So you’re headed home for the holidays — we bet you’re excited! Aside from the enticing prospect of family conversations around the dinner table, watching Elf together throughout the holiday season, the warm greetings of smooth jazzy tunes, and Starbucks’ red cups, there’s a whole ‘nother thing we travelers get to fret about during the holiday season: packing!

Fear not, intrepid holiday voyagers, because we’ve put together a smart guide to traveling home for the holidays like a total pro. Whether it’s bringing back your 50 new pairs of socks or sneaking mum’s apple pie through customs — we’ve got you covered.

Make a List

making a packing list

The secret to light travel during the busy holiday season is to stay organized. Before you even begin throwing things into your suitcase, you need to start with making a packing list. You may want to start this list as soon as your cheap domestic flights are booked, or at least one week before travel so that you have time to pick up any last-minute essentials.

If you really want to be organized, visualize each day of your trip and what clothing items each family member will need for the various activities on your travel itinerary. You are far less likely to forget something important if you begin thinking about your packing list in advance rather than throwing everything into the suitcase the night before you depart.

Freeze Those Leftovers!

saving holiday leftovers

I think we can all agree that the best part of the holidays is the food. Right? Right. One of the most disappointing things about living away from your family is living away from their amazing home cooking. While our office broke out into a fight about whether or not one can take home room-temperature turkey and live to tell the tale, we found a great solution: freeze that turkey (and everything else)! If you freeze the leftovers, pack them into nesting food storage, then travel all day with them, you can arrive back at your place with still-cold (and preserved!) leftovers. Yum. Plus – now you know what you’ll be eating for lunch for the next week!

Protect the Alcohol (At All Costs)

packing wine for the holidays

Your best bet to getting that fancy wine across the country is to either swaddle the bottles in your sweaters or by buying one of those foam bottle protectors. The foam protectors can cost at least $25 per bottle, so you should also check if the company that you want to impress your in-laws with ships their wine for added convenience.

Swaddle Your Delicates

No, not those kinds of delicates. A lot of people tote delicate items like ornaments, dinnerware, or other breakable gifts with them on their holiday travels. If you’re intent on carrying them with you in your checked bag or carry-on, the best thing you can do is swaddle ’em up like a baby. Yup. Take your chunky winter sweaters, scarves, puffy vests, and the like, and wrap them around your delicate gifts like there’s no tomorrow. For optimum protection, make sure they’re cradled in equally soft spots in your luggage. We also recommend packing delicates in a carry-on so that you can have the most amount of control and supervision over your belongings throughout your journey.

Leave Some Space for Extras

packing light for holidays

We know the drill: go home with a carry-on (or better, a small backpack!) and come back with a checked bag full of stuff that your mom wouldn’t let you leave without. C’mon, we all know this is going to happen — so might as well prepare for it! Pack a super light bag on your way home and make sure that your family has a checked bag that you can tote back home. (Need help packing light? We got you.)

If you really think ahead, you can also bring your own (empty) checked bag to Thanksgiving dinner and leave it for future you to schlep back from the Christmas holiday. If that’s too complicated, take the easier approach and pack light on your way there so that you’ll have enough room to stuff your winter boots in your luggage for the ride home.

You may also enjoy: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Thanksgiving Travel

If You’re Flying with Gifts, Don’t Wrap Them

sending holiday gift in the mail

While it may be tempting to get all of your gift wrapping done early in the holiday season, this is not a good idea if you plan on taking your presents with you as you travel. If you try flying with wrapped gifts, you boost the chance that your luggage is flagged for a search. Instead, take advantage of all of the free shipping deals that many online vendors offer this time of the year. Purchasing your gifts online and having them shipped directly to your destination will save you a lot of hassle and money. Just be sure to warn the recipients not to open the boxes as they arrive.

Stick to the Rule of One

packing using the rule of one

Savvy travelers understand the power of following the Rule of One. This packing philosophy encourages you to consider packing just one option for items that you can get more use out of during your trip. For example, it’s easy to get more mileage out of clothing items such as sweaters, jeans, and blazers since you don’t need to wash them after every use. This will allow multiple wears so that you won’t need to pack as many items. This is particularly important during travel over the holidays since your clothing needs tend to be for wardrobe essentials that are bulky and take up more room in your suitcase.

Pack Multifunctional Clothing

packing multifunctional clothing for vacation

You don’t need to be a seasoned traveler to know that you won’t be required to pack as much if you focus your efforts on bringing multifunctional clothes with you. When deciding what to pack, be sure to find items that will serve double duty. For example, if you’re traveling somewhere warm and sunny, pack a loose sundress that can double as a swimsuit cover-up. You can also use accessories to change the look of an entire outfit without having to switch up basics. By choosing items that will serve multiple purposes, you’ll save valuable space in your suitcase.

Use Packing Cubes and Compression Bags

Using packing cubes

The good news is that there are so many travel accessories to choose from, giving you plenty of tools to make packing light a breeze. Using a compression element will give you tons of more space so that you can fit in more essentials. A packing cube will ensure that everything stays in place so that you’re organized. It’s important to remember that while a packing cube or compression bag will add more space, it won’t reduce the total weight of your luggage. If you’re close to the airline mandated weight limit, you’ll want to be careful with these tools.

Wear All Your Bulky Clothes When You Fly

wearing bulky clothes at the airport

The biggest challenge of traveling during the holidays is that the winter weather necessitates that you bring along heavy and bulky clothes to stay warm. One great travel hack is to wear your bulkiest clothes on travel day. For example, rather than wearing your light-weight sneakers, opt for your bulkier slip-on boots instead. While it may be annoying to wear your coat or tie it around your waist while at the airport, you’ll appreciate all of the space this decision frees up in your suitcase. This will ensure that you don’t need to find extra space for these heavy items in your luggage.

What other tips and tricks do you use to pack light for the holidays? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

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Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.