Steph Yiu

It’s Not Organized, But It Works. How I Pack.

Nope, not at all how I pack, nor do I pack this neatly. But, I thought it would make you click on this post since it's a beautiful photo. Photo courtesy of hellojenuine on Flickr.

Nope, not at all how I pack, nor do I pack this neatly. But, I thought it would make you click on this post since it’s a beautiful photo. Photo courtesy of hellojenuine on Flickr.

Like many expat kids, I grew up with a dad who traveled non-stop. He would shuttle back and forth between major cities in Asia – Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Beijing, Taipei, you name it. He was totally obsessed with packing things just right – the right-sized luggage, the right charging cables for his gizmos, the right snacks and drinks for the trip.

Besides the random whims of “I wish I could live in London,” or “I want to go hiking in Iceland,” I’ve never desired constant travel. But, between work and play, I spent nearly a third of the 2013 on the road. We were all warned as kids: you’ll grow up to be just like your parents.

So, just like my dad showed me, here’s my kit of “Steph-sized” travel essentials. I’m sort of obsessive about being prepared for travel, so I figured I might as well share my neurotic packing habits in the hopes that some of you might find it useful.

1. A packed toiletries bag. I have two sets of everything – toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, glasses, chapstick. One set always stays packed so that I can grab it and go (remember to regularly replace your toothbrush, though!).

2. A clear ziplock with GoToobs. I use refillable GoToobs to take my soap, shampoo and face wash with me wherever I go. I pack my toiletries bag at the top of my suitcase so that when I get to TSA, I can just grab the ziplock and drop it in the tray.

3. A packing cube. Never again rifle through your luggage digging for socks. I use these to pack my underoos and socks so that the small items of clothing don’t get lost. I got a nice packing cube from R.E.I. last year, although I wish I had gotten it from MUJI.

4. A squishy duffle. I was super choosy about this, and what I ended up buying is a little ridiculous, but hear me out. I needed a carry-on sized bag with wheels so I could drag it through airports. It needed to have a sturdy strap so that I could throw it on my shoulder if I’m navigating through the crowded streets of New York. It needed to be squishy (not hard shell) so that it would be light and could have compression straps. And, it needed a separate flat section so my dresses wouldn’t get wrinkly. This is what I got. I don’t like the way it looks, but it works great.

5. An ergonomic workstation. I’ve been struggling with shoulder and back pain for a few months now, so I travel with ergonomic equipment. A roost to elevate my laptop to eye level. A wireless keyboard. A wireless mouse. It lets me work comfortably in hotel rooms and lobbies.

6. A collapsible water bottle. It’s empty until I go past security, and then I fill it up for the flight so that I stay hydrated. It’s flat so it doesn’t sit awkwardly in the seatback pocket.

7. Noise-cancelling headphones. I never understood why my dad was so into these until I bought a pair. Now I can’t fly without them, it silences out the engines so that you’re comfortable and can work the entire flight.

8. Privacy screen. I got so tired of weird people on planes and trains peeking at my screen that I got one at the recommendation of my colleague Erick Hitter (who travels literally nonstop, you can read his blog here). This is the one I got, and it works great.

9. Jetpack battery. It’s tiny, charges up real fast, stores 4 full iPhone charges and is WordPress swag! Perfect for a day on the road.

10. A travel storage bin, sorted by cities. I don’t travel with this, but it’s in the closet at my house. Super simple: A big plastic bin with ziplocs labeled by city. In each ziploc, I store the currency, metro cards and loyalty cards I have per city, and grab it before I go. I learned this from my sister, who keeps a different wallet depending on what city she’s headed to.

11. Speck phone case. I’ve always loved Speck cases and now I love it even more because my friend Steve is an engineer there. The phone case stores 3 cards, which is pretty much all I need in my pocket when I travel: hotel key, credit card, identification.

12. FlightTracker. This is the best travel app ever. Here’s how I use it: once I book my flight, I forward the email to TripIt, which parses the itinerary info and sends it to the FlightTracker app. Yep – it crunches all the data for you.

On travel day, it gives me all the information I need, neatly displayed on my phone: confirmation, flight duration, terminal, gate number. My phone will automatically notify me with any flight updates – delays, cancellations, gate changes, so I know what time to leave the house. This has saved me from spending hours at the airport more than once.

So… that’s my list. This stuff isn’t neatly packed, and it isn’t meticulously organized. It’s generally a jumble of stuff in my bag. But it works.


  1. Love these packing tips! A lot of it works more for business travel, which I tend to steer clear of, but having a packed toiletries bag ready to go, packing cubes and a squishy, sturdy, roomy yet not bulky duffel bag are excellent ideas. I have a friend who swears by the GoToobs – they work for shorter trips but anything longer than two weeks I find I either need to refill or buy more of while I’m on the road.


    • Totally agreed — for my recent trip to Singapore (6 weeks), I went to the store after I arrived and bought shampoo, soap, etc. Most of my trips are usually 7 days or less, but this trip to Asia has definitely put my travel chops to the test — sorting out things like currency exchange and international data plans… blarg. :)


      • Blarg indeed! I hope you did some hub and spoke travelling while you were in Singapore for 6 weeks… It’s a lovely, safe and clean country but it does bore me a little! ;) Love your site, as well as your work on Denizen, btw. Very inspiring!


  2. Christy Childers

    My dad is a meticulous packer. He packs the same things, the same way, every time.

    I tend to throw everything in at the last minute. I figure as long as I have my phone, my passport, & a book I’ll survive!


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