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Organizing a Tote Bag - any ideas?

Sort of cross posting from the current packing thread but asking for suggestions on this thread!

I've decided I don't really like the small LiteGear DayPack I've been using for my personal item/bus bag. The backpack straps are set too far apart and it's not comfortable for any distance. It's not too heavy 1#9oz but it's a little bulky to pack in the suitcase if I'm not using it on a transfer.

I had previously used Rick's Veloce but it is too wide when fully packed so there is no room for my feet when it's stashed under the seat on an airplane which is why I moved to the LiteGear - it's a little taller but skinnier.

I've been haunting TJ Maxx to see if something would turn up and found a Kipling Tote in a bright color I like which has a cross-body strap and full zipper across the top. I have an older LeSportsac but it's not got a shoulder strap so that's awkward. It's 1#3oz so a little lighter but of course it's one big open area so I'll need to figure out how to organize stuff in it. I did a trial pack yesterday with the stuff (from my master packing list) that I take on the plane with me. I put in everything except the food I carry, lol! I was not totally happy with the outcome but I will try using some packing cubes to see if that will work better.

Anyone with any suggestions on how to organize the open area? I started with the packing cube I use for the back of the airplane seat and had another small packing cube for my chargers plus a plastic folder for my documents/itinerary. I tried a soft no-structure cube which I sometimes use for food and it just didn't work. I guess I could put my cross body purse in there instead of packing it (LeSportsac Everyday Deluxe bag) and also remembered I had another structured cube in my "bin of cubes", lol.

I guess that is the advantage of the day pack - 2 big compartments and some smaller compartments on the front and along the side.

Eleven weeks to departure!

Posted by
1607 posts

Pam, I wish I could help with backpack ideas but I took a PacSafe tote instead of a backpack as my personal item. It was worked good but I had to sew a trolley strap on it but that was easy. Inside I packed my camera in its case, 311 bag, on top of those were my everyday medium size purse and an electronic’s case. The electronic’s case is a squarish zippered makeup case which held 2 mophies, camera charger and an assortment of charging cords. I still had room to add two boxes of Christmas ornaments which I didn’t want in my carry-on. On the opposite side of the center divider was my paperwork file folder and a pashmina. Outside zippered pocket held my knitting, a book and snacks. Inside pockets held a variety of small things. I did not use packing cubes in the tote, no need and they would not have helped with organization.
While everything fit in a very organized way that i like, I now wonder if the RS Venice shoulder bag would be a better option. I could use it as a tote or backpack and eliminate the light weight packable backpack which I found awkward but useful on days my neck hurt and I didn’t want to carry the easily accessible purse.
Sorry this really didn’t help you but maybe it gave a hint of what to look for—multiple easy to access inside pockets and a roomy divided center interior.

Posted by
1308 posts

I much prefer bags with one big space--I was forever opening 3-4 zippers before finding the right place on bags with compartments!

I have a number of zip pouches of different sizes/shapes colors. I divide stuff into different categories and it's easy to retrieve the correct pouch from my bag as needed.

Posted by
3111 posts

I too am going to try a light backpack with one big space https://www.eddiebauer.com/p/82300168/stowaway-packable-20l-daypack?sp=2&size=ONE%20SIZE&color=Capers.

I already have a system for my Bagallini purse that I’m not taking this year. It involves a few pouches of different textures so I can tell what’s inside just by reaching in my bag. I have cloth, mesh and two thicknesses of plastic.

EDIT: my favorite mesh bags http://www.walkerbags.com/

Posted by
3789 posts

Would a purse organizer help at all?
My tote is used for transit....don't need a bus bag. It tends to hold my binocs, camera and then the rest is filled with small floppy packing cubes. I have one semi rigid one that holds my plane stuff.
I don't use the same one every time, so I haven't come up with the perfect plan. I also sometimes use some of the stock,of free cosmetic bags I accumulate, or scour the shelves at my favourite thrift stores for the shape that works for my space. Or, because I sew, I make something.

Posted by
1834 posts

Hi, Pam. Still looking eh? We'll have to get together and have a bag sale one of these days.

Posted by
434 posts

I often use a ChicoBag Nomad tote, and then stuff other bags -- camera bag, laptop, and my airplane comfort kit --- into it. It's a huge bag, but I have always been able to fit it under the seat in front of me. I imagine that if I stuffed it really full, it might not fit under the seat. It has a good shoulder strap, but the strap is not long enough to carry cross body. The main drawback is that, even though it has a zipper, it has some open space at the end of the zipper. I wouldn't pack anything small that could fall through the opening. One advantage is that it looks like a big, ugly diaper bag, and so it doesn't look like it's carrying anything of value. Also, it folds into its own pocket, and you can easily stash it in your suitcase on days when you don't need it.

Posted by
1256 posts

I use those handy mesh bags Rick sells plus different sizes of zip locks which I love because you can see what is inside.

Posted by
2653 posts

Could your plastic documents folder act as a divider of sorts? Maybe punch holes in its corners and thread a ribbon through them to tether it to the purse hardware on each side.

Posted by
121 posts

I have some small Eagle Creek Specter bags (2nd hand). I use the smallest one for my scarf (protects from snagging), and the middle one for a change of undies and lightweight shirt (in case my roller bag is checked, or my neighbor spills OJ on me...which has happened). I use the larger one for a sweater, if I take one. These cubes are lightweight and slippery, so they’re easy to move around. I put them in the bottom of my personal item and stack other things on top.

Sometimes I use a Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB) inside my personal item. It’s a great size for a change of clothes & sweater (or documents folded to 5x8), and has an roomy exterior zip pocket. This also has several o-rings for attaching TB pouches with hooks. The PCSB is a good size crossbody bag with shoulder strap for a day bag. Handy multi-purpose item. Can also be clipped to seat back pocket in plane with double carabiners, but it’s much bigger than the TB SideKick, which is perfect for that. (And which I use as a purse).

Posted by
9718 posts

Ooooh, CWSocial!! What a good idea! I will see if that might work!

Many thanks to everyone else as well! Your input is appreciated!

horsewoofie- hahaha...yes, if I can't find something that works for me I'll be happy just enabling others!

LizinPA - yes to that. I tried very hard to keep things in the same compartments but wound up forgetting where I had stashed by little picnic kit and didn't unearth it until I came home and unpacked.

Mona - Holy Cow! That's a cute daypack and only $15? And Aqua? Hmmm.... I also like those little mesh pouches.

Maria - It might. That's kind of what I was thinking but thought others might have some good ideas. I always like a "bus bag" for days I'm on a Rick or Road Scholar tour. I like to have a place for my rain jacket, iPad Mini, water, snacks etc.

Monte! I miss you two! You are going to miss the 20th right? Wedding in Colorado? Darn.

Marie, I'll look at the Chico Nomad totes.

LaurieBeth, I've not got the mesh bags but I do have a bunch of ziplocks, hahaha!

Posted by
3789 posts

I have a couple of sizes of the Eddie Bauer packable backpacks. I an not fond of backpacks, but as a birdwatcher, they are handy and I've really grown to like these. I take them for beach bags on trips south, and most likely would use it as a 'bus bag'. They were my safari bag for various jeep trips, so are handy. But because there is no luggage sleeve, I use a tote for more traditional travel.
A tip for these backpacks, my larger one has an elastic laced front for holding a jacket or such, and you can cinch it down to compact the bag if not very full. You will note that the one linked has 4 braid loops. You can take 4 mid size caribiners to clip to the loops and then to each other to cinch it up, but also hold a sweater or jacket in place. I find cinching it keeps the contents more contained and easier to find.
As a sewist, I tend to problem solve by making what I need, but the idea of using a vinyl zip file file holder with some holes and clips is a great idea. I love Macgyvering solutions.
Have fun finding yours.

Posted by
1607 posts

Mona, I used the same EddieBauer packable backpack in Italy in May on days I didn’t want to carry a purse when my neck ached. Mine is gray with red trim. It held a lot but I found it really awkward and not handy to access things from within. I became a contortionist just trying put my water bottle in the side pocket.

Posted by
7609 posts

Yes, following Mona’s link, one discovers that those packable Eddie Bauer backpacks are currently half-price!

Posted by
3111 posts

horsewoofie, that’s a good point I’ll practice with it a bit more. I wore it into San Francisco last weekend though and couldn’t even tell that I had it on my back unlike my loaded Bagallini worn cross body. We’ll have our two teenaged granddaughters with us and they can help retrieve things from my backpack. I also bought the tiniest, thinnest purse to wear crossbody to keep € and a cc within reach.

Posted by
44 posts

I use the Eddie Bauer Stowaway backpack as well (purchased a couple of years ago when it was half-price, also. plus I had some adventure points :~) ). Best part is how small it folds up into itself. I plan to use it as my personal item on our Fall trip to Sicily and Rome so I can bring pack some of my heavier things in it and still be able to fit under the seat. Plus, I like the various pockets to keep things organized. In it, I will pack my Travelon drape cross-body bag to use as a purse on a daily basis. I recently bought this bag through AAA when they were having a 50% off sale. I hadn't seen it in person until I ran into a friend at the grocery store, who had with her, and she let me check it out. Part I like best: lies pretty flat against my side, unlike many crossbody styles.

For keeping organized in an open compartment bag or tote, I use this purse organizer for chargers, cords, lip balm, passport, glasses, eye shades, ear plugs, phone etc. I sometimes have to look in several of the pockets to locate the exact item I want, but it beats having the rifle through a large bag.

Posted by
9718 posts

Thanks for the organizer links! Will study those. Horsewoofie, how about an update when it arrives?

Posted by
44 posts

Ooh, horsewoofie, I like the one you found even better! It would be useful to use year-round, if one switches between purses.

Posted by
9718 posts

Adlmllr, what do you like better about Horsewoofie's organizer over the one you liked?

I'm trying to put this in perspective and on the surface it seems like the separate pockets on the sides of the one you linked to would work great. Or are they too hard to find things in once they are down in a tote-sized bag?

And do you have the medium size one? I think I would want it smaller than the actual tote so I could stick a water bottle on one side and my seat-back cube on the other.

Posted by
9718 posts

Emma! Oh, that is cute!

It's pretty hilarious that both my Mom and my SIL's Mom sewed beautifully. We laugh because unfortunately both of us were behind the door when the sewing gene was being passed out! I might could try to make that...at least it doesn't have to fit a body, lol!

Posted by
44 posts

Pam, from the photos it looks a bit more structured than the one I have, and possibly a less 'slippery' fabric. But not enough of a difference for me to give up on the one I currently have -- am trying to get more use out of everything I already own (an admirable goal, we'll see how I do on that one!)

Posted by
3789 posts

Pam. Don't feel bad you can't sew. But, it is never too late to try a new skill ;-) I agree that binding is not a beginner's friend. Also, as mentioned, a slippery surface may be what you want for this type of product. Bear in mind that something like this to sew will take hours and most likely cost more than having someone else alter your current purse to suit your needs. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to discourage new sewists.....I am happiest with a sewing needle in hand (or a trowel).....but there are some exercises in frustration, and I don't want this to be yours. If you find a local class for this, then that would be a good learning situation as well as a fun activity in a group, but if you aren't already inclined towards learning to sew....well, perhaps you don't want to go there yet.
Of course, you could drop unsubtle hints to Mom or SIL that you would love a hand made one ;-)

Posted by
9718 posts

Thanks Maria! Nope, both our Moms have gone on to their rewards - not sad as both were up in their 90's. SIL and I have both their sewing machines, hahaha...

After I looked harder at the pattern I realized the "make your own bias binding" was a no go for me!

And yes...this would have to be a "fun" project, not one being attempted in a rushed manner!

Interesting comments about the slippery fabric. I think that would be best as well. What puzzled me was that some of the commercial ones (and links to the patterns from Emma's link) are made of felt. That just seems like a weird fabric for this organizer. Maybe they use it because it would stand on it's own without needing a stiffener?

Posted by
3789 posts

@Pam. I missed the mom part on the SIL comment. oops, but it is a wonderful skill. Glad my daughter loves it as much as I do.
You could always buy pre-made binding. It isn't as good as all cotton, and most likely won't match as nicely as the pattern's pictures, but it would do. I love making these fun things - but surprisingly, I often don't use them. They are fun and pretty, but not always practical.
Felt may work to make it stand up - I can't think of why else you would do it, but not all felt is stiff...and it is just plain awful.
The insert I (don't) use was a purchased one, but I think designed for a particular purse which had clips on it, as the insert had loops. I could pin it to a bag, but I really prefer just an open interior with maybe one or 2 side pockets. If I need to contain other stuff, I put it into small pouches. With the full interior accessible, I can put in a bag of lunch, an umbrella, or coat, or my camera or mini binocs. None of these work with a purse insert.....but that's just me.

Posted by
4473 posts

Hi Pam,

I see you’re receiving lots of info for divider organization. I just use my very lightweight LLBean daypack and love that it will stand up next to my leg, so I keep my leg room to stretch and wiggle my feet.

The reason I’m commenting is that I saw that you place your packing cube in the airplane seat pocket. I assume that gets placed back into your daypack where you also keep food. I’ve seen too much during flights (won’t gross you out with details).

Posted by
3789 posts

@emma, I'll grant you wool felt is wonderful. It is often not the first felt fibre considered in North America, though, unless you are already into it. As a clothing maker and quilter, I know it's great, but if you end up buying craft felt, it is not so pleasant.

Posted by
2914 posts

Maybe it is all in the type of packing cube or envelope? Perhaps you could shop for those now. LOL.

I am one who likes to separate various items so that I can easily see what I have and move it to other bags at my destination or into my purse, etc. But then, I just like items to pack in... Sigh.

My personal item on international flights is a travelon backpack. Many times it is my only item on international flights, as I usually check my carryon. This is a compromise, IMO, on open space and pockets. However, I doubt it is particularly light...but looks good. It works well for me unless I need to bring my laptop (not international) and lots of paper folders. LOL Then I use a Sherpani Sojourn from years ago, which is going strong, but not a backpack. This is a newer version, but also not available apparently.

Have fun figuring this out!

Posted by
1607 posts

Pam and all, I will review the tote insert when I get it in a few days. I ordered the small one after measuring the inside of my backpack. I liked that it is taller, narrower, has a zippered pocket on one side (pockets on the other) and a key ring on one end to tether the insert in the bag. These features make it different than the one that adlmllr has. The small size should give me room in the backpack for my camera bag, sweater and still keep all the loose stuff from hiding in the bottom.
Kathy

Posted by
9718 posts

Emma and Maria - yes, I think I was thinking of the icky "craft" felt. I hadn't thought about the nice wool felt clothing items I've seen and I can see how that would be easier as you don't need the finishing around the edges.

Jean! Oh gag...yes, of course it goes back in the daypack with my food bag and then into my suitcase when I'm not flying.

Wray - as usual you are enabling me! I like the non-available Sherpani and yes, I think I just like to shop for things to put things in!

Posted by
245 posts

While not inexpensive the past 2 years for both international and domestic flights I have used this:
https://www.amazon.com/Baggallini-Anti-Theft-Backpack-Carry-RFID-Protected/dp/B07D3J7B63?psc=1&SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duckduckgo-d-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=B07D3J7B63
If I told over the top, it just fits within my carpet-bag style personal item.
The wallet is great, with the option to clip to the interior. (You could cheaply rig something like that yourself.) I keep my phone, glasses case, bigger papers/docs and small plane/day needs in the backpack purse.
Zippered 3-1-1 bag, snacks in baggies nestle in beside the backpack.
Tablet and chargers at the back (my personal bag has a sort of open pocket on one side), and a couple magazines.
There is still room to smoosh in my travel scarf/ wrap upon arrival.
Taking less stuff makes it easy to know what I have and where it is! The personal item can be a cluttered repository if you keep adding "just in case" small things.
I also would never put anything into the seat pocket! On a domestic flight last week while deplaning someone had left a disposable diaper with the used wipes just loose in there😜

Posted by
1820 posts

Take a plastic grocery bag with you , to line the airplane seat pocket before you put anything in it.
I agree: who knows what's been in them.....ick.

Posted by
9718 posts

Oh gag!!

SJ - plastic grocery bag is brilliant. I was thinking big ziplock but this is cheaper and easier to dispose of. I don’t normally get plastic bags but do keep them for lining small trash cans.

Posted by
638 posts

Oh gosh, the grocery bag solution: brilliant. Thank you!! I'm going to stick a few of those bags in the side pocket of my underseat bag right now so I don't forget.

This has been a helpful and dangerous topic.

Helpful: see above re bags and seatback pockets, also using handbag organizers. I have one of those in the closet, used it years ago in a particular handbag I no longer own. It may get a new life.

Dangerous: got me thinking about my never-ending quest for the ideal shoulder/day/tote bag, both for traveling and daily use at home. Result: ordered a couple of crossbody/shoulder bags from eBags, super-discount deals, the large one has arrived and the medium size one is on the way. Despite my wariness of those reinforced straps (I'd rather lose a bag if somebody yanks on it than have a broken shoulder or neck), both are eBags-branded but with Pacsafe slash-proof security features. Not sure what will stay and what will be returned. TBH they were such great deals with the sale + discount code, that I may just keep both. I also ordered the pack-flat toiletry kit.

Posted by
7609 posts

@Suz — danger in reading too much of the Forum!! (Danger to one’a pocketbook).

And Wray, I can agree with this completely!! Especially the last phrase

I am one who likes to separate various items so that I can easily see what I have and move it to other bags at my destination or into my purse, etc. But then, I just like items to pack in... Sigh.

Posted by
9718 posts

Suz! So glad others could be enabled by a thread! BTW, I just got the Flat-pack toiletry kit based on someone else's thread within the last 2 weeks or so. It's sitting in front of me, packed and ready to go for the end of September, hahaha! Well, actually I have it out to take to the RS Meet-up group tomorrow for "show and tell". The critical thing is that the dimension needed to be deep enough to hold my neti pot - an absolute travel essential.

Kim....there are lots of us coming to Paris in the Fall in case you need stuff that isn't shipped internationally, hahahah!!

And...sigh...just saw a TravelPro 21/22" 2 wheeler yesterday at TJMaxx and might be kicking myself for passing it up. Good Grief.

We need to ask the Webmaster for a "Garage Sale Forum".

Posted by
638 posts

And...sigh...just saw a TravelPro 21/22" 2 wheeler yesterday at TJMaxx
and might be kicking myself for passing it up. Good Grief.

Pam, that's the one I found for $70 at TJM here last month, and snapped it up. But I really needed a new bag that size. If you don't truly need it, then it's not a bargain at any price I suppose. I'm taking it on my next air trip in September (domestic), on Southwest which has more generous carry-on sizing than most airlines these days.

I'm looking forward to seeing the flat pack toiletry bag in person. I'm finally getting serious about what toiletries I pack, and how. I've always checked a bag on foreign trips, and often on domestic (fly SW a lot, love the free checked bags, but this next trip I want to do carry on only). And I've been rather lazy about the toiletries; just stuff 'em into that toiletry bag and toss it into the checked bag. Then deal with the toiletries when I'm in the hotel room - and kick myself for not being better organized. I selected the bright yellow toiletry bag on the "see it and don't forget it" principle. I also scored a set of compression packing cubes on Amazon Prime day - also bright yellow. They have arrived and I like them!

Posted by
9718 posts

Suz, I was surprised at how much stuff fits in the Flat-pack but it is still pretty flat. I have another similar one that I got as a gift that is about twice the depth and have never used it because it is SO big! I've done a trial pack in the suitcase yet but it looks like it will be fine in the RS 21" roller as long as the width is not stuffed.

I don't really "need" a new roller. I have been checking for the last couple of years and the RS roller has some scuffed marks on it but it's still functional.

Posted by
5697 posts

@Pam -- maybe we should ask for a Garage Sale, Thrift Shop and Costco Forum.
P.S. I have an old (but new to me) Travelpro 22" 2-wheeler from the thrift store for $5.

Posted by
7609 posts

Pam, you go back to TJ Maxx and get that two-wheeler TravelPro and put it on the Forum Garage Sale right away!! And be careful what you offer when coming to Paris!

Honestly the idea of selling gear is fabulous. Something that isn’t quite right for someone is usually just what another person is looking for!

LauraB, great find! Brava!

Posted by
1607 posts

Hi Pam and everyone. My tote insert arrived yesterday so I want to give you an update. The small size fits perfect in the bottom of the Eddie Bauer packable backpack. Medium and large size would be too big. I ordered gray insert to match gray backpack; it blends in so is not obvious. What I really like is the outside zippered pocket which has a snap on the zipper to secure it to the key ring to hold money and credit card. There is a small ring of the opposite side. I had previously sewn a snap in the backpack to hook whatever so it secures the insert somewhat. The insert center section zips closed and has six pockets. The pockets are too small to hold a phone but will keep small things organized. The center section is roomy enough for sun glasses or whatever you want; 2" wide unloaded. Because it's soft sided, it will hold a lot if you want. There are three outside pockets that will hold whatever you need to reach easily. Overall, I'd say it'll keep a backpack or tote organized but not take up all the room. I still have room in my backpack for my small Timbuk2 camera bag, a packable rain poncho and a sweater.

https://www.amazon.com/Vercord-Handbag-Pocketbook-Organizer-Clousure/dp/B06WW96JFD/ref=mp_s_a_1_17?keywords=tote%2Borganizer&qid=1563157743&s=gateway&sr=8-17&th=1&psc=1
Kathy

Posted by
9718 posts

Kim...have not gotten back to TJMaxx (40 miles away, lol!!)

Kathy...thanks so much for the review! I had about decided just to use my travel purse as an insert but your review may sway me back to looking at that insert. I saw a lot of review complaints that it fell apart quickly so that was why I was stalling.

Posted by
1607 posts

Pam, as to the insert falling apart quickly I don’t know. But it’s less than $20 so worth a try. Too bad I have to wait until 2021. Have to save $$$$ and have the house painted.

Posted by
9718 posts

Well, I was in TJMaxx yesterday looking at the TravelPro rollaboard again....and on the way to checking out had to stand in line and there on the markdown shelf in the exit aisle was a purse insert, lol!! It is a medium size, was $4.99 so yes, It left with me too.

I had about decided to go with just putting my regular cross body purse in there but this might entice me back to the insert idea. It is only about 5 ounces whereas my purse is about 1#4oz, I think. Anyway, a substantial savings weight-wise. I'll do some test packs with it and see how it works.

Sometimes you just know the universe is trying to tell you something, hahaha!

Posted by
7609 posts

TJMaxx finally comes to the rescue, as you had been hoping all along! Bravo!

Posted by
9718 posts

Kim...it's a good thing it's 40 miles away and I only go by there a couple of times a month when I have lunch with my "Paris partner-in-crime"!! Or to go to Costco if she's traveling! Of course, sometimes I find nothing but I always look.

Did a half-a$$ed trial pack of the tote bag with the insert - it looks like it will work well! It does not have a zipper as some of them seem to do but it does have pockets at the end that will fit a small water bottle so at least they are standing up.