How to Pack for a Flight: 5 Tips to Pack Light & Travel Smart

How to Pack for a Flight: 5 Tips to Pack Light & Travel Smart

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Your flights booked, accommodations are set, and you’ve made a loose itinerary for your upcoming trip. All that’s left to do now is pack your bags.

As simple as it sounds, this can often be the most stressful part of taking a trip.

In our recent survey that polled more than 375 travel insurance customers, roughly a quarter of travelers report that packing gives them the most anxiety leading up to a trip. And who can blame them? From TSA liquid allowances to weight limits and baggage fees, packing can seem more like a math problem than a fun pre-trip activity.

To help you reach the peak of packing efficiency, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite tips below.

1. Understand What’s Permitted on Your Flight

The last thing you want before a trip is to be held up at security because of something you packed. Your checked bag, carry-on luggage, and personal item are all subject to restrictions set by both the TSA and your airline. Ignoring them could cost you time, money, and potential legal issues.

Before you travel, make sure your bags comply with all relevant laws and regulations.

TSA Restrictions

For safety reasons, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA for short, has established guidelines for what can and cannot be taken onto an aircraft. On their website, they break down common items, and whether they should be packed in your suitcase, your carry-on bag, or left at home completely.

Most of the time, TSA will confiscate benign items, such as oversized toiletries or aerosol cans, that mistakenly make their way to the security line. However, more serious offenses can carry fines of up to $14,950 per violation per person.

Airline Size & Weight Limits

As much as we want to fill our carry-on bags to the brim, overhead bins can only hold so much. The weight of our checked bags also has a direct impact on the amount of fuel a plane uses to reach its destination. For that reason, airlines set strict limits on how big, and how heavy, our luggage can be.

Having a bag that goes against your airline’s policy can result in hefty fees at the gate or check-on counter. Reference our guide below for the size and weight limits for popular U.S. airlines:

Baggage Policies of Major U.S. Airlines

AirlineCarry-On Size LimitChecked Bag Weight Limit
Allegiant Airlines22″ x 16″ x 10″50 Lbs
Alaska Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″50 Lbs
American Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″50 Lbs
Delta Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″50 Lbs
Frontier Airlines22″ x 16″ x 10″40 Lbs
JetBlue Airways22″ x 14″ x 9″50 Lbs
Spirit Airlines22″ x 18″ x 10″40 Lbs
Southwest Airlines22″ x 16″ x 10″50 Lbs
United Airlines22″ x 14″ x 9″50 Lbs
The figures above were accurate at the time of publishing, but are subject to change at the airline’s discretion.

2. Make a Packing List

The items we choose to bring – or choose to leave at home – can make or break a trip.

According to our packing survey, 82% of travelers start filling up their bags 2+ days before they depart for their trips. Planning ahead can limit stress and make sure that you’re packing the essential items, and leaving behind the unnecessary ones.

Consider Your Destination & Itinerary

Where you’re going and what you’re doing once you get there has a big impact on what should go into your case. As you’re packing, take a moment to check the weather forecast for the region you’re visiting, as well as any severe weather alerts that could impact your travel plans.

Also consider the type of activities you have planned for the duration of your trip. Beach vacations, for example, require a much different packing list than a backpacking trip.

Plan Your Outfits in Advance

When we polled our customers, 84% said that they take the time to plan their vacation outfits in advance. Deciding what to wear before you leave for your trip can help reduce the hassle while you’re away. The exercise can also make sure you’re not packing too much or too little.

Another approach, which may be more space efficient, is to pack a few staple items that you can mix and match throughout your trip. 14% of Squaremouth customers say that this approach works best for them.

Expect the Unexpected

While there’s no predicting the unknown, we can prepare for it. Here’s just a few items that don’t take up much space, yet may come in handy if you find yourself in a pinch:

  • Extra pairs of socks and underwear: Because accidents happen and laundry may not be an option where you’re going
  • Bandaids: Because you don’t want scrapes and cuts to ruin any of those nice clothes you packed
  • Duct tape: Because you just never know. If you don’t believe us, take it from famous traveler Samantha Brown!

3. Start With the Essentials

Now that you know what’s allowed on your flight and you’ve made a packing list, it’s time to start filling up those empty bags of yours!

The key to efficient packing is to start with what’s most important, then fill in the remaining space with the less vital items.


Hygiene is part of our daily lives, whether we’re on vacation or not. Your toiletry bag doesn’t have to be the first thing into your case, but it is an important part of the packing process.

Outside of your toothbrush and toothpaste, consider adding the following items to your toiletry if space allows:

  • For Good Smells: Deodorant, perfume, and cologne
  • For Good Hair: Shampoo, conditioner, and hair care products
  • For Good Hygiene: Mouthwash, floss, and hand sanitizer
  • For Good Feels: Lip balm, moisturizers, cleansers

Keep in mind, if you’re traveling with just a carry-on, you must adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 policy. Essentially, this means that liquids, gels and aerosols may not exceed 3.4 fl. oz. and must fit into a single clear plastic bag.

Travel Documents

Travel documents don’t take up much room, and some can even be accessed by your cell phone. However, it’s helpful to locate them before you arrive at the airport so you’re not desperately searching your backpack or email inbox in the security line.

This includes, but is not limited to, your passport, boarding pass, booking confirmations, drivers license, visa applications, or any other documentation that is relevant to your trip.


Unless you’re traveling back home to a full closet, the majority of your case will be utilized by your clothes. While we’ve already made references to packing lists and planning outfits in advance, there’s more steps you can take to elevate your travel game when it comes to packing your clothes.

  • Stay Organized With Packing Cubes: Luggage packing cubes can not only save space in your bags, but can also keep your valuables and personal items in better condition.
  • Save Space With Efficient Folding Techniques: Rather than haphazardly packing your bag, try testing out some more space saving folding techniques. This guide from MyLuggage shows tutorials for t-shirts, dress shirts, pants, and more.
  • Wear Heavier Items On the Plane: If you have a heavier pair of shoes, such as boots, or heavy jackets, it may make sense to wear them on the plane. This saves weight and space in your case for other items.

4. Let Your Personal Item Be Your In-Flight Assistant

A personal item is essentially any bag that is able to fit underneath the seat in front of you. This bag, whether it’d be a backpack, tote bag, or large purse, is perfect for items you’ll want to access during your trip.

We recommend packing it to cover the three main bases; entertainment, comfort, and sustenance.


This will consist of any reading materials, electronics, or games you wish to enjoy during your flight. Even for short flights, something to take your mind off the crying baby behind you or the chatty passenger to your right may come in handy.

Examples can include iPads, kindles, laptops, books, and handheld gaming devices. Just don’t forget your chargers and adapters!


Whether you’re in the first row of the plane or the last, getting comfortable on a flight is easier said than done. In your bag, make sure to include a few items that can make your flight even the slightest bit more relaxing.

If you have the space, consider packing a neck pillow, eye mask, noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs, or a travel pillow for added comfort.

Food & Water

There’s a chance, especially on long-haul flights, that you’ll get hungry or thirsty during your trip. Some airlines charge an exorbitant amount for their snacks, or offer a meal service that’s sometimes better to avoid.

Make sure to pack a reusable water bottle in your bag to fill up once you pass through security for your flight. Also add some of your favorite goodies to munch on as you head to your destination.

5. Protect Your Belongings

Our last tip isn’t necessarily about filling your bag, but rather protecting the things you fill it with. From the moment you leave your home, your belongings are at risk of being delayed during transit, damaged by the elements, or lost during your trip.

It’s clear that travelers value their belongings, as more than 47% of Squaremouth customers revealed that luggage protection was an important part of their search for travel insurance.

Before your trip, you’re able to purchase Baggage Protection plans that can reimburse you for certain luggage complications, reducing both stress levels and out-of-pocket expenses.

Delay Protection

According to statistics from the Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines mishandle millions of bags each year. If your bag doesn’t make it to your destination in time, travel insurance can reimburse you for any clothes, toiletries, and other necessities that you purchase while you await your luggage.

Some Baggage Delay plans offer up to $1,000 in coverage per person if your bags are stalled at least 12 hours.

Baggage Loss Protection

Keeping your items safe and secure during a trip can be a never ending task, especially if you’re traveling to destinations with higher than average crime rates. Fortunately, almost all travel insurance includes Baggage and Personal Item Loss protection, which offers coverage if your belongings are lost, stolen, or damaged at any point during your vacation.

The Bottom Line

Preparing for a trip involves more than booking flights and accommodations. A successful trip can start at home with an empty suitcase and endless possibilities. The more efficient you’re able to pack, the less likely you are to encounter unnecessary fees and stress.

While packing light isn’t always an option, packing smart is. Reference our travel tips above to be intentional about the items you bring and how you organize them in your bags. If you, like many other travelers, are concerned about luggage mishaps, we recommend exploring travel insurance options.