The Best Way to Organize Your Carry-On Suitcase for Easier Travel, According to a TSA Agent

published Sep 16, 2022
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unpacking suitcase

This year has been a busy one for travel — with more countries opening up, restrictions getting removed, and people itching to get out of their homes and on vacation. And with more people heading to the airport, there is now what feels like an almost never-ending line for security. Waiting in line can be long, tiring, and kind of a drag, and you never want to be the person that’s holding it up, either. 

I spoke to a friend of mine who’s been a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent for more than six years now on what’s the best, most efficient way to pack and organize your things, as well as any advice she had for travelers looking to have a smoother process through the security line. 

If you’re planning to take a trip this upcoming holiday season, consider these travel and packing tips from a TSA agent.

Never put your ID in your carry-on suitcase.

When packing, keep your ID in your personal item, not in your carry-on suitcase, so it is easily accessible. Then, when you’re entering the line and standing there, have it out and ready to go. “Some people wait till the super last minute to get their IDs out,” she tells me. Storing your ID will only slow you (and the rest of the line) down.

Create a packing strategy.

Your suitcase should be packed in a way that allows things to be moved in, out, and around easily when necessary. Just be sure to check the TSA rules before you start packing your bags — and make sure you don’t overstuff them too, she says. Then, when it comes to the way you store your items, it’s all personal preference. Here are some strategies for packing your clothing:

  • Roll clothing individually. Rolling your clothes instead of folding them is an immediate space-saver.
  • Bundle outfits. Step up the game with a little pre-planning of what you’ll be wearing on your travels and put those outfits together. It’ll not only save you in the packing process but also later on when you’re getting ready.
  • Store in packing cubes. With the right set of cubes, you could have a neatly packed and organized suitcase. You can categorize the cubes by day or type of item.

Have separate bags.

Keep your toiletries and any other items that might need to be removed (such as electronics) in a separate bag (a clear one, if possible). That way, the agents don’t have to go digging through all your items or be forced to dump them out and re-run them through the screen. “It’s just a hassle for me and you,” she says.

Store liquids in clear containers.

Shampoos, conditioners, face washes, or hair gel — whatever type of liquid you bring on the plane, make sure it’s 3.4 ounces or less and stored in a sealable container. My friend recommends getting clear plastic bags or travel-sized containers, like these ones, to store them in because it’s easier to see on-site. Then, remove liquids from your bag for easier inspection. 

Keep food items together.

While food is definitely OK to bring, it is often subject to screening. “No, we don’t eat your food,” she teases. When you bring food to enjoy on the plane or snacks to give away to friends when you get back, make sure you are storing them all together instead of shoving them in different parts of your bag. (I’m guilty of doing that on my return flight.) This makes it easier for TSA to take out and inspect items instead of rummaging through your things.