Top Packing Strategies, Ranked

Let's be honest, packing isn't usually people's favorite part of a trip (though it's ten times better than unpacking a bunch of sandy laundry when you get home). And with airlines charging more and more for a checked bag, many of us are trying to pack in just carry-ons to save some precious dollars for spicy margs and cooling aperitifs.

Luckily, there are ways to make packing much easier and a more pleasant experience. Whether you're a meticulous planner or the kind of person who throws your entire wardrobe into a suitcase ten minutes before you leave, these packing strategies can help you tackle the packing issue.

We're going to unravel the secrets of rolling and bundling and dip into the realm of compression bags, which give you the superhero power to shrink your own clothing and then supersize it again. You'll discover how the 54321 method will turn you into a master packer and why the key to it all is having a heart of stone. Ready, steady, pack!

5. They see me rollin'

First, let's start with different ways to put your clothing in a suitcase. If you're trying to pack light and arrive at your destination with as few creases as possible in your clothes, roll 'em up. Rolling your clothes helps save space and keeps your garments relatively wrinkle-free, which is perfect for a trip when you're hoping to travel with just a carry-on and if you don't want to whip the iron out at your destination. Rolling also helps keep your clothes visible in your suitcase, as you can line them up rather than pile them on top of one another.

This is more than we can say for another packing strategy: bundling. While bundling is said to reduce creasing better than rolling your clothing, we think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. To bundle your clothes, you need a solid core around which you wrap all of your clothes. When you arrive at your destination, you need to unwrap the bundle, scattering your clothing everywhere, to get to the items in the core. That's your underwear and socks, which you usually need first. It's a bit like playing pass the parcel with clean undies as the prize. Rolling is the way to go.

4. A little game of Tetris, anyone?

How do you play Tetris? With cubes. Our next strategy is about packing cubes. This one can be used in combination with the rolling method (or the bundling technique, if that's your jam). Packing cubes are the G.O.A.T. for keeping your clothing and other items organized in the black hole that is every suitcase and backpack ever made. Even better than packing cubes? Compression cubes, which allow you to stuff a whole lot more into a smaller space. (No, thank you, airline, I do not wish to pay a gazillion dollars to check a bag.)

How you use packing cubes depends on your preference. You might want to put all of one type of clothing together, or if you're super organized, you may put each day's outfit into a different packing cube. We at least recommend packing a "first-night" cube and putting it in your carry-on with your pajamas, toothbrush, and other essentials.

We're not done playing Tetris yet, though. The pros are stuffing socks and underwear into shoes, decanting cosmetics into tiny bottles, and, of course, getting onto the plane looking like the Michelin Man (i.e., wearing their bulkiest, heaviest items).

3. The rule of three

More important than how you pack is what you pack. And this is where our packing strategies really get going. There are several parts to the rule of three. First, pack three tops for every one bottom. This is fairly sensible, as we usually don't need to wash pants as often as tops. (How often do you wash your jeans? Be honest!)

The other part of this rule is to always pack three pairs of shoes. Travelers in the Reddit r/onebag forum have had a lengthy debate about this, but most people agree that it's sensible to take three pairs. The type of shoes you take will depend on the destination, but many recommend sneakers, flip-flops, and a slightly dressier shoe. One thing they all agree on: Vacation shoes must be comfortable, so do not buy new, untested shoes and then expect to happily pound Europe's sidewalks for hours.

2. The final countdown

Now let's move on to the 54321 method. It's taking our number two position because it works amazingly for some, but it's not for everyone. The premise is that you pack five tops; four bottoms; three pairs of shoes and three dresses; two swimsuits and two bags; and one set of accessories. This method helps you not to overpack. (Stop panicking: Never in your life have you spilled chocolate ice cream on five shirts consecutively.) This method also gives you a little more outfit versatility than the rule of three.

Packing in a 54321 formation sounds good, but in reality, it often takes a lot of customizing to get it to work for you. If you're going on a beach vacation, four pairs of bottoms plus three dresses is probably excessive; if you're going on a European city break in winter, those dresses shouldn't be your first pick, and the swimwear is going to be a bit useless. Using the 54321 method as a skeleton is a great idea, but you will need to take the time to adapt it to you and your vacation.

1. Get ruthless

Our number one packing strategy for a stress-free trip is to be ruthless. And alongside this, to be sensible (boring, we know). This starts with not buying a whole new wardrobe for travel. As we mentioned previously, you shouldn't take brand-new shoes with you. But this goes for clothing too: Take things you know you like, and that suit you and fit you well.

Before you put everything into your suitcase, lay out your clothing and be completely honest with yourself. Are you really going to wear those bright green flowy pants when you live in denim cut-offs normally? Is it wise to take those gorgeous linen trousers that will surely come out of your suitcase looking like a hot mess? A pretty well-known travel tip is to take half the clothes and twice the money. While we hope you won't need to double your spending money, being cutthroat with your clothing choices will help you pack much more sensibly.