargable batteries for my camera (they last about 2-3 days) and skip that charger.

    I like real books, so I can’t comment on readers, but you can def eliminate 50%+ of your electronics packing w/these tips.

  34. posted by Jenny on

    I am on a 2 week international vacation right now with a very small bag (smaller than the one pictured in this article and photos) and a regular-sized backpack. The most helpful thing for me was choosing clothing that all coordinates, so any of my tops will go with any of my bottoms, creating varying looks and levels of dressy-ness. Also helpful is choosing things that dry quickly and can be washed in the hotel sink. As a usual over-packer and non-minimalsit, this trip has been freeing and amazing, and I even have a few things I could have done without! I love it and have been converted.

    Plus, as only having carry-ons, my stress was simplified when I missed two connections due to a flight delay. So no worries about lost luggage!

    The website was a fabulous resource for me to figure out what is essential for me (and what I can do without).

  35. posted by Melanie on

    I am also concerned about the lack of underwear in her packing demonstration. I can usually get a week’s worth in a stuff sack that ends up the same size as a rolled pair of slacks.

    I also don’t trust that that is the size of her toiletries bag. With hair like that you know she needs lots of products and tools. I can deal with only 1-2 changes of clothing for 1-2 weeks; but I have a hard time squeezing in all the toiletries required for 1-2 weeks. I need more information on how to streamline that!

    I don’t understand the comments about wearing your yoga pants and t-shirt for both working out and sleeping in or about packing stuff inside of shoes. Ick! Are you and your clothes and shoes all sweaty at the end of your work-out?

  36. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I too was surprised at the 3 bathing suits (since I only own one) but each to their own. Maybe she buys new underwear at her destination? I assume she’s staying at a hotel or with friends / family so she doesn’t need a towel.

    I went on a one week trip interstate in winter last year for which I took a regular sized suitcase. This allowed me to pack my pillow – I get a sore neck from using regular pillows for too long.

    On that trip I wore my ugg boots and packed my steel cap shoes (very comfy for walking). That way I didn’t have to worry about taking them off for the security check along with trying to keep my eyes on my laptop and camera bag as they went through.

    Australian maximum carry-on dimensions are 23cm x 34cm x 48cm giving a total volume of 37,536 cm^3. In comparison, US Airways dimensions are 23cm x 36cm x 56cm, giving a total volume of 46,368 cm^3. That’s almost 24% more space!

  37. posted by MsD on

    And, laetitia, no one enforces those carry on sizes in the U.S. anyway, so you can have even more space. One of my biggest pet peeves is people bringing too big carry ons on U.S. flights, and then the flight attendants asking me to stow my laptop bag (my only carry on) under my seat to make room for oversized rollaboards. Um, no, I packed right and I will have my leg room, thanks. I just typically refuse to claim it as mine when they ask whose it is.

  38. posted by Katie A. on

    The swimsuit issue depends on where you’re going! If you’re in a place like Hawaii and don’t want to put on a wet bathing suit (say, if you’re going out first), then it’s nice to have extras. Plus people like to sunbathe in bikinis and wear something sturdier for activities.

    I try to pack light, but I never seem to get it totally right. For Christmas, I got a packing list with removable pages, which is good–I used it on a previous trip and took the list with me to take notes on what I actually used/didn’t use.

    I have to say, I have relatives who are obsessively light packers and make fun of me–and then in the next breath ask if they can borrow one of my sweaters for the duration of the trip!

    For my next trip, I might be brave and only bring my Kindle, no books.

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