Packing a suitcase might seem simple enough—but learning a few key strategies can mean the difference between a stressful journey and a streamlined one. Checked baggage fees, weight restrictions, delays, cancellations, and crazy waits at the luggage carousel are just a few reasons why packing light is so popular these days. Whether you’re headed for a three-day business trip or a month-long expedition, knowing the best ways to minimize your load, maximize your suitcase space and pack efficiently will smooth most of the wrinkles out of your next trip.

01Go small

small suitcase ljubaphoto / Getty Images

The larger your suitcase, the more you’ll be tempted to stuff into it. Stop yourself from overpacking by limiting yourself to a suitcase no taller than 22 inches, with hard sides and a structured shell.

Bear in mind that even a carry-on that’s well within the airline’s size limits can easily become oversized if you use expanding features, or stuff every compartment.

02Edit ruthlessly

Too much stuff chang / Getty Images

Jot down a packing list several days before your trip to give yourself time to grab any last-minute items. Make sure you have enough room for the absolute essentials, then be extremely selective with the rest of it. Your suitcase is like an exclusive VIP nightclub, and you’re the hard-nosed bouncer there to keep the riff-raff out.

Think twice about every single thing you let into your bag. The more you can leave behind, the better. Eliminate the “just in case I need it” category entirely. If you do end up needing it, you can always buy it at your destination.

03Keep it simple with the countdown rule

Packing essentials cyano66 / Getty Images

Packing for a weeklong trip is as easy as 5-4-3-2-1. Limit yourself to no more than five pairs of socks and undergarments, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes, and one hat. This rule can obviously be adjusted depending on your needs. For example, you can swap out the hat for a swimsuit, fancy dress, or suit jacket.

04Heavy things first

Packing together LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

Once you’ve laid out everything you need, start by packing your heaviest items first. Place them toward the side of the suitcase with the wheels, which is the bottom of the suitcase when it’s standing upright. This ensures your suitcase isn’t top-heavy, and your items won’t tumble around as much in your case either.

05Pack like Tetris

Packing strategy miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

The best way to fit all your items into one bag? Make a game of it! Your aim is to fill every inch of space.

  • Stuff your socks into your shoes, then lay them together heel to toe, and put them in your shower cap or a plastic shopping bag to protect your clothing.
  • Use your glasses case to store small items.
  • Wrap your belt in the collar of your shirt to keep it stiff—or snake it around the perimeter of your suitcase.
  • Tuck your underwear into the cups of your bra.
  • Wear your bulkiest items if possible, such as your jacket, sweatshirt, and jeans.
  • 06Go beyond the fold

    Couple packing Milkos / Getty Images

    How you decide to pack your clothing items in your suitcase is entirely up to you, but there are several strategies favored by seasoned travelers.

    • Roll your clothes instead of folding. This not only prevents wrinkles, but it maximizes space.
    • Use packing cubes. These zipped containers keep your items carefully organized, easily accessible, and neatly compact.
    • Use the bundle technique. Wrap each clothing item carefully around a central core: T-shirts, bras, and underwear form the central core, while larger items, like dresses or blazers, form the outer layer.
    • 07Keep toiletries in the bag

      Toiletries bag BakiBG / Getty Images

      Keep your travel bathroom products and other daily essentials packed at all times, and start living out of your toiletry bag before departure. This will ensure that you don’t leave behind any essentials you might need on the morning of your flight, like your toothbrush or contact lens supplies.

      Streamline your personal products as much as possible. A BB cream, for example, is an all-in-one product which replaces moisturizer, foundation, and sunscreen.

      Always pack toiletries in a clear bag, and rest the bag on top of your belongings. You never know when security might be compelled to scrutinize your stuff, so you’re better off keeping liquids easily reachable and separate from your other items. If you’re using ziplock bags, you might want to double up to prevent leaks.

      08Leave the kid gear at home

      Traveling light with kids FluxFactory / Getty Images

      If you have young children, spending a little extra to rent or buy what you need when you arrive beats forking over cash for checked baggage fees and added hassle. Car seats, cribs, and other baby gear are usually available to rent at hotels, and you can buy snacks, formula, and sunscreen at your destination. The only exception? Diapers. Pack more than you think you need, and then some. You never know when your flight will be delayed.

      09Label it

      luggage carousel AzmanL / Getty Images

      Label your suitcase with your name, email, phone number, and the address of your destination so the airline can reach you if your luggage gets lost. Label your carry-on too—you never know if you’ll have to gate check it in the event of a sold-out flight. It’s also a good idea to tuck a piece of paper with your address inside your bag too, just in case your luggage tag falls off.

      If your suitcase is black, just like pretty much everyone else’s, add a colorful ribbon or fancy duct tape to the handle. This way, nobody will mistake your black bag for theirs on the baggage carousel.

      10Take it for a test drive

      Suitcase test run Lacheev / Getty Images

      Once your bag is fully packed, carry it by the handle for a while. Try rolling it down the street and hauling it up and down the stairs. This will give you a preview of what it will feel like to actually travel with your suitcase. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or exhausted, that’s a sign that you might need to lighten your load.