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How to Pack Like a Flight Attendant

Insider Guides
by MyKayla Hilgart Dec 4, 2017

When I became a flight attendant, I knew I was going to have to kick my packing game up a notch. It used to be the most dreaded part of any type of traveling — I would procrastinate until the day before my departure and then my suitcase would stay full and abandoned on my bedroom floor for a few weeks after my return. But lucky for me, the flight attendant life requires you to always have a bag packed and ready to go! I’m still perfecting my packing game, but I’ve come a long way in terms of figuring out how and what to pack in a quick and effective way. Here are 8 tips for you to pack like a flight attendant:

1. Bag up those shoes.

I’m not nearly organized enough to use the fancy packing cubes some flight attendants incorporate into their bags, but I’m definitely an advocate for at least tying up your shoes in a plastic bag (or in a hotel shower cap). Sometimes you can’t really tell how dirty those suckers are until they leave prints all over the clothes they’re sitting on top of in your suitcase. It doesn’t take much effort to throw them in a plastic bag — better safe than sorry. No traveler wants a dirt smudge on the only nice shirt they brought. And trust me, if you don’t bag those shoes, they WILL somehow maneuver their way to that cherished shirt.

2. Just keep rollin’.

Roll your clothing instead of folding it. I had never heard of this technique before I became a flight attendant, but it really does save an enormous amount of space — and nothing gets wrinkled!

3. Bring a swimsuit! Or two.

No matter where you’re going or what occasion it is, you never know when you’ll get the chance to go for a dip or soak up some sun. Don’t get stuck without the proper skimpy attire — unless skinny dipping is your thing, then you do you! And swimsuits aren’t too consuming of your precious suitcase space, so you can afford to bring a second one for variety’s sake.

4. Pack a pain reliever and some cold medicine.

I won’t sugarcoat it: planes are pretty nasty. Deep cleaning doesn’t really happen. That nastiness combined with being packed next to 100+ other humans in a metal tube can easily compromise your otherwise rock-star immune system, so be sure to pack something to help you out with that possibility. I got sick with three separate colds this month alone — but even a little headache can put a major damper on your getaway, so plan ahead.

5. Pack outfit pieces that can be layered.

Layering is key! Add a belt to fancy up a simple dress. Add a sweater or flannel for an evening walk. And leggings… because leggings are life. Flight attendants (especially those on reserve) don’t always know what kind of climate they’ll be staying in, so layers are really the only way. You can always shed one or add one depending on how it all turns out. But the same goes for anybody else. Even if you’re going someplace warm, who’s to say you won’t get hit with a gloomy, chilly day? Leggings under the dress to the rescue! Packing clothing that can be worn in different ways or with other items can save you a ton of space and also make it possible to wear things more than once without looking like that kid who refuses to wear anything but his one favorite T-shirt.

6. Bring comfy, lounging-around clothes.

No matter how action-packed your adventure is going to be or how adorable you want to look, there is going to come a point when you just want to take it all off and change into something cozy. Don’t get stuck in skin-tight jeans when there’s a sea of sweatpants out there waiting for you.

7. Bring something to do on the plane.

It will never cease to amaze me just how many passengers know they’re going to be stuck on a plane for several hours and yet bring absolutely nothing to entertain themselves with. Do you expect me to put on a four-hour show for you? Because I can’t hold a tune or dance very well, and your seatmates probably won’t appreciate my attempt. Books are always a good idea, as are newspapers, magazines, and homework/study materials. Then there’s music (with headphones of course), games, crosswords, etc. But be prepared! Or you know, engage in my favorite passenger activity and just take a nap.

8. Use a bag tag.

There are thousands of black rollaboards out there. Yours isn’t special, but you can make it stick out. Get a fun “Hands Off” brightly colored tag to stick on your luggage. It’s pretty likely there will be a similar-looking bag near yours in the overhead bins or on the luggage carousel, so do yourself a favor and slap on a distinguishing characteristic for your prized traveling possession. Better yet, get some luggage in a crazy pattern or color. Flight attendants can’t do that because we all have to be uniform, but there’s nothing stopping regular civilians from going all out! Having said all that — if you take my crew bag, I will chase you.

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