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Packing Pro Tips: Secrets From a Flight Attendant

packing tips

Recently my mom called me to ask for advice on how to pack for a trip.

As flight attendants packing becomes automatic. We know what to bring, but more importantly, we know what not to bring. We also know how to stay organized while living out of luggage and maximize the space available, so we have plenty of room to bring home souvenirs.

I figured it might be useful to share the advice I gave my mom. So, whether you are packing for a vacation or a business trip, these three pro tips will help you learn how to pack like a professional!

Pro Tip #1: Luggage Matters

Depending on the type of trip you are taking, the kind of luggage you use matters!


Flight attendants know the value of a high-quality “Rollaboard,” which is just a fancy word for your carry-on suitcase.

The criteria a good rollaboard must meet include:

  • Size -Small enough to fit in the overhead compartment on all airlines. (Usually 22x14x9 inches).
  • Simple interior – overdesigned bags that have tons of little compartments might seem cool, but they can limit your packing abilities.
  • Tough wheels – cheap bags have cheap wheels and that just won’t do you any good if you are planning on dragging your bag down the cobblestone streets of Europe.
  • Exterior – you can opt for a soft or hard-shell exterior; both have benefits, and it is really a matter of personal taste which one you go for. That said, there might be a reason why most airlines provide their crews with soft-shell suitcases.

My recommendation: Travel Pro Versapack 21-Inch Upright Luggage

Travelpro Crew Versapack Softside Expandable 2 Wheel Upright-Luggage, External USB Port, 17-Inch-Laptop Pocket, Men and Women, Jet Black, Carry-On 21-Inch
520 Reviews
Travelpro Crew Versapack Softside Expandable 2 Wheel Upright-Luggage, External USB Port, 17-Inch-Laptop Pocket, Men and Women, Jet Black, Carry-On 21-Inch
  • Add-a-bag strap and metal J-Hook allow you to carry additional bags hands-free. Adjustable, butterfly hold-down system keeps contents securely in place. SUPRA Zipper heads are engineered to resist damage from daily use and abuse. Cushioned, low-profile top and side carry handles along with bottom handle cup provide comfortable carrying options. Overall Dimensions: 23x15.5x10in. Case Dimensions: 21.0x14.75x10in
  • Built-in protection includes robust corner armor, skid guards and durable wheel housings that protect high-wear points. Removable, TSA-compliant toiletries bag stores perfectly in a dedicated exterior pocket. Tip-resistant zippered expansion lets you increase packing space up to 2.
  • External USB port provides access to power on the go. Exterior power bank pocket provides FAA-compliant power connected to an external USB Port (battery not included). Exterior, padded pocket fits laptops up to 17".
  • Maximizes carry-on sizer bin restrictions. May need to check if over packed. Includes a Zip-In Garment Organizer for folded shirts, dresses and jackets. Additional coordinating Zip-In Organizers available for purchase separately: Laundry Organizer, Suiter Organizer, Packing Cubes Organizer and All-In-One Organizer (each sold separately).
  • Patented PowerScope aluminum extension handle minimizes wobble and has four stops to accommodate users of different heights (36", 38, 40 and 42.5). High-performance ball bearing wheels ensure the smoothest roll and long-lasting durability. High-density ballistic nylon fabric with DuraGuard coating resists stains and abrasions.

Full-Size Backpack

When traveling on my own time I tend to prefer traveling with a 21-inch backpack, it’s easier to navigate once I reach my destination. These backpacks are not personal items, they’re big enough that they have to go in the overhead bin.

The criteria for a good full-size backpack include:

  • Waterproof – the backpack should be water-resistant and should come with a rain-proof cover.
  • Tuckable straps – if you are going to bring the backpack onto an airplane having tuckable straps will increase the life of your backpack and save them from getting torn off, especially if you might check it from time-to-time.
  • Interior sections – unlike the rollaboards, I love it when my backpack has separate sections for organization. Especially when it comes with a padded spot for a laptop or tablet.

My recommendation: Cotopaxi Allpa 42 Liter Travel Pack

Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Travel Pack - Del Dia - One of a Kind!
59 Reviews
Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Travel Pack - Del Dia - One of a Kind!
  • ONE OF A KIND! Each Del Dia product is made proudly in the Philippines by an employee who has total creative control over the pack's colorway. No two are the same! We'll choose a pack for you at random. Be prepared for a total surprise!
  • Repurposed nylon body
  • Weight-distributing, low-profile harness system with removable, torso height, adjustable hipbelt
  • Suitcase-style, full-wrap zipper opening on the main compartment
  • Padded laptop and tablet sleeve. Included rain cover. 42L Size.

Personal Item

Choosing a good personal item is important, this could be a backpack or a purse/tote. The important thing is, it must fit under the seat in front of you! 

When I’m choosing a good personal item, I am looking for the following criteria:

  •  Size – this bag needs to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, but large enough to fit everything you need, a 15-17 Liter backpack usually ends up being the perfect size.
  • Over luggage strap – this is strap on the back of the bag that allows you to slide the bag down onto the handle of your rollaboard.
  • Lots of pockets for organizing – this helps keep your passport, wallet, and other essentials organized so you can grab them quickly on the go.
  • Durable fabric – the fabric should be durable, and water resistant.

My recommendation: 15.6 Liter Travel Backpack.

NOBLEMAN Men's Backpack, Laptop Backpack, Waterproof travel Backpack, 15.6 Inch Laptop Backpack, Daypack, carry on backpack with USB (Beige)
291 Reviews
NOBLEMAN Men's Backpack, Laptop Backpack, Waterproof travel Backpack, 15.6 Inch Laptop Backpack, Daypack, carry on backpack with USB (Beige)
  • THIS ITEM IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE BY CHILDREN 12 AND UNDER Size: 30 x 18 x 42 cm (11.8 x 7 x 16.5 inches). Capacity: 19 litres and install 1-2 day travel clothing.
  • Material: The laptop backpack is made of high-quality polyester and offers a high and durable performance with minimal weight. For extra durability, the polyester material is waterproof, tear-resistant and scratch-resistant.
  • Backpack with unique design: Laptop slot: 41.5 x 28.5 cm. A separate laptop compartment holds a 15.6 inch laptop. A spacious compartment for everyday needs and technology/electronics accessories. A front compartment with lots of pockets, makes your items organised and easier to find.
  • Ergonomic design: Two curve padded shoulder straps with an extra thick and ultra-breathable design make the backpack easy to carry and provide reinforcement.
  • Wide range of uses and casual: The backpack is suitable for many occasions. Unisex for adult men and women. You can use it for working, and when hiking, shopping, cycling, travelling, dating, etc

Pro Tip #2: Make a Packing List

Creating a packing list is helpful for two reasons.

First, it ensures you don’t accidentally forget something important.

Second, it helps you stay focused while packing so you don’t back things “just in case.”

When writing your packing list include everything you will need on your trip down to the number of pairs of socks you need to bring. The more detailed you are and the more you think it through and tailor it for your specific trip, the better.

Once you have a packing list STICK TO IT!

When it comes to selecting your clothing, shoes, and accessories, use a capsule wardrobe approach, you should theoretically be able to wear every piece you bring together in some combination or another.

Only pack things you actually wear.

If you haven’t worn that cool statement shirt stuffed at the back of your closet, DON’T PACK IT! You probably won’t wear it on your trip, even if it looks cool. Stick to items you know you are comfortable wearing.

Example Packing List: One Week Vacation in Europe in May

Here is an example packing list.

You’ll notice I bring less clothing because I plan on re-wearing certain items in order to cut down on what I need to lug around while traveling. Note:

In Carry-On

  • Clothing:
    • One shirt for each day (6 to pack + 1 to wear on your flight)
    • Two pairs of pants (1 to pack + 1 to wear on your flight)
    • One skirt
    • One dress
    • Lightweight raincoat
    • A lightweight sweater or cardigan
    • One pair of pajamas
    • Underwear for each day
    • Socks for each day
    • Bathing suit
  • Shoes:
    I only ever bring two pairs of shoes on a trip, one casual, and one dressy pair, both should be easy to walk in. Pack one, and plan to wear the other (heavier) pair onto the plane.
  • Toiletries:
    The goal for the toiletries in your carry-on is that they should not have to be removed from your bag for the security check, so pack all the “solid” toiletries you plan on bringing and save the “wet” ones for your personal item.

💡 Insider tip: There’s always a chance you’ll be asked to check your carry-on. Airlines will check carry-ons from later boarding groups for free simply because it’s easy to run out of overhead bin space. For this reason, make sure you don’t have anything in your carry-on that cannot be checked, or that you might need access to during flight. These items should go into your personal item!

Wear Onto The Plane

Wearing your bulkiest, heaviest items onto the plane is smart for two reasons.

First, it frees up space in your bag.

Second, it will help you stay warm on the airplane, since they’re usually quite cold…

  • Outfit: pants, shirt, sweatshirt. (Think layers!)
  • Outwear: jacket.
  • Shoes: wear which ever pair is heavier.
  • Accessories: Belt, watch, scarf*, hat, jewelry.

*Pack a scarf that can double as a warm blanket on the plane!

💡 Note on accessories: I tend not to pack additional accessories. I just wear what I’m going to wear for the whole week onto the plane. The truth is, you won’t have a better or worse trip if you have a different necklace for each outfit.  You’re way more likely to make the best out of your trip if you aren’t weighed down but unnecessary things.

In Personal Item

  • Passport
  • Medications
    • This includes prescription eyeglasses/contacts if you need them.
  • Toiletries
    Having your “wet” toiletries makes it easier to get them out during security checks, but they also tend to be great to have on-hand during a longer flight so you can freshen up before landing.

    • Toothbrush
    • Toothpaste
    • Face cream
    • Body Spray/Perfume
  • Wallet
  • Electronic devices
  • Chargers & Converters
  • Glasses
  • Flight Items
    • Entertainment
    • Pillow
    • Eye mask
    • Ear plugs

Pro Tip #3: Develop a Packing Methodology

Should you roll your clothes, fold them, put them in plastic bags, use packing cubes?

To be honest, it’s up to you.

Flight attendants are not unified on this topic, (but often hold strong personal opinions).

The most important thing is to find a system that works for you and helps to keep you organized while you are living out of your luggage.

But here are a few suggestions that you can incorporate into any packing method:

  • Do an elimination round: pack everything and then go through your stuff to see if there are any items you can opt to leave at home.
  • Take notes while on your trip: Did you forget something important, or realize your trip would have been better if you had brought something you chose not to? If so, write these down. That way you can adapt your packing for your next trip.
  • Wrinkle test your clothing: test the clothing you might pack to see how easily they wrinkle. To minimize time spent ironing, opt for fabrics that don’t wrinkle as easily.
  • Put stuff in your shoes: If you are packing an extra pair of shoes, use that empty space in your shoes to pack other things. For example, used to shove my deodorant stick into my shoe. This saves space and helps prevent your shoes from getting crushed.

Learning a great packing method is a matter of trial and error.

I’m confident the more often you travel the more intentional, and efficient you will become when it comes to packing!


Packing like a pro takes practice, but I hope these suggestions will help you start to approach packing like a professional!

If you have any great tips that I missed here, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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Last update on 2023-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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