Packing for any type of trip is a complete art in itself. There is nothing worse than forgetting something important and having to go straight to a shop on arrival to replace an expensive item that you really don’t need. Equally bringing too much luggage can be stressful.  You can end up dragging endless bags through hot airports and paying for excess baggage for things you don’t really need.  My preference is to always travel with hand luggage. The amount of time you save at both ends of your trip is amazing. You can avoid the long check-in queues on departure and the even longer and very frustrating wait for your bag at the other end. And not to mention the stress of seeing everyone else retrieve their bag successfully and yours is the very last one out or even worse, yours doesn’t arrive at all.  

I should say before I begin the decision on whether to bring hand luggage depends greatly on the airline. Some airlines are extremely strict on the size and weight of the bags you can bring, but many of them allow you to take a decent sized bag along with a lightweight backpack or similar.

People are always amazed how I can pack a hand luggage bag for trips of 10 days to 2 weeks and still end up with a different outfit for each day. As I am writing this blog, I am in Costa Rica for two weeks looking at villas to add to our luxury rental inventory. Packing for a trip like this is where the art is, and I am pleased to share some of my top tips!


1.Start with shoes!  They are the biggest and heaviest items, so if you can match your clothes to one or two pairs of shoes, you can save a lot of space and weight.

2. If you are travelling with family and have several check-in suitcases, mix the clothes up a bit so that if one of the suitcases does go missing, everyone will have some clothes to keep going with until the missing suitcase is retrieved.

3. If you are planning on doing some shopping, then either leave some extra room in your suitcase or bring a soft fold up bag so you can carry all your new goodies home.  I have learnt this trick the hard way and could open a cheap bag shop at my home! 

4. Most airports only allow you one small plastic bag for your liquids so if you are travelling with hand luggage, decant all your liquids to the smallest bottles you can find. Many of the good airport pharmacies now stock miniature liquids which are also really helpful.  

5. Rather than printing off all your travel details and carrying wads of paper around with you, scan all the important documents you need and email it to your laptop or phone.  This way you have all the important documents in one place, and so long as you keep your phone safe, you are good to go.

6. Plan your packing as ahead of time as possible. I generally pack a couple of days in advance and then for the couple of days running up to the trip, I keep thinking of important items that I have forgotten. This trick has saved me a lot of time, stress and money.

7. Buy a really good multi-purpose adaptor that works everywhere in the world.  The best ones I have come across have up to 3 USB charging ports that allow you to charge all your devices at the same time as curling your hair!!

8. As much as is possible choose clothes that don’t crease a lot. That way you can roll your clothes into your suitcase instead of folding them. The amount of space this saves is quite remarkable.

9. Use your shoes as mini storage devices! Runners or sneakers are great places to pack socks, adaptors, curling tongues, vitamin bottles, hats etc

10. If you are a very regular traveller like me, then have a checklist of all the essential items you need for every trip. Things like passport, currency and business lounge access cards should all be on the list. It can be very frustrating if you forget your priority pass lounge card and have a long wait in an airport.

11. If it's important for you to west a different outfit every day, plan in advance what you will wear each day. This is a great way to avoid overpacking.  One of my tests for successful packing is if I have worn everything in my case.

12. Check if there are laundry facilities where you are going and if there are, remove half of what you have packed from your bag! Once you can wash as you go along, you will simply not need half of the items you have packed.  One of the best aspects of staying in one of the Exceptional Villa vacation rentals is that they all come with washer and dryer facilities and housekeepers.  Check out some of the villas in the Dominican Republic for example.

13. If you are bringing your children, then let them get involved with the packing. Small kids love the responsibility of having their own bag, and it allows them to carry their favourite toy or blankie through the airport and also helps to lightens your load.

14. If you are checking in a bag, then bring a couple of essential items in your hand luggage. Bags can get lost so if you have a toothbrush, change of underwear, deodorant, essential medicine, shaving kit and some mini face cream you will manage for 24 hours or so.

15.  Bring a small emergency medical kit.  A few items, like tea tree oil, ibuprofen, paracetamol, plasters, bug repellent, antiseptic cream and sting relief cream can be extremely useful especially if you are travelling to the tropics.

16. If you are checking in bags, it is really important to put your name and contact details on the case.  Don’t put your address on it as this notifies people that you are not at home.

17.  Accessories are a great way of making the same outfit look completely different. I always pack a couple of stand out necklaces, scarfs etc. that can completely change any look.  The best thing is that accessories take up very little space.

18. Before you start packing always check your luggage allowances.  They can change from airline to airline.  Baggage allowances can also change depending on the type or class of ticket you have purchased.

19. If you are travelling to the US and prefer to have your bags locked, make sure that the lock you are using is TSA approved. The TSA makes random bag searches, and they will break a lock if they are not able to open it.

20. Pack appropriately for the country and culture you are visiting. Before departure, check what the dress codes are. For example, if you are travelling to the Middle East, it is often required that you keep your arms and legs covered as a woman.  Or if you are visiting a mosque, you may need a scarf to cover your hair.

21. If you are going to a mixed climate, wearing layers is a great trick.  Warm items are really bulky in a suitcase, so instead pack a jacket, cardigan and scarf as they are  much more versatile

22. I have never used them, but I have heard compression bags can be really useful in reducing space in your suitcase. You basically vacuum pack your clothes, and afterwards, they take up a quarter of the space!

23. Pack a light laundry bag. That way as your trip progresses, you can keep your dirty laundry separate from the outfits you have yet to wear.

24. Buy a luggage weighing scale.  Many airlines charge exorbitant fees for luggage that is overweight so a luggage scale can be a great way to save money!

25. Buy a light suitcase.  Many bags these days can be very heavy before you even pack one item.  So, a light shell suitcase is a great investment and allows you to bring some extra items particularly for a long trip!

26. Lastly if you are travelling with Ryanair or one of the budget airlines who have very strict hand luggage rules, you can always follow one passenger’s ingenious trick where he took an old oversized coat and sewed all his clothes into the panels of the coat and wore it onboard!!!  Take that Michael O’Leary!

Alexandra Baradi is the owner and CEO of Exceptional Villas who are one of the worlds most trusted villa vacation rental companies.   The only feature personally inspected and 100 per cent vetted villas.  Their top markets include Barbados, Turks and Caicos,  St Barts, Cayman Islands, Antigua, Italy and Greece.