Packing Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel

Visiting faraway family and friends for the holidays is wonderful. Packing for the whole family and navigating airports on the busiest travel days of the year? Not so much.

Here are some ways you can improve your travel prep to make things easier on you and your family or travel partners.


Pack heaviest to lightest. 

Pack heavier items like shoes or your toiletry bag at the bottom and pack lighter items toward the top. Your suitcase will compress easier this way.

Roll your clothes.

Roll clothes to fit more in your suitcase, still layering them heaviest to lightest. Stuff socks or smaller items inside of shoes.

Bring minis.

Rather than bring your entire bathroom, pack miniature toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving cream and packets of detergent. A local flight attendant from Deerfield says, “I keep separate travel-sized toiletries ready to go at all times. If I see that I’m getting low on something while I’m on a trip, I make a note for myself and replenish it as soon as I get home, so it’s ready again for the next time.”

Consider travel cubes or folders.

These super space-savers prevent clothes from wrinkling and keep your bag ultra organized. You can find them at Bed Bath & Beyond, The Container Store and REI, as well as online.

Eagle Creek™ Pack-It™ Folders, $24-32

Pack a lightweight duffel bag.

If you know you’ll likely be purchasing items on your trip, pack a lightweight duffel bag. If you run out of room in your suitcase, you can always put the purchased items in the duffel and check an extra bag. It’ll likely be cheaper than shipping it.

Reuse dry-cleaner plastic.

If you’re bringing nicer clothing like a suit, keep garments wrinkle-free by placing clothes between sheets of dry-cleaner plastic or tissue paper.

Take a suitcase with a garment bag.

Use a suitcase that has a foldable garment bag at the top so dressier items can be hung.

Bring at least one large scarf (and better yet, wear it onto the plane).

You can use this for a wrap, blanket, accent piece or sarong at the beach.

Ziplocs work wonders.

Pack a few plastic Ziploc bags in different sizes. You can throw wet clothes in one, use another one for gadgets, dirty clothes, et cetera. You can also divide clothing into larger bags so one holds underwear, another stores T-shirts, and so on. This way, you’re able to see everything without having to unpack your whole suitcase or rummage for one item.

Choose clothes based on a color scheme.

Pick an accent color (pink/red/blue) and bring mostly neutrals except for that accent color, which cuts down on shoes, accessories, sweaters and scarves.

Divide and conquer.

If you’re traveling as a family, divide each person’s belongings into different suitcases. If one person’s luggage is lost, that family member isn’t stuck without clothing for days. This tactic is especially helpful if you’re traveling with a baby.

Take a screenshot of your boarding pass.

If there’s a poor Internet connection at the airport or you misplace the email with your boarding pass, it’s already saved to your phone.

Make a copy.

When you’re traveling internationally, bring a copy of your passport and keep it somewhere safe (not in the same place where your passport is stored).

At the Airport

Travel on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to search for airfare and also the least crowded days at the airports.

Remember where you parked.

If you drive to the airport, write down where you parked or text this information to yourself.

Wear your bulkiest clothing and heaviest shoes.

Highland Park’s Sue Simon is a flight attendant for a major airline. Her number one packing tip is to wear your heaviest shoes on the airplane. “If we take the kids skiing, they wear their boots to the airport and clip their gloves to their jacket,” Simon says.

Save money on food.

Rather than pay for pricey airport food, stash snacks like nutrition bars, nuts or fresh fruit in your carry-on.


On the plane

Be prepared.

Simon notes, “Not every plane has electrical outlets, only the newer models. Electronics should be charged and definitely pack reading material for long flights.”


Wear a jacket or cardigan onto the plane. If you’re wearing sandals, take a pair of socks in case it’s chilly on the plane.

Bring essentials.

Earplugs, lip balm, hand cream and an eye mask can be lifesavers on a flight. If you’re going to be on a long flight, bring a travel pillow. You’ll be surprised how much more comfortable you’ll be.

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