How to Stay Organized While Traveling

Dara Continenza, January 31, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    Even the most prepared tourist can feel completely off-kilter when staying in new surroundings or dealing with the many unknowns of travel. Thankfully, a bit of preparation and some clever on-the-go organization will keep any trip from devolving into utter chaos. Here are a few ways to stay organized, no matter where your journeys take you.

    (Photo: TripIt)

    Download Itinerary Apps

    The days of juggling printouts of flight info, hotel reservations, rental-car confirmations, schedules, maps, and directions is over. With the help of itinerary apps, you can organize all of your itineraries on your smartphone. My favorite is TripIt: Simply forward confirmation emails to TripIt and it will generate a complete itinerary for you; then customize your itinerary by adding maps, directions, and notes. You can even share your account with others, making group travel a cinch. Many apps feature mobile airport alerts as well, so you'll know if your gate changes or your flight is canceled or delayed.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

    Unpack Immediately

    Living out of a suitcase can lead to a very disorganized vacation. When you arrive at your destination, always unpack immediately, even if your trip is a short one. Fold clothing and place it into dresser drawers, hang up any garment that may wrinkle, arrange your shoes in the closet, and unpack your toiletries in the bathroom rather than leaving them in their quart-sized plastic baggie. You'll feel more relaxed and at ease, and you won't be pulling clothing out of a rumpled pile on the floor.

    (Photo: REI)

    Use Packing Aids

    Packing cubes, folders, and compression bags don't just save space; they also lend your suitcase a military-grade level of organization. Do some research before purchasing any packing aids, since some are bulky, overpriced, or both (we've reviewed a few favorites). In a pinch, grocery bags or gallon-sized zip-top plastic bags work, too.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

    Use Packing Lists Before and During Your Trip

    You should always make a packing list before you even pull your suitcase out of the attic. (And to get started, download a copy of our Ultimate Packing List.) But what about when you're on the road? It may be a good idea to print a duplicate copy and pack it in your suitcase. When you're repacking at the end of a long vacation, you can check items off as you place them back neatly in your luggage.

    (Photo: Passbook)

    Go Digital

    Since Apple introduced its Passbook feature in 2012, I've found myself using (and losing) fewer printed boarding passes. When checking in for your flight or train reservation, select the option to download your boarding pass to your smartphone. Then at the airport, the gate attendant will simply scan the bar code or QR code that appears on your smartphone screen. (Don't have an iPhone? Similar features are available on Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, and many airlines have built boarding-pass technology into their mobile apps.) This technology is especially handy when juggling multiple itineraries on a multicity trek.

    (Photo: GRID-IT!)

    Organize Your Technology

    Carry a lot of technology with you on your travels? Then you know how easily cords get tangled and gadgets get lost. Cocoon makes a number of accessory organizers that feature GRID-IT!, an organization system that includes rubberized elastic bands to hold your chargers, headphones, backup storage, and other accessories in place. (Some GRID-IT! cases even come with pockets for your tablet and computer.) These flat, lightweight cases fit easily into carry-on bags and prove invaluable on the road. Never again will you spend the first day of your vacation untangling headphone cords and searching for your lost power cord.

    (Photo: Bellroy)

    Carry a Well-Organized Wallet

    Of course, you can go as digital as you'd like, but you'll still need someplace to stash decidedly analog belongings such as cash, credit cards, identification, and so forth. A high-quality, well-organized wallet is indispensable for travel: plenty of pockets for clever storage, but not too bulky to pack and stick into your pocket or handbag. Brookstone has a number of smart options with sufficient organization for your passport and boarding passes, while Bellroy's leather travel walletearns praise for its clever, sleek design and included mini travel pen.

    For more of our wallet-on-the-go tips, see Best Ways to Carry Money While Traveling.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

    Recreate Your Home Environment

    One thing that I always do when staying in a hotel is make my surroundings as home-like as possible. At home, I keep my keys and wallet on a table near my door, so I recreate that in my hotel room by placing a bowl or box near the door for my purse, keys, wallet, ChapStick, etc. That way, I never forget to grab something essential as I'm heading out for the day. I also unpack my clothing into the same dresser-drawer configuration that I use in my own dresser at home, and I arrange my cosmetics and toiletries in a similar fashion in the bathroom. I even charge my iPhone in the same location as I do at home. It sounds a bit type A, but it keeps me organized during hectic trips—and it ensures I never leave anything behind.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title How to Stay Organized While Traveling.

    Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at

    (Lead Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)