10 holiday packing tips


Staring at the cavern that is your closet and wondering how to start packing for your holiday trip? With baggage fees pretty standard, traveling with just a carry-on has its perks – especially during the holidays. Not only do you save money, but you won’t get caught up in the hectic holiday crowds hovering around baggage claim.

While we can’t help you decide if the red shoes go better with your holiday outfit than your black ones, here are 10 tried-and-true tips that have helped us make sure we’re packing like a pro this holiday season.

1. Have the right tools.

Invest in a quality, lightweight carry-on that feels like butter when you glide it through security. But do your homework before you go. What may be carry-on size for one airline may be too large on some low-cost carriers, and you don’t want to be hit with the higher fee to check a bag at the airport. Measure your bag before heading to the airport with our augmented reality bag measurement tool right in the KAYAK app and you’ll be good to go.

2. Utilize every ounce of space

We love burritos, which — if we’re being honest — is what inspired this tip. The best way to pack your stuff if you’re crunched for luggage space is to tightly roll your clothes. Worried about wrinkles? Use tissue paper when you roll to help prevent creases. To maximize space, make smaller items the guac inside of your clothing burritos (You won’t even be charged extra).

Similarly, fill up all the other spaces. Iinsides of your shoes. Your socks. That weird pouch in your suitcase that isn’t the right size for anything. All these spaces are underutilized and can provide some much-needed packing power. Shove socks and underwear in your soles. Pack jewelry in the built-in pouches. Wrap electronics in sweaters and put chargers in your socks. Just a way to bring more stuff without taking up more room.

3. Don’t wrap gifts.

If you’re traveling to visit family or friends, ship gifts instead of packing them. You’ll save precious suitcase space and skip the hassle (especially for larger items). And, if you’re doing your holiday shopping online, you can have your gifts shipped directly to your destination for no extra cost. But if you’re planning on bringing gifts with you, don’t wrap them. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll be “randomly selected” for a search and all that pretty paper will be in tatters by the time you reach your destination.

4. Think before you pack food.

The holidays typically come with lots of edible treats, but if you’re flying, remember the rules still apply (even when it comes to Grandma’s homemade jam). If it’s the consistency of liquid or gel (think jams, puddings, eggnog), unless they fit in a quart-size ziptop, you can’t carry on. That said, pies, cakes, cookies and other solid foods are allowed on board. Just prepare for extra screening (and if you’re traveling internationally, remember there may be additional restrictions on food).

5. Oversized or oddly shaped items may cost you.

Anyone who’s tried to gift a bicycle knows that oddly shaped items pose a bit of a wrapping challenge – and the same goes for flying. Airlines often have different rules and fees for larger, more awkwardly shaped items (think skis, surfboards, golf clubs and bikes). Do your research into fees before you book, as the cost of checking a surfboard on one airline may be half the price of the fee on another.

Getting into the festive spirit with a little ice skating? TSA allows properly packed ice skates on board. Skiiers and snowboarders heading off to shred for the holidays (along with golfers heading somewhere sunny) are also in luck. Many major carriers offer ski/snowboard gear and golf clubs on board for no extra fee (other than the regularly scheduled checked baggage cost). Just be sure your equipment isn’t well over the standard baggage size allowance, and always do your research before heading to the airport.

6. Remember that episode where Joey wears all his pants?

Channel your inner Joey. Wear your heaviest layers to the airport: jacket, sweatshirt, boots, pants, etc. Because they can weigh your bag, but they can’t weigh you. After you get through TSA, you can always change into something more comfortable.

7. Get merry. Just not too merry.

Meeting the 3oz requirement, it’s okay to pack a few nips in your liquids bag (although many airlines won’t let you drink your own booze on board). Either way, go easy on the in-flight cocktails. 30,000 feet + a low-grade buzz works okay, but once you pass the line into drunk territory you put your flight status (and the comfort of your fellow passengers) at risk. Also, if you’re flying out New Year’s Day — try to book an evening flight and pack some Alka Seltzer. One of the worst things you can do for your hangover is hit the skies.

8. Don’t pack what you can easily buy.

Just leave toiletries at home. Guaranteed, wherever you’re going you’re sure to find the necessities nearby. And for those who would say, “But it’s more budget-friendly to pack my shampoo from home,” have obviously never had their travel-sized conditioner explode all over their iPad. Twice.

9. Kids need less than you think.

Any parent has gone through the last-minute frenzy of packing enough toys, books and entertainment for their little one. Should we bring Binkie Bear? What if we get to our destination and there’s – gasp – downtime? Here’s the thing: kids don’t need a lot of stuff. A few tried-and-true toys are plenty. Your tot who can entertain himself for hours with wrapping paper isn’t going to suddenly become an Einstein requiring constant mental stimulation once he steps on the plane. But if you’re flying a low-cost carrier without seatback entertainment, a tablet preloaded with some of their favorite shows is easy to pack and can work wonders.

10. Edit, edit, edit.

First, pack everything you think you need. Go to bed. Wake up. Then, unpack and repack everything you actually need. One party outfit will suffice. You can wear jeans at least 2-3 days in a row. The chance of needing a tank top in December in Chicago is about 0 in 10. Making a list of everything you need to bring and sticking to it can also do wonders (so no extra last-minute additions – we’re looking at you, 3 extra tank tops and pair of workout sneakers).

When you head out of town this holiday season, be sure you’ve packed your travel plans, too. KAYAK Trips organizes all your travel details — confirmation numbers, restaurant reservations and more — in one easy-to-find place. We’ll even send you real-time updates when it’s time to check in or if there’s been a change to your flight or gate. So you can head into the holidays feeling jolly.