My notes for a follow-up blog post on travel packing have been collecting virtual dust in an unfinished drafts folder for almost two years. What began as an idea for a companion piece to a post called Travel Packing 101 sat waiting to be finished after we returned from our Middle East travels in November 2019. But by March 2020, the last topic I wanted to write about – or anyone wanted to read about – was how to pack for all those trips that none of us would be taking.
Now that the world is slowly opening its doors, the timing for a discussion about travel packing seems a little more relevant, a little more hopeful. Even if we’re not traveling right now, many of us are venturing out in smaller ways, making plans for sooner rather than later and allowing ourselves to dream again. And I’m fairly certain that I speak for almost everyone when I say we are oh-so ready!
My previous packing post focused on strategies and lessons learned, sometimes from experiences that didn’t go quite so right. This time I’m featuring a few items that I’ve found helpful for staying organized and making the packing process as stress-free as possible. As always, I have no affiliation with any of the items and do not receive compensation – financial or otherwise – for links that appear here or elsewhere on the blog. My only desire is to share what I have learned with other travelers, with the hope that an idea or two might make the route along the way a little bit smoother.
Travel Packing 101 – Part 2
1. Life-Changing Packing Cubes.
Yes, I know I’m extremely late to the party on this one, but it is not an exaggeration to say that packing cubes have changed my travel life. As a ridiculously organized soul, I had dismissed the idea for a long time, proclaiming that I didn’t need help with arranging items in my suitcase. Our son and daughter kept raving about using packing cubes whenever they traveled, finally convincing me that I should reconsider my point-of-view and give the concept a try.
The idea of placing items in zippered nylon cubes is like creating drawers inside your suitcase. There are dozens of brands on the market, but I went with Bagail, which offers a set of six – two each of three sizes. I bought sets for both Herb and me as well as an extra set, just in case we needed more of a specific size. We packed like items in each cube – exercise clothes, sleepwear, socks, shirts – and plopped them into our suitcases. I put tissue paper around a few of my nicer tops, just to make sure they wouldn’t wrinkle. Not only was the packing process easier and faster, but our clothes stayed in great shape when we arrived at our destination.
I’ve found that packing cubes work well when living out of a suitcase on a short stay and are also surprisingly helpful when unpacking on a longer trip. We used them for the first time on our three-week Middle East cruise, placing them in our cabin’s drawers and closet shelves, unzipped but not unpacked, creating organized “drawers” for easy access.
2. Spill-Proof & Easy-to-Use Travel Bottles.
I’m a bit of a fanatic about traveling with my own personal products. I don’t want to spend precious travel time tracking down items in a new city or hoping that a hotel bathroom will be stocked with what I will like. For overnight, weekend or week-long jaunts, I carry everything I need in a TSA-approved clear zippered pouch. But for longer journeys, I pack a toiletry bag with bigger-sized travel containers in my checked luggage.
My all-time favorite containers are the original silicone bottles by GoToob. I love the different colors for easy identification as well as the dial that you can set for identifying the product it contains, such as shampoo or soap. Each bottle has a generously-sized, easy-to-fill opening and a tight-fitting cap that becomes a sturdy stand. And best of all, they’ve never leaked.
During the pandemic, I ordered an additional bottle to fill with hand sanitizer for my purse. It’s a strange illusion to store something upside-down on its cap in a place where you don’t want any spills. But like my older set, this one has yet to leak or drip.
3. A Cosmetic Bag for the Long Haul.
A couple of years ago, I bought a Tumi cosmetic bag to replace a bulkier and heavier version that I’d been using for about twenty years. This new incarnation is lightweight and durable and incredibly well-designed, with zippered pockets and compartments for organizing items and holding everything neatly in place. It has worked wonderfully so far, and I’m counting on it for the next twenty years!
4. Hang It Up.
I realize that the words travel and laundry don’t go together very well, but there are moments when the two worlds intersect like overlapping circles on a Venn diagram. The best solution I’ve found for items that require line-drying – be it something I’ve washed in a sink or a ship’s laundry room – are inflatable hangers. They pack completely flat and have a hook that swivels to easily fit over a bathtub’s retractable clothesline or a towel bar. Although they’re not a must pack item, I’m always happy I’ve brought them along…just in case.
5. Plug It In.
Ever since various tech devices became our traveling companions, Herb and I have packed a power strip to ensure we have enough outlets for charging our gear. We’ve been pleased with our basic linear-strip-with-surge-protector model, but a recent gift from our son and his husband really upped our game. This rectangular version by Tessan is smaller, easier to pack and has outlets for everything we need. And the biggest bonus for us: It includes USB ports for charging our phones.
6. A Case for Cords.
The second part of our son’s tech travel gift has been as transformative as the suitcase cubes for streamlining our packing needs. Herb travels with a multitude of cords and tech gadgets and has been known to spend an inordinate amount of time digging in his bag or backpack to find the item he needs.
Our new organizer from Side by Side is an unbelievable workhorse, with three compartments that feature pockets, panels and elastic loops for customizing whatever items you have. I especially love its soft, stretchy fabric and slim profile that easily fits into a carry-on bag. Herb keeps the case packed and ready for travel so he doesn’t have to scramble for cords before leaving home. I now have no reason to worry that the man sitting next to me on the plane won’t be able to find the cord for recharging his iPhone before landing!
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The way we travel and what we choose to bring along is a personal decision. One person’s favorite packing discovery may be another’s excess baggage. What is important, I believe, is to find what works for you, but remain open to new ideas. Keep current. Embrace change. And who knows? You may just happen upon something that transforms your travel life in a surprisingly wonderful way.