A Flight Attendant’s Guide to Packing

You’ve got a trip tomorrow. You tried to plan ahead to pack for this one, but once again you find yourself stuffing everything into a suitcase the night before. It’s a two-person job to get the zipper to close, and then you keep your fingers crossed at the airport that the bag doesn’t exceed the 50 pound limit… Let’s be real, we’ve all been this person at one time or another. Packing last minute can be caused by a busy schedule, but often we find ourselves procrastinating because the whole process can be really stressful.

This past year, packing has become a regular (annoyance) in my life. Not only do Flight Attendants have to be able to pack for up to 6 days in small carry-on suitcases, but often times we are given as little as 4 hours notice before we jet set off to anywhere in the world. Below, I have shared the top 10 guidelines I follow when packing for a trip to any destination. With Summer travels in full swing, maybe you’ll find something helpful! Hope you enjoy!


1. Plan by outfit

Don’t fall victim to throwing clothes in a bag. Planning your outfits each day helps you pack only the items you need, and often times eliminates the stress of figuring out what to wear when you’re away!

I start out by laying out my outfits in the order I will be wearing them. Don’t forget to add appropriate undergarments, jewelry and shoes to these piles. Seeing everything laid out in front of me is most helpful in making sure I don’t miss anything important!

Before going on a longer trip, I often times make an itinerary and write out what I’ll be doing every day. It also helps to add details about the weather forecast too. I made a rough itinerary for my trip to Italy last month (post coming soon!), and it really saved me time in the packing process!


2. Find the common denominator

Maximize the wear of clothes that are less distinct, in order to reduce the number of items you have to pack. In most cases, this applies to your bottom articles of clothing. For instance, if you are leaving on a trip and plan on wearing jeans most days, only bring along one pair that looks best with all of your blouses. This also applies to undershirts and bras, because having a different one every day ends up just being a waste of space! Re-wearing clothes is probably one of the best packing secrets out there, because no one ever notices the repeats, and it is a huge help in terms of saving room in your suitcase.


3. Be prepared for ANY kind of weather

Definitely always have an idea of what the weather will be like when you start packing, but don’t let that keep you from being prepared for a change. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

One of my oldest packing rules is to always bring a swimsuit with me, no matter where I’m going. Even in the dead of winter, indoor pools (and better yet, hot tubs!) live on. Recently I ended up at a house party that turned into a pool party, but only after the right amount of drinks were consumed of course. Although most braved and entered in their knickers, I was ready to go with the swim suit I had just happened to bring along! No riding home in cold undies for me. On top of that, swim suits hardly take up any space, so you don’t have to worry about making extra room!

Next, you never want to be caught without enough layers to keep warm. Even if the weather forecast claims sunny days are ahead, don’t underestimate and be left in the cold (literally). My anecdote was purchasing an Uniqlo ultra light down jacket. These jackets are extremely popular because of their innovative fabric HeatTech, which creates maximum warmth in a thin and neutral jacket (that goes great with most anything!). I actually bring this along in the winter as well, because it makes a nice extra layer under my coat if it gets especially chilly! All year I stay prepared with this little guy, because he rolls up into a tiny pouch that is perfect for your suitcase AND to pack in a purse! Oh, and did I mention they’re reasonably priced? It’s a win win! Buy one like mine here.


4. 3 pairs of shoes max(ish)

Along the same train of thought as finding the common denominator, it’s great to maximize the use of your shoes as well. 3 pairs is usually all you’ll need if you plan right. In terms of variety, this allows room for a pair of flats, heels, and a more casual option (sneakers or sandals). Take advantage of this rule to really lighten the load, because shoes always take up a lot of room (and add weight)! (Added note: plan to wear the most bulky pair of shoes you brought on the flight to provide even more space)


5. Protect your jewelry

It’s so easy to make jewelry an afterthought when you travel. I find it super important to bring along a small gift box or hard jewelry case to make sure these items are kept in tact. Often times jewelry cases also provide extra organization that helps pieces from getting tangled! Here‘s one that is similar to mine from Nordstrom, and you can find a more affordable option here!


6. Toiletries – time for an all in one

This may be a bit daunting for those of you like me that use an array of products day-to-day. First, I purchased a makeup bag that was a bit too large for just my makeup products. When I’m at home, there is plenty of room for me to find my makeup, and while I’m away, I have one bag that easily stows all of my small toiletries, including my brush and teasing comb!

Here‘s a similar one to mine from Target (this comes in lots of fun patterns!). I personally use the top zipper specifically for shower bottles, the pouch under the top flap for brushes, middle section for face makeup, and bottom section for eye makeup and additional toiletries! I’ve also included a list of the travel items and toiletries I bring along on my trips below. These items all have great value, work well on a travelers body, and of course are all packed in travel sized bottles!

[L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Volume Shampoo + Conditioner, Estée Lauder Take It Away Makeup Remover Lotion, Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub, Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer SPF 15, Johnson’s Baby Powder (for dry shampoo needs), Pureology Colour Fanatic (leave in conditioner), TRESemmé Tres Two Hairspray, Coppertone Tanning Lotion, Dove Advanced Care Cool Essentials Anti-Perspirant, Philips Sonicare 3 Series, Colgate Optic White High Impact White Toothpaste]


7. Bring a separate pouch exclusively for chargers!

Often times we don’t put too much thought into the chargers we need to bring, and they either get forgotten or in a tangled mess. Since I’ve started traveling frequently, I always make sure to have all charging boxes and chords in one place. It may seem a little incessant, but it’s an absolute life saver when you’re away from home. (Added note: In general, I always like to have one or two portable chargers in my purse/carry-on at all times, just in case! Buy the one I recommend here)


8. Avoid bringing a laptop

On average, a full-size laptop weighs about 5 pounds. Unless you are traveling for business, there usually isn’t much reason for Internet access outside of your smart phone. Leave it behind! Most of the time, your destination will have a personal computer that you can use if it becomes necessary. Not only does bringing along large electronic devices add more weight (and don’t even get me started on the bulky charger chords), but I find that it makes me nervous having such an expensive item stuffed into my suitcase. Besides, you’ll hardly end up using it anyway because you’ll be busy enjoying your trip!


9. Neutral purse as your “personal item”

As a general rule, when flying you’re allowed one carry-on and one personal item. Some people like for their personal item to be a backpack or larger bag, but I find that having a good sized and multi-functional purse does the trick. Sometimes I’ll put a smaller handbag into my suitcase if I’ll need it on the trip, but having a neutral purse with you is useful even once you arrive at your destination, where ever that may be!


10. NEVER fill your suitcase to the brim

There is nothing more annoying than an overpacked suitcase. It’s hard to manage, fit into overhead bins, and then at the end of your trip you find yourself wondering how in the world everything fit the first time you packed. It’s important to keep your bag in good working condition, and stuffing too much inside could pop a zipper or even cause damage to the items inside. You also don’t leave any room to add souvenirs and items for the way home, and no one has fun carrying a shopping bag on top of everything else! If you plan ahead and only pack things necessary in an appropriately sized bag (depending on the length of the trip), you eliminate the stress of repacking and being overwhelmed with having too many options!

When I pack my bag, I literally stack outfits inside in the order I will be wearing them. Might seem a bit over-the-top, but getting the dirty work out of the way leaves you prepared and able spend more time enjoying yourself!

Overall, being on the go all the time has made me realize how condensing and planning out my packing really doesn’t affect the way you look while traveling. My struggle with overpacking was always wanting to look polished and put together, but you don’t sacrifice that when your outfit just so happens to include the jeans you wore the day before. Having a method to keep everything organized within your suitcase also alleviates stress in finding things, and the extra room provides space for souvenirs! And hey, you might even find with some of these methods that next time you won’t have to check a bag at all!

Did you find this helpful? What other flight attendant tips and hacks would you like to hear more about? I would love to share more!


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