How to Pack a Perfect Weekend Getaway Bag
(Photo: Weekend Bag via Shutterstock)

You don't want to be "that guy" who brings two checked bags on a weekend away. But fitting everything you'll need for two or three nights of beach-going and restaurant-hopping isn't as easy as it looks. To help you arrange an organized, lightweight bag complete with everything you'll need for your mini vacation, we've created this simple step-by-step guide. Here are 10 steps to packing the ideal weekend-getaway bag.

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Get The Right Bag
Get the Right Bag
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

Invest in a high-quality, easy-to-carry weekend-getaway bag. Carry-on rollers work well for weekends if that's the type of luggage you prefer. But a soft-sided duffel bag is another great option, and depending on its size, it can sometimes fit a lot more than a hard-sided carry-on. Wheeled duffel bags, like this one from Magellan's, are perfect for those who want to tote a duffel without actually having to carry the thing.

Travelers hitting the beach might want a smaller bag to go inside their suitcase or duffel. I'm a big fan of Baggu, which makes foldable nylon bags in fun colors and prints.

Make A List
Make a List
(Photo: Make a List via Shutterstock)

First, check the weather. Next, walk through your trip (in your head) so you can have an idea of what exactly you'll need. A packing list is a must, whether you're going away for two nights or 10. Use our Ultimate Packing List, Essential Beach Packing List, or Carry-On Bag Packing List to draw up an inventory of what you'll want for your particular trip.

Gather It Up
Gather It Up
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

Put everything in one place. Lay your assortment of packable items out on the bed or on a carpet, and assess what you have. The best pack jobs are always preceded by a full inventory of the contents you're about to arrange.

First, double-check that you have the essentials noted on your packing list. Go down the list and check off what you have. Second, edit your bag—get rid of the superfluous stuff. If you're on the fence about whether you'll need that third pair of shoes or that extra book, leave it at home. Be ruthless!

Once you have everything in front of you, you can start to pack your items in the right order: Rolled clothes and heavier belongings go at the bottom, with delicates at the top and smaller items stuffed in the spaces.

Pack A TSA-Ready Toiletry Bag
Pack a TSA-Ready Toiletry Bag
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

If you're flying, arrange your quart-size bag of liquids and gels. (New to this? The products must be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces.) Even when I'm not flying, I pack tiny-size toiletries in a ziplock bag. It's a habit. And the miniature items save suitcase space, while the zip-top baggie protects the contents of my suitcase from spills.

In Readers' Best Carry-On Packing Tips, SmarterTravel reader DRB advises, "I take a solid shampoo/conditioner from Lush, solid bar of soap with sunscreen, mosquito-repellent bracelets, sunscreen wipes, and 100 percent Shea butter for my moisturizer—basically I have about nothing in my 3-1-1 bag!" Products that do double duty—like two-in-one shampoo and conditioner or facial moisturizer that contains sunscreen—are smart options. And of course, any toiletries that will likely be provided at your hotel should be simply left out of your bag.

To save money on expensive travel-size products, I like to stock up on free samples. Read more about my sample strategy in How to Pack for a Week in a Carry-on Bag.

Get Rolling
Get Rolling
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

There are many approaches to packing well: vacuum bags, the sophisticated bundle method, packing organizers like cubes or folders, haphazardly shoving everything inside and hoping for the best. Me? I roll. Rolling helps prevent wrinkles by reducing creases and folds. Also, I think it's the best space-saving technique, short of vacuum bags—making it perfect for stuffing as much as possible in a smaller weekend-getaway duffel. Folded apparel is a lot bulkier than its tightly rolled alternative.

Is bundling more your thing? Lifehacker offers a useful video demo of the bundling method with accompanying instructions: "Lay all your clothes out flat, hanging out of the bag, and then fold them on top of one another."

Create A Bottom Layer
Create a Bottom Layer
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

In Budget Travel's Ultimate Packing Guide, featured in the November 2010 issue of the magazine and online, reader Ivana Rix advises, "Position heavy items near the wheels of your suitcase to keep the bag from toppling over when it's upright." Unless you're following the aforementioned bundle method, heavier items like shoes and bulky rolled clothes should make up the base layer of your bag.

On top of these, in the middle layer, place medium-sized items as well as any breakable items (wrapped in something padded like bubble wrap or tissue paper, of course). Breakables always go in the center of your suitcase; your layers of clothes will provide some protection.

Create A Top Layer
Create a Top Layer
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

What goes at the top? First, items you might need right away (such as money, identification, snacks, or an umbrella) should live in an easy-to-grab place at the top of your bag or in an outside compartment. In addition, delicate or easily wrinkled items of clothing (like silk blouses) should be carefully placed on the top layer so that they don't get too squished by your heavier things; wrap these belongings in tissue paper for extra protection from wrinkles or damage.

Add Smaller Items
Add Smaller Items
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

Squeeze assorted smaller items—hair brushes, travel alarm clocks, socks, solid deodorant, swimsuits, underwear, scarves, etc.—into the spaces between your bigger, bulkier belongings. Use your shoes wisely. Tuck the abovementioned items inside sneakers or boots to save space.

Pack Your Jewelry Carefully
Pack Your Jewelry Carefully
(Photo: Caroline Costello)

We don't recommend that travelers hit the road with valuable jewelry. However, a few key adornments can help maximize your outfit possibilities while taking up minimal space in your bag. Just make sure you're packing inexpensive costume jewelry—not family heirlooms or pieces studded with real jewels.

Various stores sell travel jewelry boxes (like this one from Pottery Barn), but they're not my favorite. I usually use either a clear zip-top bag or a felt pouch (the one pictured above came free with purchase of jewelry from Madewell) when packing inexpensive necklaces and earrings. To prevent tangles, you could also store your accessories using common household items like empty egg-carton containers or drinking straws.

Make Sure You Have The Essentials
Make Sure You Have The Essentials
(Photo: Passport and Money via Shutterstock)

Before you walk out that door, perform one final check for the absolute essentials you'll need for your getaway. Do you have your passport, wallet, identification, house keys, medication, or any other items that you absolutely can't travel without? It helps to jot down an inventory of these crucial items ahead of time, so that you can run down the list when you're running out the door.

What are your weekend-getaway packing tips? Share them in the comments!

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