How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space

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We’ve all been guilty of overpacking at one time or another. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I have been charged an oversize bag fee because I had brought too many things with me! And even worse, there have been so many times that I’ve run out of space in my suitcase before I could pack everything I needed to. Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to pack a suitcase to maximize space. If you’re in need of a few tips for how to maximize your suitcase space, I’ve got you covered! In this guide, I’m sharing all of my best packing tips for how to save space in your luggage (so you can pack even more)!

woman packing a suitcase

When planning a trip, it’s easy to struggle with packing. Especially if you love clothes like I do! I always used to try and pack everything so that I would be ready for any possible scenario that might come up during my trip. The problem is, if you try to pack everything, you’ll quickly run out of space in your suitcase! This can lead to overweight luggage, resulting in paying extra fees. Let’s avoid those with some tips for planning how to pack in a way that saves the most space.

It generally comes down to, knowing your destination, accommodation facilities, and weather, and then you can plan your packing accordingly. Focus more on multipurpose and lightweight items, use every possible space in your suitcase, and pack only those items you need during your vacation. You don’t need to pack extra clothes, shoes, or accessories!

There are many ways to make packing hassle-free and easy and maximize the space of suitcases. Here are a few tips that will help you if you want to know how to pack a suitcase to maximize space.

Step 1: Choose the Right Luggage

The first step in maximizing space in your luggage is to choose the right luggage. With the right suitcase, its much easier to fit all of your travel essentials.

My first advice in selecting luggage is to choose a hard suitcase, rather than a soft-sided suitcase or duffel bag. Hard-sided luggage is a better investment because it is much more durable and can withstand adverse condition – which seem to happen frequently when traveling!

Why I Love Hard-Sided Luggage

I recommend hard-sided suitcases because they tend to be lighter in terms of weight, which makes traveling with them much easier. Keep in mind that if you’re traveling somewhere in Europe, elevators and escalators are not always a given. So it’s always important to be able to lift your bag if you need to.

I also recommend choosing a suitcase rather than a duffel bag. Suitcases are so much easier to maneuver! In addition, when you pack in a suitcase, rather than a duffel bag, it is also much easier to use packing cubes. More on packing cubes below!

Over the years, I’ve traveled with carry on suitcases that I have loved and hated. Seriously, I used to go through suitcases like some people go through shampoo. After trying many different pieces (yes, including those trendy ones), here’s the carry on suitcase that I recommend if you want to maximize your space.

Top Pick
Samsonite 20-inch Carry On Hardside Luggage with Spinner Wheels
  • Meets carry on size restrictions for most major airlines
  • Lightweight material and 4-way spinner wheels make this easy to travel with
  • All of the interior pockets and dividers make it easy to pack in an organized way!

Maximize Your Carry-on Suitcase Dimensions

When you’re choosing your luggage, it’s also important to be able to utilize every corner, and make the most of the luggage capacity that you’re allowed on your airline.

Before you travel, make sure that you’re familiar with your airline’s guidelines for the size and weight of carry on and checked luggage. Here’s a guide to carry on luggage requirements by airline. Also make sure to check with your airline directly for the most up to date information.

When you’re choosing a suitcase for your trip, pick one that is the largest possible, but still within your airline’s guidelines. The suitcase I’ve linked to above is the perfect fit for most U.S. based airlines!

Check the Baggage Allowance For Your Specific Type of Ticket

Finally, it’s important to understand what luggage restrictions might accompany the type of air ticket you purchased.

Not all air tickets are created equal! Many airlines now offer “Basic” tickets. These fare classes have the lowest price, but typically only allow you to bring a personal item on board, not a carry on bag or checked suitcase.

It’s a cool concept because it offers the customer a way to save, but many people don’t realize that the cheapest ticket can sometimes mean you have to travel with only a purse! Yikes. For some trips, that can work just fine. But most people will need at least a small carry on bag.

Pro tip: if you’re traveling with a companion, or as part of a group, try consolidating your luggage! One person can buy a “Basic” ticket, and the other person can buy a regular ticket. Share the savings and the space in your suitcase!

Find a Suitcase with Lots of Organizational Compartments

One of the best ways to maximize space in your suitcase is to find luggage with lots of organizational compartments. These might include pockets, dividers, or other sections within a suitcase.

The suitcase I’ve linked to above contains multiple compartments and sectional dividers, so it’s easier to pack lots of clothes in all of the nooks and crannies. By doing so, you can fit more things in your bag.

packing clothes in a suitcase

Step 2: Pack only the Essential Clothes You’ll Need

Now that you’ve got the right suitcase in hand, make sure you’ve got the right packing list! It’s so easy to be tempted into bringing more clothes than what you actually need for your trip.

On this blog, I’ve got tons of packing guides that will help you pare down what to bring on your trip to the essentials that you actually really need.

A great place to start is with my printable packing list. It’s got everything you need to bring on a one week trip, and nothing extra! Here’s a few additional tips on how to pare down the list of things you’ll be packing.

Another great tip is to consider putting together a capsule wardrobe. Check out my examples of a fall travel capsule wardrobe, a Europe travel capsule wardrobe, and a business travel capsule wardrobe.

Pack Versatile & Lightweight Clothing

Once you’ve narrowed down your packing list, one way to get extra mileage from your clothes is to packing multipurpose and lightweight clothing for your vacation.

One of my favorite brands for multi-purpose clothing is Encircled. They’ve got some best-selling pieces that can be adapted to be worn in multiple different ways, including one of my favorites, the Chrysalis Cardigan. The ingenious design of this piece let you wear it in 8 different ways!

Save Suitcase Space with The Most Versatile Travel Clothing, Ever

Top Pick
Chrysalis Cardigan: The Ultimate 8-in-1 Piece for Travel

8 pieces in 1! It's a dress...and a cardigan...and a skirt...and a scarf.

Thanks to hidden, hand-sewn snaps, the Chrysalis cardigan by Encircled can be worn as a cardigan, two different styles of dresses, a skirt, AND a scarf. Mind, blown.

Check out the site to see how it works!

In addition to packing versatile pieces, try to focus on focus on the fabric. One of my favorite kinds of fabric to pack is merino wool. The antibacterial properties of this fabric make it the one of the best choices for travel.

It is lightweight and can maintain its freshness and look without washing. For that reason, you can wear merino wool clothes multiple times while you’re on your trip.

Pare Down Your Toiletries

As a self-professed lover of hair and beauty products, I know it’s tempting to want to bring ALL of your toiletries when you travel. I get it – you want to be prepared for anything. The challenge is that these products can take up a ton of space in your suitcase.

If you want to maximize space in your luggage, try paring down your toiletries to the absolute must-haves. My list of travel toiletry essentials is a great place to start!

In terms of saving space with your hair and makeup products, check out these posts on the best travel size hair products, as well as travel makeup essentials.

It’s also important to use travel-size versions of toiletries and beauty products to save more space in your luggage. You would be surprised how many brands have products available in travel size versions! For all of my favorites, check out my travel beauty favorites.

One final tip is to look for multi-purpose products, for example shampoo and conditioner combos. Some brands offer multipurpose hair and skin care products that are awesome for travel. One of my favorites is this universal wash that is a shampoo, body wash, and face wash all in one!

Once you’ve got your travel toiletries list ready to go, check out my post on how to pack beauty products for travel.

woman packing a suitcase for a trip

Step 3: What to Pack Where

When you’re packing for a trip, there are three different kinds of luggage you can bring. These include a personal item, a carry on suitcase or bag, and checked luggage.

It’s important to know what to pack where. Check out this guide I put together on what to pack in carry on vs checked luggage. It’ll help you figure out exactly what to bring on the plane, and what can go in your checked luggage.

Step 4: Pack Your Suitcase Like a Pro With These Tips

Now it’s time to pack your suitcase! Follow these pro tips to save even more space in your luggage.

Use Packing Cubes to Pack your Suitcase

If I could tell you just one tip in this post, it would be to use packing cubes! Many people don’t think about using them, but there are so many reasons why you should. Packing cubes are one of the best ways to maximize space in your luggage! Once you start using them, you will quickly see how much they help to organize everything.

My favorite set of packing cubes is a set of 8 cubes and bags – linked below! I love this set because it includes 8 different individual cubes and bags. That’s a lot more than most sets come with. There’s pretty much a bag for everything!

In addition to cubes in small, medium and large sizes, the set also includes a shoe bag, a toiletry bag, a sock bag, an underwear bag, and even a drawstring bag where you can pack your dirty clothes once you’ve worn them. Makes laundry a cinch once you’re back home!

Top Pick
Set of 8 Packing Cubes
  • Set of 8 individual packing cubes and bags
  • There's a bag for everything! The set includes a shoe bag, a toiletry bag, sock bag, an underwear bag, and even a drawstring bag for your dirty clothes
  • 13 different color options

Pack your bulkier items (jeans, dresses and pants) in the larger cubes. Pack tops in the medium cubes. Finally, put smaller clothing items like tank tops, shorts, or swimsuits in the smaller cubes. The other items on your packing list can go in their dedicated bags (hello, sock bag!).

Another benefit of packing cubes is they will keep clothes wrinkle-free. You can roll your clothes tightly without rinks while keeping them in your packing cube. Since your clothes are packed snugly in the cubes, they will have no room to unfold, crinkle, and get wrinkles. Say goodbye to ironing upon arrival!

Roll Your Clothes

If you really want to know how to maximize space in your suitcase, you’ve got to roll up your clothes when you pack them! Rolling your clothes is the best way to save space and keep your clothes organized and wrinkle-free in your luggage.

Exactly how I roll my clothes for travel: For a detailed step-by-step guide to how I roll my clothes when I pack, check out this post on how to pack white jeans for travel. It’s got photos for every step in the process.

Stuff Shoes with Underwear and Socks

Have you ever thought of using your shoes as a packing bag? Yes, you can do this. Shoes take the most space in your suitcase. That’s why it’s important to travel with only two pairs of shoes for every trip!

Once you’ve got your shoes in your bag, stuff them with the smaller items you need to pack, like underwear, socks, or a swimsuit. It’ll maximize the available space you’ve got!

One last tip when it comes to packing shoes: always wear your heaviest shoes as part of your travel outfit. Boots, I’m looking at you! This will save you even more space in your bag.

packing a travel bag

Step 5: Wear Your Bulkiest Items on the Plane

When it comes to planning your travel outfits, you’ll save space in your suitcase by wearing your bulkiest items on the plane, or as part of your travel outfit. You will look great and save a lot of space in your bag or suitcase!

In terms of bulky items, think things like jeans, sweaters, jackets, a scarf, and larger shoes like sneakers or boots. All of these things take up a ton of space in your suitcase. So if you can strategize by including them as part of your travel outfit, you’ll have lots more space left over in your suitcase for packing other things.

Now You Know How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space!

Packing is the most challenging part of a vacation. However, you can make it easy by planning ahead of time. Research your destination and weather conditions, invest in versatile products, choose the right luggage, and pack only essentials.

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