What's in my carry-on: 5 Essential for Stylish, Organized Packing by STG Editor Diana Southern

What’s in My Carry-on: 5 Essentials for Stylish, Organized Packing

I’m a neat freak :: there, I said it :: so naturally I’m a bit obsessed with keeping my stuff organized while I travel. I’ll liken it to keeping your closet organized… but since my nomadic life means I no longer have one of those, my need for tidiness has spilled over into my packing habits.

Below are a few simple tools I use to stay organized as I pack, un-pack, and re-pack on my way around the world. Have any of these items found their way into your travel collection?

1. Packing Cubes

In My Bag: Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Starter Packing Cube Set

This is the ONLY way I can pack my clothes, now that I’ve tried them. Since packing cubes keep my clothes separate from the other items in my pack, it makes packing in a small backpack a truly viable option. I’m particularly fond of the garment folder, as it fits perfectly (no matter how full) along the back edge of my backpack. And my clothes remain snugly folded inside.

Eagle Creek Specter Pack-It packing cube and garment folder set

I can’t imagine why, but the pink (“beet”) color is commonly on sale! (It was on Amazon, last time I checked.)

The Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Starter Set (AmazonREI / Zappos) comes with a garment folder and two packing cubes — one large (“cube”) and one small (“half cube”). I actually only use the garment folder and the small cube. My boyfriend uses the large cube in his pack. So this set works nicely for couple’s travel, too. If you have an extra, just roll it up in your suitcase and use it as a laundry bag!

View more packing cube options in Organize Your Carry-On Step 1: Clothing.

2. Clear Zipper Pouches

In My Bag: Two TSA 3-1-1 sized zipper pouches

These are FANTASTIC for organization because you can see through them. I use one for my liquids when I’m going through security at the airport and one for other toiletry items like Q-tips, make-up, razor, etc. Then I can slide them easily into small empty spaces in my backpack.

travel liquids in clear plastic zipper pouch

my travel liquids in a clear plastic zipper pouch

I couldn’t tell you what brand the ones I own are, or where I got them (it’s been too long), but they’re inexpensive and easy to find (REI 3-1-1 Air Travel Liquids Bag / Set of 3 color-coded clear make-up bags on Amazon).

View more options for packing toiletries in Organize Your Carry-On Step 2: Toiletries.

3. Travel Jewelry Box

In My Bag: Mele & Co Travel Jewelry Box

This is the BEST travel jewelry organizer I’ve found. It’s not perfect (it’s easy to open it upside down if you’re not paying attention… yikes!), but it’s a nice compact size that can still hold a considerable quantity of earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings. And it has a zipper closure, so even if the contents get jostled around a bit en route to your destination, you won’t lose anything to the abyss of your outer bag.

Mele and Co travel jewelry box organizer

My Mele & Co travel jewelry box — Read more about in my review.

Available on Amazon and Zappos.

4. Shoe Pouch

In My Bag: REI Drawstring Ditty Sack (medium)

I take two pairs of shoes on most trips: one that I pack, and one that I wear on the plane. I slide the packed pair (usually sandals of some variety) into a drawstring stuff sack (not what it’s meant for, but I like multi-use travel gear) and place it in one of my two exterior water bottle pockets on my backpack.

As with the clear pouches, it matters little what brand you buy; mine happen to be from REI.

View more shoe packing options in Organize Your Carry-On Step 3: Shoes.

5. Sleek, Stylish Backpack

My Bag: JanSport Onyx Watchtower Daypack

It’s called a “daypack” but it holds ALL my stuff — everything listed above, plus more. (I have a compact daypack for true day trips.) I prefer the Watchtower over a roller suitcase because it’s a little smaller and more malleable, so it can pass for a personal item on flights that charge for overhead space. All the exterior pockets are low-profile, keeping the bag manageable and more stylish overall. Even the logo is inconspicuous, blending in with the gray color on the top of the bag.

That said, the bag is structured enough to make packing in it quicker and easier than in a floppy bag, and you can keep all your clothes perfectly organized inside with packing containers (see #1). Perhaps most important for me: the straps are comfy on my slightly-protruding collarbone, which can be a huge pain in the ass when I’m backpack shopping.

Find my exact bag at REI or a similar version (with different colors/material) on Amazon.


What do you use to stay organized while you travel? Share your packing tips and tools in the comments below!

Author Profile

Diana SouthernSTG Founder & Contributing Editor

Diana is an outspoken, DIY-ing, star-chasing, hockey-loving, dog-owning, veggie-eating professional wanderer. And that’s not the half of it. Not long ago she jumped ship from a comfy, predictable American life, sold all her stuff, and set out to explore the unknown. Now a full-time traveler, Diana believes that spontaneity, a smile, and an organized suitcase are the three key elements to a happy nomadic existence. Follow her personal travels on North To South.