How To Pack Suitcases and Boxes For A Move

How To Pack Suitcases and Boxes For A Move

Moving requires plenty of planning and organization, even when you’re relocating locally. Knowing how to pack for a cross-country move is the mark of a seasoned moving veteran, while knowing how to pack for an international move is a rare skill indeed.

Traveling by air during a move adds another layer of complexity to what is already a complicated process. Can you check boxes on a plane, and if so, how should you pack them? What should be packed in your suitcase, and what should be shipped to your location? Here we’ll address the most critical aspects of moving by air, whether you’re heading across the country or across borders.

Packing Tips for Moving Abroad vs. Domestically

Packing for a move abroad is a more costly endeavor than a domestic move. While moving your entire household across the country is an undertaking, domestic shipping companies are cheaper than international ones. In a pinch, you can rent your own moving truck and take off for your new home.

International moving is very different. The cost of shipping may include customs, port charges, and moving insurance. Depending on your destination it can take months for your belongings to arrive, so you need to pack essential items in your suitcases and any boxes you choose to ship by air.

Can You Check Boxes on a Flight?

You can check packed boxes on a flight using the same baggage fee rules that apply to other types of checked luggage. Size and weight are the most important considerations, but the plane's destination and size also play a role. 

For domestic moves, most airlines have the following restrictions:

Standard Checked Box Overweight Checked Box Oversized Checked Box
Dimensions (length x height x width) 62 linear inches 62 linear inches 63 to 80 linear inches
Weight Limit 50 lbs 51 to 99 lbs. 50 lbs
Baggage Fee for First Checked Box $30-$35 $75- $200 per box $75- $200 per box
Baggage Fee for Second Checked Box $40- $45 As above As above
Fees for Third and Fourth Checked box $150- $200 As above As above

Check your airline’s maximum box dimensions and weight before you start packing. International airlines sometimes have more restrictive box regulations. For instance, New Zealander airline Qantas limits checked boxes to 45 linear inches with a maximum weight of 15lbs.

Pros and Cons of Checking Boxes

Pros:

  • A 62 linear inch box typically holds more than a suitcase of equivalent size, as luggage has to make room for wheels and handles.
  • Cardboard boxes weigh almost nothing, so more of your weight allowance goes towards box contents.
  • Boxes damaged in transit are cheap to replace.

Cons:

  • Airlines often require you sign a waiver for checked boxes to absolve them of damage during transport.
  • Boxes don’t have wheels or handles, making them more difficult to move.
  • Rain and water can compromise a cardboard box’s structural integrity.
  • Boxes easily become damaged in the rough and tumble of being transported within airports and moved around the airplane’s baggage compartment.
  • Taped boxes may be cut open for inspection.

Airplane Size and Checked Boxes

Airplane size does not impact checkbox weight and size restrictions but may influence whether you pack fragile items in boxes:

  • Narrow-bodies airplanes have open cargo holds, with items packed one on top of the other. The weight of other luggage can crush boxes in an open cargo hold. 
  • Widebody Airplanes transport cargo on organized pallets, offering more protection to boxes. 
  • Regional airplanes tend to have small and crowded cargo holds, which can damage boxes.

Box Packing Tips

Knowing how to pack a box for air travel helps keep your belongings safe and makes unpacking easier. The following tips help you get the most out of your checked boxes:

  • Use the right-sized boxes. If a box is too small, you may damage the contents by overpacking. Too large, and contents may shift during transport. Empty spaces in boxes are more likely to be crushed down in cargo holds, so pack items snugly. 
  • Place the heaviest items on the bottom of the box, with lighter items on top.
  • Label each box with the room it should be in, but do not write a detailed description of the contents on the box. Keep a master list on your phone instead. 
  • Tape moving boxes securely. Wrapping boxes in plastic wrap offers some protection against rain or water damage, but be aware TSA officials (or their international counterparts) may open boxes for inspection. 
  • Use clothing, tea towels, or towels to secure items in the box.
  • Brace box corners with duct tape.

What Not to Pack in Checked Boxes

Checkboxes are subject to the same restrictions as all other checked luggage. The TSA has an exhaustive list of prohibited items online that is an excellent resource. If traveling internationally, check local laws concerning the contents of checked luggage. 

What to Pack When Moving Abroad

You're likely to live out of your suitcases and checked boxes for a few weeks after making an international move, so plan your packing accordingly. Where you pack items is also important: some belongings are too important to check and should be in carry-on luggage.

Essential Travel Items Checked or Carry-on?
Important documents (passport, travel visa, driver’s license, immunization records, visas, medical records, marriage licenses, birth certificate, etc.) Carry-on, with photocopies in checked luggage and virtual copies on your phone.
Medication and medical aids Carry-on (Check that local regulations do not prohibit your prescription or OTC medication).
Electronics (laptops, tablets, phones, chargers, adapters, etc.) Carry-on
Clothing appropriate to your destination (consider culture and climate). Carry-on or checked luggage
Heirlooms and sentimental items Carry-on or checked luggage

What Not to Pack When Moving Internationally

  • Kitchen pots, pans, and utensils are easy to replace at your destination.
  • Televisions and home electronics may not work at your destination unless you use adapters and voltage converters. Purchase when you arrive instead.
  • Last wills and testaments should be left with a trusted individual or attorney.
  • Items you rarely use. If ever there was a time to pare down your possessions, it’s before a move abroad!

Packing Clothing

Clothing takes up a surprising amount of room unless you pack it properly. Pack the clothes you'll need immediately in your suitcases. Rolling up tee shirts, skirts, and jeans helps reduce wrinkles and minimizes packing space, especially if you use packing cubes. Garment bags can transport business suits or delicate clothing that cannot be folded or rolled without damaging the fabric.

The Best Way to Pack Coats for Moving

Coats are generally large and cumbersome, making them difficult to pack. Using vacuum-sealed bags helps you reduce coats to a manageable size (a trick that also works well with linens and stuffed toys). Be aware that winter coats which rely on trapped air in the fabric for insulation should not be vacuum-bagged and should instead be folded or placed in wardrobe boxes.

What is the Best Way to Pack Toiletries for Moving?

A waterproof bag is the best way to pack toiletries for moving. Invest in a sturdy toiletry organizer and pack it on the top of your suitcase so you can find it when you need it.

Heirlooms and Special Items

Carry-on is ideal for transporting small heirlooms and sentimental items such as jewelry. A hard-shelled suitcase offers the best protection for delicate items, photographs, children’s drawings, and glassware. Travelpro offers high-quality hardshell suitcases for both carry-on and checked luggage.

suitcase on a bed with shoes and clothing next to it ready to pack

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