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Repack after clearing security? (Note: A Nerdy Post)

I have realized that I repack my bag several times as I am traveling, although to a limited degree. I have wondered if anyone else does something similar. I go through 4 phases.

In the first phase, I pack as tightly as possible to get to the airport with the least number of bags to contend with. The aim is to put everything in two bags with nothing left out so the chances of forgetting or losing something is lessened.

I'm the second phase, before going through security, I unpack anything that might cause the TSA to unpack my bags. For example, I pull out all the electronics and mechanical things, which travel through the x-ray in their own bag. I have had security completely unpack too many bags when something set off the need for further inspection. Chargers with lots of wires along with batteries and flashlights seen to have been the culprits, but you never know because they don't say. At this stage, two bags usually turns into four.

After clearing security, in phase three, I repack to get back to a carry on and a personal item, but things have to be shifted a bit. The idea is to move things to the personal item that I might want easy access to on the flight. Everything else goes into the carry on. The liquids bag gets separated into two categories, for example. Some things in the carry on get shifted to the personal item, such as a neck pillow or jacket. I have to move some things to the personal item, though, because the carry on is not that big and what I need in the personal item is fairly small. And, of course, I am only allowed to take two things in the cabin.

Phase four is basically restoring things back to phase one, and is done once I reach my destination airport. Things that spread out a bit on the plane need to be redistributed to reduce what I must manage carrying onward to the most concise set of bags.

I try to make the shifting around as manageable as possible by using packing cubes and bags, but it still feels like a production.

I might not have to go through all this if I used slightly larger bags and had more room, but I find that I keep returning to using the smallest bags possible to just barely hold what I am taking.

Posted by
2023 posts

I take one 21 inch roller bag that I check. I carry on a backpack that contains all the things I want for the plane, any electronics, documents, camera gear, meds, a shirt and clean underwear. Anything that I cannot afford to lose or would be difficult to replace is in that backpack. I pull out the stuff at security from that bag such as a 311 bag, IPad, phone or whatever is required and put it all back in the backpack when it is through security.

Posted by
1133 posts

And before anyone else says it, yes this post may not be of any interest to anyone, including members of the cult of ultralight packers. For that, I can only apologize.

Posted by
243 posts

Paul, I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one with phases of packing :). Although some of my phases are similar to what you describe (1 - 3), I also differ in some. For instance, I have things I put in my carryon (clothing etc just in case checked bag takes an alternate route to mine) that will eventually end up in the checked bag for the duration of the trip and vice versa (stuff that goes in checked that would/may be problematic through security). And all these phases of packing take a lot of forethought lol but I can’t seem to shake ‘em. Although, as you mention, packing cubes and various other types of ways to corral stuff certainly helps with the redistribution processes.

Posted by
5141 posts

When I saw your title, I thought you were going to share what happened after being pulled out of line for a special unpacking/search of your suitcase. I had that happen in Madrid. I saw others’ bags being completely emptied into a mess on the tables, and as you described, I put a lot of thought into where I want everything in my bad & daypack. Fortunately, when they opened my bag and removed my sweater, they saw everything else in RS mesh packing cubes - looked around the edges and let me move on. Whew!

I just have a carry-on suitcase & daypack, so I have my liquids bag in the front pocket of my suitcase. My cords are in my daypack, so if they wanted to inspect them, that’s not an issue. After security, I place the liquids inside my toiletry bag. Otherwise, everything is the same place my whole trip.

I move locations a lot on trips (11 on this trip), riding by train, so I keep everything very organized - always goes back into the same location to make it much easier & quicker to head out the door.

Posted by
12222 posts

I am organized to make going through security easier. Everything that may have to be removed or may cause an issue is in my day pack. Nothing needs to come out of my carry on. Well, usually. There was the time my travel size roll of duct tape had a young lady working at Gatwick security all perplexed.

3-1-1 bag, larger electronics, or anything I need for the plane, are in my daypack. All easily reachable.

I can repack in seconds. Except for the larger electronics that need to be unpacked for security and have their own pocket in my daypack, everything else is in packing cube or sac. Organized, not loose, and easily visible should security want to look at it.

If there are items you want on the plane, pack them in their own cube. This way, you just have to remove the cube before storing your stuff. Again, mine is in my daypack.

From what I'm reading, you are packing your "security" items all over the place. Have them in one place--either carry on or daypack. No need to shift anything. Everything is in the same place and packed the same way. Easy out, easy in.

Make sure you use different color cubes for your day pack so you know what is in each one and not have to open up to check.

Posted by
2877 posts

Great ideas here cause I feel I can always improve my packing skills. Frank, good idea to use a cube for my day pack so I can just remove everything I need for the plane. I usually have it all over the place and always need something else after is it stowed overhead.

Posted by
1190 posts

yes this post may not be of any interest to anyone, including members of the cult of ultralight packers.
The aim is to put everything in two bags with nothing left out so the chances of forgetting or losing something is lessened.

You're already in the carry-only cult; you only need to get organized to move smoothly through the predictable obstacles. My advice has already been provided by FrankII: All of my stuff is segregated based on the known demands of the security system and my in-cabin needs; my main bag and everything in it remains untouched till I arrive at the first hotel.

I might not have to go through all this if I used slightly larger bags and had more room, but I find that I keep returning to using the smallest bags possible to just barely hold what I am taking.

Your system, as it exists, produces unnecessary complications and would stress me out. But you seem to like it that way. Do not get a bigger bag. That path leads to madness.

Posted by
794 posts

Great idea about the packing cube with plane essentials, Frank.

Posted by
1834 posts

Frank, that is a great idea to use a packing cube for all your ‘security’ stuff. I’ll try it next trip!

Posted by
243 posts

Having a catch all drawstring bag in a dedicated section of my carryon (backpack) for stuff that comes out at security definitely made it an easier process on my most recent trip. After security though, things were redistributed to preferred locations. What is taken out at security is not what necessarily what I need on the plane, so a redistribution happens for what I want to have on hand during the flight. I’m trying to be more efficient at the process with each trip (getting there!)

Posted by
2181 posts

You are right, Paul...there is a lot of repacking going on these days for us all.
I have all my stuff that security might want to look at on the top of the bag I take into the cabin.
After security, I pull out the smaller sized about 9X6X2 inches big, of the reusable grocery bags that we all use nowadays, and find a quiet corner to put into it all the things I'll need in-flight.
I don't put my cabin bag/carryon whatever it is, on the floor of the airplane....eewww.
Then I can put it in the overhead bin (I know, it's no cleaner in there than the floor....).
My little bag gives me more room to put my feet under the seat in front of me, and I'm not jumping up to open the bin for stuff.
On arrival, I put the grocery carrier inside out (for washing it later) in my bigger bag, and put all my inflight stuff back in there too.
Fussy, but it works for me.

Posted by
243 posts

@ S J - nice to hear I’m not the only one who uses and then turns the under the seat in front of me bag inside out for washing later (due to the ‘eewww’ factor). Sometimes I think I’m getting carried away but then the ‘eewww’ factor convinces me otherwise.

Posted by
8 posts

I immediately find myself trying to think of subcategories to bag--in the lightest possible bag, like maybe those crushable netting produce bags.

  • CSA-interest stuff needed in flight.
  • CSA-interest stuff not needed in flight.
  • Bag for the two CSA-interest bags.

  • Liquids needed in flight. (I'm assuming that even though they're both of CSA interest, you don't want your liquids with your electronics.)

  • Liquids not needed in flight.

  • Bag for the two liquids bags.

  • Bag for other stuff needed in flight.

  • Bag for stuff not needed in flight, if there's any stuff not needed in flight that you need, at any time, to put in your personal item.

Then I imagine color-coding! In flight bags are blue! Not-in-flight bags are orange! Everything of CSA interest gets a red drawstring!

So, obvious, I too am nerdy here.

In terms of actual execution, I've been thinking, through three road trips, that I really need to stop digging six things out of my backpack to put in my door pocket, and instead pre-pack them in one bag in the backpack. And I haven't done it yet.

Posted by
7356 posts

Carryon bag = clothes only.

Personal Item = electronics (minimal), liquids (minimal), cables, chargers, anything questionable

No worries.

Posted by
1133 posts

I am a proud member of the ultra-lightweight packing religion. I actually was years before I knew it was an organized sect. The sole bag I took on my first trip overseas, 30 plus years ago, was a Jansport backpack that I think was about 30 L. I did no sink washing, so I had clothes packed for every day of a 14 day trip. I even packed a second pair of shoes. I have no idea how I accomplished this feat and have never been able to recreate it. I plan for a lot of clothes washing these days and I often risk taking just the shoes on my feet.

My mania about packing just right arises from my determination to never check a bag and to avoid being forced to gate check my carry on because the plane is full. To that end, I want my carry on to possibly fit under the seat and my other bag to possibly be squeezed in beside it. So far it has worked and they leave me alone and focus on those who wheel.

To keep my carry on and second bag very small, I pack them very tightly. My clothes are in a compression bag to take up less room and the packing bags I use are more floppy sacks than cubes (but I really prefer the cubes).

Although my approach would stress out bogiesan, I am more stressed by the risk of a gate check. Avoiding that possibility is the greater goal. I do agree with the prescription he gave: "Do not get a bigger bag. That path leads to madness."

Posted by
7356 posts

Blockquote I am more stressed by the risk of a gate check . . .

I hear you on that Paul. I used to fly monthly to Chicago, on AA regional jets, and every time they would announce they were gate checking carryons to your final destination. Once I asked the gate agent if I was connecting in ORD for Europe . . . . and she confirmed my bag would be checked through to Europe. That would be awful. Its something people living near gateway airports dont worry about.

Posted by
167 posts

I am of the carry-on only cult, and really appreciate all of the great ideas!

Posted by
852 posts

I can appreciate your multi phase packing. It makes sense to me, although I do not do as much shifting as all that. I know that not everyone has the option to travel with children, but traveling with kids has created new packing opportunities. Their clothes are smaller, and their toiletries is basically an added toothbrush, so we found traveling with our children created extra packing options and our carryons became so much lighter. We do not travel with more, but my bag and my husband's became so much lighter since some things could be shifted to their carryons.

Posted by
14 posts

Rearranging items at various stages of check-in and boarding: I am having weight issue, more than a volume issue for getting in under KLM's 26 pound limit for both the carry-on and personal item combined. I have a travel vest that I can wear and stuff the pockets with some of the heavier items. That cuts my total weight a bit. After I'm safely on the plane - or have passed the gate area scrutiny, I sometimes take things out of my pockets and put them in my carry-on. Then, I don't have to wear my cargo for the entire trip.

Posted by
103 posts

We are kindred souls! I also repack after security and I travel with a carry on plus a personal item. The one other thing that I do, is leave enough room in my carry on so that I can cram my personal item into it, if I need to. Twice now, my airline has announced that it would be one bag only onboard, just before boarding. The first time, it was just good luck that I could consolidate into one bag, but now I plan for it.

Posted by
1133 posts

Kindred soul, because being told at the boarding gate that I could only take one bag as a carry on is a nagging concern, I pack a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Duffel bag in my larger bag. It weighs less than 3 ounces but can hold 40 liters (2440 cubic inches). In a pinch, I can pour everything in my carry on and personal item into the duffel as well as let it hold the other bags. Then I usually can squish things around so the duffel would satisfy most size restrictions.

I do not do this to begin with because the duffel, although nice and strong, is unwieldy and uncomfortable to carry. It is purely a backup intended just for this situation. Of course if I ever have to take this step, it means I will have yet another need to repack my bags.

Posted by
13530 posts

Only once did I have to repack since the guy at SFO told me to empty out my carry-on, said he would help me repack...no such luck, just a nuisance.

I was annoyed but ignored it, just worked quickly to get it done.

That was luckily a one time occurrence, that single nuisance. Since that incident, maybe pre-9/11, I have never been questioned on the contents of the 19" carry-on, had to open it up to be inspected, at most, they looked at the screen more closely but were satisfied to the point where nothing was disturbed from the way I had packed.

After getting through the TSA, taking the "stuff" from the bin, it's time to put back on the shoes, the jacket, the neck pouch and hidden pocket on my person, the belt, the wallet in the correct pants pocket, etc. that's all. I'm done....period.

Posted by
584 posts

My entire conception of "repacking" was changed when after decades of flying I experienced the dreaded "SSSS". I was unable to repack my items quickly enough and they were being pushed off the end of table onto the floor. Every item was completely disassembled and emptied. I always viewed my carry on as a puzzle to solve - how to scientifically fit the pieces together so that a maximum number items are using every available square centimeter. Unfortunately I discovered I was unable to recreate those "configurations" fast enough for the extra security team. That stress added the new dimension of "how quickly can the items being repacked efficiently?" and that has meant a certain reduction in the items included.

Posted by
1190 posts

Although my approach would stress out bogiesan, I am more stressed by the risk of a gate check.

Naw, your system sounds about right. The only thing that stresses me out, or will when I board for Spain next year, is the new threat of being forced to gate check my bag, at origin, all the way through to final destination, just because so many other travelers have suddenly become interested in carryon. For me to lose my bag in Boise, Idaho, and anticipate it to magically be reunited with me in Barcelona would make me nuts for ten to twenty hours. I'd be having the wine.

Posted by
1190 posts

So, obvious, I too am nerdy here.

Each of the benefits of packing light are major stress reducers. If you're stressing over the basic techniques, the effort to convert to carryon-only may not be worth the effort! Do whatever works for you, makes you happy. Check your bags and enjoy the trip.

Most folks these days are coming to carryon from a lifelong career of overpacking so, yeah, it can be a big deal and even an ordeal. Just takes a bit of objectivity, research, and practice. That's the important thing: practice (but practice without buying a bunch of new stuff). You may find packing lightly is not for you.

Posted by
69 posts

bogiesan: I love the practice part of packing, but am definitely struggling with the “without buying a bunch of new stuff” part!

Posted by
1190 posts

I love the practice part of packing, but am definitely struggling with the “without buying a bunch of new stuff” part!

Really? Drop me a note offline or start another thread!

Buying new clothing and cool toys just for travel is a terrific bunch of fun but can be a expensive. It's all been done for you! There are dozens of expertly curated, parsed/tested packing lists, and excellent reviews of every piece of equipment and type of clothing. They're all over the web. If you review some of these resources, you should quickly discover you already have almost everything you need and whatever you may not have you don't really need.

Be strong.
Resist.

Posted by
156 posts

I'm like Mary. I carry a wheeled carryon and a backpack. Before I hit TSA, I remove everything that will need to be off my body as well as any laptops or iPads and put them in the large front pocket of the carryon. (Note that I have Global Entry, so don't have to worry about shoes, 3-1-1 bag, etc.) When I clear security, my wallet, and other personal items are in one pocket and are reassembled easily.

My big emphasis is on the backpack. If for whatever reason I have to check the carryon, I make sure that my electronics, toiletries, and medications are in the backpack along with a clean shirt and underwear in case the carryon gets "misplaced". I carry a midsized pack that will fit under the seat.

Yes, it's kind of anal retentive, but in these days of frequently lost luggage and assorted airport chaos, I like to make sure I have the essentials with me.