How to Keep Everything Smelling Fresh in Your Luggage    

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Written by Shannon O’Donnell on

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 and has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Barcelona, where she now calls home. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourism along the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for the communities impacted by travel and tourism.

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Travel can be inspiring, invigorating, and life-changing … but you shouldn’t have to stink while doing it. These tips will keep you and your luggage smelling fresh and huggable as you meet new friends on the road.

Travel is supposed to be a lot of things—eye-opening, romantic, life-changing—but stinky is not one of them. No matter if you’re a minimalist traveler or one who packs an outfit for every day of your trip, you will invariably be faced with a conundrum of worn and potentially stinky or wet clothes. Once you have the art of packing down pat, you can integrate easy ways to keep clothes clean and smelling nice on your travels. It’s not hard, but it does take planning. Here are the fundamentals of how to keep clothes smelling fresh in your luggage.

1. Packing Cubes: Use Them, Love Them

Keeping dirty and clean clothes separate is the first step to keeping your luggage smelling fresh—stink can permeate a bag quickly if you simply chuck sweaty clothes after your hike into your bag, so you need to separate worn clothes from clean ones. It’s no secret that we have long raved about the versatility of packing cubes—the fact is, they make organizing your luggage worlds easier. And they work in this situation, too. Take convenience to the next level with a water-repellent and durable clean/dirty packing cube (check out our lightest-weight version of the clean/dirty packing cube if you need to pack as light as possible!). These cubes separate smelly or wet items from clean, dry ones and hold everything in tightly while maintaining a small footprint in your bag. Those cubes work well for grimy tops and bottoms between washings, but pro-packers keen to smell their freshest also use mini stuffer sacs for their smallest stinky items (think socks and underwear).

2. Bring the Right Bag

When you select the bag that you will be using for travel, you want something comfortable yet spacious. Those may be the first criteria, but the perfect bag for travel should also have multiple compartments and zippered sections to help keep you organized. With a backpack duffel, you have ease of carriage with the face of a zip duffel … and so many pockets! Designate one pocket for your dirty or wet duds. The Cargo Hauler is made of waterproof fabric, so you know your stench will stay contained while the rest of your luggage stays fresh.

3. Separate Your Shoes

Shoes are a double disaster when it comes to packing—they are bulky, dirty, and can smell bad. Many globetrotting hot-steppers stick to a single pair of travel shoes to avoid dealing with wrapping shoes up in plastic and containing odor, but a washable shoe sac does the job for you and prevents their dirt from soiling your other belongings. To keep your soles smelling sweet, consider buying a pair of those tree-shaped car deodorizers and stuffing them inside your shoes. Shoe balls work as well; go with whichever you want to smell each day of your trip.

4. Stay Fresh Between Washings

A savvy traveler knows that opportunities to wash clothes while on the road can be few and far between, so they carry ammunition against travel stink. Some people swear by a travel-sized spritzer of Febreeze, or layering dryer sheets between their clothes, but others either have allergies to or dislike artificial fragrances. In that case, tiny bottles of essential oils can go a long way if you crave natural, fresh-smelling scents like lavender, lemon, or tea tree oil (which has bonus antibacterial properties). Dab a face towel with drops of oil and pack it between items in your luggage, or simply keep it on hand to keep a shower-clean eau de you. Wearing the right fabrics—whether athletic wear designed to wick sweat and bacteria off the skin or natural fibers like cotton, linen, and merino wool—will also give you a good starting point by not trapping as much stink in the first place.

Wondering how packing cubes can take your travel organization to the next level? Start with our guide to using the Pack-It System .

Related Links (from the Eagle Creek blog):

How to Use Packing Cubes

Which Duffels Are Considered a Carry-On Bag?

10 Clever Travel Packing Hacks for Your Next Vacation