I was slow to jump on the packing cube bandwagon. I had a system and it has worked for decades. However, I am now on board.
As mentioned, I travel fast which means usually only spending one night in a single place (rarely more than 2 or 3). This means it is a pain and time consuming to repeatedly pack and unpack. With packing cubes, each cube can represent a night or a location. It is on top and I rarely have to dig further into my bag.
Toiletries and dirty clothes also get their own cube which keeps them separate from everything else and convenient to find nightly when needed. They also always go on top of the bag.
Packing cubes work for both a suitcase and a backpack. I find they do take up a little more room than just rolling my clothes. However, because towards the end of a trip, I care less about being organized, I will sometimes revert to rolling and then I have “extra” space if I have purchased something along the way.
Regardless if using a suitcase or a backpack, it is easier to find something because I am not taking out individual items but soft “containers” with multiple items. So instead of packing (and repacking) 50 items, I only have 10. It also makes me less likely to lose or forget something, because everything has a “home.”
Finally, I find it easier to pack (and to pack light) because I have a plan before I leave home and know what goes with what and when it will be used. But there is still enough flexibility as I usually pack a single cube with “extras” which might include an extra tee-shirt, underwear, socks, or long sleeve shirt (depending on the trip).
Some extra packing tips I have perfected over the years:
–Bring a tote bag with you. It is light and takes no room but can come in handy dozens of ways. You can bring out during the day with you as a spare bag to carry your water, any purchases, an umbrella; you can use it if you need an extra carry-on; and if you have maxed out your suitcase or just want to keep something more accessible for a plane/bus/car; and finally, I have also used it as a pillow (stuffed with clothes) in a pinch.
–Bring a couple of empty plastic bags. I hate the use of plastic and try to not get or use them in my daily life plastic bags, but even then, I always seem to have some floating around the house. Bring one or two with you for shoes or muddy/wet clothes, leaky toiletries etc…
–Find your go to travel style and stick to it. You could also consider it your travel “uniform.” I used to pack something different for every day. That meant you also need “contingences” for every day. For warm weather travel I found a pair of loose pants I love (you’ve seen them in pictures from every destination since then – they are orange and made of bamboo). They don’t wrinkle, don’t carry an odor, are cool in the summer, conservative, and can be dressed up with a scarf. I pair them with a tee shirt and bring a light jacket and a heavy jacket. The point is I could (and often do) wear them every day. I have similar “go to” pairings for colder weather as well. This cuts down on items I need to pack as well as decisions when traveling. It also means my friends can always find me because they know what I am wearing.
–Have some method to keep your valuables close. I use a cross body purse. Others use a fanny pack. Bottom line it should be something that you NEVER take off or leaves your body.
–Have a separate bag for your non valuables that you carry. I carry a tote bag or small day back for other items I might need but won’t affect my trip if I lose it or it is stolen. This is used for water, a coat, umbrella, travel book etc… I also think this makes an easier target for theft and distracts from the small bag where my important items are kept.