How to Pack a Duffel Bag for Any Trip

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So you’re about to head off on a weekend getaway, a work trip, or maybe you’re using your duffel bag as carry-on luggage for an international flight. No matter what has led you to find out how to pack a duffel bag, it’s a good idea to make the most out of the space available.

It may be no surprise that studies have shown that 65% of Americans struggle with packing for a trip and 62% end up overpacking. While a duffel bag provides plenty of room, nobody wants to be lugging around unnecessary weight. Keep reading to find out how to pack a duffel bag like a pro.

Choose the Right Kind of Backpack

First, you need to make sure you have the right bag for your needs. Duffel bags come in a range of sizes and styles suited for all kinds of travelers. If you already have a bag, you can skip to the next step.

Travel duffel bags tend to have a cross-body strap. This is super helpful for freeing up your hands while you’re on the move. There’s always the temptation to leave your bag on the ground while sorting through travel documents or taking a phone call. With a travel duffel bag, you can wear it cross-body and reduce the chances of losing your bag as often.

If you tend to pack on the heavier side, you might want to look at duffel bags with shoulder straps. This allows you the versatility of wearing your duffel as a backpack which is easier to carry and balances the weight out. Your back will thank you.

Deciding which one is best for you depends on the type of traveler you are. Having backpack straps will be essential for your comfort, especially if you plan on walking around with your luggage. However, if you’re on vacation or a short work trip, cross-body straps and short handles will do.

Make a List and Gather Your Items

Making a list of items will help you to avoid overpacking and also provide you the opportunity to focus on the important items. When carrying a duffel, you want it to be as light as possible. Even if you have shoulder straps.

In your list of items, you want to make sure you cover these categories:

  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Food
  • Toiletries
  • Documents
  • Gear and/or equipment

When you’ve made the list, gather your items. If it seems like a lot, go through your items and ask yourself “can I go without this?”

An item is either an essential, something you can buy at  the location, or something you can go without. Try to resist those extra pairs of shoes. 

How to Pack a Duffel Bag for Any Trip1

How to Pack a Duffel Bag with Clothes and Packing Cubes

Now that you have your items of clothing sorted, let’s get to packing. 

A fool-proof method is to roll your clothes instead of folding them. This prevents creases and takes up less space. Marie Kondo, a famous organizing consultant, recommends folding vertically to save even more space in your bag.

Rather than having one clothing pile, you could separate your clothes into packing cubes. They are pouches that many travelers find useful for organization and space saving. 

It’s good to have a separate bag just for your dirty laundry even if you don’t choose the packing cube method.

Did you know dry bags can double up as packing cubes too? Their waterproof material is handy for keeping wet bathing suits away from dry clothes.

Pack Heavy and Low-Priority Items First

Another tip you need to add to your new packing strategy is placing heavier items at the bottom of your bag. Before anything else goes inside, make sure to place heavy and low-priority items first. This will help to ensure that your other belongings won’t get smashed or ruined. 

After these items are sorted, you can start to pack low-priority items such as bulky electronics or towels. Anything you don’t need until you arrive at your destination can be packed in the base of the duffel bag.

Paperwork and High-Priority Items

After you pack the heavy and low-priority items, you should fill in the gaps with your rolled-up and folded clothes.

Hopefully by this point, you have some space for your high-priority items and paperwork. When traveling, especially when taking an international flight, you’ll need access to documents such as boarding passes and your passport. 

Many people actually compile all of this paperwork into a travel document folder to make the transport process easier.

Other high-priority items may include your laptop or tablet if you’ll be using it on the journey, your water bottle, and power banks and chargers.

Some duffel bags come with an outer pocket which can be used to store any items you need to access frequently. 


These travel tips show how to pack a duffel bag for any trip and make it stress-free. When you make a list of personal items that are only the essentials, you’re making a great decision for your future self. You’ve made the effort to pack only the essential items and have saved yourself from overpacking which can be stressful on your back.

To save your clothes from being squashed and soiled by your shoes, pack shoes first. Will you be using that DSLR camera in the airport? Place it at the bottom along with your shoes. Anything bulky and low-priority can be tucked away at the base of your duffel bag.

While learning how to pack a duffel bag, always remember that rolling your clothes and using packing bags will help save space. You’ll need the extra space for things like paperwork, travel documents and personal electronic devices.

Ultimately, it is all about making the most of the space available and resisting the temptation to fill any gaps with unnecessary items. Make it compact and make it light.

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