The Awkward Girl's Guide to Packing a Suitcase

The Awkward Girl’s Guide to Packing a Suitcase

Packing a suitcase is a very under-rated life skill, isn’t it?

To know how to pack a suitcase, for instance, you have to have a mind analytical enough to be able to look at your wardrobe – like, ALL of it – and instinctively know which of those hundreds of items you’re going to need for your trip. You have to take into account where you’re going and what you’ll be doing (obviously), but you also have to be able to predict what the weather will be like when you get there, and which things you MIGHT end up doing that you haven’t actually planned.

It’s a nightmare, in other words. Which is why I basically tend to ignore all of the articles on how to pack a suitcase, and just take ALL THE THINGS. For instance, here’s the received wisdom on how to pack a suitcase, and why I ignore it…


The Awkward Girl's Guide to Packing a Suitcase


Sound advice, which allows you to basically create a capsule wardrobe full of mix-and-match pieces, which you’ll be able to use to create countless different outfits, and never get bored. If I were to take this advice, I’d probably go with a red, white and blue palette (as I did in my post on packing for a beach holiday): classic, nautical-inspired colours, which all work effortlessly with each other, and which I own plenty of. Easy, right?

BUT. If I take red, white and blue clothing – and ONLY red, white and blue clothing – that totally fails to take account of my obsession with mint green, doesn’t it? Green doesn’t really go with red (or not unless you actually ARE one of Santa’s little helpers, anyway…), so that’s at least ONE item that won’t go with EVERYTHING in my suitcase, and then what about that yellow dress I always like to wear on holiday? The pink skirt? And, you know, I haven’t worn those purple shoes in a while, and they’d look AMAZING with that new black skirt I bought, so now I’ve got it down to red, white and blue… and also pink, yellow, green, purple and black. Awesome.


All of the advice I’ve read on how to pack a suitcase advises taking a day-by-day approach and, once you have your colour scheme sorted, putting together an outfit for each day you’ll be away. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a totally different outfit for each day (you’re all about the mixing-and-matching, remember?) but if you make sure you have enough items to create an outfit you’re happy with for each day of your trip, you’re sorted, yes?

BUT. What if I want to wear more than one outfit per day? Like, what if I go sightseeing in the afternoon, then out to dinner in the evening? I’ll obviously want to get changed out of my sweaty-tourist clothes before dinner, so that’s TWO outfits I’ll need for that day. And what if I spend the morning at the beach, before going sightseeing? I wouldn’t want to go sightseeing in the old shorts I pulled on over my swimsuit, so now I need THREE outfits for that day – and I guess I should probably make sure I have three outfits for EVERY day, just in case. For my three-week trip, then, I’m going to need a total of, let me see… 63 outfits. And that’s not even including the next part of the ‘how to pack a suitcase’ law…


You might be travelling somewhere hot, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever rain, or that the evenings won’t be chilly. Also, air con in stores and restaurants is often set to OMGFREEZING, so the received wisdom is that you should include some warmer items, too, just in case.

BUT. What if you get a whole WEEK of cold weather? Or two weeks? That HAS happened to me, and I ended up spending a small fortune in the local ZARA when I realised my shorts and tank tops just weren’t going to cut it. So now I take more than a couple of emergency items: in fact, I should really take a whole week’s worth, shouldn’t I? I mean, let’s go back to step two, and assume that all of those 63 outfits I planned so carefully are all-of-a-sudden totally impractical due to unseasonably cold weather. (IT CAN HAPPEN, PEOPLE!) I should therefore make sure I have alternatives to all of them, shouldn’t I? So now we’re up to 126 outfits, and I need an extra suitcase. Also a private jet, and someone to carry my luggage, thanks…


When I pack my suitcase, I like to image myself going through my day, so I can make sure I don’t forget something. So I imagine waking up, first of all: I’ll immediately want to clean my teeth and wash my face, so I pack the items I’ll need for that, then proceed through the day, packing everything I’ll need for my morning shower, the clothes I’ll wear (imagining getting dressed for the day ensures I don’t pack everything except underwear, for instance…), and so on and so forth, right up until I go to bed at night, which reminds me to pack nightwear, eye makeup remover, etc. This is a pretty fail-safe way to make sure you don’t forget to pack anything essential… (See also: why I pack my travel makeup bag DAYS before I travel...)

BUT. What if life throws me a curve ball, and instead of going to the beach, or whatever else I have on my list of things to do on vacation, someone says to me, “hey, I know, let’s go rock climbing!” I won’t have packed anything suitable for rock climbing, obviously, so I should probably pack climbing boots, yes? And also BUY climbing boots, because seriously, AS IF I’d own something like that. And what if there’s a riding stable nearby and I have the opportunity to go riding? I should take my riding boots, shouldn’t I? And also my hard hat, because I know they’ll have them there, but I like to have my own, because I know it hasn’t been in any accidents. Hey, I wonder if my jodhpurs still fit me? I should buy jodhpurs, shouldn’t I? Hello?

So, now you know why I don’t travel light. At all. In fact, I just read an article on how to pack a suitcase which suggested packing your case, then removing half of the items, because you probably won’t need them. I, on the other hand, normally pack my suitcase then add around 50% more items “just in case”. (And I DO actually wear them, SO THERE.) Here are some packing tips I DO actually use, though..


(*Packing tips may not actually be “awesome”.)
advice for packing a suitcase


This not only takes up less space inside your suitcase, it also means the clothes don’t get as creased: win!

how to use packing cubes to pack your suitcase02.

Because they will change your life, not even joking. You’ll find an entire post about the wonder that is packing cubes here, but, in short, I have these ones, which aren’t exactly the best quality in the world, but which do help keep everything in my suitcase nice and organised.


Because I once arrived in Athens to discover my fake tan had leaked inside my suitcase. The fact that nothing got permanently ruined is still one of the biggest miracles I’ve ever witnessed…


I actually try to take as few liquids as I can, and just buy them when I arrive, but there are some products which I can only buy in the UK, so I just tape them closed, then put them inside a plastic bag, which goes inside ANOTHER one for luck. (Oh, and while I’m away, the plastic bags get used as makeshift laundry bags, so they come in handy, too.)
The Ultimate Guide to Packing a Suitcase


This creates extra space, and also protects more delicate items from getting crushed. Shoes themselves, meanwhile, go inside shoe bags, so the heels don’t snag on other items, and the leather doesn’t get damaged.


I usually take a small cross-body bag on holiday, so I don’t have to lug my carry-on bag around with me everywhere, and I’ll pack smaller items like socks etc inside it, to save space and help the bag itself keep its shape.


Hats are really awkward to pack, and have a habit of getting crushed out of shape in your suitcase. I’ve occasionally just carried them onto the plane to keep them intact, but if you can’t be bothered doing that, you can just stuff the crown with softer items, then put them at the bottom of the case, surrounded by clothes. One article I read on how to pack a suitcase suggested putting the hat upside down, but I prefer to leave mine right-way up, so the brim lies flat against the suitcase and doesn’t get bent out of shape.

And that’s how to pack a suitcase, Amber-style: by ignoring the first set of tips, following the second, and basically cramming as many items of clothing in as you possibly can. How do YOU do it? Give me your packing tips, people – it’s too late for me now, but hey, there’s always a next time! Or I hope so, anyway…

P.S. I haven’t actually packed 126 outfits and a pair of riding boots. It’s more like 105, and I’ll just buy the boots there if I need them…

Related: How to get used to wearing heels

how to pack a suitcase

How to pack a suitcase: what to pack, and how to pack it10 easy packing tips for stress-free travel

books by Amber Eve
  • Maria


    I really like these tips, I was laughing at the parts with the hiking boots and the 127 outfits!
    When packing I tend to do so in advance, even a couple of days prior to the departure, as I tend to remember to bring the important things as I go through the daily routine!
    If I had to pack in half an hour say, I would literally go crazy trying to think of all the necessities I really would not like to forget!
    An useful tip I have is to make an universal list with all the crucial objects you would need for a holiday (anything that lasts longer than a day), so that if you were to suddenly pack you would not forget anything. Also, it would make packing easier, without having to prepare days in advance like I usually do… That doesn’t explain why I’ve never made such a list before… Oh well, since my holidays are definitely over, this is a worry for another day!

    September 5, 2015
  • HA! This was just wonderful 🙂
    My husband and I usually share ONE suitcase, so I have to try to deal with about 1/3 or less of the suitcase because one pair of shorts and sneakers for him takes up half the suitcase. Or so it seems. Luckily we never go for as long as three weeks! Usually it’s a week or less. I try to wear my most bulky items for the plane, and mostly pack super thin, layer-able items. I still suck at packing and it’s not unusual for me to only have half a bikini and one sock. I don’t know what happens to me when I am packing… it seems to make sense at the time.

    September 5, 2015
    • Em wood


      Hi Amber, what do u actually do?? What are u?? Got a degree etc?? Jetting off to LA etc? ?

      September 5, 2015
      • Georgia


        What does this comment even mean

        September 6, 2015
  • Miss Kitty


    I ditto the list. I was homeschooled as a teenager, and every two weeks I would spend a day in the city with other homeschooled kids. This meant there would be at least one night staying over. I got very used to packing up to go away, but I found that having a list was invaluable – it meant I could go down and actually check I had everything I needed. It wasn’t specific, for example it just said ‘shoes’, and it was up to me to decide at the time what shoes I would need to take with me. But it did remind me to bring things like a hairbrush or medications that I would have otherwise forgotten, as I use these right up until I go. The list has undergone a few modifications over the years but I still use it, and I can have my bags packed in about an hour. I always overpack though, so can’t help you there! Always better to be prepared 🙂

    September 6, 2015
  • Omg this genuinely made me laugh out loud! It’s so true – I’m generally fairly good about sticking to a colour scheme, but one outfit per day? Please! Love the hat tip as well, thank you for that! X

    September 6, 2015
  • Moni


    Usually I sit down in front of my wardrobe a few days before the journey and create piles: Underwear, socks, t-shirts, longsleeved tops, and so on. Usually I start it all by choosing which and how many jeans, shorts, and/or skirts I’m going to take with me, and then try to match the tops to the bottoms, so to say.
    Thanks to the internet, you can now get a more or less accurate weater forecast, and I always consult that before packing. Then I stick with the trend (cold weather or warm weather), adding one or two outfits for the opposite, just in case.
    I also pack a spare set of underwear and socks, and at least one additional t-shirt, because you never know if you’ll have to unexpectedly stay somewhere overnight. (Like when that volcano erupted while I was in Barcelona and I arrived home 2 days later than planned. Yep, that taught me.)
    I make a list in advance for all the small stuff that gets forgotten easily: Sunscreen, contact lense cleaner, batteries for the camera,… and then I work through that list to make sure I have everything. Most times that means that my toilet bag is bursting at the seams…
    The hardest part is always trying to remember to pack the things that you still use on the last morning at home (tooth brush, hair brush, make-up), as one tends to automatically put them in their usual place after use. This has led me to buy a small brush specifically for travelling, and a duplicate of my favourite eyeshadow, which both never leave my toilet bag when I’m at home. Helps a lot. 🙂

    September 6, 2015
  • My best tip would be – remember to actually bring the suitcase with you after all the effort! Returning to university mid-revision period, I had carefully packed my case with all the clothes and other essentials for getting through exam time. Only upon arrival at my flat, after a 2hr car journey, did I realise that my suitcase was still lying in my bedroom at home. Sadly that wasn’t even the only time I did that last year…

    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog

    September 6, 2015
  • I’ve not been on a flight since Dubai three years ago but we are taking the kids to Majorca in a week or so (lord help us) so I need to deploy the planning outfits, one colour scheme tactic for sure. They will need loads of emergency spare clothes, especially the baby, so there will be much less room for me. I’m used to packing a fair amount for our (car) trips to France so I’m dreadin packing for this holiday!

    Hope you are having a great time. I do love that little white Michael Kors bag 🙂

    September 8, 2015
  • Lily


    Great tips, Amber. Especially about the hats. Most of what you suggested I do. After being soaked on a number of days one holiday, the only thing I would have to add to my personal packing is to pack half again the number of socks and other underwear items just in case! There’s nothing quite so grim as having wet feet with no dry socks to hand.

    September 9, 2015
  • Great tips. I always put small items in my shoes. If the item could break I put it in sock first. Thank you for sharing your post. Greetings!

    September 15, 2015
  • Haha I can relate to this, I always end up taking waaaay too much but that’s better than not taking enough isn’t it?! I too try to pack outfits rather than individual items and I also start writing a list about a week before so I can add things to it as I go. The things I’m most likely to forget (based on previous experience) are deodorant, PJs and my phone charger – all essential and pretty much the worst things you could forget!! So those are always at the top of my list. Also, I love your suitcase, where’s it from?! Amy xx

    March 19, 2016
  • Sarah


    I always ALWAYS make a list at least a week out from a big trip. Right now, I’m looking at a trip in December for a week or so (I don’t even have the flights booked!). But my lists are pretty ambiguous. For instance, what do I wear in a day? Shirt, bottoms, underpants, socks, bra. Okay. How long is my trip? 7 days. And where am I going? Texas. (I’m also a chronic over-packer and have backups for every outfit).

    7 shirts
    Plus the Hawaiian shirts
    7 shorts/capris
    7 pants
    7 skirts (bc what if I want to feel pretty?!)
    7 leggings (hello….it could be cold and skirts + cold stink! Or I could wear one of those Hawaiian shirts which only look good with leggings….they belonged to my dad so they’re huge on me; like a tropical tunic!)
    2 dresses (3 dresses?)
    Every cardigan color (= approx the entire department store’s color array)
    12 socks (bc extras)
    12 underwear (also bc extras)

    BUT, then I ALSO make my “carry-on emergency bag” (which is the 21” roller bag containing everything I might—nay, WILL—need in the event a flight is canceled, I spill my soda, or other unmentionable girl things happen at 30,000 feet). So…
    2 shirts
    1 fleece leggings
    2 underwear
    2 socks.

    And that’s just MY packed CLOTHES! We haven’t even touched what I’m going to wear on the airplane (let’s just say it basically consists of layers and I feel like Ralphie’s brother by the time I’m waddling through the airport in my heaviest “layers”), my toiletries, makeup, shoes, or the fact that I’m also traveling (on my own) with a 5yo human who sometimes still has accidents, and gets motion sickness, AND simply can’t leave home without his giant fleece-and-minkie blanket, or his 37 Build-a-Bear bears (I might be exaggerating on the number but they take up SO. MUCH. SPACE.)

    July 18, 2019