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!

My Tumi cosmetic bag and GoToob travel bottles.

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!

Our Side by Side tech travel organizer holds an abundance of cords and gadgets and even has room for Herb’s back-up wired Earbuds in case his AirPods lose their charge. 

*     *     *     *     *

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.

All unpacked and ready to travel! On board the Regent Voyager. Barcelona. 2019.

10 Comments

  • Hello Mary,

    Your note for packing make me itchy for running out somewhere.
    I didn’t plan any yet this year except hopeful Korea trip for family visit.
    The travel costs may go up years on as the house prices roar, l am afraid.
    I am on the trail as usual but with lazy schedule.
    I wish to hear about your new explorations soon.
    Say hello to Herb.

    myron

    • It’s great to hear from you, Myron! Herb and I have missed seeing you and catching up on our early morning walks. I hope you are able to travel to Korea soon to see your family. It has been such a long stretch at home for all of us. We’re thrilled to be getting out again, slowly testing the nearby waters – optimistic, respectful of what we’ve learned and most of all, hopeful for the not-too-distant future. Happy Trails and Happy Travels 🙂

  • A fun read, Mary. I went back and read “101” as well. I too am obsessively organized and can’t live without my travel cubes. But blow-up hangers, who knew?
    Amazon will be delivering them in a couple days!

    • Well, that just made me smile, Janet! I’m so happy you found the post helpful. And I’m thrilled to know I’m in such great company in the club for the obsessively organized!

  • Hi again, Mary,
    We have 40+ years of live-and-learn traveling, but you’ve added some new ‘maybes’ to my travel purchases. I have tried the Go Toobs and found I prefer travel sizes of my fav products. Also have many packing accessories from Eagle Creek, and more recently, Away luggage. Have a large older Briggs and Riley but recently also added several pieces of hard-side light-weight Away luggage. So far, so good, for 2 cruises shortly before lockdown. Made note of your SidebySide gadget holder and the Bagail cubes (many are out of stock now). We have a power strip similar to the Tessa. Good to know we’re basically on the same page. Yes, packing is stressful. For cruises, I use the interlocking-layers folding method we learned from our now-closed travel store😔 many years ago. I can pack a lot more clothes that way. Packing cubes work better for me on road trips or vacations with many stops.

    Back to a road trip in September to Monterey, with notes to check out the otter-watching trip, and 2 cruises scheduled for 2022, barring any more unforeseen events.

    Thank you for your entertainment and wisdom,
    Robin

  • I remembered products from Pac Safe that have helped my feeling of security when traveling. A cross body medium handbag and an around the neck passport case that I always wear when we are in transit.

    Robin

    • Another great suggestion, Robin…thanks! I haven’t yet tried an around-the-neck passport case, but I’ve used a crossbody handbag for quite awhile. It has been truly indispensable, and as you describe, offers a feeling of security!

  • This is terrific information, Robin. Thank you for sharing it here! I’m happy to have given you some “maybe” food for thought as well. It’s all such a trial-and-error process that evolves over the years, isn’t it? I’m always thrilled when I find something new that works better than what I was using.
    Thank you also for your medicine bag ideas from my Packing 101 post. For some reason, that comment is not showing up here. Technical difficulties! So sorry…I will continue trying to resolve the glitch.
    I hope you get a chance to take the sea otter excursion when you’re in Monterey. It’s a delightful outing 🙂

  • Hi Mary,

    Once again thanks for a very informative post. I didn’t have time to reply when you first posted it as I was busy packing for our cruise on the Silver Moon to Greece and Cyprus, but I did find time to run out to the Tumi store nearby and pick up that fabulous cosmetic bag! I was able to get it in Navy to match my luggage, and am happy to report that it worked wonderfully for our entire trip – pre in Amsterdam and Athens, 10-day cruise on a gorgeous ship, and post in Monte Carlo. Blessed to be able to travel with family again, and looking forward to many years of use out of my new bag. Thanks for the tip!

    Take care and safe travels,

    Maureen

    • Maureen, I am absolutely delighted that the Tumi cosmetic bag was a hit! And I love that you found it in a color to match your luggage 🙂 I’m always a little apprehensive to recommend travel products, but my hope is that if something is a tried-and-true winner for me, it will be for others as well. Thank you also for the great news about your recent cruise and land adventures! It’s wonderful to hear positive news from travelers venturing out again. Wishing you continued safe and happy travels!

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