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How to Pack a Suitcase (2023): A Complete Guide for Newbies

Posted by Jel Navarro on
Woman packing a suitcase with cubes

If only traveling is as easy as picking your destination… but no! You’ll have to deal with planning, preparing and packing. Yes, that dreaded seven-letter word. It’s hard enough deciding what to pack, let alone packing a suitcase. If you need some help with your packing woes, we’ve got you! Keep reading for our complete guide on how to pack a suitcase, including how to pick the right luggage, useful tips and the best product that will change the way you pack your suitcase.

Tips on Choosing the Right Suitcase

Packing a suitcase using clear packing cubes

There’s no one best suitcase for everyone. The right suitcase varies depending on the type of traveler you are. So before you go and buy that funky new suitcase your favorite influencer is using, think again! What works for her might not necessarily work for you. Don’t know how to pick the perfect suitcase for your travel style? Check out our tips:

Size Matters (A Lot!)

Rule of thumb: Always double check your airline’s regulations for carry on or checked bag sizes. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of airline restrictions in the next section. But for starters, most airlines allow a total linear dimension of 45 inches (115 centimeters) for carry on luggage and a total linear dimension of 62 inches (157 centimeters) for checked luggage.

How to choose the right suitcase

Also don’t go larger than what you really need! Choosing the ideal suitcase size is crucial. Consider the duration of your trip, the types of trips you take and your most usual destinations. These will help you decide on the perfect suitcase size for you and your family.

Durability and Price

Do you travel a lot for work or leisure? You’ll need a robust suitcase that will hold up with you during your travels. This Briggs & Riley Spinner comes with a lifetime guarantee. If your bag is broken or damaged, they will repair it free of charge, no questions asked! They’re worth the extra money if you’re serious about your travels.

Durable suitcase for travel

If your family travels a few times in a year, you can opt for a mid-range suitcase instead. Samsonite is our best bet for this! We love their affordable but high quality suitcases. They hold up well with use and you have lots of options depending on your travel style.

Rollers Vs Spinners 

How to choose the right suitcase

Ah, the age old debate between two wheel (roller) or four wheel (spinner) suitcases! Again, the answer depends on your travel style and needs. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

✅ Ergonomic - In this category, spinners trump rollers! The best thing about spinners is that you don’t need to deal with heavy weight at all. Lug it upright, spin it round or sideways, you’ll never have to worry about hauling your heavy stuff even in a cramped space. On the other hand, rollers can only be dragged or pushed. Not so ideal for those with back or wrist problems!

✅ Stability on Terrains - This is where it gets a bit tricky. Spinners glide smoothly on flat terrains like the airport floors. But try hauling a spinner suitcase on rugged terrain like cobblestone and all bets are off! Because of the way the wheels are designed, they’re more likely to get caught in cracks and bumps. Rollers have “fixed wheels” so they’re more suitable for rugged terrains. Yup, you can even drag it up or down a few flights of stairs!

✅ Durability - Again, owing to the design and placement of a spinner’s wheels, they’re more prone to damage and breakage. Unlike a roller suitcase which has its wheels inset unto the frame making it more protected against damage.

✅ Weight / Space - Whether its saving space or maximizing space, roller suitcases win this round. Remember, spinners have more wheels (hence heavier) and those same wheels stick out from below (cutting out precious inches). With rollers, you can save a few pounds and even have more interior space for your travel items.

Our verdict: Spinners are great for places with easy and smooth terrain. If you want to lift weight off your travels, four-wheel suitcases are perfect for that. Rollers are ideal for more rugged terrains like cobblestones or bumpy streets. Traveling to Europe or Southeast Asia? A two-wheel suitcase might be more ideal your travel style.

Hard Shell or Soft Shell?

Hardshell vs softshell suitcase

This is also a matter of personal preference. Some prefer hard shell suitcases for their chic vibe and lots of design options. While that’s a valid reason, there are also other pros to a hard shell suitcase. For example, a hard shell offers better protection for the items inside. It’s more water resistant and harder to break compared to a soft shell. 

But here’s where a soft shell reigns supreme: flexibility. If you tend to overpack or want to bring home some souvenirs, a soft shell allows you to squish in more items than a hard shell. Ever tried squeezing in a hard shell into a full overhead bin? Not so fun! Other nifty features of a soft shell are its external pockets and a deeper clam-shell design (also great for storing our packing cubes vertically).

What Makes Great Handles

Man with suitcase on airport

Don’t underestimate the importance of sturdy handles on a suitcase. Imagine hauling a heavy suitcase with wobbly handles around a busy airport --- a nightmare! What makes a great suitcase handle? It should be rigid, retractable and collapses completely inside the bag. A telescoping handle with an ergonomic feature is your best option. Also choose a suitcase with handles that adjust comfortably to your height and arm length.

The Details

Spinner suitcase with USB charging port

So what are the little things that make or break a great suitcase for you? Do you like having various internal and external pockets for organization? Are you in on the smart luggage trend (like this Swiss Gear Spinner with USB Charging Port)? At the end of the day, the right suitcase depends on your choices and needs! #youdoyou

Check out this page for our recommended suitcases for packing cubes.

How to Pack Your Suitcase Like a Pro

How to Pack your Suitcase like a Pro

Now we’re on to the most important part --- actually packing your suitcase! If you want to learn how to pack your bag #likeaboss, keep reading! This step-by-step guide will save you from stress and excess baggage fees.

Step 1 - Categorize Like a Boss

Clothes categorized before packing into suitcase

**Thanks to Megan from The Homes I Have Made for this photo!

Who doesn’t love categories?! The OCD in us enjoys breaking everything down into categories. You’ve got your underwear, clothes, shoes, toiletries, makeup, meds, etc. Once you’ve got your categories covered, it’s easier to work through them one at a time.

Packing list for suitcase

**Thanks to Ashley from Taylor Made Mama for this photo!

Pro Tip: After deciding on your categories, write a list of the essential items for each. Or you can download any of our packing lists here to help get you started.

Step 2 - Plan Your Outfits

Planned outfit for suitcase

If only there was a magical shrinking machine that would let us transport our entire wardrobe into one tiny suitcase...but there isn’t. So what’s the next best thing to do? Plan your outfits in advance. Don’t just cram various clothing items in your suitcase, never mind that they don’t even look good together

There’s two things to consider when planning your outfits: 

1. The local weather 

2. The activities you’ll be doing 

Also remember that comfort is the key...what’s the use in packing your cute heels when you can’t walk in them for more than a few hours? 

Last but not the least, plan outfits around a color scheme. You can go neutral all the way or pick one base color to play around with. Don’t forget that shoes and accessories must also coordinate with your color scheme.

Neutral outfit for travel

Depending on your trip, it could look something like this:

Weather: Sunny, no forecast of rain

Day One: Check into hotel, go to early dinner, sleep

✔ Dinner Attire: Casual dress, sandals, cardigan

Day Two: Breakfast at hotel, hiking, dinner by beach

✔ Breakfast Attire: Shirt, shorts, sandals

✔ Hiking Attire: Merino shirt, hiking pants, trail runners, hat

✔ Dinner Attire: Maxi dress, sandals

Step 3 - Prepare Your Items

How to prepare items before packing into suitcase

 **Thanks to Kevin and Dea for this awesome photo!

Exploding toiletries, tangled cords...get the picture? Before packing items in your suitcase, prep them first. Lay all items out on a clean, flat area like your bed or the floor.  Here’s a few tips you can use:

How to Prepare Clothes Before Packing

✔ To fold or to roll? A combination of both methods works well! Fold delicate clothing items like dress shirts or pants and roll non-wrinkle clothes like wool or knit.

Clothes rolled before packing in suitcase

✔ Choose your packing strategy. Going on a long trip? Pack your clothes by similarity, same items go together. A short trip with multiple destinations? Pack clothes by outfit, takes the guesswork out of planning.

How to Prepare Toiletries Before Packing

✔ Go travel size! Save those samples you get when buying full size toiletries. Or decant your fave toiletries into this plastic containers. Only fill them up to 75% full to avoid busting.

How to prepare toiletries before packing into suitcase

✔ Use saran wrap. Want to be extra sure? Put some saran wrap over the top before twisting the cap of your toiletries in place. This will prevent leakage and spills!

How to Prepare Makeup Before Packing

✔ Protect powdered makeup. Cover powdered makeup items with a cotton round to protect them from being smashed in transit.

How to prepare makeup before packing into suitcase

✔ Transfer liquids in a contact lens case. Can’t leave home without your holy grail foundation or concealer? Transfer a small amount in a contact lens case so you don’t need to bring the entire bottle.

How to Prepare Meds Before Packing

✔ Use a travel pill case. We love this pill case with labels!

How to prepare medicines before packing into suitcase

✔ A note about prescription meds! Leave prescription meds in their original bottles. You’ll get less questions when going through security.

How to Prepare Electronics Before Packing

✔ Prevent tangling! Use velcro ties to keep your cords and chargers from tangling.

Circle pouch for chargers

✔ Protect your electronics. Especially if you’re bringing expensive gadgets like your laptop or camera, invest in padded sleeves to keep them protected during your trip.

How to Prepare Shoes Before Packing

✔ Only bring two to three pairs. Shoes take up a lot of space in your suitcase. Pack at least one pair of walking shoes and another dressy one, make sure they match all your outfits!

Shoe bag for footwear before packing in suitcase

**Thanks to Sam from Simply Organized for this photo!

✔ Use shoe bags. Keep the dirt off your other items by packing footwear in  shoe bags.

Step 4 - Strategize With Packing Cubes

You can’t just throw everything inside your suitcase and expect it to be organized (or stay organized for that matter). The best way to avoid turning your suitcase into a jumbled mess? Use a system that will do all the work for you. The best one for that job is EzPacking cubes.

Discount for EzPacking Travel Accessories

These portable suitcase drawers will seriously change the way you pack your suitcase. The Starter Set comes with four cubes, one of each cube size. Great for organizing a carry on! The Complete Bundle is perfect for larger checked luggage and comes with two sets (8 total cubes) plus a laundry bag, shoe bag and folding board set.

Complete Bundle for packing a checked suitcase

**Thanks to Wendy from Around My Family Table for this photo!

New to the packing cube game? Here’s how you can maximize suitcase space with packing cubes:

 Extra Small Cube - This size cube is ideal for organizing your travel size toiletries. It’s also TSA approved - under quart size and clear on three sides. You can also keep cords and chargers organized with this size cube.

TSA approved toiletries pouch

 Small Cube - Perfect size for your small clothing items like underwear and socks. Also works as a larger toiletries bag for your checked luggage.

Small cube for packing a suitcase

 Medium Cube - Great for organizing casual tops like shirts, tank tops, blouses and dresses. Can also fit lightweight bottoms like leggings and shorts.

Medium cube for packing a suitcase

 Large Cube - Ideal size for your large, bulky clothing items like jeans and sweaters. Also works great for organizing dress shirts and slacks (to avoid wrinkling).

Don’t worry! You can still use the traditional methods of packing like folding or rolling with cubes. It also works with the different packing strategies we’ve mentioned before. Once you’ve chosen your packing method and strategy, it’s time to pack your items inside the cubes. Zip closed and you’re all done!

Packing cube for luggage organization

Step 5 - Ready Your Suitcase

How to pack a suitcase with cubes

Next! Get your suitcase out, open and lay it flat on the floor. Remove items left behind from previous trips. Make sure all zippers are working and there’s nothing broken. Now is also the time to check if your suitcase fits within your specific airline’s restrictions. Here’s a list of the major US airlines and their baggage restrictions:

Carry On Baggage Dimensions Restrictions (Economy)

Airline Dimensions Personal Item
Alaska Airlines 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
Allegiant Air 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
American Airlines 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
Delta Airlines 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
Frontier Airlines 24” x 16” x 10” Allowed
Hawaiian Airlines 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
JetBlue 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed
Southwest Airlines 24” x 16” x 10” Allowed
Spirit Airlines 22” x 18” x 10” Allowed
United Airlines 22” x 14” x 9” Allowed

Checked Baggage Dimensions Restrictions (Economy)

Airline Linear Dimension Weight
Alaska Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 20 kgs
Allegiant Air 80 in or 203 cm 40 lbs or 18 kgs
American Airlines 62 in or 158 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Delta Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Frontier Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Hawaiian Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
JetBlue 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Southwest Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Spirit Airlines 62 in or 157 cm 40 lbs or 18 kgs
United Airlines 62 in or 158 cm 50 lbs or 23 kgs

Step 6 - Pack Your Cubes Like Tetris

Starter Set for packing a suitcase

Onto the fun part...packing the cubes into the suitcase! Here’s where your handy Tetris skills will come in.

If it’s a soft-shell suitcase with one deep compartment, you can stack the cubes vertically as shown in the photo below.

Cubes stacked vertically on suitcase

If it’s a hard-shell suitcase halved into two equal compartments, cubes can be stacked horizontally instead. Check the photo below for an example.

Cubes stacked horizontally on suitcase

Step 7 - Break Them Into Layers

Packing cubes for organizing suitcase

There’s a right way to pack items inside your suitcase. In order to avoid your suitcase from always tumbling over or having to rummage through items, follow the tips below:

✔ Heavy items go on bottom layer - If you’re packing heavy items like hiking boots, pack them at the bottom of the suitcase. This evens out the weight distribution and prevents the suitcase from tipping over.

✔ Place fragile items in middle layer - Bringing fragile items like glass bottles or a mirror? Place them in the middle layer, sandwiched between soft items that will cushion them like towels or blankets.

✔ Items you need on arrival on top layer - Your change of clothes, toiletries bag, etc. should be placed on the topmost layer.

Step 8 - Leave Some Extra Space

Suitcase with spare space for souvenirs

**Thanks to Carrie from Making Lemonade Blog for this photo!

If you’re planning on doing some souvenir shopping, make sure you leave about 20% spare space in your suitcase. Don’t pack it to the brim or else you’ll regret it. This extra space also works wonders for the end of the trip “lazy” packing we all feel. Because let’s face it, who wants to meticulously fold and repack everything when it’s time to go home?

Step 9 - Separate Your Valuables & Favorites

Tote bag for airplane

Don’t pack your valuable items like electronics, keys, cash, jewelry etc. in your checked suitcase. Instead, pack them in your carry on tote or personal bag. Also, if you have certain items that you can’t risk losing (maybe a favorite shirt), pack them in your carry on as well.

You can use an Extra Small Cube to keep your important items secured and all in one place. Then your precious accessories and jewelry items can be packed in a Travel Jewelry Roll.

Travel jewelry roll

Step 10 - Zip Close, Weigh and Lock!

Woman closing suitcase after packing

The last step is to close the suitcase and zip it. If needed, have someone help you zip it up carefully or sit on the suitcase gently if it still won’t zip close. You can also use a TSA approved luggage lock to secure items inside your suitcase.

Make sure that your checked suitcase weighs within airline limits as well. If you’re traveling, a portable hanging scale is a handy tool. For reference, here’s a quick summary of checked baggage weight restrictions for US airlines:

Checked Baggage Weight Restrictions (Economy)

Airline Checked Bag Weight Limit
Alaska Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Allegiant Air 40 lbs or 18 kgs
American Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Delta Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Frontier Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Hawaiian Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
JetBlue 50 lbs or 22.68 kgs
Southwest Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs
Spirit Airlines 40 lbs or 18.1 kgs
United Airlines 50 lbs or 23 kgs 

What to Pack in Your Carry On & Checked Suitcase

What to pack in your carry-on suitcase

If your trip involves flying, you’re usually entitled to two types of luggage: carry on and checked suitcase. A carry on is the bag you’re bringing in the cabin (which you’ll have access to during the flight). On the other hand, a checked bag is the luggage transported under the airplane. Here’s what you need to pack in each suitcase:

Carry On Bag Essentials

☑ Passport & Other Travel Documents

☑ Valuables (Cash, Credit Card, Keys, Jewelry, etc.)

☑ Electronics & Chargers

☑ Headphones / Earphones

 TSA Approved Toiletries Bag

☑ Change of Clothes

☑ Medicines / First Aid Kit

 Starter Set (Clear Set of Packing Cubes)

Checked Bag Essentials

☑ Rest of Your Clothes (Undies, Tops, Bottoms, etc.)

☑ Shoes

☑ Accessories (Belt, Hat, etc.)

☑ Large Toiletries Pouch

 Travel Laundry Bag

☑ Hair Products / Tools

 Complete Bundle (Large Set of Packing Cubes)

We hope this guide helps alleviate your suitcase packing struggles! Remember, it’s crucial that you think ahead, prepare a plan of action and be strategic when it comes to packing a suitcase.

Shop Now EzPacking's Starter Set

It also helps to use a product that will ease the packing process for you. The Starter Set is the ideal organizer for your carry on or personal tote bag. It includes four of each of our cube sizes, and comes in 8 different color options.

For your checked luggage, you can use the Complete Bundle which comes with eight  cubes in different sizes, a laundry bag, two shoe bags and one folding board set. Also perfect for couples sharing one checked luggage because you can split the set into two colors!

Happy Packing!

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