A Little Habit…Essential Tips for the Laid-Back Traveler

Last updated on August 5, 2010

Now that I’ve been back in the States for a couple of months I find that some of my well-honed travel habits went AWOL on me and just disappeared without asking me if I was ready to part ways.  You see, I never lose anything on the road (truly haven’t left anything behind) yet in the past two months I’ve misplaced sunglasses, wallets, keys, and power cords for sometimes days while I’m living out cozy bedrooms at the hospitality of my friends.

In fact, my friends consistently joke that I lose my edge when I’m home, and it’s true – my guard is down and I have others nearby to use as a crutch if something happens.

So I ask myself where has the organization gone? I’m drowning in my Type B travel personality without the sprinkling of Type A traits when I’m in the comfort of home. In fact, I find that us travelers are a lax bunch for the most part…perhaps the quintessential Type B-ers: relaxed and patient, we go-with-the-flow and operate with less urgency because of an open schedule. And while there are a lot of negative characteristics to that typical Type A-er, there are a few traits that I’ve found helpful on the road for building habits that keep you sane and organized…and these are the habits that I hope will show back up on the scene before I leave for Asia this month!

(1) Be precise and conscious:
Keep track of your belongings. You don’t have many belongings anyways but it’s easy to leave things behind when you’re frequently moving so keep good track of what you and have where it goes.

Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek packing cubes make my travels happier :-)

My travel habits: I never take off my watch, rings, or other personal effects – instead I just got used to wearing them. For the moments when something does have to come off (my rings for diving/water sports) then have a designated spot and only take it off when I can put it in that spot!

(2) Develop a methodical packing  system:
Create your packing system…you don’t have many belongings anyways but it’s easy to leave things behind when you’re frequently moving so create your packing system and stick to it! This one goes hand in hand with being methodical – put things back into their place within your system and you’re golden!

Having a system and a set place for everything also helps cut down time if you snooze through your alarm and have to throw everything together!

Packing for RTW tripFull backpack for RTW travel

My travel habits: Similarly, when I am packing I know if everything is with me because it all has a spot – especially the important stuff. The laptop cord always gets packed in the same spot, same with the camera, my towel (easy to leave behind) and other important items so that I can easily do a “last check” right before leaving. I love using packing cubes and zip-locks…between the two my pack rarely has loose things rolling around inside!

(3) Be prepared:
It may be the Boy Scouts motto but  it works for travelers too! Traveling is a lot safer than non-travelers imagine but that doesn’t mean that we don’t encounter those rough spots. Scan and photocopy your passport, your credit cards, your vaccine records and anything else important. Bring your own lock for lockers and keep your vitals close on hand as you travel (yep…I mean a money belt).

Pacsafe backpack in use
PacSafe mesh net on my backpack

My travel habits: I scanned everything from my social security card to my birth certificate (and definitely my passport) and left it on a drive for my parents – I emailed myself some important documents so that they’re in my inbox. Either way, if I need them someone can easily find them and get them to me electronically. I also travel with a PacSafe – it doesn’t get used all of the time but when it does I am so thankful to have my electronics safe while I go explore.

Seems Simple but Makes a Big Difference!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched stressed out backpackers digging out all of the contents of their rucksack backpack in search of that one essential item they need. Or watched the panic as a traveler realizes their computer cord is 400 miles away still plugged into the outlet in the room at their last hostel.

Although there’s something to say for that patience and ease that we’ve all developed from hours spent waiting for that bus that was “coming in 20 minutes, mas o menos” only to get on the bus for another 15 hours, there’s also something to say for the neat traveler who just has their act together a teensy bit more than the rest.

What are your top tips for staying organized on the road?

21 thoughts on “A Little Habit…Essential Tips for the Laid-Back Traveler”

  1. Eagle Creek cubes are an absolute lifesaver for backpackers! As someone who has always travelled with them I find it so tough to understand people who don't! I love to be prepared and travelling is the ideal place for it. I especially love the feeling of knowing exactly where all my belongings are so that I can reach in to my bag and pick them out instantly.

    I wrote a blog a while back about the sort of smugness you can have when you're really prepared here … The less than Sexy Travel Esseentials

    • Once you have tried them – and people who see me with the cubes, they never

      go back to just cramming stuff into a bag! There's just no alternative in my

      mind. How would you find things?! Will take a look at your post – great

      title for it :-)

  2. I'd have a hard time trusting my electronics to the pac safe! I feel better with them in my day pack. I definitely agree it's great to have set pockets for specific items – saves getting halfway down the block and thinking, did I remember my charger?

    Great tips!

    • Thanks for weighing in Matt! Regarding the PacSafe, you'd be surprised by
      the situations it comes in handy – like you, I would rather take my daypack
      along to explore for the day…but on a rafting or diving trip…or when I
      had no choice but to leave it in storage at an Indian train station…I just
      felt a little bit better that if they wanted my stuff they couldn't snatch
      and run, they were actually going to have to work for it!

  3. I'm so with you, I don't know how many times I've lost my keys and ID at home.

    BTW I have never seen the PacSafe mesh before, I wish I had known about it before I left.

    • The PacSafe has come in pretty handy sometimes when it is just impossible to
      take my laptop along in a daypack…perhaps for your next RTW! ;-)

  4. Eagle Creek Packing Cubes are the best thing ever. Like you, I still use them while home for these 8 or so weeks, surfing on friends's couches. Keeps all my stuff together and ensures my backpack doesn't explode all over their living room (or wherever I am crashing!)


    • Agreed Johanna – they are a godsend for staying organized…I'm sure you
      know just how many times you look at your pack and shudder at what it would
      look like without them ;-)

  5. Great post, I completely agree. I learned a whole new way of packing and staying organized thanks to our long term travels. I'm actually much neater at home now — I find a lot of relief in having a specific “home” for sunglasses and laptop cords. I can't believe that we lost almost nothing during our year of travel, and I probably lost 3 sweaters, countless sunglasses, wallet, cords just the year before in LA.

  6. Like you, I tend to get lazier when we are in the States and visiting people. Stuff starts to spread out into different rooms and you just begin to forget things.

    Can I tell you how much I love packing cubes? Everything is in its own colored cube so it makes it both easy to find and also to pack in a second. We backpacked in 2000 without cubes and I remember the disaster of my backpack. Now, everything is…almost… neat.

    • I love the “almost” – how true is that! The packing cubes are amazing but
      it's just incredibly hard to make cramming everything into a backpack
      look attractively tidy :-)

  7. I am that girl who rummages through the bottom of her backpack only to find the lock i was looking for in the front pocket of my bag. It blows my mind how I managed to not lose things over several years of traveling. Or I might have already, I just didnt know. :D Thanks for the tips.

    • Well at least you don't notice! I have to admit…sometimes I put my lock in
      the wrong place (mine belongs in the front pocket) and have had that endless
      search as you pull out *everything* – once I found it days later in a pants
      pocket…how ridiculous! :-)

  8. Oh yes, how I agree with No 2! My packing cells and 'a place for everything and everything in its place' motto has seen me called several things by other backpackers in hostels ('very organised' being the most polite!!) but seriously, I can't recommend keeping all your stuff together enough. It makes life in shared dorms so much easier, and it means you can pack and unpack in only a few minutes. And you never, ever lose anything at the bottom of your bag!!

    • I'm with ya, it really does feel good to not be that person crammed into the
      hostel room corner flinging their clothes around in search of their
      toothbrush! :-)

  9. Your first paragraph rings true with me….I am constantly on guard and have all of documents and important stuff at fingertip reach when traveling abroad. I have never lost/forgotten or worse, been robbed on any of my adventures. When I travel closer to home though, you can forget it. In fact, earlier this year, I went on a weekend trip a mere two hours from home and returned without ANY of my luggage! That's right….I just walked out the door when the weekend was over and left it all in the room!.

    • Earl left his whole bag at a guesthouse in India once – crazy! Like you
      though, I am fortunate to have not lost anything or been robbed so seems
      like our system is working!

  10. I know the feeling! Although I don't mind misplacing a few things here and there if it means that I'm a laid-back person as opposed to being someone who is neurotic about making sure everything is in place all of the time.

    But I will admit that the only way for me to remain somewhat organized while traveling is to simply travel with as few possessions as possible. If I only have thirty things in my backpack, I can count them every time I pack. So far it's worked out quite well, except for the one instance when I left my entire backpack at a guesthouse in India and wandered off to catch a train. Luckily, I realized my odd error before I jumped on board!

    • I can't believe you left your whole backpack! Earl I think you must not have
      anything that if you lost it would be a freak-out session…When I first
      left I was constantly having mini-heart attacks when I couldn't find my
      glasses or contact case…that's what birthed the meticulous packing – I'm
      still not sure what I would do if I ever lost both of them…I'm nearly

    • Aww, thanks Jo! And you had better take me, the whole lot of us would have a
      blast on that round-the-world boat you have planned ;-)


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