How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space: 13 Pro Tips

Learn how to pack clothes to save space in your luggage

Traveling light is a good idea for any trip, but it can be a real challenge when you’re trying to fit everything you need for your trip into one suitcase. With just a few simple space-saving packing hacks, you can learn how to pack a suitcase to maximize space.

Just follow the pro tips in this article to save space in your luggage and pack everything you need without having to worry about bringing too much. Or leaving behind anything that you need.

Here are my pro tips on how to pack clothes to create more luggage space.

Learn how to pack efficiently for every situation with the Stress-free Packing Guide.

Woman kneeling on bulging suitcase trying to get it closed
Learning how to pack a suitcase to maximize space can save you a lot of packing stress.

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Use a smaller suitcase than you think you need

When packing for a trip, there’s no trouble expanding a packing list to accommodate however large a suitcase you take. It’s kind of human nature.

The first thing you can do to give yourself a leg up on learning how to pack lighter is to give yourself a physical limit. Choose a smaller suitcase than you think you need for the trip and challenge yourself to only take essential items.

Not only will this help you prevent overpacking, but it will also help save on baggage fees at the airport since most airlines charge extra for checked bags that are overweight. And that’s the last thing you want as you start your trip.

My top tip: take the extra step of trying a trip without checking a bag at all. While this might not be an option for long trips, I recommend that you try going carry-only sometime and see how it works for you.

You can learn all my tricks of the carry-on-only trade in this article with all my top tips for packing light.

Free Packing Lists. Get the 5 essential packing lists that every traveler needs. Download today.

Use compression packing cubes to maximize suitcase space

Compression packing cubes are a great way to maximize the space in your suitcase. They help you organize and compress clothes, small items like accessories, and other items into neat bundles that fit snugly inside your luggage.

Plus when you use packing cubes it will help keep your things organized. This makes it easier to find what you need when you’re ready to use them.

Compression packing cubes also help keep everything securely packed in place while traveling so there won’t be any shifting around or spilling out of your bag during transit.

If you’re ready to try using compression packing cubes, you’ll find a lot of different options online. This popular set on Amazon comes with four bags in three different sizes and a wide variety of colors.

Budget hack: Use gallon-size plastic bags for rolled smaller garments like T-shirts and tanks. Press the air out to thoroughly compress. The bags weigh next to nothing and have the added benefit of being quite a bit less expensive than standard or compression packing cubes.

Caution: Be aware of your airline’s weight restrictions for your luggage or carry-on bags. Compression packing cubes or vacuum bags will help you create a lot of space in your suitcase, allowing you to fit more clothing into a smaller space. This can make it easier to overpack. That means it can also make it easier for you to make your suitcase too heavy.

Use that front pocket in your suitcase

One of the simplest yet often overlooked ways to maximize space and organize items is by utilizing the flat front pocket in your suitcase. Or you might even have two or three front pockets.

Use them.

These pockets are perfect for storing smaller or flatter items such as documents, a book or two, a pair of flip-flops or slippers, flat-folded underwear, tank tops, camisoles, etc. Slide a few extra pairs of socks in there folded (or not). Just don’t roll them (to prevent extra bulk) if the pocket is very flat.

One caution, items in these pockets will be less protected than inside the main compartment of your suitcase. So, if you’re checking this bag, don’t put anything in there you wouldn’t mind another person’s suitcase sitting on.

In other words, don’t keep important things like delicate accessories, charging cables, or anything like that in your front pocket unless you’re going carry-on only.

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Be strategic with your packing list

When packing for a trip, it’s important to think carefully about what you need and make sure that your suitcase is packed strategically.

Taking the time to plan ahead and create an organized packing list can save you from having to bring unnecessary items or forgetting something important at home.

Additionally, when planning your packing list, consider how much space each item will take up in your luggage so that you don’t overpack. I’ve even gone through the extra step of weighing my items to make it easier to make decisions when cutting things from my list.

When making out your packing list, ask yourself some honest questions. Do you really need two thick sweatshirts for your trip to the Caribbean? What about more than one pair of shoes for a weekend trip? Can you wear items multiple times?

The more strategic you can be with your packing list, the easier it will be to maximize the space in your suitcase.

young woman with a carry-on bag in an airport

Bring versatile pieces of clothing to save space in your suitcase

To maximize your available space, bring versatile garments that can be mixed and matched with other pieces in your suitcase or worn in multiple ways.

I also focus on bringing garments that can be combined with (as much as possible) nearly everything else I’m bringing with me to create as many different outfits as possible.

I generally pack only neutral bottoms (pants, shorts, skirts) that work with every top I pack to create the greatest number of outfits. Then I introduce interesting patterns or pops of color through tops, jackets, or sweaters.

Repeat outfits on your trip

One of the most effective ways to cut down on the number of garments you pack for your trip is to repeat outfits. It’s not necessary to have a different look every single day of your trip.

By wearing some of your garments multiple times, you can make the most out of what’s in your suitcase and save space for other items.

It really is okay to repeat outfits on your trip. I won’t tell if you don’t. As long as you feel comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing, that’s all that matters.

This tip works especially well if your planned lodgings have free laundry facilities. That way, you can pack fewer clothes without having to worry about keeping your clothes spotless while you explore.

Pack only what you need

I know this one sounds like a no-brainer, but there’s just something about packing for a trip that makes me think things like, “I probably need that second ball gown. Just in case.”

There’s this compulsion to overpack that can be hard to resist. But think about it. Overpacking means having to lug around a heavier suitcase wherever you go. No one wants that.

And again, you run the risk of overweight luggage fees.

And don’t forget, if you find that you’ve reached your destination and you really do need something you chose to leave at home, you can always buy one.

So, be honest with yourself about what you really need and pack only those things.

Open suitcase with clothes and personal things packed for an overnight trip

Minimize toiletries

Minimize the number of toiletries and beauty products you bring to conserve both space and weight in your bags.

The best way to minimize toiletries is to only bring the essentials and opt for travel-sized containers instead of full-sized bottles.

Or if your favorite products don’t come in travel size or if you want to save on plastic packaging, decant your products into re-usable travel containers like these popular tubes that you can buy on Amazon.

Additionally, you can also take advantage of complimentary toiletry items that are often provided in hotels or Airbnbs, so you don’t have to pack your shampoo or soap.

Minimizing toiletries can be a challenge, so I’ve written an entire article about it. It’s written from the perspective of traveling carry-on only, but the principles and tips can be applied even if you check your suitcase.

Read more about how to pack toiletries.

packed liquids for a carry-on

Minimize accessories

Accessories such as jewelry, hats, scarves, and sunglasses are often bulky or heavy items that can take up more space or weight than necessary in your suitcase.

I’m not talking about leaving behind essentials like hiking safety gear. I’m talking about packing three pairs of sunglasses and four different fashion scarves plus six bracelets or cuffs.

To maximize space in your suitcase, choose just a few key pieces that can work with multiple outfits and for a variety of events or activities.

Something to keep in mind is that wearing a lot of expensive accessories and jewelry can tempt pickpockets who work in busy airports and on public transportation. This is exactly the kind of way you DON’T want to stand out in a crowd.

I know travelers who don’t wear jewelry of any kind when they travel and even opt to replace their wedding bands with silicone rings when they’re on the road.

I know this is extreme, but I rarely travel with jewelry other than my wedding rings and a single pair of small stud earrings that I wear the entire trip. That way I’m not traveling with any jewelry at all in my luggage.

It’s less to pack, less to keep track of, and less to worry about losing or accidentally leaving behind in your hotel room.

Cut down the number of shoes you take

Shoes are often very heavy items that can take up a lot of valuable space in your suitcase, so minimizing the pairs of shoes you take on your trip can help maximize the space in your luggage.

I always wear the bulkiest shoes on my travel days to keep them out of my suitcase. I then pack (at the most) two other pairs of shoes: perhaps a ballet flat or dressy sandal and a pair of lightweight casual shoes like a classic TOM canvas flat.

Hubby often travels with only one pair of shoes, which means he doesn’t have to pack a single pair in his suitcase.

Again, this is on the extreme end of things, but depending on your travel destination taking only one pair of shoes may work quite well for you. Just give it a try.

Roll clothing where it makes sense

Rolling your clothes is one of the best ways to maximize space in your suitcase when you’re packing for a trip. It’s quite a popular space-saving hack for a reason. It works.

I love to use the “Ranger Roll” or “Army” rolling method for T-shirts, pajama tops, etc.

Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to do that. This will help you far more than my attempts to describe it for you.

In my opinion, rolling isn’t the best way to handle every kind of garment though. Bulkier items I prefer to fold and place in the bottom of my suitcase.

This includes sweatshirts and pairs of jeans, which take up less of my suitcase’s depth when folded into a flat and compact rectangle or square.

My rolled T-shirts go on top of the flat-folded items, lined up nicely giving me easy access to what I want. 

Use your negative spaces

To maximize the space in your suitcase even further, make sure to use up all those “dead” spaces that get created when you pack.

  • Inside shoes
  • Inside hats
  • Small pocket compartments inside your suitcase
  • Between or around shoes or odd-sized accessories

These are all perfect places to fit in rolled socks, small pairs of underwear, thin scarves, and other smaller items that can fit into small places.

Beach clothing packed in an open suitcase

Wear your bulkiest garments on your flight

One of the easiest ways to maximize space in your suitcase is to wear on your flight your bulky clothes and heaviest items you want to take with you on your trip.

Wear the things that will take up the most space: big coats, your chunkiest sweater, your heaviest jeans, and your heaviest shoes.

Planning on doing some hiking? Wear your hiking shoes on your flight.

Heading to a destination much colder than where you’re starting from? Having your coat out with you instead of inside your checked suitcase will mean that you’re ready to hit the ground running once you arrive.

And warm outerwear can easily double as a pillow or blanket when you want to catch a nap during your flight.

Bonus tip: Remember to leave some room for souvenirs

And last, but not least, remember to leave at least a little extra space in your suitcase or carry-on bag so you can bring back any souvenirs without having to check an extra bag.

I’m a huge fan of souvenirs, so I often leave purposely leave extra room in my backpack on my outbound trip.

Anything delicate or breakable goes in my personal item and under the seat in front of me on my return trip. Larger items and everything else goes in my suitcase.

Free Packing Lists. Get the 5 essential packing lists that every traveler needs. Download today.

Final thoughts on space-saving packing hacks

Maximizing space in your suitcase doesn’t have to be difficult. By following a few simple tips and tricks, you can easily make the most of what you have.

Additionally, wearing bulky items on board during long flights is an easy way to save some much-needed room for souvenirs or any other items that you may pick up along your journey.

By following these packing hacks, you’ll be able to maximize the space in your suitcase without having to worry about bringing too much along.

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How to Pack a Suitcase to Maximize Space

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