How to Pack Like a Pro to know how to pack a suitcase like a pro? A professional organizer, that is? Well, I can’t speak for all of them. OK, it’s just me. Want to know how to pack like me? Here is my philosophy of packing, to paraphrase comedian Steven Wright: You can’t take everything. Where would you put it?

Carrying On vs. Checking

I like to travel light. When flying, that is. (All bets are off on a road trip.) This is because I still like to carry on. I have been separated from my luggage enough times to not ever want it to happen again, although it is evident that I am going to have to work on my upper body strength if I want to continue hoisting my bag into the overhead compartment. On the flight home it is less crucial because I have more clothing and toiletries at home if mine are lost. (Valuables are always on my person.) For those rare occasions where I accumulate enough extra stuff on the trip that my suitcase actually overflows, I pack a fold-up tote bag.

Packing List

I’ve never met a packing list I didn’t have to edit for myself anyway, so I just make my own. I recommend you do the same.  It’s a living document that I created on my computer and edit slightly after each trip. (What did I take but not end up using? What do I want to add to the list for next time?) It is not overly detailed (toiletries sums up a number of small items) and it depends a bit on whether it’s a business trip or a vacation. I also get out my suitcase and toss things in during the preceding week as they occur to me. Packing them takes less time if they’re all in general vicinity of the suitcase already, and the list helps ensure I haven’t forgotten anything. I’ve heard others say they use their list to make sure they have remembered to take everything home that they brought with them. But I don’t unpack into hotel drawers. I just have to remember to check the back of the bathroom door.


We’ve all been forced by TSA in recent years to put our shampoo and lotion into little travel bottles inside a quart size zipper bag, so I think we have the hang of that now.


There are a plethora of items that we could take because we might need them. I try to take only things I know I will need. Before my recent trip to New Orleans to attend the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) annual conference, I located my hotel on Google Maps. Then I searched for a nearby drug store. I found a Walgreens a couple of blocks away and was actually able to take a virtual walk down the street to see how far it would be, and exactly what it would look like, if I needed to go get something. I never needed to go, but I felt better knowing it was there.


You can save space and weight by wearing your clothes more than once. Nobody else wants to say this, but you can wear them several times if you rinse out just the, um, smelly parts and hang them up to dry. I’m not talking about soap suds and sopping wet clothing. Just rinsing out parts. I say clothing is dirty only if it looks dirty or smells bad. Unless you spilled something on it, it probably looks fine. And nobody else but you cares what you are wearing anyway. So you can take fewer clothes than you think. Make sure everything you take goes with everything else, so you can make several outfits out of just a few pieces. If you are worried your clothing parts won’t dry overnight, try it at home first. Same goes for socks and undies.


My favorite travel organizers are zipper plastic bags in all sizes, and a good hanging toiletry kit. I do use packing cubes for tops and underclothes. (Pants get wrapped around the cubes.) I don’t use compression bags (where you squeeze the air out) on the way to my destination, because they just create more wrinkles, but I do use them for dirty clothes on the way home.

Avoiding Wrinkles

Speaking of which, most packing tips designed to reduce wrinkles specify what order in which to pack your things, list fabrics that travel well, suggest using dry cleaner bags to reduce friction, advocate rolling shirts up instead of laying them flat, etc. Here’s my tip: All hotel rooms have irons. (OK, most of them do. Check to be sure.) When you arrive (this assumes you are staying put for a few days), spend a few minutes hanging your clothes up, and ironing what needs it, and you’re good to go. Some fabrics respond well to the steam-wrinkles-out-in-a-hot-shower method, but unless you’re actually enjoy taking a hot shower with the door closed (which makes me claustrophobic) it’s a waste of water.


You only need 2 pairs. Really. I wear sneakers on the plane and take either sandals or a nicer pair of shoes or boots, depending on the weather and the nature of the trip.

Problem Solvers

Think about the problems that you normally have when traveling and take your own specific problem-solvers with you. Example 1: I like to sleep in a dark room. I get annoyed if the hotel curtains don’t quite close all the way, or the appliances (TV, clock, microwave, etc.) have lights on them. So I take a safety pin (any sort of clip will work) and a piece of electrical tape with me (in case it’s something I don’t want to simply unplug). Problem solved. Example 2: If I’m at a conference with a breakfast buffet, chances are good that it will include mostly bread and pastries. If there are hard boiled eggs, chances are they’ll run out by the time I get there. I could go earlier, or order room service, or go to a restaurant, but all of those options involve “earlier” and/or money. So I take a shaker bottle (which doubles as a water bottle the rest of the trip) with me and some protein shake packets. Add water and some ice from the machine down the hall and voila — a good, quick, cheap breakfast to which I can add a plate of fruit when I get to the buffet.


What on earth did we do before smart phones? The uses are endless. Mine is a combo camera, MP3 player, e-reader, email checker, travel document keeper, and internet browser (for travel and destination information) for starters. Oh, and I can use it to make phone calls if I really need to. I have long carried a 3-outlet adapter for hotels that don’t have enough outlets. This trip I got caught up in an airline-wide computer outage which grounded all the planes for hours. Everyone was scrambling to check news, and make other arrangements, and after awhile everyone’s phone needed charging in a terminal with very few outlets. I was able to share an outlet that was already in full use, no questions asked, by flashing my 3-way adapter.

What are YOUR packing tips and problem solvers?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2013 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Maureen on April 30, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Hi Hazel,

    I consider myself a pretty good packer and I learned several new things from this article. The shaker bottle is a great idea. I’m going to get one for my next trip. My sleep essentials for travel include an eye mask and earplugs. They can also come in handy on the plane. Thanks for posting this!

    • Hazel Thornton on April 30, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Maureen, great to hear from you! I’m glad you learned something useful and offered your own tips. I didn’t think to mention earplugs, which are a must for me on an airplane. The noise of the droning engines drains me of energy and earplugs really help with that.

  2. Moreen Torpy on May 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Hi Hazel,

    Thank you for all your wonderful suggestions. I’ve added a couple of things to my travel kit already (safety pin and clip).

    Here are a few others that work for me:
    – ear plugs are also helpful in a noisy hotel
    – hair dryer can be left at home because most hotels have them now in the rooms
    – if there’s no iron in the room, ask the hotel to press clothes for you
    – for protein at breakfast or snacks, I carry a zip top baggie of nuts

    • Hazel Thornton on May 1, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Hi Moreen, thanks for your comments. I think there might have to be a Pack Like a Pro #2, because I’ve thought of a few more tips myself!

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