January 24, 2015

Travel Tips: How to Maximize Suitcase Space

While most college students are well into the swing of second semester now, I've only recently flown back to the picturesque East coast. Here's how I make it back and forth from Ohio to Massachusetts with everything I need, from textbooks to instruments to clothes.

1. Roll clothes and pack strategically
More space + easier organization + fewer wrinkles = win

There's a lot of speculation about whether rolling actually creates more space, but I've found that rolling allows me to pack my clothes more densely, the same way rolling sleeping bags is more effective than folding them.

It also helps to pack heavier items first. For example, I place my textbooks and sweaters on the bottom since my lighter pieces are more flexible--they can fit in whatever holes I need to fill.

If you have any fragile items, such as plastic containers or accessories, I also recommend placing those neither at the top or the bottom of your suitcase to ake sure they have sufficient cushioning on all sides.

2. Fill shoes with socks, underwear, jewelry
This not only maximizes precious storage space, but also keep any of your gems and baubles from being jostled.

3. Wear heaviest and bulkiest clothes
For me, that meant my thick cream sweater that still manages to stay damp after multiple dryer cycles, winter boots, and parka. Layering up also keeps you toasty on the often-chilly flights. Be sure to stay within reason, however; excessive amounts of clothing may make security checks difficult.
Coat, Columbia | Sweater, thrifted | Pants, Old Navy | Boots, Bogs | Scarf, gift (Kohl's) | Backpack, Herschel Supply Co.

4. Use a backpack as a personal item
As long as your second, smaller carry-on fits under the seats, you should be good to go. The space has been surprisingly deep, and I've been able to bring both my violin and stuffed Herschel on board with no problem. Check the space dimensions for specific domestic U.S. airlines here.

5. If flying Southwest, check 2 bags (for free!)
This has saved me nearly every time flying to and from school. Sometimes not everything I want to bring home will fit in one suitcase, so I check a large backpack as well. Southwest is one of the few airlines that allows passengers to check up to two bags free. I've found it the most efficient airline for me for that reason, and also because I can change flights with no penalty. If the new flight you want is more expensive, you simply pay the difference, but if it's cheaper, you get credit. I've actually gotten $30-$50 back before after switching my tickets once exam schedules were released. 

On another note, if your airline does not allow any free checked bags and your luggage is overweight, it's actually usually more economically efficient to check two bags than pay the overweight fee for one. It also makes it easier on the airport personnel transporting the bags.

6. Bring only versatile pieces; consider planning outfits ahead
For trips a week or shorter, I envision what I'll wear each day so I know I'm not taking more than I need. For longer breaks, I simply bring pieces I know I can style in many different ways, such my mint button-down and black skater skirt. In general, I've found it best to err on the side of caution--it feels like a waste to transport clothing I didn't get a chance to wear and working with a limited number of pieces really encourages you to be creative.
7. To check luggage weight without a special hand scale, weigh yourself, weigh yourself holding the suitcase, and subtract the numbers
Save yourself $20 and do some simple math. This is particularly helpful if you have access to a normal scale, but can't see the numbers when you place your luggage on it. It's not entirely accurate, but I've been within a pound each time. Use the space in your outside suitcase pockets in case you do have to remove some weight at the airport.

8. Consider investing in nifty storage pieces
While I've never personally used packing cubes and vacuum bags, I've heard that they can be extremely useful. For me, my favorite travel and everyday companion is this flexible plastic water bottle. When it's empty, it flattens completely and barely takes any space once rolled or folded. I toss it in my bag and fill 'er up once through security.

9. If packing for college, don't bring your entire wardrobe
I made this mistake. I envy my friends who don't need to check any bags at all because they left enough clothing at home. Take a good look at your closet, and ask yourself which pieces are truly staples and which ones you wouldn't mind switching out between breaks. 

I'd love to learn any of your own packing tricks--drop me a note if there's any way to be even more efficient (and a way for me to look less like a high-maintenance, crazy musician at the check-in lines).

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Join the conversation!

  1. Yup, I always roll my clothes! It makes squeezing in a few extra items so much easier. Great tips you've compiled here Lily! I'm definitely bookmarking it for when I go traveling :)
    And thanks for the feedback! I definitely want to stick with higher quality posts, and I think that's what I'll shoot for.

    The Dragonfruit Diaries

  2. Hello Lily, this post is very informative, thank you so much for sharing. This inspires us all to only create quality and helpful contents. :)

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