33 Packing Hacks That Will Change the Way You Travel

Woman packing a suitcase

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Everyone has their own trip packing hacks learned through years of experience. In my case, I’ve jotted down tweaks and hacks for upcoming trips over 10 years of travel—and shared those here.

Grab a few ideas from this list and add them to your own methodologies of packing for a better experience.

Refining Your Own Packing Hacks

Every traveler has different methods for bringing what they need—and often a lot of what they don’t need—along on trips abroad. When packing for a trip to Asia, items that seemed like a good idea at home don’t always work out once you’re on the ground at the destination.

Consider keeping notes after each trip of what you used, didn’t use, or wish you had brought more along. Keep your own list of packing hacks in your luggage so that you’ll see it the next time you pack for a trip.

Packing for Transportation

  1. Keep a pen (and an extra one for your seatmate) on international flights. You’ll need it to complete immigration and customs forms handed out by flight attendants before arriving in Asia.
  2. Keep your additional passport photos (they come in handy for visa and permit applications) accessible in your day bag rather than buried in your luggage. You may need them in immigration queues before you’re allowed to collect your luggage. You’ll be forced to take—and pay for—new photos if yours aren’t handy.
  3. When carrying a backpack, proactively put the rain cover on anytime you are making a move. I once had a backpack arrive covered in chicken feathers and droppings because someone’s live cargo had escaped in the hold!

Packing Electronics for Asia

  1. Whenever possible, keep chargers with associated devices. If your luggage is lost or delayed, at least you’ll still be able to use the devices carried in your day bag.
  2. Your smartphone, tablet, or laptop (should you bring it?) will need serious, crush-proof cases to protect them from the dangers of the road.
  3. Remember that the voltage in Asia is higher than that in the U.S. Don’t bring along power-sharing devices or surge protectors that aren’t rated for 220/240v. Most modern electronic devices, especially those that are USB chargeable, can autosense voltage and won’t have any trouble.
  4. Per new regulations, solar chargers, battery packs, and all other lithium batteries have to be carried on board rather than stowed in checked luggage.

See answers to frequently asked questions about travel tech.

Packing Liquids

  1. Tape the lids of bottles closed. Doing so may prevent a big mess, and it’s no big deal to break the tape seals after all the flying is done.
  2. Remember that your stuff will be subjected to big temperature swings. Any cosmetics with a coconut oil base will immediately melt—and potentially leak out of containers—in Southeast Asia.
  3. Going to higher elevations (e.g., Nepal, North India, etc) will cause toiletries to be under pressure; they’ll squirt when you open them.
  4. Resealable plastic bags are indispensable on the road. All bottles of liquids should be in dedicated bags to contain potential leaks. Mark on the bags what was inside so that you don’t inadvertently reuse the bag with DEET residue for edibles, etc.

Packing For Good Security

  1. Don’t pack your most valuable items in side pockets or overly accessible places.
  2. Thieves on public transportation often have only seconds to reach inside of a victim’s bag. Ensure that they grab a handful of dirty laundry packed near the top rather than something important.
  3. Daybags with labels such as “Lenovo” or “LowePro” declare to thieves that an expensive laptop or camera may be inside.

See some other tips for avoiding theft while traveling.

General Packing Hacks

  1. Even if traveling with a smartphone, always have a notepad and pen handy, not buried in your bags. Along with jotting quick notes and directions, you can have locals write addresses to show drivers, etc.
  2. Some over-the-counter medications available in the U.S. (Sudafed is one) are actually illegal when flying into countries such as Japan. Know what’s hiding in your first-aid kit to avoid potential delays.
  3. Singapore and a handful of other countries have very strict laws about what can be brought into the country; officials aren’t shy about handing out steep fines. For example, electronic cigarettes are banned in Singapore.
  4. Put rubber bands around books to prevent the covers from getting bent and damaged.
  5. Ideally, all devices that need batteries will require the same size so that you only carry one type. “AA” is the easiest to find in Asia.
  6. Lithium batteries are lighter and last longer, often making them a better choice for travel. Many airlines now require that all lithium batteries be carried on; don’t keep them in luggage to be checked!
  7. When trying to decide whether or not to bring something (e.g., extra batteries, insect repellent, etc) figure out if it will be available locally. Purchasing things as you need them at your destination benefits the local economy and helps prevent the most common packing mistake: overpacking. Even with that in mind, there are a few items you’ll want to bring to Asia from home.
  8. Rolled clothing takes up less room in luggage; roll rather than fold. Dirty laundry takes up more room than neatly folded clothing. See what clothing to bring to Southeast Asia.
  9. When packing a backpack, place heavier items lower in the pack and against your back for better balance.
  10. Don’t waste any space; socks can be stuffed into shoes. See the best shoes to pack for Asia.
  11. Water is heavy. Always opt for powers (e.g., powdered laundry detergent) over liquids when possible.
  12. Have two copies of your travel insurance information: one in your luggage and one you carry at all times. See some travel documents that you should carry.
  13. The guidebooks for sprawling countries such as Indonesia and India are very heavy. If weight is an issue and you’re set on bringing a guidebook, some backpackers use a razor blade to cut out only the pertinent sections for places they are visiting. You can staple maps and information together by destination.
  14. You can “laminate” documents yourself to protect them by wrapping box tape on both sides. Use tape to waterproof your travel insurance contact card, to protect maps cut out of guidebooks, etc.
  15. Pack modularly in “kits.” Although they may offer slightly less protection, soft bags and cases take up less room in luggage than hard, rigid cases.
  16. Colored ditty bags are a lightweight, water-resistant solution for protecting and quickly finding small items in big luggage.
  17. Pack consistently (e.g., based on colored kits) so that you can quickly and easily find what you need. Try to develop and use the same system on every trip.
  18. Lightweight luggage scales are great to ensure that your luggage isn’t over an airline’s maximum allowance, but leave them at home after using them. You’ll find penny scales in 7-Eleven minimarts and public places in Asia for weighing your bags (and yourself!) before flying home.
  19. You can lessen your impact environmentally in a place by bringing along a few small items for green travel.