To Cell or Not to Cell. That is the Question.

packing cells

They sell packing cells in shops so I know I’m not the only one, but my husband rolls his eyes every time I start to group things together in order to choose which cell each item gets. Really? Am I too anal about packing? The thing is, if I have to dig through everything in my bag in order to find a pair of socks or a hat I’d go insane. I need to know where things are and, more importantly, if I’ve got everything in when I get ready to move on to the next destination. Grouping things together and putting them into packing cells is my way of filing my stuff so I know what’s where. My husband’s method is just to make sure everything is in off the floor. He claims not to want to waste his precious time zipping and unzipping cells. Whatever.

I used to use noisy carrier bags (supermarket bags) and/ or ziplocks, which I still use for leakable items and I also, on occasion, use a giant furoshiki or two but it depends on how much weight I can carry as a cloth is as much weight as an extra T-shirt in many cases and I’d rather have the clothes. But I’ve always been an organiser as far as travel packing is concerned.

I wondered how common this is and so I asked a few people I know who travel a lot. MaryAnne over at A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai seems to just use the parts of her bag as separation areas. Here’s how she elaborated on my question:

Er, I use a smallish drawstring laundry bag for old, smelly underthings and tshirts and I have an old skool men’s leather shaving kit type bag the size of an SLR camera bag for all toiletries.

My backpack has side pockets for socks and clean undies and a top lid-pocket where (in the past) books went but now I put spare sandals/flipflops up there. I’m not good at buying stuff to make my life easier so no packing cells.

When it comes to travel gadgets, I’m as minimalist as they come. I have a backpack, bought in a hiking store in Shanghai for under 300rmb. It’s on the small end of the full-sized ones (I forget how many liters but it can be carry on if not full). It has a zip flap at the front that opens up so you can see everything inside. I neatly layer my clothes, flat stacked, and I can easily pull them out as I need them. Dirty bag and toiletries are at the top. The end.

Wait…”gadget”? So, now I’m Inspector Gadget. Since we have outdoor shops on the high street here in New Zealand I didn’t have to go very far to discover packing cells. They were right there in front of me. I never thought of them as a gadget/ specialty item like a wristwatch GPS or a 200 point Leatherman, just something that could replace my old scarf and carrier bag system. Hmmm… Is it a Kiwi thing, I wondered?

I came across this guest post on and got a bit to excited to see packing cells featured. I even recognised the print on one of them. Could it be? Scroll, scroll…yes, she’s a Kiwi! I had to contact her. Her name is Bethaney and she writes on Flashpacker She said,

“We find it much easier to share one big rolling suitcase than having one smaller bag each. Packing cells are essential for keeping our stuff organized and easy to find. Each person has their own different coloured packing cell. It makes it super easy to find clothes when you need them and also means no one is asking me where everything is!”

Yes, cells! And having a colour coded system sets my little organised travel packer heart even more aflutter. But just to add weight to the idea that packing cells are indeed a good thing and not just for the super organised or, um, Kiwis, I thought I’d ask another credible source. Laura Kelley, who travels often in order to write some amazing, in-depth cookbooks and historical food pages on her blog Silk Road Gourmet said that she packs empty packing cells in her luggage and then fills them with the assorted items she buys to bring back, sometimes putting them all in a soft duffle bag to check on the return journey.

So, for packing cells, that’s 2 points from the Kiwis and one out of two points from others. That’s a (very unscientific) 75% user rate! I told you they were a good thing.

Until someone can convince me otherwise I’m going to keep using my cells. And now that I am a mother I’ve found them even more useful because I can grab a clean set of clothes or the extra nappies without having to fish around fruitlessly with my one free hand whilst demobilising squirming toddler with the other.

What about you? Are you for or against? Do you have another system?

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