None of us were born this way. We all had a mess in our rooms at some point growing up. Spending money on travel organizers and compression cubes was not only unavailable, it was not even thought of.
And look at us today, there are all kinds of travel accessories to help us squeeze extra space in our luggage. For some hardcore travelers, it's definitely needed, but most of us probably look at the shelves of travel pouches at REI and think "cute, but not for me and not for $30."
I used to be like that - admiring those pouches from far or through my laptop screen and going back to grocery bags for packing for my trips.
Then one day, I finally gave in and bought a few travel organizers. It was like opening a pandora box. I got addicted. There is no turning back now.
I tried a bunch of options - pouches, compression cubes, cable ties, etc. This article is the summary and my thoughts on the best of the best of these that I found so far.
At this point, I'm probably $400 deep into all these organizing expenses. No regrets, just counting the spend. I bought some for some small trips. Then more were needed, and so I kept ordering and trying out more products.
If you think this is a new trend because Patagonia and REI just jumped on this ship (literally this spring both released their own versions of travel cubes), you're not exactly right.
Back in 1996, Eagle Creek came out with a series of Pack-It accessory packs that evolved into what we know today to be the ever-growing lines of Pack-It cubes and pouches.
Before Eagle Creek, there was no such term as adventure travel backpack. You're either all in on a long hiking adventure or you're with a college backpack. In 1975 they changed that and started pioneering all kinds of backpack organization products.
The cubes as we know them today came to market in 2012. From what I know, this was a pure blue ocean market, meaning there was no real competition and Eagle Creek was really too far ahead of everyone else.
Today, other brands are catching up.
And I know we all think we have all these choices on the market, but as I just wrote in the duffle bag article, there is a company that controls 55% of the backpack market in the USA. If you ever want to read up on VF Corporation, head to Wikipedia. Eagle Creek is one of their brands along with The North Face, Vans, Kipling, Timberland, Reef, Jansport, Wrangler, Dickies, and others.
Every travel website probably has its own version of the benefits of packing cubes. All of these articles come down to 5 things:
For me personally, #4 was key. I wanted a duffle that can be the only bag I take on a week-long trip. After I did that, all other benefits started to make a lot more sense as I began to travel more with my duffle and packing organizers.
If you want to learn more about ripstop nylon and why most packing cubes are made from it, head to my duffle bag post to read up on this exciting topic.
Packing cubes are not giving you any compression. For any large items like sweaters, compression is great. But for mostly everything else normal packing cubes are the way to go.
I see a lot of articles on the web going into this super in-depth comparison, but it really comes down to having or not having compression - hence the different names.
Most of us use Amazon as the first place to find something in a category we haven't bought before. We look at reviews, pricing, product images, and supporting info, etc.
There are some really nice travel pouch packs, but I stayed away from them in this article because in my experience and in the reviews I read on many of the products, what I'm listing here are the most trusted options.
By trusted I mean they are made well and can withstand extensive travel use. Some non-branded or less known brand products look good until their first of maybe fifth trip when zippers fall apart, edges rip, etc.
So, even though with some of these you'd be paying $5-10 more, I still feel it's worth to buy the best on the market and keep it for decades.
So let's get to the list of the travel organizers and accessories, in no particular ranking or order. Everything I list here I bought myself, so nothing of my mentions is sponsored or provided for free by any of these brands.
Packing cubes are a great way to keep everything in its own pouch - pants, shirts, outwear, shoes, underwear, gadget chargers, toiletries, and beach clothing - these are my 8 organizers that I carry in my 60L duffle bag.
I like the Specter series because of how light they are. I also enjoy the color combos and quality zippers on these. I prefer to keep buying from the same series of organizers so my bag fits like a puzzle. You'll notice that the cubes really stack up well together.
I started with one shirt pouch and one toiletry pouch. Both became my favorite items in the bag because I almost trained myself to always have the toiletry bag restocked and ready to be thrown in a bag for any travel, even if it was 10 minutes from now. With shirts, I like being limited to 5-7 that I can fit in my Eagle Creek pouch.
From here I just started adding more, in various colors, until my setup became complete and everything I carry has its own "category pouch."
I just recently did a trip where for 7 days we stayed at new hotels every night. With Eagle Creek Specter organizers, it was super easy to keep my sanity of packing and unpacking. There is no mess and I can always just throw pouches back in the duffle and get going to the next destination.
Even though these may not be the first places you consider to buy travel organizers, but Home Depot and Topo Designs have some really nice pouch options.
I bought 3 Milwaukee pouches for $19 and these are great for cables, gadgets, other small items with an irregular shape. the pouches have a wide standing base, so they can stay open and still stand on their own.
Topo Designs organizer was the very first organizer I got and I still love it and take it with me on trips. It's a bit heavier than Specter pouches from Eagle Creek, but has an inside divider and also a great size for shirts and pants.
Another one I really like is the MindShift Gear pouch, mostly for camera users, but great for anything. It's super sturdy, has 2 dividers inside and a pocket in the back. Everything is easy to see and keep organized. I have two of these and use them for chargers and small camera items.
I see more and more compression accessories, so I thought I'd research and see what's so interesting about these. ZipLock and Eagle Creek make the top 2 choices on the market. So I bought both and used them on 3 of my last trips.
Compression is needed when you need to transport something puffy, like a sweater or a winter jacket. For other things, like jeans, I didn't see much point in compression.
The way these work is simple: insert your clothing, zip the top, and then roll the pouch until all the air is released on the bottom through these designated vent areas.
Ziploc safe travel pouches are probably the most familiar type to all of us since we have a smaller grocery type version at every store nearby. I think these are not as well made or look as good as Eagle Creek, but they get the job done.
Eagle Creek Compression pouches are seemingly better quality judging from my personal experience. They have the ripstop type pattern and are a bit harder to see through, but I feel more confident that things inside will stay protected.
For a typical trip, I'd say you don't really need this type of compression. I carried my Patagonia Nano Puff and a sweatshirt in one of these pouches and will not be bringing these on my future trips. I don't like the odd shape of the pouch in my bag next to everything perfectly aligned in Eagle Creek Specter Cubes and don't want crazy wrinkles on my clothing.
If you plan to buy some t-shirts from Asilda Store, they will come in these nice Asilda frosted zip lock pouches. One side is frosted and the other is clear so you can see the contents.
I wanted the packaging to be long lasting and so this was my way of giving something reusable to all the buyers of Asilda Store apparel.
These are 13x10" and can fit documents, 1-2 shirts max, and anything smaller in larger quantities.
Most of us carry a digital or film camera on the trips, so if you don't want to have a dedicated camera bag, I have 3 solutions for you. I tested these on my travels and can vouch for the convenience.
Peak Design makes a really great small pouch and a series of lens pouches, which can fit small camera bodies with no problem. Peak Design is seriously invested in making next level camera gear that pushes all other camera bag companies to the limits just to compete.
The other option for camera carry is the Quick Pack from Topo Designs. I have a previous generation Hip Pack, which essentially is the same bag with some small upgrades. The padding is not very thick but worked fine for me.
I carried this bag with me on my WY Loop trip and had a7R and M6 in this bag together with my wallet, phone, and charging cables. Nothing got damaged and I felt very nimble having all my cameras in one light bag.
When it comes to cable organizers, I am very particular in how cables are labeled and stored. Being a photographer first and business owner second, I have half of my storage in the office in various camera accessories, hard drives, and so on.
I slowly started getting organized a few years ago and I think now I am finally happy with my setup. Here is what I use and for what.
ThinkTank red whips (no joke, that's their name) - originally made for photographers, these are the best cable ties on the market in my opinion.
Nite Ize cable ties - these are amazing in their neon colors and easy to bend. They keep their shape really well but are more expensive than Think Tank. Also, on Amazon there are a lot of fake "Nite Ize cable ties" to be aware you may not be getting the real deal.
Cable Cuff Pro - I bought a few of these at Home Depot for under $1. these work well for my laptop charging cable. Somehow that's the only place I consistently use them for.
PearstoneReusable Plastic Ties - got these on B&H Photo Video for $1.99 and love that you can reuse them. They are 8" long and will be great for anything from laptop chargers to other things you need to tie down.
Black/gold printed labels - my Brother label maker was the best $20 I spent the month I bought it. I love marking my hard drives, cables, journals, tea containers, and other things like these.
The standard black and white label tape seemed too boring so I found this really cool black/gold color version that I love. Highly recommend both the label maker and this label tape insert because of quality and great price.
Gaffer tape - I tried a few cable labels, like these sheets from Amazon, Hova labels from B&H, but always come back to bright yellow gaffer tape for labeling any time my label maker is not the best option (need a high visibility marker on a cable for example). The best part about Gaffer tape is that it leaves no residue on the surface and attaches really well.
This is something new for me, but I bought a few TSA approved locks to put on my duffles. I don't normally leave my carry on bags unattended, but the one time I needed to check my duffle in - I wish I had these locks.
Nothing bad happened, I just really worried that the whole duffle will unzip wide open and all my stuff in beautiful packing organizers will be lost. So, I got home and ordered one Eagle Creek TSA lock and one cool skull lock I found on Amazon.
Eagle Creek locks have mixed reviews and often fail on people, but so far so good for me. These also look pretty good and have good reviews.
Last time I needed to clear my head, I decided to put everything in the house in a container, so all sports items, office supplies, cycling accessories, and so on got their special containers.
As my last step on this reorganization, I got a few black Iris heavy duty totes - for hard drives, drone accessories, everything Action Cam, and camera flash kits and all cables and chargers for them.
So with that, any time we need something for a drone, I have a single place to look for anything drone-related. These totes are small enough to be taken on the road trip in the trunk of a car.
So my recommendation is to invest in a few heavy duty totes that are smaller than 12 gallons and just keep some key gear or travel accessories in them at your house.
My personal choice is with all Iris products and I buy 3 and 5-gallon heavy duty stacking totes either at the Container Store or online. For larger totes, I usually go with something like these 12-gallon ones.
You'll also be surprised how many containers Home Depot has on their website but not in their stores. The selection is 17 pages long, just thought it's worth mentioning since I didn't know this until I just researched the link for Iris products on their website.
I had two problems with carrying shampoo - travel bottles were too small and I never had enough refills at home or big bottles were too big to carry.
I was always tempted to get GoToob bottles. I looked at them online and in-store and somehow never felt confident enough these won't open randomly in my bag. The main issues with these were leakage, evaporation of what's inside, and difficulty with cleaning or getting the smell out.
Then I found MyTube from the Container Store and decided to give it a shot. The lock is more secure, there is a marker on the cap that you rotate to mark whether you have shampoo/conditioner/or body gel inside. The size was perfect for my 7-day trip and 3oz was just enough for me alone. These are not good for oils, if you need to carry oil, take one of these or these dropper bottles.
These come in 3 colors of caps, I opted in for the pink one. I wish there were nicer color options to go along with Eagle Creek items. But oh well. The only problem with these is lack of reviews from other users, so you can't really tell how good these are aside from what I'm saying here.
If this list doesn't cover it for you, here are some more suggestion of useful travel accessories and which ones I use:
Amazon is always a great research and buying option, but I do enjoy getting things from other places as well.
The best part about using travel organizers is knowing everything is in the right place. You have no mess inside your bag and can find everything in seconds. Your bag is neatly packed and getting home after the trip is equally fun because you don't have to spend the next week unpacking the mess.
These 10 travel accessories and things I mentioned here are all from personal experience and I hope you found this info useful. If you did, leave a comment below! Happy travels and stay organized!