With great trips should come great planning, but let’s face it, life isn’t always that kind. Sometimes, we just need to know how to pack in 30-minutes flat and high-tail it out the door to the waiting cab/bus/train to catch that flight. We know that plane isn’t going to wait for anyone, so it’s best to have a plan of action for when packing time is slim!

It’s not very likely that we get a half-hour warning of an impending trip, but meetings, shifts and life in general can sometimes get in the way. Before you know it, that trip you booked a few months ago is at your doorstep and you’re unprepared to the Nth degree. It can also be tricky if you have to also deal with a super early morning flight and need to get going quick. Follow these little tips n’ tricks and you’ll soon perfect the art of cramming your life into a backpack or suitcase in (roughly) 30-minutes.

How to pack in 30-minutes flat

Step 1: Have an essentials bag ready to go.

Like a true cub scout, you should always be prepared. There is no secret genie who will click his fingers and magically KAZAM a coherent order of belongings into your case, so you’ve got to think ahead.

Get hold of a large toiletries bag (it has to be roomy!) and fill it with the below suggested list of essentials – your must-have items should always be restocked when you get home from a trip. It’s your little bag of tricks, the bag that contains the things you’re likely to forget if you’re in a frenzied rush. It’s basically a case of ‘buy double of your everyday things’ but just do it for less pain later:

Essentials packing list (duplicates of your home essentials):

  • Toothbrush
  • Mini toothpaste
  • Aspirin/Ibuprofen/Paracetamol
  • Travel-sized deodorant
  • Any digestive medicine if you’re prone to stomach upsets
  • Tampons
  • Tweezers and razor
  • Plasters/Band aids
  • Worldwide plug adapter
  • Phone cable/charger

Step 2: Decant all your favourite liquids.

Have a proper set of empty toiletries containers & a clear airplane baggy at hand for trips. Make sure they’re durable so they’ll last through multiple trips without cracking, and squirt all your current lotions and potions into these vessels. Useful for if you’re traveling only with carry-on luggage, and also useful if you’re traveling with checked-in luggage, as you won’t need to worry about quickly finding a pharmacy or supermarket on arrival.

Decant beauty products for traveling, such as, shampoo, conditioner, face cream, body moisturiser. Where you can, switch some products to solid bars or powder. Lush has some great night serum bars for your face, such as, Full of Grace which melts into tired skin and hydrates using a blend of oils with Portobello mushrooms – just try to keep it out of hot heat. Lush also stocks luxurious soaps free from chemicals and parabens to keep your skin clean and fresh, plus they are lighter in the suitcase than shower gel. Try their facial soaps too if you want to save on the weight of face wash… plus they’re good for the environment!

Step 3: Have a trusty bag suitable for all trips.

When taking luggage on a trip, you’ll either be traveling light with hand luggage only or checking in a bigger bag for a long haul trip. When taking a larger backpack or suitcase, it’s useful to have one which is suitable for all different kinds of trips.

Get hold of a backpack which can also be turned into a suitcase on wheels, like the Osprey Sojourn. I traveled with the 60L Osprey Sojourn on my recent two-month trip through the Philippines and Australia, which was perfect for the very different terrains. Thanks to its alloy frame, I could turn the case into a suitcase on wheels when traversing Melbourne’s streets, hopping on trains and trundling into hotels. When island-hopping in the Philippines, the backpack straps and padded mesh-covered hip-belt could unfold and I could sling my belongings over my back to tackle steep ferry steps and uneven ground/sand.

A 60L backpack had plenty of room, but in hindsight I should have gone a bit smaller as I was only travelling in hot countries. I am definitely a hoarder, so if I have the space I will fill it and overpack badly, but at least this pack will suit colder trips too! A few thick layers could definitely slip into the spacious hold.

Investing in a versatile, adaptable and durable bag is ideal for quick packing as you won’t have to worry if your bag will be suitable… or waste precious packing time ringing friends to scrounge a bag at the last second.

Step 4: Make THE list.

You may have your little bag of essentials, those things that you can duplicate, but this list goes beyond that. This list contains all the important stuff that would truly screw your trip up if you forgot, and it’s stuff you cannot duplicate.

Once you’ve honed your list, laminate it, print off a few copies, staple it to your bag – do anything to ensure it’s to hand when you’re trying to pack in 30-minutes flat. And again, have a designated bag for these pieces and get to know the contents, so with one look, you’ll be like “I KNOW WHAT’S MISSING.”

Suggested list-worthy items to pack:

  • Passport (duh)
  • Cameras
  • Your phone
  • Headphones (noise canceling are the best)
  • Cables/cords to charge your phone, camera etc
  • Documents (visas and tickets)
  • Bank cards
  • Any make-up/toiletries that you can’t live without (I could’t replicate my bag of tricks in many countries)

Tip: always keep your portable battery pack charged, so at least your phone will always have juice if everything else has gone to shit.

Step 5: Don’t fear that you’re out of clean underwear.

Damn girl, you didn’t do your laundry in time! Shove anything dirty in a carrier bag. Keep a tube of detergent and a nail brush in your essentials bag – get to your hotel room and immediately give whatever you need a quick scrub.

Step 6: Figuring out a selection of clothes to pack.

So you’ve got all the things packed that make your trip actually happen. Clothes shouldn’t be as stressful as they are when packing, since you’ll soon forget about that dress or those shoes. Here are some tips on how to pull together a quick travelling wardrobe in a hurry:

  • Wear your heaviest warm items on the plane to save on space and weight. Think about weather fluctuations and be prepared for cool snaps or hot blasts. Take quality sunglasses, take a warm jumper, and don’t forget a scarf which can act as a blanket in dire air con situations.
  • Be practical and account for any activities you may be doing. Good walking boots? A light raincoat? Yoga leggings? Rash vest for surf? Sunhat for long exposures under hot sun?

  • Try and get a good ratio of tops to bottoms, a few nice dresses and some lounging beach wear. Denim items are hardy and need minimal washing so consider adding denim shorts, a dress and a pair of jeans.
  • If you’re against a time crunch, grab your trusted favourite outfits from the past few weeks if the weather is going to be similar at your destination. Same goes for any outfits you’ve worn recently that have given you a confidence boost and made you say “Damn I feel good!” – throw them in!
  • You only need one of each thing – you don’t need three different pairs of trainers or three pairs of wide-legged pants (guilty!). If you desperately need things on the road, you can buy them (second hand shops are a good shout!) and they’ll make a cool mementos of your trip.
  • For those who are really organised, pull together a Pinterest board of outfits that you have a similar wardrobe to. Have a quick referral when you hit a wall and need to chuck together semi-decent get-ups.
  • Don’t try to be too risky – if there are things that you’ve never really worn before, but you think could work while abroad, don’t take them with you as they may continue to be unworn and be dead weight.
  • You only need three pairs of shoes, maximum. Trainers, sandals and boots are the trifecta – when cold: trainers, dressy/nice boots and walking boots. When in hot countries: trainers, sandals and dressy/nice sandals. Minimal decision-making to eat as little as possible of your precious packing time. BOOM!
  • And rolling your clothes is a surefire way to utilise your space. Put socks in shoes, slip silky tops in any gaps, put heavy fabrics (i.e. denim) at the base of your pack, and forget taking anything that creases easily.

Step 7: Nearly done…

And grab whatever book you’re reading. The airport will have a selection if you are thin on the ground with literature. Oh, that reminds me – did you book your ride to the airport??!

Let us know if you know how to pack in 30-minutes flat and what your top tips are. Could you do it even faster?

All photographs by Sophie Saint

Sophie Saint was one of the original travelettes, from 2009 – 2017. After fleeing the UK with ink barely dry on her graduation certificate, she traversed the world with a backpack and spent a few years living in Melbourne – one of her favourite cities in the world.

She finally returned to the UK after a few years where she now whiles time away zipping off for European escapes, crocheting and daydreaming of owning her own hostel somewhere hot to live out eternal summers. See what she’s up to over on her blog saintsonaplane.com and instagram: @saintsonaplane