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Packing Tip: Contain Everything & Maximize Space

Decades ago — long before packing cubes and similar travel gear existed — I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of securing all my items into some type of container. And like most travel lessons, I had to learn it the hard way. At the start of my six-week solo trip around Europe, I was feeling quite proud of myself. I’d managed to pack everything I needed into one tiny, 18-inch carryon suitcase with wheels and my crossbody purse. I was a true minimalist packer. I’d rolled up my clothes, packed in my toiletries and stuffed each empty space with socks, underwear and vitamins. I stood back to admire my neatly organized suitcase.

My flight to Italy entailed a layover at London Heathrow where all passengers were required to go through security. There had been a bombing the day before. The security lines were long, and you could feel the tension in the air. Not only were suitcases, purses and personal items being electronically scanned, but visually inspected as well.

I placed my tiny suitcase and purse on the security table. The official opened my suitcase. I thought, he’s just going to do a quick check and close it up. Instead, he flipped my opened suitcase upside down, dumping the entire contents onto the table. My bras, underpants, clothes and toiletries scattered across the surface. His hands ran quickly through the contents of everything I possessed for the next six weeks, then pushed the mess to the end of the table. Dumbfounded and embarrassed, I scrambled to round up all my belongings and cram them into my suitcase as quickly as possible. That’s the last time I ever left anything loose in my luggage.

Unfortunately, the same thing could happen today if your carryon bag gets flagged for a secondary inspection. Here’s how to prevent this happening to you. And I've included some tips on how to maximize the space in your suitcase.

Packing cubes, toiletry kits, and bags, bags, bags

Whether you’re bringing carryon only or checking a suitcase, make sure everything, especially small items, are packed inside some type of container. I’ve had my checked bag inspected by TSA several times. They always leave a notification in my suitcase showing it was inspected. But think how easy it would be for small, loose items to slip out unnoticed during an inspection.

REMINDER: Don’t ever pack valuables, jewelry, cash or credit cards in your checked bag. Anything of significant value should be placed in your personal item, carryon or in your coat or jacket.

The best containers for your clothes are packing cubes. These small, fabric, zippered containers are lightweight and are great at keeping your clothes clean and organized. You can slip the packing cubes into a dresser drawer or shelf without having to unpack every item. With packing cubes, your clothes are less likely to wrinkle. To maximize space and easily see what I’ve packed, I like to roll my clothes rather than stacking them in the cubes.

There are a variety of packing cubes on the market, so do your research to discover which best suits your travel needs. Compression packing cubes allow you to fit more clothes into your suitcase and are good for bulkier items. I use regular eBags packing cubes with a mesh top, which makes it easy to see the contents. Packing cubes are also great for containing electronics, vitamins and other travel items.

Contain your shoes

I cringe every time I see a YouTuber pack their shoes on top of their clothes. Don’t they realize that germs, urine and feces attach to the bottom of our shoes? While it’s a good idea to clean your shoes before packing them, they still need to be in a container. You don’t need a fancy shoe bag. A plastic trash or shopping bag works just as well. Save space by stuffing your shoes with socks and small items.

You can never have enough Ziplock bags

With all the packing cubes, toiletry bags and cosmetic bags I own, I always end up using gallon- and quart-size Ziplock bags and usually throwing in a couple extra. They weigh next to nothing. You can see all the contents because they’re clear, and you can use them to store wet clothes. Although I bring a small hanging toiletry bag to hold items I use daily, I often put my shampoo, conditioner and body cream into a Ziplock bag in case they leak due to the change in air pressure during the flight.

Avoid buying unnecessary containers

When shopping for packing containers, think about how much weight and space a container will add and if it’s worth the tradeoff. I purchased an expensive fabric container for electronics and cables, but after one trip I realized it was bulky and took up too much space in my carryon. It was also a pain to wrap up all the cables and insert them into tiny straps. Now I use either a medium-size fabric bag, a small packing cube or a gallon-sized Ziplock bag.

Smaller containers work best

When shopping for packing cubes, shoe bags, cosmetic bags and other travel containers, smaller is better for maximizing space, especially if you’re going carryon only. The smaller the bag, the more flexibility you have for organizing your suitcase. When it comes to packing cubes, I use my smaller ones the most; the medium ones sometimes; and the large ones almost never. Having my toiletries in smaller bags versus one large toiletry kit makes it easier to fit everything in the suitcase.

Really small bags are your secret weapon for packing last-minute items and filling up those remaining gaps. Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of small, brightly colored cosmetic bags just for this purpose. You want them small enough to fill the gaps, but large enough that if one falls out, it will be noticed.

Happy packing! And enjoy the journey.



Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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