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The Unorganized Traveler: Why Packing Cubes Aren’t for Me

I’ve often wondered: Are packing cubes worth it? Many fellow travelers love them, and so does my husband. So on a recent trip, I test-drove a set for the first time—and discovered that despite all the raves I’ve read about them, they’ll never make it into my “must-pack” pile. To paraphrase an old break-up cliche, the problem wasn’t the packing cubes. It was me.

Packing cubes are lightweight fabric bags that you can use to separate your suitcase into manageable sections. The ones I tried were an attractive and well-made three-piece set from eBags (also available from Amazon), with cubes ranging in size from 17.5 by 12.75 by 3.25 inches to 11 by 6.75 by 3 inches.

One of the main advantages of using packing cubes is their versatility. You can put pants in the large one, tops in the medium, and socks/undies in the small. The Baby Bear-sized bag could also make a good home for a pair of shoes or some toiletries; meanwhile, Papa Bear can hold a decent-sized pile of dirty duds. For the organized traveler, the possibilities are endless.

[st_related]11 Ways to Stay Organized While Traveling[/st_related]

Trouble is, I’m not a particularly organized traveler. Or, to be more precise, keeping things organized is less important to me than maximizing every inch of suitcase space. I typically roll my clothes into compact bundles that can be wedged neatly into gaps between other items, a strategy that’s allowed me to travel with a carry-on only, even on trips as long as two weeks. With the packing cubes, I found myself trying to work around three bulky rectangular shapes that, yes, kept things compartmentalized—but also left me with lots of wasted space.

And frankly, I didn’t really need a special organizer for my dirty laundry. Instead, I used what I always use: a reclaimed plastic bag from the grocery store. (Cost: free.)

So are packing cubes worth it? Not to me. That said, here are two examples of travelers who might benefit from using packing cubes.

People who share a suitcase: Stow your clothes in blue bags and your hubby’s clothes in red ones so you can easily tell whose stuff is whose. Families with kids could also benefit from packing cubes, by color-coding each sibling’s items.

Travelers who will be moving a lot from one hotel to another: Sort your outfits accordingly and you’ll only pull out what you need in each place, rather than turning your whole suitcase inside out.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

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