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My travel season typically ends in October and I’ve got a few months off to plot my next adventures. Storing travel gear isn’t my forte, though. After an exhausting season of fun, my backpack can often sit in the corner for ages and gather cobwebs. Months later, I put on my archaeologist hat and excavate last year’s backpack full of dusty odds and ends.

Not this year! I’ve finally created a system for organizing and putting away my toys for winter. It has lowered my level of travel anxiety.

Here I offer a few thoughts on clean up, organization, storing travel gear and getting prepped for the next round of fun.

Clean It

After a big trip, your bag needs to be emptied and cleaned. Backpacks probably say you can’t wash them, but I have to be honest, I’ve done it. I have a front load washer, so I put my backpack in a pillowcase, then run it on delicate, cold. Along with a gentle detergent I add vinegar to de-stink and a bit of fabric softener for sweeter scents. Don’t ever put luggage items in the dryer, it can melt or mangle plastic parts.

Suitcases need to be cleaned but cannot be tossed in the washer, obviously. A damp cloth with some gentle soap or diluted vinegar will do the trick. Tough stains can be removed by Dawn dish soap. If you’re nervous but your luggage is funky, use diluted white vinegar in a spray bottle, misting it all over and wiping down after.

Smaller bags and backpacks can usually be washed in the washer on gentle, cold water with a gentle detergent. Putting them in a pillowcase that zips will keep the straps and plastic parts from getting broken. Wisdom learned the hard way- check every nook and cranny before washing! Look especially for pens or colorful ticket stubs that may stain everything in the washer.

Packing cubes always go in the wash as well before storage. Personally, I like fresh scented clothes, so I like to put a scent booster in like Downey Unstoppables. If the cube has a scent it will often rub off on the clothes and hopefully keep my travel clothes smelling nice longer. I know, fabric scents and softeners are not so good for you, but a fresh scent does so much for my psyche on the road that it’s a trade off I’m willing to make.

My travel clothes go in the wash with a big cup of vinegar and hot water. I’m kind of paranoid of bedbugs, so if my clothes can take it, I put the setting to sanitize. Some dryers also have a sanitize setting, use it if you can.

Organize It

I’ve recently put together a rack in my basement with all of my luggage, stacked by size and shape. It wasn’t a ton of work to throw together, but having everything so organized has made finding things easy. Above all, it is soothing to have everything at my fingertips.

The containers I use to organize my gear are the tote kind, with flaps instead of a lid. I always lose the lids anyway, and these stack so neatly. I’ve broken my gear into categories to organize. I have several large totes and a few small ones.

In one large tote, I’ve stored all of my full sized travel backpacks. In the other, I am collecting my favorite travel clothing. I’ve decided to keep my greatest hits in a special container rather than my closet, mostly because I don’t want to wear them when I’m at home. I wear the same clothes for months at a time while on the road, I’ll get sick of them if they are in regular rotation. Also, I’m finding it so much easier to assemble a bag when all of the contents are in one space.

My smaller totes are sorted for packing cubes and accessories. Another box has my toiletries extras, bottles and all of the little things to refill my Box of Awesome, such as bandaids and safety pins.

Hooked onto the shelf, I have my equipment for weighing my travel gear. I’ve got a digital kitchen scale, hand scale, and sharpie pens for taking notes and marking clothes with weights. I’ve put a clip board in to keep printed lists of previous items packed.

My vast collection of day bags hang on a hook. I am keeping them separate from my purses in my closet for quick retrieval. Geez, I sure have lots of day bags. I never noticed!

Next step will be to get a tote for my travel shoe collection. I haven’t quite gotten up the energy for that. A little Febreeze or a vinegar spray will be in order.

Travel Zen

It’s a pretty simple idea. Clean your stuff. Sort and organize it. Find a nice space in your house and put it all on shelves where you can see it. When you buy new travel gear or clothes, you know where to put it.

I’m in the process of packing for Thailand and I can tell you, the time I put into organizing is more than paying off. It’s not only a time saver but a sanity saver as well.

What is your system for storing travel gear? And great ideas for making your next bag easier to pack?

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • Great timing! My travel gear is still stuffed in the corner of my closet, empty but unorganized and definitely not cleaned and refreshed. My trip was in June! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Linda Hayes says:

    Mrs. Meyers and 7th Generation both make dryer sheets that use natural oils. Mrs. Meyers come in a lot of scents, and 7th Generation has lavender-eucalyptus!I love my drawer full of my adapters, charger, travel minis and other gear, I guess because when I’m pulling things out of it it means it’s time to travel!

  • Kristen says:

    Love, love, love a front loader for washing everything possible! Also, natural essential oil on an organic cotton ball can be tossed in for storage and nice scent. No toxins. Just research which oils fit the bill (repel X, smell great, or?). I used tea tree oil when I tossed my life (the things that could not go in a washer) into storage, after a rodent had died in a wall (I, and my things, were LEAVING that situation!). XO

  • Terry says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is easy sometimes to believe we are the only one without the perfertly organised system. A few years ago I decided to save some time by having the little things I mostly use only when traveling stored in my cary-on between trips.Instead of running all over the house gathering them before every trip and putting them back as I returned, I now have it all in one place and as I get ready to travel I just have to take out and put in a temporary bag, what is not coming on this particular trip. If between trips, I need something I just get in from the carry-on ( recently, the little collection of things got a little bigger so it was moved to a small suitcase). They are separated by category in packing cubes and big ziplock bags. It also makes it easy to share things with friends when they are traveling, I just open the suitcase and they choose what they need to borrow.

  • Nancy says:

    What’s your favorite day bag from your ‘vast collection’?

  • I “wash” our day packs and my Baggalini purses in the bathtub. Just soak them with a little gentle soap in warmish water for a while, swish ’em around, rinse, and hang over the tub to drip dry. I do this mid-trip when we are traveling for a couple of months.

  • Andi Cody says:

    As usual, excellent ideas, Sarah! I am now in the mood to sort and re-sort! Thank you for posting this. Andi

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