19 Best Packing Hacks and Tips from Travel Experts
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19 Best Packing Hacks and Tips from Travel Experts

Added together, Rustic staff members have visited thousands of countries and spent years traveling and living abroad. I asked these travel aficionados and packing ninjas to share their secrets. Keep reading for some of the most ingenious travel and packing hacks you’ll ever hear!

Here are our team’s packing hacks for your next trip:

1. Bring solid or powdered toiletries

“Those little bottles of toiletries always explode in my carry on bags and are never enough product for the long trips I take. I bring solid or powder versions of everything—solid shampoo (that can double as soap or laundry soap in a pinch!), dry deodorant powder, and dry shampoo. They also make dry toothpaste tablets! Check out Lush for some great options.”

– Lauren Alvarez, School Partnerships Manager

2. Roll your clothing

“One of my favorite travel packing tips to save space is to either roll your clothes or fold them as few times as possible. Rolled clothes maximizes space in your checked bag since folding creates bulky shapes. It’s science.”

– Braden Betts, Laos and Myanmar Country Director

Group of teens standing near the airport check-in counters with their suitcases and luggage.

Students preparing to check-in for their flights to Rustic Programs around the world.

3. You only need two pairs of shoes

“You never need the third pair of shoes. Ever. Doesn’t matter what the trip is or how long you’ll be away for. I’ve found that everyone stares at that third pair of walking shoes wondering whether they’ll need them, and then pack them just in case. Shoes are insanely bulky and truly, you will never use that third pair. Don’t waste your valuable space on that third pair.”

– Lauren Anderson, Director of Program Staffing and Training

4. Find the right backpack

“Lightweight luggage is essential. When purchasing a backpack, make sure to get it fitted for your body and choose one that is both front and top load to keep from having to dig to the very bottom from the top! I also keep my shoes in a sleeping bag stuff sack so they can be packed next to my clothes and not get them dirty (and a mesh bag for laundry).”

– Jessie Wachter, Global Program Advisor

A tarp with a backpack, sunglasses, sunscreen, necklace wallet, and sling back with a Rustic Pathways logo.

Using a well-fitted backpack can save you a lot of trouble during your trip.

5. Use packing cubes

“I use three packing cubes for my clean clothes to keep my suitcase organized—one for tops, one for bottoms, and one for socks and underwear. When I open my bag, nothing ever gets unorganized, and it takes me seconds to repack. I can stay organized and have easy access to everything with minimal effort while I pack lighter. A MUST.”

– Jared Kahan, East Coast Outreach Manager

6. Bring a change of clothes in your carry-on

“Always pack a change of clothes in your carry-on. You never know when your bag will get lost in transit. Plus make sure your toiletry bag and water bottle are in your carry on luggage.”

– Emily Sanders, Program Staffing Coordinator

7. Have a deck of cards handy

“Cards have been bringing the world together since forever, or at least since playing cards were invented and before cell phones ruined everything. Make sure you have one in your carry on bag.”

– Kevin Porter, Global Program Operations Director

8. Use a drybag

“I always travel with a drybag for my electronics on a business trip—I know where they are and that they’re protected from water. Also doesn’t hurt to have a Ziplock bag for your cellphone. That way you can take pictures with it at the beach or on the water and make sure it’s protected.”

– Kelly Moynihan, Peru Country Director

9. Plane pouches are your best friend

“I have a small pouch with headphones, socks, travel toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask, travel size deodorant, face wipes, tiger balm, essential oils, and lip balm that I always put on the top of my carry on. On a long flight, when I’m tired and it’s dark, these are the things I most often want (need), but are the smallest and tend to get lost at the bottom of my carry on. As soon as I got on the plane, I put my plane pouch in the seat pocket and can rest easy!”

– Lena Baker, Fiji Program Manager

10. Don’t forget a sewing kit

“These can really come in handy when you’re traveling light and one of your clothing items rips or gets damaged (which happens on our programs). Also a small pair of scissors and some extra string always helps when you need to be a creative problem solver.”

– Alex Biddle, Dominican Republic Program Manager

11. Remember to remove batteries from electronics

“Take the batteries out of electronics when you pack them or make sure they’re in the locked off position. I’ve opened my bag after a long journey to find a headlamp or camera on and the batteries almost dead way too many times.”

– Ellery Rosin, Program Staffing Assistant

12. Use a glasses case for storing cables

“Use your glasses/sunglasses case as a device to hold all of your chargers, cords, and batteries. If you don’t wear glasses, then put them all in a clear bag which can serve multiple purposes.”

– Marc Mankowski, USA Country Director

13. Don’t forget the Crocs

“A cheap pair of Crocs is perfect for service, especially on those wet, muddy, days in the village. They are breathable, toe-covered, and are easy to clean and dry so they don’t smell bad the next day! I prefer them to flip flops.”

– Zack Kraushar, Cambodia Program Manager

14. Pack extra plastic shopping bags

“I always pack extra plastic bags for bathing suits, shoes, dirty laundry, and anything else I don’t want to ruin the rest of the things in my luggage. Ziplocks are great too for any liquids (shampoo, bug spray, etc…) that you might be traveling with.”

– Emily Greiff, Website Coordinator

15. Bring a sleep sack

“I just feel more comfortable sleeping in my own sheets.”

– Liz Ronzio, Social Media Manager

16. Opt for a capsule wardrobe and wear your bulkiest items

“Choose versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. This approach both saves space and ensures you have different clothes for different occasions. Then, double down and save space in your luggage by wearing your bulkiest items, such as a jacket or boots, while traveling.”

17. Utilize clear bags for airport security

“Keep liquids and other items that need to be screened separately in clear bags for easy access and to speed up the airport security process.”

18. Bring a water bottle and carry a neck pillow

“Bring an empty water bottle to fill up after passing through security. This keeps you hydrated and saves money on buying drinks at the airport. A neck pillow can make long flights more comfortable and can be easily packed or attached to your carry-on luggage.”

19. Double check your packing list and avoid excess baggage fees

“Go through your packing list and your bag a week ahead of your trip to ensure you have everything you need. Stay within airline weight limits by only bringing what you need. Consider using a luggage scale to weigh your bags before heading to the airport.”

We hope these inspire you when packing for your next travel adventure!

About the Author

Rachel Levin

Brand Engagement Manager

Rachel joined Rustic in 2013 and led programs for three summers in Costa Rica, Peru, and Ghana. She’s also led programs in Fiji and Tanzania. A graduate of the University of Vermont with degrees in sociology and Spanish, Rachel focuses her love for travel, writing, and her unquenchable curiosity of our natural world as Rustic’s Brand Engagement Manager. Based in Tahoe, CA, Rachel is a talented ceramicist and lover of the outdoors.