Preparing your bag or backpack for an upcoming trip can be a surprisingly demanding task…especially if it’s your first long trip or you’re heading out solo. I know that the situation can sometimes seem a bit desperate (nothing like those I-have-to-leave-for-the-airport-in-an-hour-but-all-my-stuff-is-still-thrown-throughout-my-living-room-floor moments, right?), but it doesn’t have to be.
I’ve packed a lot of bags, backpacks, and suitcases over the years and though I still struggle with it, I’ve learned some tricks along the way that can really help with the organization. That’s why I put together this list for my fellow females with 10 tips to help you prepare your backpack or suitcase for your trip.
How to begin packing your suitcase or backpack for a trip
Before we dive into today’s main topic, we first need to answer a few questions that will really help you when it comes to packing your bag. Here they are:
Where are you going?
Of course, knowing exactly where you are going is the most important step. With this information, you’ll know what type of clothing to bring and what can or can’t be taken in your backpack (because depending on the country, some objects are banned).
Is your destination cold or hot? Will you do any outdoor activities or adventures? Is there snow? Beach? Are there any cultural considerations for female clothing that you need to keep in mind?
What type of trip are you going on?
There are a lot of different types of trips out there, from long backpacking trips to luxury trips to adventure trips to family trips. You’ll want to think about this question before putting anything into your backpack or suitcase because it’ll affect the weight and how much you will or won’t suffer when you have to carry your bag.
How long will you be traveling?
Another question that will directly influence the preparation of your backpack or your suitcase is the length of your trip. Obviously, this will affect the amount of clothing and other things you need to bring with you. That said, this question can be combined with the others so you have a more exact idea of what you should and shouldn’t take in your bag.
Will you be able to (and do you want to) do laundry during your trip and will you have access to a laundry machine?
If you’re only going to travel for a week, it’s definitely possible to take enough clothing with you that you don’t need to do laundry during the trip. However, if you’re backpacking for a month in Europe, you’ll probably need to wash your clothes at some point…which means you can take fewer clothing with the expectation that you’ll be washing more.
And keep in mind that it is much easier, cheaper, and practical to wash clothes in hostels than in luxury hotels!
Once you’ve answered these 3 questions above, you’ll be one step closer to packing your bag. But there are still other things to keep in mind. And so, let’s move on to the 10 tips.
10 tips for women to prepare their backpack or suitcase for a trip
Here, I’ve created a list of my top ideas and tips to help you pack your bag and take advantage of space as best you can. Women (myself included!), tend to pack more things than men, which can make this task a bit tricky.
So, what we really need to do is arrive at a balance between what we need to take and what we want to take on our trip. I’m certain the tips below will help you get there.
Here they are (more details about each one below):
- Don’t take anything you don’t need (easier said than done, I know!)
- Learn how to share items with your travel partner
- Use vacuum bags (or plain ‘ol Ziploc bags!) to compress and organize your clothing
- Plan for what clothes you’ll buy on your trip
- Leave some space in your bag for purchases (whether expected or unexpected)
- Watch out for liquids in your suitcase or backpack (and consider some solid options instead)
- Select clothing and shoes that match each other
- Don’t overdo it on the makeup
- BRING A SCARF!
- Give everything in your suitcase a place…but also don’t feel like you have to fill your bag up to the top
Bonus tip #1: buy yourself a Diva Cup!!!
Bonus tip #2: roll your clothes OR fold them up Marie Kondo style
1. Don’t take anything you don’t need (easier said than done, I know!)
It’s not uncommon for people to want to pack everything, like an umbrella or that one set of heels you probably won’t wear, “just in case.”
That’s why the first tip here for preparing your bag is to know what it is that you truly need to bring. So if you’re going to a place that is really hot, you don’t need cold-weather clothing. You just need one long shirt or sweater just in case something unexpected happens, but know what to prioritize.
Also, consider what types of things you’ll have easy access while on your trip and thus don’t need to squish into your bag. For example, does your accommodation provide towels or a hairdryer? Then don’t bring them!
2. Learn how to share items with your travel partner
Of course, this tip only works if you’re traveling with someone else. Whether that’s friends, with your partner, or as a family, you can always share items.
This frees up a lot of space (and weight) in your bag, although not for everyone that you’re going to be traveling with.
A few items that you could share might include: shampoo (if you aren’t super picky about what you use like I am ), soap, face cream, hairdryer, and sunscreen.
3. Use vacuum bags (or plain ‘ol Ziploc bags!) to compress and organize your clothing
Vacuum bags can really be lifesavers for travelers. With these bags, you can often reduce the volume of your clothing in half. Just keep in mind you’ll probably want to test your bags before using them to know exactly how they work. Some have their own pump, while others need the help of a vacuum cleaner (which isn’t exactly that convenient or easy to find when you need to repack your bag to come home).
One thing you need to be careful of when using these is making sure your bag doesn’t get too heavy and goes above the weight limit for your airline. Since you’ll be able to fit more things in your suitcase using these bags, it’s quite easy to end up with an overweight bag. In other words, try to weigh it before going to the airport.
Psst! I have a confession. I love the idea of vacuum bags, but I’ve never actually used them because I just haven’t felt like buying them. What I use instead are re-sealable gallon-sized (or just the biggest size available for you non-gallon-users) Ziploc bags. Bonus points if the bag has that little plastic slider to seal it more securely.
First, I roll my clothes. Then, I put them in a Ziploc bag (usually grouping into categories – 1 bag for t-shirts, 1 bag for dresses, etc.) and make a small hole so I can squeeze all the air out. You’ll be surprised by how much you can compress the size of your clothing with these humble little bags! Plus, they help you stay organized.
4. Plan for what clothes you’ll buy on your trip
This is probably only relevant if you’re going to a place where the weather/temperature is significantly different than where you live.
For example, if you’re from a warmer country like Brazil and you’re going to northern Europe in the dead of winter, it’s good to keep in mind that any cold-weather clothing that you use or might buy back home probably won’t be warm enough for your trip. In other words, you may be better off just buying a good jacket during your trip to handle those cold temperatures and have a local experience.
Which brings us to our next tip…
5. Leave some space in your bag for purchases (whether expected or unexpected)
If you’re someone who usually likes to buy clothing (like that jacket above), accessories, electronics, or other things while traveling, then you’ll want to make sure you leave some space in your bag to bring them back home with you.
Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for doing this when it’s time to prepare your bag to go home.
And honestly, even though I’m not much of a shopper myself, I always try (note how I said “try,” not “do”) to leave a bit of space in my bags just in case.
6. Watch out for liquids in your suitcase or backpack (and consider some solid options instead)
If you’re traveling by plane, it’s forbidden to take liquids greater than 100 ml in your hand baggage. So, make sure you keep this in mind when you’re packing your bag so items like your shampoo, lotion, creams, or makeup don’t get thrown out during security.
There are a few ways you can get around this rule.
- Put liquids above 100ml in your checked bag
- Buy one of those “travel kits” you can find in supermarkets all over the world that has a variety of personal hygiene items that all fall under the size limit for flying
- Buy empty, refillable travel bottles under 100ml and put your favorite product in them (frankly, this is a great idea because you shouldn’t be carrying around a full bottle of shampoo on your trip anyways)
- Try switching to some solid products so you won’t have to worry about them at all (personally, I’m a BIG fan of Chagrin Valley for this kind of thing – their solid face soap bar and their lotion bar are wonderful. Their shampoo bar didn’t work well for me, but it, or the shampoo bar from another company, may be worth looking into!)
7. Select clothing and shoes that match each other
Since you have to limit the number of items you can take in your bag, you’ll want to make sure that each item can be used in multiple ways.
With this in mind, the tip here is simple – try to bring a combination of pieces that can be used together. In other words, clothing, and shoes that you can match with any other item in your bag. This will help you pack less stuff overall because you’ll be able to re-use things with other things, and won’t get stuck taking that fatal item that you can use just once.
For me, this means I tend to bring a lot of neutral colors (black, grey, light brown, etc.) and then a few colored items or accessories (like a long maroon skirt or a green patterned scarf) that I can wear multiple times with each of my other neutral pieces.
Aiming to have each piece you pack match with every other piece you have will really help you when it comes to packing and deciding what you should or shouldn’t bring.
8. Don’t overdo it on the makeup
One important point that we need to tackle is makeup. I’ve seen plenty of women pack all the makeup they have only to end up using very little of it.
But you really want to try to avoid this because it takes up extra space in your bag, adds to the weight, and makes it harder to organize everything.
So if you’re into makeup, it’s worth trying to stick to the basics ‒ I personally usually just bring some mascara, some concealer, and maybe an eyeliner if I’m feeling spicy.
If you want a more complete set, a recommendation of a fellow travel buddy was as follows: a foundation, a powder, a concealer, a lipstick, a mascara, and a set of eyeshadows.
So, you do you #butwithinreason
9. BRING A SCARF!
No matter where you go, a scarf or two is ALWAYS useful. They come in about a million different designs, colors, and thicknesses, so you really can find one to suit wherever you’re going.
In the middle of the desert with the sun blaring down on you? Cover your head with a scarf.
Freezing your butt off thanks to the airplane or bus AC? Turn that scarf into a blanket.
Want to pop into the stunning cathedral or temple you just walked by but aren’t “covered” enough because it also happens to be a million degrees out? Wrap a scarf around your shoulders, and you’re good to go.
Not feeling very put together because you’ve been traveling too long and are seriously sleep and food-deprived? Put on a scarf and you’ll feel like a whole new person.
10. Give everything in your suitcase a place
Clothing, earrings, purses, belts, underwear, socks. You’ll make your packing and during-trip-life much easier if you give everything a place instead of just chucking it all in.
For me, that usually means sorting my clothing into Ziploc bags as I mentioned above, having a separate bag or pocket where I put all my accessories, and having distinct areas to put my underwear and my socks.
Ah, and this second part is also important (even if I don’t usually follow it myself)! Important PSA: just because you have extra space available in your bag, you’re not obligated to fill ‘er up to the top.
Bonus tip #1: buy yourself a Diva Cup!!!
Look, I know not everyone digs this whole menstrual cup idea…but they have been a serious game-changer for me.
Especially since things like tampons aren’t always easily available depending on where you’re going and (at least in my personal opinion) tampons just kind of suck in general. Not to mention a menstrual cup is much cheaper in the long run than buying tampons/pads, you can leave it in much longer without worrying about TSS, and it also happens to be better from the environment because there’s nothing you need to throw away.
I’ll admit it takes some getting used to (honestly, it took me months to really get the hang of it). BUT. I love it and will never look at another tampon again.
Bonus tip #2: roll your clothes OR fold them up Marie Kondo style
So let’s say don’t want to put things into ziplocs. I often don’t bother for shorter trips.
But to make your life easier, I highly recommend either a) rolling your clothes if you’re using a backpack or b) folding them the Marie Kondo way if you have a suitcase.
Usually, I just roll my clothes because it’s fast and easy and makes my clothes take up much less space.
But if you’re taking a suitcase, then frankly folding them the Marie Kondo way is amazing because then you can miraculously see all the clothing you have at once.
Just look at this beauty!
There’s a specific way to fold each type of clothing, and you can find that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lpc5_1896ro
Knowing how to prepare your backpack for a trip comes with time and experience. I know I myself have made lots of packing mistakes that could have been avoided if I had seen some tips like this before.
And frankly, I STILL always bring more clothing than I need to. But with trips, like our lives, we learn a bit more and get a bit better every time.
On that note, I hope that the tips here have helped you and that you can use them all to get better organized.
To help even more, if you’d like to see a complete (non-gender specific) list of things to bring on your trip, you can find it in one of Rodrigo’s first-ever articles: How to Prepare Your Suitcase or Backpack for a Trip.
Still have a question, a suggestion, or a tip you think should be added here? Just leave it in the comment area below and I promise I’ll get back to you!