By Dale Wallis
Travel can sometimes lead you on adventures that you never see coming, which is why it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. On those occasions, a regular suitcase just doesn’t cut it. You need something that you can cram full of everything you might need for a longer trip or expedition, which is why a duffel bag is often the perfect solution.
What you should pack in your duffel will definitely vary depending on the occasion. However, there are a few things you should always bring, including:
- Copies of all your travel documents
- Contact information for your credit card companies
- First-aid kit
- Foldable jacket
- Poncho or umbrella
- Water-resistant shoes
- Plastic bags
As you’re packing, try to keep your bag as light as possible by leaving as many heavy items as you can at home. Additionally, avoid packing anything especially fragile that could break if left unprotected in your bag.
Packing a duffel bag in a way that’s organized can be a little daunting if you’re new to traveling with one. However, with these 10 tips, you’ll be packing a duffel like a pro in no time.
1. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are essential for keeping your duffel bag organized. With a packing cube, particularly one you can see into, you can just grab the cube that holds the exact items you need rather than dumping out the entire contents of your bag. Roll your clothing into a cylindrical shape and place each item in a row inside the cube. This will let you pack more into your suitcase while also minimizing wrinkling.
Make sure you’re putting like items together as well, since that will make it much easier to locate specific things when you need them. For example, put all of your tops in one cube and all of your pants in another.
2. Organize Your Packing Cubes
Do you remember playing Tetris when you were a kid? Now is the time to take advantage of your Tetris skills and figure out how you make your packing cubes best fit in your bag. Depending on the nature of your trip, determine whether some cubes are more important than others. If so, pack the least important, along with the heavy items, at the bottom of the bag.
3. Place Shoes in a Separate Compartment
You could even use a packing cube for your shoes, although if you’re only packing one pair, doing this could take up unnecessary space. Instead, try packing them in a compartment that’s separate from the rest of your clothing. Some duffel bags have a compartment that’s dedicated specifically for shoes, ensuring the rest of your clothing stays cleaner. If not, you can use a shoe bag to create a special compartment for them and then place them at the bottom of the duffel bag under or next to your packing cubes.
4. Put Toiletries in Reusable Containers
Next, grab some reusable containers that are no larger than 3.4 ounces and fill them with your must-have liquids and gels. When you’re finished, pack them in a clear toiletry bag or even a Ziploc bag. Place them at the top of your bag where nothing can cause them to leak.
5. Put Paperwork in an Outside Pocket
The last thing you want is to get to the airport and realize that your travel documents are somewhere inside your bag. Simplify your life and place all important paperwork—including a traveling itinerary, boarding passes, notebooks and anything else you may need quickly—in a side pocket where it’s easily accessible.
6. Use a Laptop Sleeve
Some duffel bags come with a dedicated outside pocket for things like a laptop or tablet. If yours does, place your electronics and chargers in that dedicated sleeve, so they’re together and easily accessible. If your bag doesn’t have an outer pocket for devices, get a special sleeve for these items and add it to the top of your bag by your toiletries. This will reduce the likelihood of damage if you drop your bag on the floor after a long and exhausting flight.
7. Use an Accessory Bag
Chances are when you’re done packing you’ll have a few odds and ends that didn’t make it into your packing cubes, like jewelry, medication, a portable charger or other items. For items like these, you can make use of the smaller side or inside pockets in your duffel or use an accessory bag to keep everything together and quickly accessible.
8. Avoid Overpacking
When you pack your duffle efficiently, it’s easy to fit a lot into the bag, which is why it’s important to be careful about overpacking. Though some bags have wheels that make transporting them easier, others only have handles and a cross-body strap. While a strap can make it easier to carry the bag, you still want to avoid overpacking so you don’t strain your back from the weight.
9. Shake It Up
Shake the bag when you’re finished packing to help all of your clothing settle and create more space. You should be able to zip the bag easily without straining the zipper. If you can’t, you may want to consider ditching a few items or re-organizing your packing cubes.
10. Secure Your Bag
It’s a good idea to use a TSA-approved lock to secure your bag. This lock is designed so that airport security can open the bag to check the contents using a universal key and re-lock it when they’re finished.
Duffel Bag Specs
When it comes to choosing the right duffel bag, there are a few features you should consider: the material, how much it can hold, how easy it is to transport and whether it can be used for specific activities and climates.
The durability of a duffel bag often depends on the material used for its construction, how many support straps are included around the bag and the type of zipper. The more durable duffels are constructed of ballistic nylon and TPE fabric laminate. Some are also constructed of water-resistant polyurethane fabrics, although these don’t offer the durability you get from the ballistic nylon.
If you know that you’ll be crossing uneven terrain or will likely be walking for long periods of time, you’ll need a lightweight bag that you can carry easily.
Bags are available in a variety of sizes, from small to extra-large, and are typically categorized by the volume. For example, a smaller duffel may only have a volume of 40L, while an extra large one may have a capacity of 130L. Small, 40L bags are usually ideal for carrying onto planes, while a 70L medium-sized duffel provides enough space for a four- or five-day trip.
Ease of Transport
It’s always best to look for a duffel with shoulder straps, freeing your hands. Grip handles on the top and sides also give you options, especially if you have someone helping you carry the bag. Depending on the type of travel you usually do, you may even want to look for a wheeled duffel. These bags tend to be heavier and bulkier but also usually have more compartments and a more uniform shape, which can make packing easier.
Duffel bags are the perfect travel solution. They’re durable and flexible, and they provide plenty of room for everything you could want to bring, whether for the weekend or for an extended trip. These tips should help you pick the perfect duffel bag for your needs and turn you into a master packer in no time.