Even the most prepared tourist can feel completely off-kilter when staying in new surroundings or dealing with the many unknowns of travel. Thankfully, a bit of preparation and some clever travel organization hacks will keep any trip from devolving into utter chaos. Here are a few on-the-go travel organization tips to keep you sane, no matter where your journeys take you.
Download Itinerary Apps
The days of juggling printouts of flight info, hotel reservations, rental-car confirmations, schedules, maps, and directions are over. With the help of itinerary apps, you can organize all of your itineraries on your smartphone. The best of the bunch is TripIt. Simply forward confirmation emails to TripIt and it will generate a complete itinerary for you, then customize your itinerary by adding maps, directions, and notes. You can even share your account with others, making group travel a cinch.
[st_related]The 5 Best Trip Planner Apps for Travelers[/st_related]
Use a Packing List Before and During Your Trip
You should always make a packing list before you even pull your suitcase out of the closet. (And to get started, download a copy of our Ultimate Packing List.) But what about when you’re on the road? It may be a good idea to print a duplicate copy and pack it in your suitcase. That way, you can check it against your belongings while on the road to ensure you leave no item behind. When you’re repacking at the end of a long vacation, you can check items off as you place them back neatly in your luggage.
Use Packing Cubes
A trusted workhorse in organizing your travel bag is packing cube sets. I’ve used durable eBags packing cubes for years to separate clothes by type and to keep my toiletries and accessories separate. Packing cubes are the easiest way to turn your suitcase into a compartmentalized closet, and make unpacking at your destination incredibly simple.
[st_related]The Best Packing Cubes Ever[/st_related]
Organize Your Technology
Carry a lot of technology with you on your travels? Then you know how easily cords get tangled and gadgets get lost. Cocoon makes several accessory organizers that feature an organization system with rubberized elastic bands to hold your chargers, headphones, backup storage, and other accessories in place (some even come with pockets for your tablet and computer). These flat, lightweight cases fit easily into carry-on bags and are invaluable on the road.
Carry a Well-Organized Wallet, Satchel, or Money Belt
A high-quality, well-organized wallet is indispensable for travel: This one has plenty of pockets for clever storage, but isn’t too bulky to pack and stick into your pocket or handbag. Eagle Creek has a number of smart options with sufficient organization for your passport and boarding passes, while Bellroy’s leather travel wallet earns praise for its clever, sleek design and included mini travel pen.
You can also get a designated small satchel or discreet money belt to use on your travels—this will force you to prioritize what you need and make you less susceptible to theft. I’m a fan of small cross-body satchels with secure zippers like Travelon’s Anti-Theft Crossbody. Secret pouches that can go under your clothes or a coat also work well, like Zero Grid’s Neck Wallet, if you want something stealthy and light.
[st_related]17 Essential Passport Wallets and Holders for Travelers[/st_related]
Hang Your Toiletries
Anyone with a hefty toiletries bag knows how hard it is to keep all those tiny travel items organized and accessible. The solution is a hanging version—you can hang it open at the hotel to see all your toiletries at once, and still zip it up and stash it away when you need to. 42 Travel’s unisex toiletry kit has high-density, water-resistant fabric and mesh pockets that let you see inside its biggest compartments while it’s hanging.
Organize Your Seatback
Family road trips are a blast until you realize you need something you packed away in the trunk. Keeping everything you’ll need in sight is simple with a seatback organizer. Autoark’s insulated multi-pocket version has a main bag that’s big enough to fit drinks and snacks inside, plus outer compartments for all your smaller necessities.
[st_related]10 Road Trip Essentials: How to Stay Safe, Sane, and on Track[/st_related]
Organize Your Undies
The only way to pack underwear is to awkwardly attempt to fold it, fail, ball it up, and stuff it in the corner of your suitcase, right? Wrong. Underwear bags are a life-changing travel accessory, especially for women packing bras and other intimates that can get lost or damaged in a stuffed suitcase. Mochithings’ Underwear Pouch v2 has a zippered section perfect for stacking bras or other undergarments, plus small top-flap compartments and a detachable zippered pouch. All your tiniest necessities will be at your fingertips when you need them, and not buried or tumbling out when you open your bag.
Use Plastic Bags
Simple plastic baggies come in handy for many packing situations—dirty clothes, wet items, carry-on liquids, jewelry, etc. Whether you grab a handful of Ziploc kitchen baggies or invest in reusable multi-sized ones like Travelon Packing Pouches, keeping some stashed in your suitcase is one of the easiest travel organization tips on this list.
[st_related]12 Clever Ways to Use Plastic Bags When You Travel[/st_related]
Living out of a suitcase can lead to a disorganized vacation. When you arrive at your destination, always unpack immediately, even if your trip is a short one. Fold clothing and place it into dresser drawers, hang up any garment that may wrinkle, arrange your shoes in the closet, and unpack your toiletries in the bathroom rather than leaving them in their quart-sized plastic baggie. You’ll feel more relaxed and at ease, and you won’t be pulling clothing out of a rumpled pile on the floor.
Recreate Your Home Environment
There’s something about a hotel room that makes even the neatest person messy (and turns the naturally disorganized into a hot travel mess). One thing I always do when staying in a hotel is to make my surroundings as home-like as possible.
At home, I keep my keys and wallet on a table near my door, so I recreate that in my hotel room by placing a bowl or box near the door for my purse, keys, wallet, lip balm, etc. That way, I never forget to grab something essential as I’m heading out for the day. When possible, I unpack my clothing into the same dresser-drawer configuration that I use in my own dresser at home, and I arrange my cosmetics and toiletries in a similar fashion in the bathroom. I even charge my iPhone in the same location as I do at home. It sounds a bit type A, but it keeps me organized during hectic trips—and it ensures I never leave anything behind.
What are your best travel organization tips? Share them in the comments.
More from SmarterTravel:
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Shannon McMahon, Dara Continenza, and Margaret Leahy contributed to this story.