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Day 18: Clever Hacks to Organize and Secure Travel Gadgets

Packing Hacks is a 31-part series devoted to helping you become an expert packer! Each installment offers advice on how to get organized, pack smarter, save on bag fees, and eliminate packing stress. New to Packing Hacks? Start at the beginning.

We’ve spent the past week discussing travel clothes: what to pack, what to wear, and what to leave at home. Today it’s time to move on to another important packing topic: travel tech. Gadgets, to be more precise: iPads, Kindles, laptops, headphones, chargers, and cords, among other things.

You’ll learn:

    What to keep in your carry-on bag vs. your personal item

    How to prevent your gadgets and cords from getting tangled

    What you need to know about RFID technology and high-tech identity theft

First, it’s important to stow your bag for easy access to the items you’ll need in-flight. Unless you’ve nabbed an aisle seat close to the overhead bin, this means keeping your must-have gadgets in a bag that fits under the seat in front of you.

I travel almost exclusively carry-on these days, but that doesn’t mean I only carry one bag. My clothes, my TSA-compliant toiletries, and everything else I don’t need in-flight go in my regulation-size carry-on bag. I store travel documents, cash and credit cards, electronics, books and magazines, snacks, and travel toys and drawing materials for my kids inside a small backpack that qualifies as a “personal item.” (My wife uses a large travel purse for the same purpose.) In addition to easy access to the things you’ll need, this also guarantees you won’t be separated from your valuables if you’re forced to check your carry-on at the gate.

Inside my personal item, I divide my items into different categories. Into the small front pocket goes my boarding pass, my passport, and all other financial or identifying materials; this placement comes in handy on international arrivals when I’m required to fill out entry forms and customs documents.

I typically fill one side pocket with an Entertainment Weekly or two for reading during takeoff and landing, when electronics are required to be turned off. In the other side pocket, I stash a bottle of water that I’ve purchased at the gate, post-security. Some people store their food and drinks in the tray-table pocket, but this is where the germs live. Like, all of the germs. Keep away from this infectious disease hub.

I reserve the main compartment of my backpack for electronics. Depending on the purpose and length of my trip, I’m probably traveling with my iPhone, Kindle Paperwhite, iPad mini and its ZAGG keyboard, Fitbit, XCom Global Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot, SLR digital camera and extra memory cards, headphones, various chargers, converters, extra batteries, and cords. Sounds like a mess, right? That’s where the Grid-It system comes into play.

The Grid-It is a technology organization system that comes in multiple sizes and makes use of rubberized elastic bands to hold everything in one place in a flat, lightweight case; some also come with pockets for laptop computers and other bulkier gadgets. Using the elastics, you can arrange your electronics in virtually endless combinations. Never again will you lose a charger or wind up with hopelessly tanged cords in your travels.

Lastly, there’s the question of information security and credit card theft. We live in a world where pickpockets no longer need to actually pick your pocket to steal your money or identity. Now thieves (hackers) can get at your credit card information using a concealed directional antenna from up to 20 feet away. They’re targeting the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chips that are used in all of the new U.S. passports, some state-issued drivers’ licenses, and many credit cards. You can protect yourself by using RFID-blocking products.

RFID-blocking sleeves that shield individual credit cards or IDs aren’t expensive (they start around $5), but they’re about as thick as individual credit cards. When you need to protect multiple cards, the sheer bulk begins to add up to a lot of extra space in your bag. This is when you might want to invest in an RFID-blocking wallet (these can start at around $30). These wallets are essentially encased in a metal mesh that protects everything inside. Recently I’ve started seeing RFID-blocking bags, as well; read more about them in Travel-Bag Details We Love.

Storing, organizing, and protecting your gadgets is one of the most significant elements of packing an effective carry-on bag. Every bag is different—you may prefer print books over e-readers or your phone’s camera over a bulky SLR, for example—but the important thing is that you approach it with a sound strategy.

Keep your gadgets close and your valuables closer, and you’ll be just fine.

Up next: Day 19: Everything You Need to Know about Traveling with Adapters and Chargers.

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