Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

In early October, I embarked on a weeklong family vacation around the southwestern United States. This loaded itinerary promised hiking, rock climbing, swimming and a family reunion spread across five cities, three states and eight days. While I’m generally an efficient packer, I was having difficulty narrowing down my clothing options and keeping myself organized this time around.

ezpacking packing cubes


Normally, I’m skeptical of any packing cubes or aids. I’m a bare-bones traveler who has managed just fine with rolling, folding and cramming in the past. So when I was given the EzPacking Starter Set, a collection of four packing cubes in various sizes, I can’t say I expected much. If anything, I figured they’d complicate the packing process and add unnecessary bulk to my bag.

I was wrong. In fact, these little plastic cubes worked so well for me that I ordered another set shortly after this trip.

I used the large cube (which measures 16″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for casual wear, the medium (12″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for athletic clothes and running gear, the small bag (10.3″ x 6″ x 4″) for my bathing suits and intimates, and the extra-small bag (6″ x 6″ x 2.5″) for toiletries. When detouring to Page, Arizona for two days in the middle of the trip, I took the largest cube as an overnight duffel rather than lugging my full-size suitcase all over the Southwest.

Altogether these bags nestled nicely into my suitcase, maximized space and worked well with our multi-faceted and activity-intensive itinerary.

What We Liked: The EzPacking organizers are like the Mary Poppins bag of travel. These little things don’t look like much on the outside, but they can fit a lot. For instance, one of the larger bags comfortably held nine warm-weather outfits and a light jacket. (Disclaimer: I’m a petite, 5’0″ female.)

Beyond compactness, these bags are also lightweight and sturdy. They added very little extra weight to our luggage (20 ounces), and held their shape no matter how much stuff I crammed in around them. Unlike some other packing cubes, EzPacking organizers are transparent on four out of six sides, so it’s easy to see what you’ve packed where.

What We Didn’t Like: While the cubes are compact and convenient, they will take up the bulk of your bag. Because of this, I had difficulty squeezing in some last-minute souvenirs that were too delicate to fit elsewhere.

Another downside is that these cubes make it dangerously easy to overpack. I had to transfer several items from my suitcase to my carry-on just to keep my bag within the airline’s 50-pound limit.

Bottom Line: While a bit on the pricey side for a set of four (they retail for $48), the EzPacking organizers are a great asset for people with packing OCD, or travelers looking for extra organization.

EzPacking organizers can be ordered individually or purchased online in one of several bundles. They come in different colors and are TSA-approved (in fact, the smallest bag is perfect for TSA’s liquid and gel regulations). You can buy them on the EzPacking website or on Amazon.com.

Want a chance to win our gently used EzPacking Starter Set? We’re giving it away. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Starter Set. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
11 Travel Essentials That Do Double Duty on the Road

— written by Christina Janansky

Check out the stories you may have missed from around the travelsphere.

leftover spaghetti on plate


In Germany, You May Be Fined if You Don’t Finish Your Meal
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a new trend hitting the dining scene in Germany: all-you-can-eat restaurants charging diners for food left on their plates. It’s part of an effort to reduce waste.

North Korea: How Can I Visit the Secret State, and Is It Morally Right to Go?
The Independent takes a look at the ethical issues associated with travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where visitors must follow rigid group itineraries that don’t necessarily provide a holistic look at the local culture.

This Woman’s Insane Etch A Sketches Will Blow Your Freaking Mind
I can barely draw a stick figure on an Etch A Sketch, which is why I’m so amazed by complex and beautiful images drawn by a traveler named Jane Labowitch during a recent trip to India. BuzzFeed has collected her pictures of the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and more.

Want Your Children to Grow into More Empathetic Adults? Travel with Them
Quartz examines how travel early in life can serve to encourage empathy, compassion and cognitive flexibility in children. One psychologist notes that just taking a trip isn’t enough; parents should have discussions with their children to help them process the differences they see between the local way of life and their own.

Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide
A writer for the New York Times explains how she uses Instagram’s location-based searches to get a glimpse at new places before she visits — not to see beautiful photos but for more practical purposes such as figuring out what to wear during a visit to a Muslim country during Ramadan or finding a Puerto Rican beach where the locals hang out.

Bangkok’s Disappearing Street Food
BBC reports on a troubling story to those of us who love eating our way through a new destination. In an effort to clean up the streets, the Bangkok government has evicted thousands of street food vendors from public areas around the city. This includes areas popular with tourists and locals such as Soi 38 and the On Nut Night Market.

In this week’s mesmerizing video, actress Rachel Grant shows us how to pack more than 100 items into a single carry-on.


The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-On Bag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

eyeglass case asparagus pill organizer duct tape dental floss prescription bottles


Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash
Pack This: 11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

I’m always on the prowl for the best items to pack in the carry-on bag that stays under the seat in front of me during a long-haul flight. The coziest socks, the perfect snacks, the best neck pillow, the yoga pants with the most comfortable waistband, the best-tasting toothpaste in the smallest tube. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine — and one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I will master my quest.

packing carry-on bag


If you too are always seeking out new ideas of what to pack in your carry-on for a lengthy flight, these recent articles may also provide you with inspiration:

The Complete Guide to Faking Your Own Business-Class Upgrade: Just because you’re flying economy, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a first-class experience, writes Dan Frommer at Quartz. One of his genius tips: Bring a Thermos with you to the airport. Once you’ve cleared security, go to McDonald’s or another restaurant, and have an ice cream sundae made in the container. It’ll stay cold enough for you to enjoy after your in-flight dinner. He also packs hot sauce and noise-canceling headphones, and prepays for in-flight Internet access through Gogo to save money.

A Must-Have Travel Kit for Your Coziest Flight Ever: Why have I never thought to bring my own teabags on a flight? Zoe Eisenberg of Care2 recognizes that in-flight tea options are “bleak.” She also suggests bringing a scarf; according to Ayurvedic medicine, wearing a scarf can bolster your immune system by offering extra warmth around the neck — vital when you’re surrounded by sneezy travelers. (See also our tips for Avoiding the Airplane Cold.)

10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On: Most of the tips in this article from Mental Floss are pretty basic, but a few are items the typical traveler may not consider. One of my favorites: a collapsible water bottle that takes up little room in your bag.

For more on in-flight comfort, check out 9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul Flight and 10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight.

What do you always bring on a long flight?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

airplane cloudsCatch up on the latest travel views and news with our weekly roundup.

A Major Study Is Out and What It Says About Trends in Airfares Could Save You Big Bucks
Frommer’s breaks down the highlights from a new study on airfares — including the best days of the week to buy a ticket (Saturday and Sunday) and how far in advance to book depending on where you’re going. The sweet spot for tickets to Europe, for example, is 176 days out.

Enterprising New Yorker Builds Igloo During Blizzard, Lists It on Airbnb
Via Metro.co.uk comes our favorite story of the week, about a resourceful Brooklynite who tried to use Winter Storm Jonas to make a buck. He built an igloo in his yard that he then listed on Airbnb for a whopping $200 a night, describing it as a “chic dome-style bungalow for you and bae.” (As appealing as it sounds, don’t waste time trying to book it — Airbnb has since removed the listing.)

Passport Expiring Soon? Renew It Now, State Dept. Says
The U.S. State Department is urging Americans whose passports will expire in the coming year to renew as soon as possible, reports the New York Times. A perfect storm of various factors could overwhelm the State Department later this year, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time if you’re up for renewal.

WWII Concentration Camp to Be Turned into a Luxury Resort in Montenegro
Okay, who thought this was a good idea? CNN reports that the uninhabited Adriatic island of Mamula, where a 19th-century fortress served as a concentration camp during WWII, will soon be turned into a luxury resort. While the developer overseeing the project promises that the history and architecture of the island will be respected, we can’t imagine many tourists are hankering to stay in a former concentration camp on vacation.

Don’t Mind the Wet Nose: TSA Enlists More Dogs to Screen Passengers
This entertaining story from the Washington Post takes a look behind the scenes at the lives of the TSA’s canine members, who use their sensitive noses to sniff out explosive materials at airports around the country. As one of their handlers describes it, the dogs are playing “the most fun game of hide-and-seek in the world.”

“Airbnbs for Dining” Give Italian Female Chefs Chance to Shine
We’ve written before about websites that allow travelers to dine with locals in their homes (see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene), but the Guardian describes this phenomenon from a different perspective: that of the hosts who get a chance to share their cooking skills. This piece focuses on female chefs in Italy, where most restaurants are headed by men.

11 Best Italy Experiences

This week’s featured video will help you take packing to a new level by rolling an entire day’s outfit into a pair of socks(!).


The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s another edition of our weekly travel news round-up, keeping travelers informed, inspired and entertained.

airplane water sunsetHow to Fly Free Forever: Charge $170 Million on Your AmEx Card
A Chinese billionaire recently charged the purchase of a $170 million painting to his American Express card, racking up enough reward points to fly in first class for free for the rest of his life. USA Today estimates that he could fly in a first-class suite with Singapore Airlines some 3,000 times between Europe and the United States. (Wonder if he’d be interested in donating a few of those points to those of us with smaller credit card limits?!)

The First Debit Card for U.S. Travelers to Cuba Is Now Available
Speaking of spending money, it’s just gotten a little bit easier for American travelers headed to Cuba. Skift reports that a Florida bank is offering a debit card for Americans to use for hotel stays, restaurant meals and other purchases in Cuba. The card will not yet work at the island’s ATMs, though this may change next year.

Clever Tricks That Fix Common Packing Problems
This fun slideshow from Frommer’s offers nine ingenious packing hacks — from hiding extra cash in an empty deodorant tube to using straws to keep your necklaces from tangling — complete with GIFs that show you how to execute each one.

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks
Wendy Perrin offers wise, practical advice to those feeling understandably jittery about traveling in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali. She explains why terrorism is so frightening but points out just how unlikely each of us is to be caught in this type of scenario as compared to other travel risks (such as car accidents).

Finding VIP Travel Experiences: A Q&A with Wendy Perrin

As a reminder of the world’s beauty, we’ll wrap up this week’s travel round-up with an exquisite travel video from Bhutan, featuring golden Buddhas, fluttering prayer flags and friendly local faces creased with smiles.


— written by Sarah Schlichter

Confession: I’m a habitual under-packer. On the surface that seems like a good thing — I never have to worry about lugging a heavy bag or paying checked baggage fees. But this seemingly good habit attracts other problems: I end up cold because I refused to pack a sweater that I declared too bulky, or I run out of hair conditioner midway through a trip and look like a fuzzy-headed mad scientist in half my photos.

Most people aim to pack less. I aim to pack smarter.

Thankfully, I discovered a smart woman who’s helping me: Sonia Gil, an online travel expert with an array of practical packing videos on her YouTube channel. After nearly two decades spent researching travel packing tips, I thought I’d heard it all. But I actually learned some new things from Gil, a spunky 34-year-old from Venezuela.

For instance, she doesn’t merely parrot rules about liquids needing to be in 3.4-ounce bottles — she actually recommends specific bottles, such as ones with wide mouths and made of ultra-squeezeable materials. (One of my biggest travel pet peeves: When half the lotion or shampoo remains lodged in an already-tiny bottle.) Check out her thoughts on “How to Achieve Carry-On Perfection” below:


Other great tips from Gil:

– A hotel hair dryer can do an adequate job of de-wrinkling clothes. No need to whip out the iron and ironing board (if your room even has one).

– If you’re traveling to a cold-weather destination, put a pair of insoles in your shoes. They’ll help keep your feet warmer.

– Use masking tape to seal toiletries so they don’t leak. Seal the opening itself and run a loop of tape around the lid seam. Before learning this tip I had put my toiletries in individual zipper bags, but that often left me with a mass of sticky bags that ended up going to waste.

– Tuck a few Band-Aids in your wallet. I always pack them in my toiletry bag, but how’s that useful when you’re out touring and end up with a cut or a blister miles away from your hotel? A no-brainer.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

Gil offers other fun and useful videos, including how to sleep on a plane, how to exchange currency and how not to gain weight when traveling.

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

travelwise packing cubesIf you consider packing a vocation and allocate every square inch of your suitcase using a color-coded spreadsheet, you’re probably already familiar with packing cubes, those soft-sided little rectangles of happiness that make organizing a snap and ensure you’ll pack light.

For the uninitiated, packing cubes are essentially rectangular zip-close bags that come in various sizes. They help keep clothes from wrinkling because they reduce shifting in luggage, and they allow travelers to make the best use of limited suitcase space.

TravelWise offers a 3-Piece Packing Cube Weekender Set that includes cubes in three sizes, ostensibly for those looking to organize for shorter trip. Here’s how they stacked up on trip in which they were used in conjunction with a standard carry-on suitcase.

Size
The three sizes (11.5 inches by 6.75 inches by 3.75 inches; 13.75 by 9.75 by 3.75; and 17.5 by 12.75 by 4) make organizing simple, with smaller items like undergarments and socks fitting perfectly in the smallest cube and pants and blouses in larger two. All three cubes easily fit into a standard carry-on bag, with room for spare items like shoes.

The biggest cube seems unnecessarily large, though. Maybe I’m just a light packer, but for a weekend trip I probably could’ve left that one at home to make room for other odd-sized items.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Zippers
Confession: I have been known to overpack cubes, leading to a burst zipper or two. TravelWise’s zippers are sturdy and easy to grip, and they pull smoothly. I didn’t test them to their max, but they withstood lots of repeated opening and closing.

Material
Packing cubes are supposed to help you organize your items without bogging you down, so “lightweight” is essential to any materials. Made of nylon, TravelWise’s packing cubes are plenty light, with a mesh panel in the center of each. The mesh helps you identify what is in each cube at a glance so you aren’t stuck digging through to find things. This design also allows airflow, so I was able to pack dirty clothes in them for the return trip. The cubes require handwashing.

Handles
I often leave my clothes in the cubes, then just plop them in a drawer at the hotel when I arrive, so having a handle is a small convenience that makes grab-and-go that much easier. The handles on TravelWise’s cubes are durable, and they stand up to being hung from hangers, showerheads and hooks.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there isn’t a lot of variation in packing cubes from brand to brand. Most high-quality cubes come in various sizes, are made of durable materials and have multiple color options. TravelWise’s cubes are slightly deeper than other brands I’ve used, which will accommodate more clothing without taking up significantly more space in your suitcase. They’re available through online retailers such as Amazon and retail for $39.95.

Want to win a set of gently used red packing cubes? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 27, 2014. We’ll pick one person at random to win the bag. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Roanne Coplin, who will receive a set of gently used packing cubes. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.

— written by Colleen McDaniel

carry-on bagsIf you’ve ever been irked to see someone stride up to the gate at the airport with a massive carry-on and a second (or third … or fourth) bag that strains the definition of the term “personal item,” you’re not alone. A new hashtag called #CarryonShame is spreading on Twitter, calling out those fliers who seem to believe the entire overhead bin should belong to them.

The campaign is the brainchild of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Spud Hilton, who explains why he thinks it’s important in a post on the Bad Latitude blog: “If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane.”

Hilton encourages travelers to snap photos of offending bags and tag their tweets with #CarryonShame; they may be retweeted by a dedicated Twitter account (@carryonshame) or even included in a gallery on SFGate.com.

What Not to Pack

Unfortunately, thanks to several airlines recently changing their carry-on size limits, it’s gotten a whole lot easier to go over the top — especially when, as Hilton points out, many suitcases marketed as carry-ons are actually too large: “We’ve started skulking around luggage and travel stores and have found that 40 percent of the bags labeled as carry-on that we measured did not meet standards for most airlines (45 linear inches, typically no more than 14 inches wide by 22 long by 9 deep).” Hilton urges travelers to post photos of these bags as well under the #CarryonShame hashtag.

Personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about #CarryonShame. On one hand, it drives me nuts when I have to gate-check my own carry-on because I’m in a late boarding group and there’s not enough overhead bin space. On the other, I prefer to travel solely with a carry-on — I don’t trust the airlines not to lose my luggage, and I hate waiting at baggage claim — so I bet I’ve exceeded the limit by a few inches here and there. My take: If I can fit my personal item under the seat in front of me and my carry-on in the bin wheels-first, it’s all good.

But I’d better look out for those #CarryonShame cameras, just in case.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

How do you feel about the oversized carry-on trend? Post your thoughts in the comments!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

pack suitcaseMost of us have that one treasured item we just can’t live without — even when we’re headed away on vacation. We make sure our “can’t live without” item finds its way into the bag, even if something more essential has to be left behind.

We here at IndependentTraveler.com have a theory, based on our collective years of experience: that the compulsion to pack the “can’t live without” item crosses all boundaries of personality type, race, gender and creed.

Maybe you’re sentimental and chuck out the spare pair of shoes in favor of your favorite childhood plush toy … or you’re superstitious and won’t board a plane, train or boat without your trusty good luck charm.

Even the more practical travelers among us — we who make our lists and organize our hermetically sealed suitcases alphabetically, cross-referenced against a color-coded spreadsheet — are not immune. We remember the passport and the tickets. We have twice the socks and underwear we could ever need and clothing for any occasion and eventuality. And we have it, too. The “can’t live without” item.

Readers Share Their Must-Pack Items

Copy editor Ashley Kosciolek brings at least three garbage bags — “one for dirty laundry and a couple extras in case it rains (can use ’em as ponchos or to keep wet/dirty clothes and shoes separate from everything else).” Senior editor Sarah Schlichter never leaves home without her travel journal, where she’s scribbled down years of notes about her favorite restaurants and most memorable experiences around the world.

And IT.com contributor Erica Silverstein doesn’t get on a plane without her husband’s lucky Christmas moose, even when she’s traveling alone: “I’m not a great flier, so I need something to clutch when it gets bumpy. If Adam’s around, I clutch him. If he’s not, I have a soft, cuddly moose.”

Quiz: What’s Your Packing Personality?

Now it’s your turn: What is it that you always pack when you when you travel? Tell us in the comments below.

— written by Jamey Bergman