Whether you're taking trains, planes, automobiles or RVs, the first stress of any trip is figuring out what and how to pack without having to sit on your suitcase. Here are 10 tips to help you pack perfectly for any destination.
1) Use packing cubes. These lightweight compartments fit easily in any backpack or luggage to keep like things together -- clothes, electronics, toiletries, ties, even toys. Some are soft collapsible boxes; others are sturdy mesh or material bags. "Packing cubes are magic," says Matt Kiefer, co-founder of Hostelgeeks.com, a global community site for five-star hostel travel. "Put your T-shirts, socks and underwear in different cubes, and when you change your shirt, just take out that cube without making a whole mess rummaging in your bag."
2) Get the air out. Jason Decker, founder of Nomad Travel Hacker travels the world almost for free by maximizing airline mileage programs, and swears by compression bags that let you condense clothes, towels, even pillows. "They squeeze air out so you can squeeze more into your case." He likes the Nomatic Vacuum Bag that uses valve-suction technology, so all you have to do is roll the bag and the air is squeezed out -- no need to lug along a suction pump.
3) Stay dry. A set of dry bags is a multipurpose must. As well as keeping your belongings dry on ocean activities and at the beach, they're great for liquids and lotions on long-haul flights, providing more protection from spills and more peace of mind than a couple of plastic baggies. And they're great for keeping dirty clothes from making the rest of your suitcase pungent -- especially damp swimsuits and workout attire.
4) Don't fold. Rolling clothes instead of folding keeps them smooth and wrinkle-free. Who wants to be ironing on vacation? (Bonus travel hack: Never put water in a hotel room steam iron. If old or not used in a while, dust collects in the water bladder and can stain that one shirt you brought for an important meeting).
5) Stuff your shoes. It's so obvious but most of us don't do it, says Elizabeth Avery, founder of Solo Trekker 4 U, which specializes in travel packages for groups of one. "Shoes are the ultimate space stealer. Fill them with socks, rolled up belts, underwear, toiletries -- anything that fits."
6) Pack with Polaroids. Beyond Your Bubble travel blogger and photographer Christian Lowery recommends taking pics of entire outfits -- down to shoes and accessories -- to help you pack smarter by taking only what you know you're going to wear. "This hack really helps you avoid over packing and taking 10 days' worth of clothes on a three-day trip!" And once you're finished packing, remove 50 percent. You just won't need it.
7) Smell great. Another of Lowery's tricks is to leave your fragrances at home and instead spray your clothes with perfume as you pack. "It's especially perfect for short trips where you take just a carry-on and can't take liquids over" 3 ounces.
8) Take a bath. Literally, we mean pack a bath for the little ones. New and newly renovated hotels as well as cruise ships tend to have showers only. Family Vacation Critic's editors suggest packing a small inflatable baby pool. It won't take much room in your suitcase, and you'll have an instant makeshift tub.
9) Have the right bag for the right trip. After visiting 170 countries, four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer and teacher Andrew Zimmern says packing is all about the bag: "My favorite travel bag is one I designed with my friends at All of Us. I like that you can pack your business attire on one side, and then it just has a big bin -- and lots of clips and straps for holding things like a rolled up raincoat. Best of all, proceeds help support the International Rescue Committee."
10) Be ready -- always. Another tip Zimmern has picked up on his world travels is "never having to unpack! I literally have an entire set of luggage that never gets unpacked. It's ready and waiting to just go."