How to pack like a pro

Packing for a holiday is usually a thankless task, not least because we often attempt to squeeze everything we need for our break into hand luggage to avoid paying excess fines. With prices of up to £60 to check in your baggage at the gate, even with a budget airline, taking only hand luggage could save you money to spend on the fun stuff while you’re away.

We could all do with help from an expert, so we’ve enlisted former Royal Marines Commando James Johnson, who served in the Royal Marines for 10 years and in the army for four. During his service, James was trained to pack a small suitcase at a moment’s notice, so he’s the perfect person to help you pack a week’s worth of luggage into a carry-on bag. Here’s how he does it.

How to pack for your holiday
How to pack for your holiday

Pile it up

‘Before I get started, I separate everything into two piles: one for essentials and one for ‘nice-to-haves’,’ explains James. ‘Limit the number of shoes you take and make sure anything large is collapsible. I never bother packing a towel – there’s always one at the hotel or you can buy a cheap one when you arrive, which you don’t need to take back with you. And leave any non-essential bulky cosmetics at home. Once you’ve made your piles, you’re ready to start packing the essentials; you can fit in any nice-to-haves if there’s space. Be strict and limit the amount of clothes you take – you’ll never wear most of them anyway.’

Bag of tricks

‘First things first: pick a hand luggage bag that’s comfortable to carry as well as roomy,’ says James. ‘Then dispense any toiletries you need into small plastic containers and anything that could leak into sandwich bags – it make things so much easier when you go through customs. I always pack a ‘go bag’, with any paperwork I need, a phone charger and a book for the flight, which I put at the top of my bag.’

How to pack for your holiday
How to pack for your holiday

On a roll

‘Rolling your clothes not only saves space, it helps to prevent them getting creased,’ says James. ‘Try to keep everything roughly the same size, as it’s easier to fit them next to each other in your bag. Roll each item as tightly as possible, and if you use the Ranger Roll method – which you can see in our video – you’ll be able to secure any rolls with excess fabric. You can also use rolled socks to secure items. It’s genius.’

Build the wall

‘The best way to pack a hand luggage bag is in reverse. Start with bulky items that you won’t use until you arrive and leave anything you might need – like baby wipes or snacks for the kids – on top, so they’re easy to get to,’ he says. ‘Then treat all your bulkier rolled items like the bricks of a wall and the smaller items as mortar, which will fill the spaces in between. It’s all about filling in the unused spaces – I even keep my valuables in my shoes. Not only will you be able to squeeze more into your bag, but the contents will be less prone to shifting around during the flight.’

How to pack for your holiday
How to pack for your holiday

And finally…

‘If you’re struggling for space, remember that your jacket can provide extra storage while you’re travelling,’ adds James. ‘You can use the pockets to keep anything you couldn’t quite squeeze into your bag – as you might imagine, the more pockets the better.’

Before you start your packing, it’s a good idea to check that your hand luggage complies with your airline’s size restrictions for cabin baggage. And check what you can and can’t take in your hand luggage. After all, you don’t want your brand-new bottle of perfume confiscated at the airport.

Once you’ve nailed your hand luggage packing with military precision, why not check out a comprehensive list of travel insurance deals. Go on. You know it makes sense. 

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