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Travel Tips: How to Pack for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Traveling for a vacation or a move can be stressful enough. Not knowing exactly how or what to pack in your checked luggage can add to the confusion. Before your next trip or move, smarten up with these tips on packing gear for travel on planes, trains, and automobiles.

General Tips
Whether you are planning to move across the country, or on a quick trip to visit friends and family, these general travel and packing tips can help ensure that you’ll have everything you’ll need.

  • Make a list of all the items that you will need to pack at the last minute such as your toothbrush or other toiletries.
  • Recharge all your essential devices the day before you are scheduled to leave. Pack a spare charger in your carry-on bag, so you don’t forget to bring it when you head out for your trip.
  • Pack everything as neatly and organized as you can the day before you leave. You'll be able to spend more time enjoying your trip instead of looking for your things. For tips and tricks on how to pack your luggage, check out our Jetsetter’s Guide to Suitcase Packing.
  • Load up the car with everyone's bags the night before the trip to save time in the morning. If you are traveling to an airport or train station via public transportation, leave your bag near your front door so you’ll have one less step to do in the morning.

Before packing, you should create a list of all of the items that you think you'll need on your trip. Compiling this list will help you to determine the number and size of the suitcases that you'll need to help you get to your destination.


The biggest differences between plane travel and train travel center around what you should store in checked luggage vs. what you can pack in your carry-on. While the TSA provides an updated list of approved and restricted items in carry-on luggage, in general, each traveler flying to U.S. destinations is allowed one clear, quart-sized plastic bag to carry up to a 3.4 oz (100 mL) bottle. If you need to carry liquids any larger than that amount, you should pack it in your checked luggage.

Additionally, your airline provider may charge additional fees for checked luggage and luggage that exceeds the standard size or weight limit. Before you begin packing for your trip or move, review your carrier's checked baggage policy to help you determine if you should check luggage on your flight.

Once you've confirmed your airline's luggage policy, it's time to begin packing. The type of bag that you'll be traveling with depends on your overall needs. To prevent any surprises or added fees, we've highlighted a few smart tips to help you pack a checked bag:

  • Since most airlines charge per bag, you may want to cut down on the number of packs you check-in by packing everything you need into one large suitcase, using a backpack or your carry-on to store any of your travel essentials or toiletries.
  • Fitting everything you need into your luggage can by a tricky task, but by employing the tricks and tips in our "Jetsetter’s Guide to Suitcase Packing," you'll have no problems packing everything neatly.
  • Once you're finished packing, you will want to weigh your checked pack. Since overweight bags typically cost more than extra luggage, it's very important to make sure your luggage does not exceed the weight limit of your airline carrier. Using a bathroom scale, you could weigh the bag by itself or by subtracting the bag's weight after weighing yourself with and without the bag.
  • Next, you'll want to add identifying features to your suitcase to help you quickly spot it at the baggage claim. Personalizing your luggage can be as easy as tying a ribbon on the handle or adding stickers or a luggage tag.

Now that your checked luggage is all packed and ready, it's time to pack everything you'll need in your carry-on. Depending on the length of your flight, you may want to make sure you have extra room for books, electronics, and magazines to entertain you while on your flight. In addition, you should put all of your paperwork and boarding passes in a place you can easily access once you get to the airport.

While packing for a train is a much less of a hassle than packing for a plane, it still is important to remember a few key differences between airplane and train travel. Although, trains may not have the same security measures in place regarding carry-on and checked luggage, it's important that you pack your luggage appropriately.

Similar to planes, many trains have restrictions on the amount and size of the bags that you are allowed to carry-on. In general, you will be able to carry-on all of your luggage, but your train carrier may require you to check your excess luggage in the event it exceeds carry-on size or weight restrictions. For most trains, you can carry-on two bags onboard the train, as long as each bag does not exceed 50 lbs or is larger than 28 X 22 X 14 inches. Small and personal items such as medical devices and medication, pillows, blankets, coolers, and purses or bags less than 12 X 12 X 12 inches will not be counted toward the carry-on baggage limit. Carry-on bags can be stowed in overhead racks, under seats, or at designated baggage areas and should be properly labeled with an ID tag, which are supplied at the train station. Unlike many airlines, checking your baggage is complimentary on most train carriers. Although, this service may only be available at select train stations. Check your origin and destination stations to find out if both stations offer this service.

While packing your carry-on for train travel, you may have some additional items to pack. For example, if you are going to be traveling overnight on a train, you may want to bring blankets, a pillow, and ear plugs to make yourself comfortable in the event you want to catch some Z's. Some trains offer snacks or beverages, but these items are generally pricier than you may typically pay. You could save money by packing snacks, water, or a small meal to help get you through your trip. In addition, you should also pack wet wipes or napkins to clean up any spills that may occur due to the jostle of the moving train.



Traveling by car means that many of the obstacles you encounter when traveling by plane or train will be alleviated. However, traveling or moving by car can be troublesome too especially when traveling over long distances. Not only do you have to worry about gas prices and traffic, you are restricted by the amount of space in your car. For larger vehicles, you may have the option to remove seats and have additional built-in storage. To help you pack your vehicle for your next road trip, here are some tips:

  • The general rule of thumb when packing your vehicle is to put the heaviest items as far forward and close to the floor as possible in the cargo area. This will help to keep the car's center of gravity low.
  • Lighter items should be stored on top of the bulkier baggage and should be secured to prevent them from flying forward in the event of a sudden stop.
  • Utilize the space underneath the seats by rolling items such as coats, flashlights, reading materials, and small bags.
  • If storing items in the backseat of the car, the driver should have an unobstructed view of the rear window Piling items to the ceiling of the car prevents the driver from seeing rearview traffic behind him, which is dangerous.
  • If you've run out of room inside your vehicle or trunk, you may want to utilize your vehicle's roof rack to pack additional items. Use waterproof, UV-resistant carrier bags that are easy to attach to the roof rack and fold for convenient storage.
  • Once everything is packed neatly in your car, take a picture of your car as a reminder of how you can re-pack your car for the journey back home.

If you planning to stop at a hotel along the way, you should pack an overnight bag with only the items you'll need to use that night. Include a change of clothes, pajamas, toiletries, and medications. If traveling with kids, it's best to consolidate everyone's overnight bag into a single bag to make getting ready at the hotel easier.

When packing items in your vehicle, it may be better to use duffel bags and backpacks as opposed to structured suitcases. The smaller, soft-sides bags take up less space than traditional luggage, allowing you more room for supplies such as skis, camping gear, or souvenirs.

When traveling by car, you should always make sure that your vehicle is in working order before you leave and be sure to check your emergency kit. Make sure that the batteries in your flashlight are working, that the spare tire has not deflated, and that you have the necessary equipment to change a tire and jump-start a car in the event of an emergency.

About the author

The Storage Queens

We know a thing or two about moving. Together, we share the best tips in organizing, storage, navigating your city, and more!

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  • Very useful article! I like how there are advices vary depending on the vehicle that is used, it so thoughtful! I will recommend it to all my customers!
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  • Very useful
    article! I like how there are advices vary depending on the vehicle that is
    used, it so thoughtful! I will recommend it to all my customers! Thank you so much for sharing!