Shoulda Woulda Coulda: Learning to Compartmentalize

black hole method vs compartmentalizing

Compartmentalizing. We discussed it a lot here on the site, particularly in our 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag series, but for some reason, it took me the longest time to put this one into practice. I have typically subscribed to the “black hole” method, by which you jam everything in your bag and dump it all out again when you arrive at a destination. After countless sessions of exploding my bag’s contents all over the floors of dorm rooms across the globe, my sister told me there was a better way.

The first mistake I made was filling my compression sack to the brim. While compression sacks are great for shrinking the size of your clothing, they shouldn’t be abused. When you fill it to capacity, it makes it harder to pack around it in your backpack or suitcase. Rather than having an overstuffed compression sack with little room for anything else, you can leave your compression sack ¾ full so that it will be easier to fit into your bag.

Osprey Backpacks

Whether you prefer packing cubes, compression sacks, zippered bags or basic ziploc bags, it’s important to have some sort of system. I used one compression sack for clothes, three cubes for toiletries and accessories and three Baggu zippered bags for shoes, swimwear and undergarments. Everything was placed into a different colored bag and every item had a place. This makes things easier when you’re panicking, wondering what happened to your rain jacket. If you make sure everything ends up back in its original place, you’ll find it easier to repack on the road.

Compartmentalizing also helps when you’re constantly on the road, as you don’t have to unpack compartments if you don’t need them. For example, I left my bag containing swimsuits at the bottom of my bag when I was visiting landlocked Siem Reap and stashed my minimal makeup kit for the majority of the trip. This system works for both suitcases and backpacks, as you fit the bags and cubes together like a puzzle, rather than haphazardly squishing clothing, shoes and everything else together.

While it took me entirely too long to learn my lesson, I’m glad to have developed the right system for me when it comes to packing, unpacking and repacking on the road. I will no longer overpack my compression sack to the point where it’s a large lumpy mass and will instead remember to have lots of smaller bags rather than one large one.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Jaye says

    One caution in regards to compression sacks – more space means you can get more into your bag so be aware of the weight you’ll have to carry and/or pay for.

  2. Julia says

    I use freezer size ziplock bags for packing. Not only do they help me fit everything into my 40L pack but they help me stay organized on the road so when I’m rushing out to an early morning flight and I need a different t-shirt I know which bag it will be in and where exactly in my bag to find it!
    Also, a supreme benefit of a 40L pack is I know that even if I pack to the brim (and I do…) it will still be underweight!

    • Chrissie says

      I once packed a 40l with so much stuff before my flight home, I had about 6-7 kg too much. But I managed to sneak it on board by pretending it was super light. 😉
      So even with a 40l carry-on anything is possible.

  3. dsmith says

    Packing cubes and bags are definitely sanity savers. They make my packing so much easier for my husband and I both.

  4. Bec says

    My partner and I backpacked around Europe for 5 months. He started with the organisation of compartmentalizing and I shoved everything in. After about 1 month of digging, frustration and unpacking-repacking I gave in and got a lesson from him. I have seen the light! I shall never stuff again. x

  5. Erin M says

    ziplock bags for the smaller items are great- and the bonus is you can see what you’re looking for. I haven’t invested in a packing cube system yet for the larger items (thinking about it for my trip next month), but my stuff is always packed in sections anyway, I pack fairly light so I can usually find most things without having to unpack my whole bag. Well, for at least the first few days!

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