To start off, suitcases are not for travelers. Trust me. Lugging a suitcase up three flights of stairs or anywhere except a smooth airport floor is a recipe for disaster. So if you are headed to a resort for a week and will have a bellhop carrying your bags, bring the suitcase. Otherwise keep it to carry-on size. Side note, if I've asked you to bring me something on the airplane in said suitcase I take it all back. Bring the suitcase!! I'll help you lift it!
Rollie Bag vs Backpack-
My boyfriend Diego swears by backpacks. He says it is the only authentic way to travel. I TOTALLY disagree, and swear by rollie bags. The only time I'll admit that he was right was when we went to this little off the beaten track Caribbean beach in Colombia and I had to drag my rollie bag a mile across the sand. So yes, he wins ONLY under those circumstances.
There are some bags that have hidden backpack straps, but honestly I say keep the packing space for cute clothes and not hidden straps. My top recommendations are this bag by Osprey or this bag by Eagle Creek. Honestly anything by those two brands is amazing and albeit pricey they are truly built to last.
How to fit it all in:
I like to make a travel color palette. Everything has to fit into my palette. This means that I can mix and match it all. I've been doing this for a few years now and it really helps me narrow down to just the essentials. My favorite palette lately, well pre-covid, has been blues and greys. All black was my palette for a recent Vegas trip to a jewelry expo. You can just pull everything out and see what colors work together and then stick to that palette and put anything else back. Just say no.
Once I have my pile of what I am bringing, I swear by packing cubes. I ordered mine from Amazon. I have several sizes, which helps to compact bigger bulkier items. The idea with the cubes is to compact all you need into the carry-on sized bag. NOTE: compacting makes your bag heavier. So if you are taking a Latin-American flight, and they are going to weigh your carry-on, expertly using packing cubes will make your bag overweight and you will have to pay.
Leave space to buy things!! Duh! If you leave your house and the zipper is almost busting you haven't left any space for shopping. You want to put your zippers to the test on the way home, not on the way to your adventure. Also, another reason to splurge on my favorite bags above, they have the most amazing indestructible zippers.
Get yourself a small but strong fold-able bag that fits into your carry-on. Just in case you can't zip your bag shut after "shopping til you drop" on your trip. You won't find a durable bag that you can check under the plane while traveling. Nor do you want to spend your time searching for one!! I have a pack-able duffel from L.L. Bean. Plan B- you can fit lots in a sealed cardboard box!!
Travel candles are wonderful to help you feel peaceful after a long flight. So are margaritas.
Bring an (empty) travel water bottle or coffee mug to lessen your carbon footprint. My friend recently told me that TSA will let you through security with frozen ice in your water bottle. I haven't tested this yet.
Build yourself a little travel electronics case with extra chargers, earphones, eye mask etc so you don't have to remember to pack your bedside charger at 4am. Put it together with your passport and money the night before. Do not leave this bag next to the door when you leave at 4am.
Little bottles of alcohol, while being the correct liquid size, are not allowed through TSA in Puerto Vallarta. If they catch you they will make you drink them or throw them away. Luckily there is a Starbucks right there that has ice.