Introduction: How to Pack a Suitcase

About: Completed a masters in mechanical engineering and then realised I didn't want to be an engineer. So I'm a freelance propmaker and costumier for film, theatre and music videos. Occasionally, I need to find a …

For Burning Questions, my tips and pointers for packing a suitcase.

With cheaper flights and budget airlines, people are flying everywhere. So packing a suitcase is a necessary chore but can be done effectively. These are tips that I've amassed through experience. Of course if you're not flying to where you're going, it's still useful to pack as if you are to minimise space and hassle (especially if you have to travel on subways or buses).

Step 1: Choosing the Luggage

I'm writing this from a UK-centric standpoint as that's what I have most experience with. This Ible will deal with flying on a plane with one piece of hold luggage / checked luggage / stuff that goes under the plane. There'll also be an additional bit for the ever tricky hand luggage.

I'm using this small hard-shell suitcase in this instance because I'm only going away for a few days. Although if you're going away for longer, take a big case. If you're flying budget airlines (in Europe these are easyJet, BMI Baby, RyanAir etc.) then there is a limit of approximately 20kg per bag. Once you've chosen your preferred bag, move onto the next stage.

Step 2: Making a List

Now, I can't tell you what to pack as it all depends on what you're doing and where you're going. But what will help is to write down a list of everything you might want to pack or will need. Or if you're not good with lists, just bring everything together instead. Now you'll want to sort your things into piles of:

- Definitely need - clothes, towel, toiletries, electricals
- Would be nice to bring - entertainment things, books,
- Don't really need, but if there's space - the tool kit, the XBox

You can never take everything you think you might want on holiday with you, so prioritising your stuff allows you to pack according to necessity. When your bag gets full (and it will) at least you've packed the stuff that you definitely need.

Step 3: The Essentials

These will be your clothes that you'll definitely need. If I'm away for less than a week, I plan what I will wear for each day so will have about one set of clothes for each day. Or you can pack according to the activities you're going to be doing (e.g. walking, swimming, business). I like to take clothes that mix and match so I'm generally prepared for most situations.

Figure 2 shows my spare shoes that I'm taking with me. Spare shoes are always handy, so to make the most efficient use of space, I'm packing my smallest / most squishable shoes and will wear my bigger, not so squishable shoes. I put the shoes in a plastic bag to stop them making any mess. I generally pack the shoes top and tail to take up less room. Alternatively pack each shoe apart wherever they fit best.

An important tip with travelling and packing is to not forget that you are also taking what you're wearing with you. So wear the bigger or bulkier items whilst travelling to save space since there isn't a limit on how heavy you are when you get on the plane.

Step 4: The Toiletries

Due to the depressurisation of the baggage hold and possible rough handling by loading staff, toiletries can explode. Therefore it is prudent to place your gels, liquids and creams inside a watertight plastic bag to keep all the gooey stuff from exploding inside your clothes. Something that I have noticed is that containers with flip caps (hair gel, sun cream etc.) have a greater tendency to pop than the screw cap counterparts since flip tops can be accidentally unflipped so I generally buy screw cap containers for travelling.

As a result of potential mess, I always pack my toothbrush in another plastic bag separately. Not much is worse than discovering your toothbrush tastes of Head & Shoulders; that stuff just keeps foaming. Despite using an electric toothbrush at home, I travel with a regular toothbrush since they take up less space in size and charger. Also prevents any "accidental" vibrations from your bag.

Step 5: The Valuables

It's generally a good idea to travel with your valuables on your person for security so I wear my coat and trousers with lots of pockets to keep stuff in. As I said before, airlines don't count all the stuff you're wearing as long as nothing contravenes their "No pointy or sharp things" rule. You might spend more time at Security emptying your pockets, but you get to take more things.

The other important things that you can't carry on you like chargers, transfer cables, or anything that might be breakable can go in the middle of the case for protection, which is more possible with soft shell cases. Also remember that you can't take things like nail files or anything potentially dangerous in the cabin so pack them in the case too.

And I always pack a few plastic bags as well since they're useful for container and separating things.

Step 6: Let Packing Commence

I line the bottom of the suitcase with my towel for some padding then place the bag of toiletries and the other important things in the middle. My shoes are at what will be the bottom of the case when it's standing upright, just for a bit more padding.

Around all the stuff that isn't squishable, I put the things that are i.e. my clothes. When you have lots of things that won't squish, it is generally better to carefully roll your clothes and tuck them into spaces. If you're just packing clothes, then you don't need to roll. I leave things like underwear and socks till last as they don't mind being scrunched into the small spaces wherever fits. Also, this case opens in the middle so you can pack quite a bit more above the line which will squash down.

And there you go, packed! Don't forget those stretchy straps over the top as they help reduce proper luggage explosions if your bag accidentally opens.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

It's generally a good idea to put a tag on your bag to identify it and also in the possible case of it getting lost, it's easier for it to work it's way back to you. Just the basic details are enough or name, number, postcode.

Then lock it up and hold onto the key, or muddle the combination lock. Always change the combination from the factory preset if possible. The instructions should come with the case. Normally it's input the correct code, then push a toggle whilst putting the new code in.

As a final check, put the bags on the bathroom scales to make sure they don't exceed the weight limits set by the airline.

Step 8: Hand Luggage

Hand luggage can be the saving grace of packing as it's that extra bit of space for all the fiddly stuff, again as long as nothing is sharp or dangerous. Most airlines have guidelines again on size and weight. As far as I am aware in the EU, bags cannot exceed 56cm x 45cm x 25cm and 10kg in weight and only the one bag, but this is variable so best to check with your particular airline.

For this reason, I like to use soft holdalls or backpacks as hand luggage which can be mushed around to fit through the hole in the X-ray machine. If it doesn't fit through that hole, it can't go on the plane. I also take those drawstring bags too to carry things around during the day and they fold up nice and small.

If you're only travelling with hand luggage, the EU has restrictions on liquids that are taken onto the plane and only allow liquids in containers less than 100ml in volume. This applies to ALL liquids, shampoo, toothpaste, contact lens fluid. Fortunately they make small bottles for just this purpose in stores such as Superdrug, generally the more popular brands. These must be placed in a clear plastic bag and presented separately to your hand luggage. The European airports I have been through offer regulation bags to put your liquids in if you don't have one.

Step 9: Final Tips

If you travel alot, you learn to pack light and tight. They make a variety of things today to help save space which fold or bend such as hairdryers and multi-tools. I love my tiny Victorinox knife as it provides lots of uses in a small package. But if you're flying, it has to go in checked baggage or you risk losing it when you go through Security.

Another potential saver if you're travelling with just hand luggage, especially on budget airlines, is to think of what you can buy instead of pack for extra room. Most budget airlines will charge for checked baggage at around £10 each way per bag. So it helps to do the math if buying something is cheaper than having to check a bag. For example, I can save loads of room if I buy a sleeping bag instead of packing one since I can find one for less than £20. Of course you can take alot more if you are checking luggage, but more isn't always better.

Don't forget your passport! Travel safe!

Burning Questions: Round 6

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Burning Questions: Round 6