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Tim Leffel

Professional Travel Expert

Packing Aids

With a few notable exceptions, the airlines are getting stingier and stingier about how much baggage you can bring without incurring extra fees. Packing more than one suitcase can be costly and some airlines will charge you for even one. The only way to always avoid fees is to carry on a small bag that meets the strictest size requirements.

So how do experienced road warriors get a week’s worth of items into one bag? There are lots of tips and tricks, but the right gear can help as well. Here are the best travel packing aids to make the most of your luggage.

Best Packing Aids by Tim Leffel

The Best You Can Get

  • Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes

    Tim says: For people who like to shop at The Container Store and believe there’s a certain place for everything in the home, these Eagle Creek packing cubes are the greatest luggage innovation since wheels. They allow organized people to stay super-organized, even when they have to pack light.

    Available in several sizes, these cubes can act as compression devices for stuffing more in your suitcase, which almost makes up for the fact they take away the “roll and bundle” option most favored by the one bag carry-on crowd. The biggest advantage of the cubes is that they allow you to pack and unpack in a hurry, without searching for five minutes to find that certain t-shirt or pair of socks. One cube can also be used as a laundry bag, keeping the dirty items separate from the others. Other companies make similar versions, but these come with a lifetime warranty.

    • Keeps clothing organized
    • Acts as a compression device
    • Can keep dirty laundry separated
  • ExOfficio Insect Shield Convertible Pants

    Tim says: When packing light, single-function clothing you will only wear once is trouble. A pair of convertible pants is a good bet for vacation travel, giving you pants with zip-off legs so you can have shorts as well. These pants from ExOfficio take it one step further, with built-in insect repellent that lasts for at least 25 washings. So on top of the ability to switch from shorts to pants, you can also keep the bugs away on a dusk hike or having cocktails on an open deck. Available in sizes for women and men, they are “field-tested and approved by the African Wildlife Foundation.”

    • One clothing item for both pants and shorts
    • Lightweight and wrinkle resistant
    • Built-in insect repellant
  • Chargepod

    Tim says: For many travelers it’s not clothes that are the issue when packing: it’s all the electronic accessories. None of the gadgets have standardized connectors or chargers, so each phone, music player, or gaming device requires its own set of accessories. The Chargepod is designed to cut down that load considerably. Instead of an unruly pile of bulky chargers, you carry a thin disc, one wall cord, and tiny connectors catered to your devices.

    You just plug the cord into one outlet on the wall and then attach your devices to the connectors coming out of the central hub. This hub is smaller and thinner than a hockey puck and is super-light. As you plug in each item, a blue LED comes on to tell you that your device is charging. You come back later to a fully charged array of gadgets. The Chargepod comes standard with connectors for the most common devices, such as Blackberry, Nokia phones, and a USB connector for an iPod. For others, you can order to suit.

    • Charges portable electronics from a central hub
    • Only requires one wall socket
    • Eliminates the need for multiple chargers
  • JanSport Shower Abode II

    Tim says: One help in packing light and staying organized is a good toiletry kit. This lightweight hanging one from JanSport is much like the other kits of this type on the market, but with one key defining difference. The hook on the top can be removed and reattached to a removable flap holding three bottles for the shower. So even when you’re in a minimal hostel shower with no shelving, you’ve always got a shower caddy!

    The kit has plenty of compartments and pockets for toiletries and cosmetics and the inside is fully lined with coated, spill-resistant nylon. It even comes stocked with screw-top plastic bottles, a soap dish, and a toothbrush holder.

    • Compact toiletry kits saves space and stays organized
    • Part of the bag converts to a shower caddy
    • Bottles, soap dish, and toothbrush holder included
  • Travelon Compression Packing Bags

    Tim says: As seen on TV! The subject of many commercial come-ons and breathless ads, these simple bags do indeed reduce your bulky sweaters and jackets down to a manageable size for packing. You place your clothing inside, roll the bag to compress the clothes and remove air, then seal the bag. After that your space-hogging winter clothes can fit into a suitcase smaller than a steamer trunk. Upon arrival, pull everything out and unpack into drawers.

    Be warned though that this solution does nothing to get you under the weight limits now strictly imposed by airlines. The bulk is reduced, but nothing gets any lighter. It still pays to pack carefully and only take what’s needed. If it’s a close call, wear the heavy items like jeans and hiking boots onto the plane and use these bags to compress the light but bulky items.

    • Compress bulky clothing
    • Fit more into one suitcase
    • Items stay tightly packed during transit

You will be happy with any of these

  • ExOfficio Air Strip Lite Shirts

    Tim says: Sure, anything wrinkle-free will help your packing efforts, but these hi-tech shirts from Ex Officio also weigh next to nothing and will dry in a few hours after a bout of hand washing in the sink. A favorite of tour guides and safari leaders, these light but rugged shirts come with venting flaps and ample pockets. The long-sleeve ones have a flap and button on the arm that allows them to convert from a long-sleeve shirt to a short-sleeve one as the weather heats up. The stain-resistant material keeps looking good after a day of exploration or sightseeing and with a UV factor of 30+ UPF they’ll protect your skin from the sun. The Air Strip Lite shirts come in 23 colors and a variety of patterns, so it’s easy to get the right one for the rest of your wardrobe.

    • Looks great
    • Small
    • Artistic
  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Shirt Folder

    Tim says: Jamming clothes into a suitcase as tightly as possible may be fine for some items, but it’s tough on clothes you want to look nice in shortly after arrival. With the Eagle Creek Pack-it shirt folder, you can keep plenty of shirts or blouses in a small space, but pack them in a way that will keep them looking their best. After using the included plastic folding guide and closing up the Velcro, wrinkles will be kept at a minimum during your journey.

    The folders come in three different sizes and four colors, with a capacity of up to fifteen shirts in the largest (25-inch) one. As with all Eagle Creek items, there is a lifetime guarantee.

    • Compresses shirts into a smaller space
    • Keeps wrinkles to a minimum
    • Makes it easier to fit shirts into any suitcase or bag
  • North Face Base Camp Travel Canister

    Tim says: No matter how well you pack, there always seem to be random items that have nowhere to go in your suitcase, getting lost and leaving you to go, “So THAT’S where that thing was!” when you get home and unpack. This soft travel canister from North Face is meant to be the catch-all for all those random band-aids, headlamps, batteries, and other odd items. It holds five cubic liters of stuff but is only a foot long. It can be hooked to your pants or your pack and the items inside will stay dry if a sudden rainstorm hits. This versatile packing aid comes in six colors and has a lifetime warranty.

    • Good for keeping small items together and organized
    • Keeps inside items dry, even in the rain
    • Daisy chains to a belt loop or onto a backpack
  • Roll Up Travel Jewelry Case from Tech Swiss

    Tim says: A jewelry box is not meant for the road, so this roll up case from Tech Swiss is a great way to carry weeks’ worth of jewelry in a protected but compact fashion. You just place all your items in the appropriate places, then roll it all up and snap it into a tube that is only eleven inches wide — small enough to put into a hotel room safe. The roll has a bar for rings, an earring holder for ten pairs, two zippered compartments, plus a zippered pouch that can be detached — a nice feature for splitting the checked items from the more valuable carry-on ones. With leather accents and a magnetic buckle, this item looks fancy for the price and comes in a variety of colors.

    • A compact and organized jewelry case
    • Holds 10 pairs of earrings and plenty of rings and necklaces
    • Made of leather in a variety of colors
  • Travelon Pack Flat Backup Bag

    Tim says: No matter how well you pack, you often end up with more in your suitcase coming home than you had when you left. This backup bag from Travelon packs to one inch flat on the way there, taking up almost no room. Then if you pick up some souvenirs or end up with materials from a trade show, you have an extra bag on hand for the additional items. This bag also works as a baggage allowance insurance policy. If you get to check-in and find that your bag is two pounds overweight, you can transfer items to this and then carry it on the plane with you. The Pack Flat Backup bag comes with top handles, a shoulder strap, and a strap to secure it to a rolling suitcase.

    • Zips down to one inch thick
    • Opens up to a carry-on size soft duffel bag
    • Made of lightweight polyester

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