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Wondering how to pack a suitcase for a week?
The best way to pack a suitcase for a week is to develop a repeatable packing process you can depend on every time you travel. Start with a standard packing list, adapt it to your current trip, and then stow items in your carry-on bag. Use travel cubes and the best folding or rolling techniques for each item you bring.
Beat “Packing Anxiety” with a Reliable System
Are you one of those people who don’t like packing? Do you leave things until the last minute and end up throwing (too many) things into your suitcase in a heap?
If you’ve ever arrived exhausted at a hotel room only to open your suitcase and watch your belongings cascade to the floor — your spirits falling with them — you know that there’s an art to packing.
In this article, you’ll discover new ideas for organizing a suitcase efficiently and saving space while packing. We’ve gathered suitcase organization tips from various world travelers, so you’ll find packing strategies here that suit your personal style.
We’ve broken this article into two major sections: Deciding what to bring on a weeklong trip and how to pack it efficiently.
What to Pack for a Week-Long Trip
Even if you aren’t a master procrastinator, you may be among the 62% of Americans who overpack clothes when traveling. This might lead to frustration when you fly, taking longer to get through airport security than you hoped, and spending extra money by checking luggage you don’t need after all.
So, how do you know what to pack for a week that won’t be overkill? One of our favorite packing tips is to create a standard checklist for a week-long vacation. This becomes the go-to list that you can adapt for different types of trips in the future.
Step 1: Create a Standard Packing List
To get started, think about your daily routine at home and list all the items you typically use in a week. You can divide your list into three categories: wardrobe, personal care, and extras.
Having a standard travel wardrobe doesn’t mean that you bring exactly the same clothes on every trip (though is that really a bad idea?) But try to find some combinations in your closet that reliably pair well together.
Sample Standard Packing List
Here’s a sample standard packing list for a 7-day vacation. You can pare this down further depending on the weather, destination, and the purpose of your trip.
Personal Care & Extras
Don’t forget to include travel-sized versions of the following items on your own list:
- Shampoo, conditioner, personal care products
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shaving cream, razor
- Makeup and beauty products
- Hair products like hair ties, bobby pins, and a hairbrush
- Medications, including OTC products you may need
- Sunscreen, bug spray, first aid
- Contact lenses (and cleaning solution)
- Hearing aids or other personal devices
- Laptop, tablet, or book to read while on the plane.
- Phone/watch/tablet charger and cable
- Plastic bag for carrying home dirty laundry (An extra packing cube works great.)
Step 2: Put together a travel kit that stays in your suitcase.
Once you have your standard packing list on paper, it’s time to create a stay-in-your-suitcase travel kit or toiletry bag.
You might need to refill the items in your travel kit occasionally, but you won’t need to unpack and repack them every time you go. This will save you a lot of time on repeat trips and reduce the chances of forgetting something.
Most of the things in your travel kit will be travel-sized bottles of personal-care items such as shampoo and staples like shaving supplies or makeup removal wipes. Your bag should include a nail file, hairbrush, and hair ties or bobby pins.
If you travel frequently, you may want to add makeup essentials to your kit: mascara, eyeliner, foundation, blush, and concealer. Then you can toss some specialty makeup products into your bag if you’re going somewhere that warrants extra bling.
While many of the items on this list are toiletries, you may want to include other things like a notepad, phone charger, or sunglasses.
If there are accessories that you tend to forget to pack, such as a belt or reading glasses, you may want to purchase a backup one to keep in your suitcase at all times. We definitely recommend investing in a separate travel toothbrush from your everyday one so you won’t accidentally leave home without it.
Step 3: Adapt your packing lists for your current trip.
The first two steps on our list were time-consuming, but –congratulations! – now that they’re done, you’ll have streamlined packing for every one of your future trips.
That means it’s time to take your standard packing list and adapt it to your current travel plans. Check the weather forecast at your destination and consider what kind of attire you’ll need for the events you have planned.
Go for clothing items that can be layered, dressed up, or dressed down. Stick with a color theme so you pair any of the items you bring without worrying if they’ll clash.
If you need ideas for this, search your favorite YouTube fashion channels for topics such as “one top five ways.” These videos will help you envision how to take the same piece from day to evening by swapping out a jacket or accessories.
Lastly, add destination-specific extras to your packing list, like as binoculars if you’re going birdwatching or extra swim gear if you’re going to the beach.
Step 4: Purge extra items to maximize space.
Gather all your items together and take a good look through them. Are there any “just in case” items you grabbed that you could really do without? Are there any items you packed that could do double-duty (like a t-shirt moonlighting as a pajama top)? Do you really need four pairs of earrings?
Ask yourself the tough questions, and don’t bring anything you can’t easily work into your available luggage space. If you’re traveling solo and plan carefully, you should definitely be able to bring everything you need for a week-long trip with only a carry-on bag.
How to Pack a Carry-on Suitcase for a Week
It’s finally go-time. Grab a 22″ x 14″ x 9″ carry-on and some packing cubes (if you choose to use them), and get to packing!
But what are packing cubes?
Packing cubes are small, nylon or PUL (polyurethane laminate) bags with zip closures that help you organize your clothing within a suitcase so you can quickly find the items you need.
Some packing cubes have compression features to help you maximize space and fit everything you need for a week into your carry-on luggage or personal item. You can press or vacuum suction the air out of these bags, reducing the bulk in your bag.
First, decide what you’re going to wear on your date of departure.
Lay out all the items you plan to take and decide which ones you’re going to wear on the first day of your vacation.
It’s usually best to wear comfy layers on a flight or a long car ride. Put on your jacket and wear your bulkiest shoes to conserve space in your luggage.
Organize and pack your clothes.
Next, decide how you want to organize all your clothes in your suitcase. Do you want to put all your shirts in one packing cube and all your pants in another? Or do you want to group items by outfit, leaving things you’re likely to use first on top?
After making these decisions, it’s time to sort your garments, roll or fold them, and place the folded or rolled clothes into your carry-on bag or packing cubes.
Is it better to roll or fold clothes in a carry-on?
There’s a raging debate among travel experts on whether it’s better to roll or fold your clothes when you pack a suitcase, or adopt a KonMari folding method which is somewhere in between the two.
There may be no single right answer to this question. It depends on what items you’re packing, the shape of your suitcase, and whether your priority is to avoid wrinkles or to save space in your bag.
Tips for Rolling vs. Folding Clothes when Packing
In general, you’ll want to roll items made of thinner material: dresses, t-shirts, and natural fabrics that are prone to wrinkle, like linen or cotton. The most efficient way to pack underwear is to fold them in half, roll them, and tuck them into small gaps in other items, like bra cups, for instance. (This will also help protect the shape of your bras.)
Bulkier items such as knit sweaters fare better when folded.
If you’re careful, you can fold suit jackets without causing them damage by turning the shoulders inside-out before folding.
A stack of traditionally folded clothes tends to take up vertical space in an open suitcase lying on its side. The edges of the stack of clothes won’t extend to the edges of the bag and may leave gaps around the perimeter of your suitcase.
You can either take advantage of these gaps by filling them with shoes and accessories, or you can opt for rolling more of your clothes.
Rolling garments and placing them side by side in the suitcase will fill the whole width of your carry-on. It will also be easier to see and access each one of your outfits without the need to rifle through an entire stack of clothes.
Whether you choose to roll or fold your garments, try to finish each item in the stack to approximately the same width. You may have to fold your shorts twice and your pants three times to accomplish this, but they’ll come together much more neatly if all items are folded to similar dimensions.
How do you prevent wrinkles in clothing packed in a suitcase?
Here are a few techniques to keep clothes wrinkle-free, so you can attend your business brunch without looking like you just rolled out of a suitcase.
- Pack wrinkle-resistant fabrics when you can.
- Place outfits that tend to wrinkle on top in your carry-on bag, so you can grab them and hang them up as soon as you arrive at your destination.
- When you fold your items, carefully smooth the garment on a flat surface and line up all the seams before beginning the fold. Then choose to crease along the lines of the garment that will be the least visible.
- Place a particularly wrinkle-prone items like dresses or slacks in full-length thin plastic garment bags, like the kind dry-cleaners use. You can fold or roll the items while in the bag. The thin layer of plastic between the layers of fabric will help prevent wrinkles.
- Use travel cubes with a compression feature to prevent your clothes from shifting around and getting wrinkled.
- Pack dress shirts in a winged garment folder.
Next, pack shoes and accessories.
Once your clothes are settled in your luggage, it’s time to work on other items like shoes, accessories, and electronics.
You weren’t planning to toss your shoes into your luggage on top of your clean laundry without putting them in a bag first, were you? Probably not, but just in case, it’s definitely a good idea to protect the rest of your wardrobe from the grime of the street by placing your shoes in a nylon bag.
Now, onto those little trinkets and adornments. Are you thinking of tossing your jewelry and belts into your suitcase just anywhere? Hopefully, you’d reconsider. Just as you’d shield your wardrobe from shoe grime, you’d want to protect your delicate accessories from potential mishaps. Jewelry, especially, can easily become a tangled mess if not stored properly. Lay necklaces out flat and ensure rings and earrings are kept in small pouches. Your favorite watch and those sunglasses? They deserve their own little safe spot too. And that belt? Roll it up neatly. Just a bit of thought can keep your accessories in top shape during your week away.
Earbuds, phone chargers, and electronics with cords should also be placed in a zipped bag so they won’t get lost or tangled.
Remember that the Transportation Security Administration for most airlines still requires you to remove liquid toiletries and electronics from carry-ons before they go through the scanner. Settle those travel items at the top after packing everything else, or stash them in the outer pocket of your carry-on luggage.
Now you know how to pack a suitcase for a week!
You’re done! You can take our packing tips as a general guide and develop your hacks for how to pack a suitcase for a week according to your personal preferences.
You could draft separate packing lists for work trips and for pleasure travel. Or you could experiment with a mix of folded and rolled clothes to maximize space in your carry-on.
Hopefully, these tips helped relieve some of the dread of packing, leaving you with pure excitement as you countdown to your next seven day trip!