I may earn a commission (at NO cost to you) if you buy using links on this page. This helps keep content free on Project Untethered, so thank you for your support! (See full disclosure)
There’s no sugar-coating it.
Packing is a pain in the nuts.
You go over the list in your head a jillion times, but it always feels like you’re forgetting something.
You remembered your extra GoPro battery, right? Your waterproof backpack cover? Your contact solution?
After all, some things are impossible to find in other countries.
And remembering everything is only half the battle. Then there’s deciding how much (or how little) to take.
Will you freeze without that jacket? Look like a dingus wearing hiking boots to a nice restaurant? And what’s the protocol for spare undies? (Hint: better safe than sorry).
Pack too much, and you’ll be stuck hauling around a spine-crushing bag full of items you never use. Not fun.
And if that weren’t enough, you’ve still got security to worry about. How can you protect your valuables from being damaged, lost, or *gasp* stolen?
No wonder people toss and turn the night before a big trip.
I’d be lying if I said experienced travelers are immune to all this. They’re not. However, they do have some tricks for streamlining the process.
So, whether this is your first trip or your tenth, do yourself a favor. Read over these travel packing hacks, soak up the wisdom, and save yourself from having to learn the hard way.
Let’s get started…
Table of Contents
- The Four Ingredients to Stress-Free Packing
- Unusual Items You Don’t Realize You’ll Need…Until You Do
- Secrets to Packing Exactly the Right Amount
- Packing Hacks T0 Keep Your Gear More Secure Than Fort Knox
- Travel Packing Hacks for the Ultimate Peace of Mind
The Four Ingredients to Stress-Free Packing
#1 – Buy a BIGGER backpack (ignore what they say)
Some travel packing hacks you read online are rubbish. One that comes to mind is buying a small backpack that forces you to only carry the essentials.
It sucks having to jigsaw your stuff into a tiny minimalist backpack day after day, bodyslamming it shut to smush everything down, hoping your zipper doesn’t snap. Talk about stress (especially when you’re in a hurry).
I hated my small bag so much I gave it away and bought a bigger one. Best decision I ever made. With my new spacious bag, packing became a breeze. There’s only one caveat.
You need self-discipline. You must resist the urge to fill up that extra space with non-essential clothes and knick-knacks.
So, enjoy your big bag—but pack as if it were small. Your spine will thank you for it.
UPDATE: I have since switched over to Team Carry-On Only. This is because I now fly way more than I did when I originally wrote this (and traveled mostly by bus). If you’re flying a couple times per month, those extra checked bag fees add up. But if you’re only flying once in a while, it might not be a big deal.
If you do have the courage to go carry-on only, make sure not to make these mistakes!
#2 – Never travel without packing cubes
If you don’t use packing cubes, what are you doing with your life? I literally cringe when I see people digging through a backpack full of loose clothes. Do yourself (and your sanity) a favor—buy some cubes!
For extra credit, use different colored cubes for each type of clothes. Need a shirt? Grab the blue cube. Shorts? The black cube. Undie-grundies? Silver one.
Isn’t organization great?
#3 – Ditch the top-loader
Top-loading backpacks are for hiking, not traveling. Imagine having to dump everything out of your bag multiple times each day because the one thing you need always seems to fall to the bottom. Uncool.
Believe it or not, packing/unpacking can actually be enjoyable —IF you have a backpack that completely unzips so you can see everything at once. (Here’s the trusty bag I use. I call her Delilah. She’s amazing.)
Double Triple check your bags for banned paraphernalia
Before your flight, triple check the airline’s restricted items list. Then triple check to make sure you remembered to remove said items from your bags. You wouldn’t want to lose a precious heirloom swiss army knife with enormous sentimental value like I did (luckily, the airport saved it for me and I went back later to recover it).
While organizing your bags, make sure carry-on essentials and high-value items are in your carry-on bag. That way, if your checked bag is lost or stolen, you’ll have your most important items with you.
Unusual Items You Don’t Realize You’ll Need…Until You Do
#5 – Axe body spray (or female equivalent)
Ever been forced to sit by someone whose foul odor you could literally taste? Those times when you try to discreetly plug your nose, but can somehow still smell it through your mouth?
Yeah, I get it. On some trips, showers are scarce. You may have to re-use dirty clothes. It’s understandable. But for heaven’s sake, cover that rank with some spray!
(Note: Speaking of spray, get yourself some potent bug spray before leaving home. Skeeters suck.)
#6 – Multipurpose hairbands
I have no hair, but always make sure to pack a handful of hairbands when traveling. Why? These unbreakable rubber bands take up zero space and have many handy uses. My favorite: closing bags of food.
#7 – Travel-friendly snacks
Speaking of food, NEVER EVER hit the road without some travel-friendly snacks. It’s a recipe for disaster.
If you’re smart, you’ll even pack double snacks. Here’s why…
One weary night, I took a bus ride from Cali, Colombia down to Ecuador. It was meant to take 10 hours. Little did I know, the recent rainfall had caused a rockslide blocking the highway. I sat in that friggin bus for TWENTY-TWO hours, stuck in the middle of nowhere, somehow surviving off two measly granola bars.
Don’t be like me.
#8 – Mandatory medicine
Wanna know what’s not fun to have when there’s no bathroom nearby? Diarrhea.
And when you’re out tasting all the exotic local cuisine, it’s not a matter of if, but when. It’ll hit you when you least expect it. And trust me—you’re gonna want those anti-diarrhea pills in your daypack.
It’s also wise to always have motion sickness pills on hand (which conveniently double as sleep aids for long bus/plane/boat rides).
#9 – Carabiners
Clip ‘em to the outside of your bag. Great for carrying dirty footwear or anything else you don’t want (or can’t fit) inside your bag.
#10 – Duct tape
Another “not if, but when you’ll need it” item. Unexpected rip in your bag? Duct tape it. Cuts and blisters on a long trek? Tape ‘em up. Brother comes to visit, finds a hot Tinder date, but realizes he forgot his belt? You guessed it—duct tape to the rescue!
#11 – Warm-ish clothes
No matter how hot of climate you’re going to, you’d be wise to pack one long-sleeve shirt and pants.
Sun, bugs, and teeth-chatteringly cold buses.
These are my fav travel pants, btw. They’re awesome.
#12 – Bottle/wine opener
I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve forgotten to pack a travel wine/bottle opener. However, it has made for some exciting bottle opening adventures. (My favorite: Put wine bottle inside a shoe, smack against the wall, and pray it doesn’t shatter—it works!).
#13 – Plastic baggies
Don’t forget these. From trash bags to grocery bags to the holy grail—the ziplock bag.
Trash bags double as waterproof backpack covers. Grocery bags are great for carrying things (I know, right?). Ziplocks have a plethora of uses: protect food, isolate gross clothes, waterproof your electronics, protect liquids from spillage, keep emergency toilet paper dry…the list goes on.
Add these to your packing list.
Secrets to Packing Exactly the Right Amount
#14 – Don’t overcomplicate things
Don’t stress yourself to death debating whether or not you’ve packed enough clothes. Just pack a little less than you think you need. If you run out, simply buy more on your trip. You’ll not only avoid overpacking, but you’ll also have an excuse (and the space) to buy a guilt-free souvenir if needed.
#15 – Be efficient AF
A wise man named Mitch once said:
Here are his favorite travel packing hacks to save space:
- Everything matches with everything. Get used to the same few boring solid colors.
- Choose clothes that serve multiple purposes (comfortable for excursions, but formal enough for going out)
- Dark clothes—they show less dirt and stains
- Microfiber travel towel—More compact than a normal towel, dries faster, and won’t smell like wet dog
- Books—No physical books. They’re big, heavy, and hard to find while traveling. Invest in a Kindle and you won’t regret it (For bargain hunters, I bought my used Kindle on eBay for over 50% off). The ONLY physical book allowed in your backpack should be a travel journal (here’s how to journal like a boss). All other travel books should be digital.
#16 – Don’t weigh your bags
Why? It means you packed too much. If there’s any doubt in your mind you could be over the limit, downsize.
That snorkel, mask, and flippers you might use somewhere someday? Dump ’em. Don’t be the guy who lugs everything around for 6 months, finally finds a snorkel spot, then realizes his mask cracked while traveling (Spoiler: that guy was me).
That said, if you get to the luggage counter and realize you are overweight, don’t panic. Just layer up your clothes and fill your pockets and carry-on bag with heavy stuff (I’ve never had my carry-on weighed).
Ideal, no. Effective, yes.
Note: If you’re just going on a short trip, go ahead and ignore this one. Many of these packing hacks are geared at long-term trips.
Packing Hacks T0 Keep Your Gear More Secure Than Fort Knox
#17 – Personalize your pack
A lot of travelers have the same backpacks. By modifying your bag to make it unique, you’ll avoid mix-ups. A clever way to do this is sewing on little flag patches of the countries you’ve visited. If someone tells you it’s tacky, ignore them. (Haters gonna hate.)
#18 – Load up on locks
Not an actual lock, per se. But I recommend using them (instead of luggage locks) to close your zippers when flying.
The benefits of using “TSA-approved” locks to secure checked bags is debatable. Supposedly, TSA personnel have special keys to open these locks to search your bag. In reality, they’ll probably just rip it off (along with your zipper). You’re better off using zip ties.
However, these small combination locks are essential for locking lockers and securing compartments of your bag (when not flying).
Keep in mind: While they do help prevent opportunity theft, they also may give aggressive thieves the impression you’re carrying something worth stealing.
Maybe you’re at the beach and want to take a dip. A luggage lock isn’t gonna stop someone from snatching your pack while you’re rinsing the sand from your nether-regions. Enter the cable lock. Simply secure it to something sturdy, and enjoy the water.
The Pacsafe travel safe
This is the most important (yet least used) tool you should have in your security arsenal. The Pacsafe is an impenetrable drawstring bag used to lock up your valuables. You may think it’s unnecessary since most accommodation has lockers. But it just takes one time without a locker for it to be worth it.
Travel long enough, and there will come a day when you don’t have anywhere to secure your travel laptop, camera, or other valuables. Will you leave it unprotected, hoping nobody takes it? Or will you haul everything around with you in your daypack?
With the Pacsafe, you don’t have to choose. You have security wherever you go. For me, that security is worth the price.
#19 – Secret hiding spots
One of my favorite travel packing hacks. Locks aren’t the only way to protect your goods. Smart travelers have several stashes of emergency cash hidden throughout their bags.
My favorite hiding spots are inside emptied out chapstick tubes, deodorant sticks, and Tylenol bottles—nobody’s gonna steal those. I also have secret zipper pockets sewn into the ankles of my pants. (To all you thieves reading this: I’m totally kidding, that’s definitely not where I hide my goods.)
Paranoid? Perhaps. But I rest easy knowing I have a backup stash no matter what.
#20 – Don’t travel with all valuables in your daypack (despite what they say)
On travel days, many recommend keeping all valuables in your daypack—while leaving replaceable, less important stuff in your main bag. That way, if your main bag gets lost or stolen in transit, you’ll have all your important stuff with you. It makes sense. It’s not bad advice. But there’s one caveat.
What if your daypack gets stolen?
It’s less likely, but it happens (either by force or from being careless). Now everything of value is gone. Money, credit cards, passport, phone, laptop…everything. Yikes. How’re you gonna survive?
You’re much better off leaving a spare credit card, ID, and extra cash in your main bag (Hint: in the deodorant stick)—just enough to get by in case your daypack falls into the wrong hands.
Travel Packing Hacks for the Ultimate Peace of Mind
To be honest, it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for every situation when traveling. No matter how much you plan for your trip, there’s always an element of unknown. (That’s what makes it exciting!)
However, there are quick tweaks you can make to cover your bases and minimize potential problems.
They’re really quite simple.
But the peace of mind they bring?
So, if you start feeling anxious before your next adventure, you know the drill.
Don’t just throw everything in your bag and hope for the best.
Instead, review these travel packing hacks. Check them off one by one.
You’ll feel confident, calm and relaxed as your big travel day draws near.
And instead of tossing and turning the night before…
You’ll sleep like a baby.
***How’d you like the travel packing hacks post? These take me an embarrassingly long time to write (thanks, ADD). So it’d be SUPER if you clicked the buttons below to share on social media. Gracias! 🤗***
⚠️HOLD UP! Before you peace out to explore the world—have you thought about travel insurance? If not, let me tell you a little story…⚠️
—Need a shot of wanderlust? Check out this humungous list of adventure quotes—
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered — where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
His advice has been featured in Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Going Cheap Flights Newsletter - Get flight deals from your airport up to 90% off sent straight to your inbox.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).