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How to use packing cubes for a seamless travel experience (expert guide)

packing for a trip

Now the thought of adding one more thing to your travel packing list may be terrifying, you’re already wondering how you’re going to fit all those clothes right? But fear not, because adding this one item to your suitcase might save you a whole lot of space.

The magical item in question: packing cubes!

I was a sceptic before I got my first set. I was worried that I was robbing myself of extra space for the sake of looking organised. After spending six months on the road in Europe I realised that I didn’t just look organised, I actually was! Packing cubes revolutionised my luggage game and now I cannot imagine travelling without them.

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What are packing cubes?

Packing cubes are lightweight fabric compartments that can be used to organise the contents of your luggage. They can be bought individually, or in sets of varying sizes and shapes to meet your different travel needs.

Why choose packing cubes?

Organisation

At home, most people don’t just shove a pile of miscellaneous clothing in their wardrobe, so why should travelling be any different?

By having your luggage arranged in a system of your choosing, you will easily be able to stay organised and locate the items you want. It is a massive advantage to know where everything you need is when you’re in a rush, or when you’re only staying in a hotel for one night and don’t want to pull everything out of your bag.

Saving Space

There is debate about whether packing cubes actually save space in your luggage, because compartments don’t magically change the volume of your bag. Personally, I have found that they help with my space management because:

Versatility

Packing cubes are not just for suitcases, they can be used for organising a bag for any length of trip.

Often adding checked baggage onto a flight can cost more than the plane ticket itself and you’ll be tempted to wing it with just carry-on. Packing cubes are perfect for maximising the limited space carry-on offers.

Having cubes in a variety of sizes allows you to transition from suitcase to backpack seamlessly. The versatility of packing cubes means they aren’t just reserved for once-a-year holidays but can be used year round for weekends away and road trips too. If you’re feeling generous you could even loan them to a family member or friend for their next big trip to show them what they’re missing out on.

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Keep It Clean

Instead of sifting through your bag looking for clean clothing, have a dedicated space for your dirty laundry. Packing cubes can be sold with a mesh topside or a completely sealed compartment.

Mesh topped cubes are great for storing clean clothes as the compartment is breathable and see-through, allowing you to know the contents of the bag without opening it.

Storing dirty laundry in a sealed compartment keeps all that stink locked away. There are even cubes that are designed to hold damp items.

Keep Track of Items

If you’re anything like me, you have gotten home from a holiday, emptied your suitcase and realised to your horror that you have lost your favourite t-shirt. The worst part is you don’t even know when or where you lost it!

By knowing roughly which items are meant to be in which cube, you are much more likely to realise if an item is not in its place.

Picking Packing Cubes

Before you run off and buy the first set of packing cubes you see, remember not all packing cubes are made equal. Not only are there large variations in price and quality, but there are different types of packing cubes that suit different purposes.

Sizes

Sets often come in a variety of sizes, mainly large, medium and small. While there are no rules to how you pack your cubes, picking the right size can make your items fit more logically:

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Don’t be afraid to mix and match which sizes you use as a variety is likely to fit better into your suitcase and give you flexibility as your trip goes on. If you are backpacking you might find that the larger sizes aren’t for you, and that you’re better off using a selection of small to medium cubes.

How many do you need

It doesn’t make sense to bulk buy packing cubes, only for them not to all fit in your luggage once packed. I recommend you start off slow and build on your collection depending on your needs.

Be realistic for your luggage size and buy a few packing cubes in different sizes. Fill them up and play around with them to see how they fit. Have plenty more space and clothes you want to pack? Buy some more!

I also try to have one or two spare cubes when on the go. One I use for dirty clothing, and the other I use for flights in my carry-on. This cube holds a spare change of clothes, especially if the airline is known for losing a bit of checked luggage now and then.

Also, I know I’m banging on about the greatness of packing cubes but this doesn’t mean EVERYTHING needs to be packed in one. Uniquely shaped items and extra bits and pieces you collect along the way (hair straighteners, a beer stein, a pair of clogs, etc.) simply might not be suitable for a cube. These items can be placed in the gaps between cubes to really make use of every inch of your luggage.

Compression Packing Cubes

Compression packing cubes are designed to compress the air out of your packed clothing, reducing the cube to a smaller size and leaving you with more space.

They look the same when empty but have a handy extra feature, two zippers!

You fill the compartment with items and then zip it shut as normal. Then using the second zipper you are able to compress the items down.

Compression cubes are generally a bit more expensive than regular cubes. If you’re on the fence, the ultimate win for compression cubes is that they can be used as regular packing cubes as well, meaning they are dual purpose!

woman packing suitcase

Image source:Contiki

Tips and Tricks

System

If there is no system to your cubes, there almost isn’t a point in using them. The fun part is, the system is completely up to you!

There are two main tried and true methods to packing your cubes:

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Fold vs Roll

Almost as disputed as whether you should scrunch or fold toilet paper, traveller’s worldwide have fought about the optimum way to pack their cubes. The ultimate question, do you roll or fold?

Each technique has its place in the world, and this primarily depends on your cubes.

When using regular packing cubes, I recommend using a roll technique. This means rolling up each item of clothing and placing it in the cube. The best way to ensure the clothes will fit nicely into the cube is to initially fold the clothing item to the width of the cube, which you can do by placing the cube next to where you are preparing your clothes.

The benefits:

The downside:

When using compression packing cubes, folding is going to maximise your space. Like the above method, place your clothing item next to the cube and try to fold the item to width and length of the cube (aiming for the item to be the same size). Then stack your items on top of one another. Tuck the edges of each item into the cube as you go. For a compression cube you will need to leave some space at the top to successfully close both zippers, try to aim for 10%.

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Tip for those struggling to close a compression cube: run your finger along the centre of the side of the cube to make an indentation along the direction of the zipper. This slight fold in the material assists the zipper in closing.

The benefits:

The downside:

The trick to compression packing cubes is restraint. Just because you can fit more into your case, doesn’t mean you should. Firstly, you are much more likely to give up on your system if it is going to be a struggle to close the zipper every time you open a cube. Secondly, you could damage the longevity of your cubes by stretching the material or breaking the zipper.

Packing in the case

The final step is to assemble your puzzle pieces and make it all fit, just like Tetris. Start with the largest cubes first and work your way down to the smallest cubes, then place any remaining items in between.

Try not to overpack your luggage, ensuring you leave space for the inevitable dirty laundry cube and all of the awesome souvenirs you’re going to pick up along the way. Remember, packing cubes may help you manage your space better but they do not magically make your bag lighter. Weigh your luggage to check that you meet any weight requirements for your trip before you go.

The verdict

I strongly believe that packing cubes are for everyone, for every trip. The way you use cubes is completely personal preference but when you find your groove, your packing cubes will provide you with a seamless travel experience.  

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