Empty Your Suitcase to Avoid Getting Slowed Down at the Airport


Getting ready to head to the airport can end up being one of the most stressful parts of any trip. On top of making sure you don’t forget essentials like your toothbrush or travel documents, there’s always the internal struggle of what you’ll want to wear or use during your travels. The question of what to pack becomes even more difficult when you consider the long lines many are facing as travelers return to the skies for the first time since the pandemic, making the security checkpoint an even lengthier ordeal.

Regardless of whether you like to travel light or are an unabashed heavy packer, there’s still one suitcase solution you should always remember if you’d like to avoid getting slowed down at the airport. Read on to see how to pack like a pro every time you board a plane.

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As your carrying case for everything you need while you’re on the road, your luggage acts as a way to make your home temporarily portable. But just like where you live, your bags can also have a tendency to accumulate items over time that you may not necessarily need to be lugging around.

Unfortunately, forgetting what’s in your suitcase can end up slowing you down when you go through a security check at the airport. That’s why experts suggest completely cleaning out your luggage between trips to make sure you’re not carrying anything that could get your belongings pulled for a more thorough search, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, tells The Washington Post.

A TSA agent searches luggage at an airport.
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Nelson warns that it can be easy to miss certain items such as small souvenirs from your travels that may have fallen to the bottom of your luggage or toiletries that get forgotten in a side pocket when you’re packing. But if a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent notices a wine key with a long blade or a lost lotion, you can count on being taken aside to have your belongings searched—which can be a deal-breaker if you’re in a rush to catch your flight.

Even if you manage to maintain a nearly empty suitcase, you should take extra note to go through any bags you use more regularly that may be filling in as a carry-on tote. Backpacks, gym bags, and purses are also just as likely to contain prohibited items, making it even more important to remember to clean them out before you go to board your flight.

“Understand that there are people who come to the airport who are not going to be regular travelers, which means that they’re going to take longer in the security lines,” Nelson told The Post. “Give yourself plenty of time so that you’re not rushed and feeling anxious yourself.”

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Toiletry bag with small toiletries
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Frequent travelers know that liquids and gels that are often just barely too large can get your bag pulled. Because of this, experts recommend using a dedicated toiletry bag that can be always be stocked with the items you’ll need in their appropriate travel-sized format—and will also make it less likely you’ll forget anything while packing. A separate bag for these sensitive items also makes it easier to remove from your luggage so it can be more easily inspected if you do get questioned, and can even save you time before you even get to the airport.

“Each of us has a separate toiletries bag with travel-size products—including things like a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, eye drops, etc.—that’s always ready to pack in a travel backpack or our luggage,” Mikkel Woodruff of Sometimes Home tells Self. “While we need to pack our clothes for each trip, we never need to spend time packing our toiletries. The secret is to replace anything that needs replenishing as soon as you return from a trip.”

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By now, most are aware that certain items are a no-go when it comes to flying. But as an agency that sees millions of travelers on any given day, the TSA has made it easier to check exactly what can and can’t be brought onboard a plane, from artificial skeleton bones to air mattresses. Make sure to check their official site while packing to make sure you’re not unknowingly bringing something along that’s prohibited.

If you’re flying a new airline for the first time, you may also want to check ahead of time what the company’s policy is on carry-on bags. Many carriers have become strict with limiting the number of items you can bring on board, both in quantity and the size or weight of your luggage. Avoid a lengthy—and often costly—gate check by figuring out what you’re limited to before you leave for the airport: In some cases, it can be much easier and cheaper to pay ahead of time for one larger checked bag.

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