Packing is arguably one of the most stressful parts of travelling.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought: “Man, if I could fit in just a couple more shirts, I’d be ready for that one-week trip.”
Or how many hours I wasted trying to remember where I put my gadgets, because I swear they’re buried somewhere in my bag.
Well, I’m happy to report that I no longer experience the above.
And it’s all because I figured out how to use packing cubes.
If you don’t want to stress out like I used to, here’s everything you need to know about packing cubes.
What are Packing Cubes?
Think of packing cubes as extensions to your bag.
They’re cube-shaped containers (hence the name) made of fabric, and are designed to be zipped close. They come in various sizes, but are usually small enough to fit inside the average luggage.
Sometimes, they come with extra features such as mesh and double sides — that is, the inside of the cube is subdivided into compartments.
Before I go into detail about how to use packing cubes, let’s talk about their benefits first.
Why Use Packing Cubes?
You might be thinking, “Wait, won’t packing cubes actually take up more, not less, space in the luggage? I mean, they’re not made of thin air, you know.”
The answer is: Yes and No.
It’s true that packing cubes will add a few inches of bulk inside your bag.
However, considering all the stress packing cubes save you from, I’d say those few extra inches are worth it.
Specifically, packing cubes:
Keep Similar Items in One Place
Before I started using packing cubes, I wasted too much time looking for items.
I can only fit so many things in the bag’s outer compartments before they start getting too bulky for the overhead bin.
As for the bag’s inner pockets… Well, they usually end up buried under my things, which kind of defeats their purpose as organizing aids.
With packing cubes, you can put your shirts in one cube, your pants in another, and so on.
This way, whenever you need a clean tank top/towel/underwear in a jiffy, you know exactly where to pull it out from.
Add Extra Protection to Your Belongings
Let’s be honest: Airport personnel aren’t the most careful people.
Considering how bags get prodded and tossed around the airport, it’s a miracle anyone can travel with all their things (and nerves!) intact.
That extra bulk from packing cubes, though? In my experience, they make all the difference between “stress-free travel” and “spending more time crying over irreparably wrinkled clothes than recovering from jet lag.”
Make Unpacking Easier
Granted, packing cubes can lengthen your packing time in the beginning. After all, you’re in the process of changing your mindset from “Chuck your things into every available space in your luggage” to “Shirts go to Cube A, pants go to Cube B…”
But let me tell you: Unpacking has been a lot faster ever since I started using packing cubes.
Instead of pulling out my dirty clothes individually, I only have to pull out the bag with said clothes, unzip it, and dump the contents over the laundry basket. Easy as pie!
Serve As Alternative Bags
Obviously, you can’t bring your entire luggage set if you’re about to cross a flimsy rope bridge over a 50-foot drop.
But if your packing cube has a handle, you can use it to stash your water bottle, towel, toiletries and other valuables that you need for short trips.
Do you know why square watermelons exist?
It’s not because they’re pretty to look at, or that they can be sold at higher prices than ordinary watermelons — though they’re certainly both of those!
It’s because their shape makes them easier to stack together.
The same principle applies to packing cubes. If you pack the conventional way (i.e. without packing cubes), chances are you’ll have a shirt unfurl and add unnecessary bulk to your bag.
But if you have packing cubes, you can stack them together in a way that allows you to leave a few inches of extra space for your other stuff.
Essentially, packing cubes compensate for the added space they take up in your bag by keeping your things organized, and by making sure your belongings stay in one piece throughout your trip.
Now that we’ve got the benefits of packing cubes out of the way, let’s dive into how you can make the most of those benefits.
How to Use Packing Cubes
Pick the Right One for Your Needs
Not all packing cubes are created equal.
As I mentioned earlier, packing cubes come in different sizes, and with different features. Each of them will benefit some people more than others.
For example, if you’re like me, and you don’t always remember where you put which item, meshed packing cubes are pretty useful.
Within seconds of opening your luggage, you can tell exactly which ones contain the shirts, and which ones contain the stuff that the TSA officers might want to check.
On the other hand, I also understand why people would prefer no-mesh package cubes. It’s easy to rip mesh if you’re not careful with it, and I imagine some people would be concerned about exposing their valuables for all the world to see.
Still, as I always say, whatever works for you works.
Smaller is Better
Aside from being easier to fit in your bag, small packing cubes also save you from the temptation of overpacking (and exceeding airline limits).
Packing cubes may be an organized traveler’s dream, but even they have their physical limits.
Plus, as you can see in the video below, not everything has to go into a packing cube.
If you’re going to use packing cubes to keep your clothes from wrinkling, you might as well buy cubes that won’t fold so easily.
Like Tetris pieces, stiff fabric packing cubes can be stacked over each other. Also, since they stay in shape, they’re great for keeping wrinkles away from your clothes.
On the flip side, packing cubes with stiff fabric are bulkier than their softer counterparts. Luckily, you can solve that by maximizing every inch of space in the cubes.
Consider Double-Sided Packing Cubes
Single-compartment packing cubes are good, but double-compartment packing cubes are even better.
For example, if you’re stuffing all your bathing suits into one cube, you can put the dry, freshly laundered ones on one side of the cube, and the used ones on the other.
As long as there’s a waterproof barrier between them, you shouldn’t have to worry about any leaks.
Use Only As Many Packing Cubes As You Need
At this point, you might be thinking: “Okay, packing cubes sound like a good idea. How many do I need?”
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to that question.
But I can tell you this: Packing cubes work best with clothes.
If your travels often involve different clothes for different occasions, you can put all your casual wear in one cube, your party dresses in another, your formal attire in a third container, and so on.
But if you’re only out for a simple trip to the beach, you may want to use up to two packing cubes at most — one for your clothes, and the other one for your dirty laundry.
Roll, Don’t Fold (Unless You Have Sweaters)
Some people swear that rolled clothes take up less space, while others say the exact opposite.
I say the “best” method is somewhere in between. Roll your clothes made of thin fabrics (like most T-shirts), and fold the ones made of thicker fabric (like sweaters). The less space each piece of clothing takes up, the more you can maximize your packing cubes.
Use Packing Cubes to Organize, Not to Overstuff
Keep in mind that the point of packing cubes is to help you sort your items. They are NOT there to add extra space to your bag. Instead, packing cubes ensure that whatever space you have in your bag is used efficiently.
For instance, you may be tempted to put your iPad into a cube twice its size. However, unless you’re carrying several stacks of iPads, you’re better off using an iPad cover that takes up much less space in your luggage.
If you’re going to use a packing cube of any size, make sure every bit of space inside it is maximized — but not to the point of overstuffing the thing!
Wrapping It Up
I think packing cubes are a lifesaver, especially if you’re travelling for long periods of time and need several sets of clothes.
Used properly, they can save you the stress of having to deal with scrunched up clothes and items that are all over the place. Improperly used, they can take up more space in your bag than they save.
What are your thoughts on packing cubes? You can leave us a comment in the space below, or give us a holler via the social media venue of your choice.