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How to Store Your Travel Gear

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Travel gear is by nature a polarizing topic: hard-shell versus soft-sided, folding versus rolling, carry-on versus checked — heck, even unpacking or not at the start of a vacation.

But most people can agree that putting away travel gear after a long trip is a chore. Hence the half-full suitcase that languishes out in the open for days, if not weeks.

“When things don’t have a home, you become paralyzed. You think, ‘I don’t know where to put it, so I’m just going to push it to the side and not deal with it,’” said Anna Bauer, the New York City–based founder of Sorted By Anna, a professional organizing company.

But as few people now have trips in the foreseeable future, thanks to coronavirus-related travel restrictions and social-distancing measures, there’s no better time to herd those airplane neck pillows, international adapters and 3.4-ounce bottles into formation, even if they’re not actively being used.

“Why should you only treat yourself well when you go on vacation?” asked Julianna Strickland, the Los Angeles–based founder of Space Camp Organizing. “Treating yourself well at home means making a space that you want to be in, and setting yourself up for success as you head into whatever you’re doing between trips.”

Organizing your travel gear will not only help fill some extra time at home, but it will prep you for the ultimate goal: efficient and enjoyable packing when the time comes to finally get going again. Here are some easy-to-implement tips from professional organizers:

There are two basic approaches to organizing travel toiletries, be they half-full T.S.A.-approved liquids containers or pilfered hotel shampoos: pre-packing and decanting.

“I like to keep a Dopp kit packed with one of each thing a client might need on a trip, like shampoo, conditioner and a toothbrush. The extras go in a little travel bin — usually under their sink, depending on the storage situation,” said Ms. Strickland, who helps clients, many of whom are avid travelers, organize their homes and offices.

Others might find it helpful, if not cathartic, to decant their toiletries into clearly labeled bins, bags, or divided lazy Susans.

“If you’re someone whose skin-care needs change depending on what you’re doing and where you’re going — say, you travel to a lot of different climates — you’ll benefit from being able to shop your toiletries,” said Ms. Bauer.

Jakia Muhammad, the Maryland-based founder of SoleOrganizer, separates her travel toiletries into categories by function; say, hair products.

I try to keep it as simple as possible. From a psychological standpoint, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or stress yourself out before you go on vacation,” she said.

What no professional organizer espouses, however, is the method I used for years: dumping everything into a big basket and praying the contents wouldn’t metastasize.

“When things are hidden, you either re-buy in excess or you forget you have something. What’s great about decanting is that it’s a visual reminder when you’re low,” said Ms. Bauer.

A vinyl zipper pouch in a kitchen drawer. A cabinet or file box in a home office. A drawer in a nightstand. It doesn’t matter exactly where a passport lives; what matters is that you put it back.

“It’s about creating consistency and intentionality,” said Ms. Bauer. “I’ve fallen victim to a misplaced passport and the stress of it was a lesson enough to never let that happen again.”

Ms. Bauer and her husband keep their passports in a fire-sealed envelope. But frequent business travelers, she said, might consider storing passports with toiletries: “No one’s traveling without them.”

Ms. Strickland is a fan of storing passports with social security cards and other important documents. “That’s important for multiple reasons, especially if there’s an emergency and you need to get out of the house fast,” she said.

Leftover international currency can be more hassle than it’s worth when you factor in conversion fees. Additionally, said Ms. Strickland, “It’s just more clutter; most people hang onto it thinking they’ll remember it the next time they travel, but they never do.”

Ms. Strickland recommends storing significant sums of currency in labeled zip pouches, which can live with other travel accessories.

Ms. Muhammad, meanwhile, keeps her leftovers in Mason jars labeled by destination and date.

“It’s a great way to reflect back to the place you traveled and have a piece of that trip with you to cherish,” she said.

And when international travel does ramp up again, be sure to keep in mind Ms. Bauer’s favorite hack for offloading cash abroad: buying a Starbucks gift card at the airport. It can be used back home, and there are no foreign-transaction or currency-conversion fees.

The easiest way to store luggage, be it a nylon-duffel bag or a hard-shell aluminum suitcase, is to nest it by shape and size.

“It’s helpful to store smaller bags inside of larger ones to save space. And I like to keep all the suitcases with the other things you’re going to need on a trip — like packing cubes, neck pillows, backpacks — together, whether that’s in the house, in a basement or in a storage cabinet inside a garage,” said Ms. Strickland.

Ms. Muhammad likes to preserve floor space by hoisting larger suitcases onto shelves. She stores smaller bags (backpacks, laptop bags) in a container under the bed.

“This prevents them from being all over the place and creating not only an eyesore but making the space feel cluttered,” she said. “The goal is to contain and store like items together, so that when it’s time to pack and prepare for a trip, locating luggage and other bags doesn’t add to the anxiety that can sometimes be associated with packing.”

Anything else that you’d use only on a trip, from climate-specific gear (waterproof phone pouches, packable down jackets) to international power adapters, can be labeled (“cold-climate items,” “beach gear”) and placed with luggage or toiletries.

“As long as you corral them together and label them, you’ll eliminate the guesswork of wondering whether you have something,” said Ms. Bauer. “Gallon-size Ziploc bags and Sharpies go a long way.”

Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn-based travel writer.


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