When you’re traveling a great distance, it makes sense to take advantage of proximity to include nearby destinations. Combining trips saves you travel time, money, and is more environmentally responsible. But these multi-destination trips can be exhausting! Whether you’re taking a road trip, traveling overseas, or heading off on a safari, a long trip involves a lot of logistics – travel days, changing accommodations, packing, unpacking, etc. The secret to enjoying these trips is organization. A good system will relieve you of much of the stress of multi-destination travel. We still have a lot to learn but share these travel tips on how to stay organized while traveling.
When we have the time, we try to combine trips, whether by booking travel in multiple destinations, or simply by taking an extended stay on each end of a cruise. On our safari to East Africa, we added a week’s beach break in Zanzibar. This was a great way to relax after a strenuous itinerary and a chance to see the storied island – a destination we would not have visited if we weren’t ‘in the area’. The extended itinerary was great but did require more planning and organizational strategies.
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Here are some easy ways to stay organized when traveling:
A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place
Mom was right. Designate a spot for everything and you’ll be able to stay organized on a long multi-stop trip. You’ll also be able to quickly ascertain if you’ve left something behind!
Keep travel documents organized while traveling
- Share the wealth – If you are traveling with a partner or friend, have copies of essential documents carried by both people. Redundancy makes sense when you’re looking for quick access to important information.
Share the wealth literally too! – divide cash between you and your companion and divide again within your own gear.
- Take pictures of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards and send these images to yourself in an email. Consider sending a copy to a trusted family member at home too.
- Convert paper documents to pdfs to store on the cloud, and on your phone.
Organize your packing for a multi-destination trip
Absolutely life-changing for a long, involved journey. We recommend lightweight colorful cubes like the Eagle Creek Specter line. Packing in colorful cubes makes finding things extra easy. For underwear and workout wear, we pack in compression cubes. These have an extra zipper to compress your things, a great idea when you’re trying to save space.
- We use one or two deep travel cubes as dresser drawers – roll or fold your clothes into one or two cubes and pull them out at your destination. Zip it back up when it’s time to leave. No need to unpack and repack. Tom Bihn makes mesh cubes that are easy to pack and allow visibility on the road, but you can get a set at a similar set of mesh packing cubes with Amazon Basics.
- Use separate cubes for specific destinations or environments – for example, on our African trip, I put a sundress, tee-shirt, swimsuit, and a cover-up in a small bright blue cube for the beach part of our trip. I didn’t want to be sorting through beachy clothes when trying to get dressed for a 6 a.m. game drive. I put the bright blue cube deep inside my duffel until we arrived in Zanzibar. Out of sight, out of mind.
- On travel days carry a change of clothing in a small cube in your carry-on. It’s good to know you have options if you spill something mid-flight or if your luggage is lost or delayed. Include a swimsuit if you’re off on a cruise. Luggage is often delayed getting to your cruise cabin.
Put flight day essentials into a separate small cube- inflatable pillow, cozy sweater, compression socks, etc. – this cube can be packed out of the way during the trip.
Packing clothing that stays fresh and serves multiple purposes will simplify your planning. For suggestions, read Travel Friendly Clothing for Women.
Organize your electronics, medications, and miscellaneous
Invest in a few more brightly colored bags or cubes for first aid supplies, chargers, cords, etc.
A travel tray is designed to sit on your bureau or bedside to catch all the bits and pieces of daily life. Drop your key-card, loose change, etc., into the tray when you enter and you won’t be forever searching for lost items. We keep a set of charging cords in our travel trays at home. When we’re ready to travel, we add a few more essentials and we’re ready to go. These trays are great for bedside essentials – glasses, cell phone, etc. It’s easy to spot the trays in our luggage and cinches up when we’re ready to move on.
We love travel trays that close with a zipper or a cinch, but you might prefer to buy a simple travel tray to collect things in your cruise ship cabin or hotel room.
Fill a day-of-the-week pill organizer before you go, so you’ll have all your prescription needs organized. (This is also a great way to know what day of the week it is! Ha!) Be prepared for trip delays by adding in a few extra days’ worth of your medications. Note: take a photo of your prescription and/or prescription bottle labels and email it to yourself in case you need to verify the medication during immigration.
We carry a second, larger pill organizer with OTC medications that might be needed during the day – headache pills, antacids, etc.
As grandparents, we use locking pill organizers. It’s not a fail-safe system, so make sure to keep those containers out of sight of little ones.
Have a packing list
Having a packing list is a must. You can write it in your travel notebook or keep it on an app. However, you choose to do it, consider adding the value of each item and noting the location of the item you’ve packed. (For example – swim cover-up, $10, in blue packing cube) This will be useful when you’re inevitably confused on where you put something. This is also essential if your luggage is lost and you need to verify the contents for insurance purposes.
If you’ve stayed with family, in a large Airbnb, or even a hotel room for a lengthy period, reset your packing list before leaving to make sure you’ve left nothing behind. Despite best intentions, things do migrate if given the room…
How to Stay Organized During Traveling – Travel Days
If you’re taking a road trip in your own vehicle, you can skip this section. But if you’re traveling overseas, you know the stress of trying to know where everything is as you are touring! And if you’re on a very active adventure like an African safari, you are further challenged to be organized on daily game drives when your mind is everywhere but on organization!
Choose an organized travel bag
There are lots of great bags out there to choose from. What works for you depends on how you like to carry a bag, and whether you like your storage ‘hidden’ or ‘visible’. (check out Clutterbug.me for a fun way to determine your organizational style) Though I love the look of a streamlined bag, I find I travel easier when I can see my storage pockets. My favorite pack has five exterior pockets. I really appreciate being able to grab exactly what I want without having to unzip the whole bag.
Find what bag you like, in a style that’s easy for you to carry, with the features you will use. Make sure there are slots for pens (you’ll be looking for one when you’re filling out forms at immigration!), and pockets for essentials like lip gloss, sunscreen, and tissues. Though I don’t always carry a laptop, I appreciate having a flat pocket to store documents, and smaller electronics.
Whether you carry cross body or prefer a backpack is a personal preference, with your choice dictated by your planned activities. Many travel bags now offer security features, like RFID shielding and slash-proof panels. These do add to the overall weight of the bag so if that’s a factor for you, purchase a lock or even a zip-tie to secure your bag’s compartments if you’re concerned about wearing a pack while traveling.
My favorite security bag: The PacSafe camsafe V5 was the winner for gear and camera organization on our African safari. We bought this bag for the security features but are recommending it more for the organization and ease of carry. We’d learned our lesson after our last safari, where we struggled to keep our camera bags from rolling around the vehicle and ended up with multiple sets of cameras and binoculars hanging around our necks! The PacSafe hip belt bag has padded slots for binoculars, camera, a separate padded slot for a tablet or phone, and an outside zipped pocket for batteries, notebook, pencil, and personal gear. This all fit securely in the pack which then sat solidly on the floor of the land cruiser. Best part was with the top unzipped I could just reach down to retrieve things. Similar bag – Domke Shoulder/Belt Bag
Organizational inserts for bags
Inserts can be useful in making any travel bag organized, and for moving that organization between bags. These are particularly good for using in ‘black hole’ bags – backpacks and big duffel bags. There are several types of inserts that might work for you.
Grid-It is a simple one consisting of one panel with elastic straps – slide a phone, pen, notepad, charging cords, whatever, into the elastic and they’ll stay put. You’ll have to be diligent about putting things back in their designated for this system to work.
Tom Bihn makes Freudian Slips in many sizes. This is a more elegant insert with zippered and open pockets on two sides. These inserts work well for keeping documents, boarding passes, and other larger items organized.
Wear your gear in an organized jacket or vest
This is where the multi-pocket jacket or vest comes in. There’s a reason photographers wear these admittedly dorky vests. They know exactly where their equipment is without having to think about it.
Fortunately for us, there are jackets and vest that do the job without the dork factor. We have several from the Scottevest line. My Standard Jacket looks like a regular khaki jacket and converts to a vest for warmer weather. But when we’re flying, I can fit my iPad, passport, kindle, keys, etc. into interior pockets for safekeeping. Likewise, Dave’s Pack Windbreaker is lightweight but with all the security features he needs.
Added bonus when you’re traveling with a restricted weight limit on luggage. We saved pounds of luggage weight when we carried our electronics on our person!
Organize your room immediately upon arrival
It takes 5 minutes, but once a habit, it’s an easy way to stay organized while traveling.
- Valuables in safe
- Travel Tray on bureau or bedside table
- Toiletries and medication in bathroom
Keeping the details and logistics organized on a long trip
There are lots of apps to keep your travel itinerary etc. up to date. TripIt lets you monitor flights, save hotel bookings, and rental info. You can share access to this info with folks at home too.
Note: This is great for travel in your home country. When traveling overseas, you may not have international cell service or access to wi-fi to readily retrieve your travel details.
Notebooks and journals
When we travel we bring along notebooks and pens. Despite being a techie, I still enjoy using a planner and find a planner/notebook a great benefit on the road. It can be as simple as a Field Notes book on a short trip, or as dedicated as a travel journal for a special adventure.
For our safari I prepared a small notebook (Leuchtturm soft cover A6) before the trip. I added lots of important information before we left home – contact info, itinerary, common phrases in the local language – but designated other pages in the book for notes along the way. I had a page for people we met, a page for the animals seen, and a few fun pages of Instagram challenges etc. Most of the book was dedicated as a journal. This was great for being organized during the multi-destination trip, but is also a keepsake now that we’re home! Read more suggestions on how you can create your own travel diary, or keep one online!
Other random travel tips for being organized on a multi-destination trip
Anticipate needs and issues.
Planning ahead of your trip can take a lot of stress out of the journey. If you’ll need to cross a city to get to a restaurant you’ve booked, look into this while you’re at home. Research how public transportation works, and how long it’ll take to get to the restaurant. While you’re looking, check out how much you should tip in this city. Googling is much easier at home!
Know your limits
This is easier the more you travel, but generally try to judge how much activity you can manage in a day. Plan down time into your schedule and add comforts from home to ease any aching muscles. For more suggestions read Guide to Staying Healthy While Traveling
Download photos as you go
(if possible) This will serve as a back-up, but will also give you feedback on any camera corrections you need to make. And looking over your photos is a great way to spend a long flight!
Journal as you go
Travel memories are priceless but easily forgotten when you’re tired and stressed. I try to find 10 minutes each evening to quickly record the day’s activities. No worries about proofreading, spell checking, or anything. Just get thoughts down on paper or online. You will love reading this over when you’re home again.
Everything in Its Place – Make a habit of returning everything to where you found it.
We hope these travel tips will help you whether you’re trying to be organized on a cruise ship, safari, or multi-city tour. Feeling organized is the first step in being able to enjoy an extended vacation.
How do you keep yourself organized during long distance travel? And for those super travelers – how do you stay organized as a full time traveler? We’d love to hear your thoughts!