How to use packing cubes (even for carry-on luggage)


By Heather

Travel & Tech Writer


Packing cubes are fantastic for keeping your luggage neatly organized while you’re travelling.

Imagine unzipping your bag and seeing a tidy array of little containers, and knowing exactly where everything is, without needing to rifle through all of it. If you need to double-check something at the last minute — or open your bag for a security search — you can do it carefully, without your underwear being flung halfway across the airport.

Packing cubes are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes. While they’re called “cubes,” they’re usually shaped like rectangles. Some suitcases even come with their own coordinating set of packing cubes, and the idea is that you’ll use smaller ones for underwear, socks, bathing suits, etc. and larger ones for your outfits and shoes.

Packing cubes are not just for clothes, either. They’re great for organizing electronic devices (and all of their tangle-y cords), cosmetics, toiletries, books, and more. Sometimes the sets even come with a designated “dirty laundry” packing cube, which is great for staying organized.

What’s the best way to fill my packing cubes?

Size matters, when it comes to packing cubes. You don’t want your clothes floating around in cubes that are too large, or everything will bump around (and get wrinkled). Think snug and tidy!

How to pack T-shirts: With their light, stretchy fabric, T-shirts are a dream to pack. You can fold them into rectangles that are the same size as a compression cube, stack them vertically, and zip them up to squash them down nice and flat.

How to pack dressier shirts: If you want to keep them crisp, consider using a packing folder that comes with a folding bold that prevents wrinkles.

How to pack jeans: Roll ‘em up and pop them into a packing cube. Just make sure to smooth out any wrinkles first, otherwise they might get “baked in” during your journey.

How to pack bras, socks, and underwear: There’s always the go-to method of stuffing small items like underwear inside your shoes to use every last inch of packing real estate, but if you don’t want to risk your underthings smelling like feet, you can designate a small packing cube for unmentionables. If you want to keep delicate items, like bras, from getting crushed, stuff them with socks (just like junior high, lol) or use a packing cube designed for bras.

How to pack shoes: Definitely keep them in a separate bag or packing cube, unless you want your outfits to rock the dusty, trampled look.

How to pack electronics: While there are special packing cubes designed for electronics, you don’t need to buy anything special. Just make sure they’re packed carefully in a well-fitting cube or bag, with all necessary cords included.

How to pack toiletries: The key here is leak-proof! You don’t want any containers cracking open and dripping all over your clothing, so if you want to use a standard packing cube for your lotions and potions, put them inside a sealable plastic bag beforehand. (Oh, and don’t forget to follow the restrictions about carry-on liquids needing to be under 3.4 ounces (100 ml) and packed separately, if they’re in carry-on luggage.)

Fold or roll?

Many savvy travelers love rolling their clothes to keep them wrinkle-free (and fit more in their luggage).

But there’s some debate as to whether it’s better to fold or roll clothes for packing cubes. Some travelers argue that large items — like sweaters and jackets — can actually take up more room when they’re rolled into bundles, so it may take some trial and error.

Don’t be afraid to pack each cube snugly, whether it’s by folding or rolling. If you have something you don’t want to mash into a cube, you can always drape it over the cubes instead.

Where can I buy packing cubes?

Packing cubes are sold all over the place as a trendy new travel accessory. Prices range from less than $10 for a set of six basic cubes to more than $1,000 for a single designer packing cube. So it really depends on how fancy you’re feeling. 😉 If you’re packing multiple family members into one suitcase, you can even order customized packing cubes with everyone’s names on them.

Cheap alternatives to packing cubes

Don’t feel like buying *official* packing cubes, especially if you’re not sure how much use you’ll get out of them? No problem! Here are some cheap (and free) alternatives to packing cubes …

  • Large freezer bags: You can group items together in bags to create outfits (perfect for traveling with kids) and you can even use the sandwich-sized ones as really tiny packing cubes.
  • Reusable shopping bags: Plastic or canvas bags can absolutely serve as packing cubes, and then you can use them at your destination, too.
  • Nylon laundry bags: These are sold at most Dollar Stores, and while they don’t offer any form of compression, they do a good job of keeping things separate. (When you aren’t traveling, they’re also great for storing kids’ tub toys so the water drains out between baths.)
  • Shoeboxes: They’re sturdy enough to be packed tightly with clothes, and they slot together neatly in your luggage.
  • Vacuum-sealed bags: Hook up a vacuum to suck out the excess air, and these bags take up way less space. Just make sure there’s a vacuum available on the other end of your trip (“Um, hello Housekeeping?”) or you might run into trouble packing to come home.
  • Bed linen bags: Most sheet sets and comforters come packaged in handy clear bags with zippers. Save them! They make excellent DIY packing cubes.
  • Sew your own: If you’re crafty, you can whip up some homemade packing cubes in no time at all. There are plenty of free patterns available online.

Whether you decide to DIY your packing cubes or shell out for the designer ones, we hope you have a wonderful trip! (And that you think of aloSIM when you need travel data.)