How to Manage Cable Clutter When Traveling

Keeping Those Cables, Chargers and Adapters Under Control

Mess of cables
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There's no better sign of the creeping influence of technology on travel than the collection of chargers and cables in the average suitcase. Only a decade or two ago, the power needs for an entire vacation could be met by a spare set of AA batteries.

Now there'll be handfuls of cables, adapters, and chargers, all of which seem to tie themselves in knots as soon as they're out of sight. They take up far too much room, use up valuable weight allowance, break too easily, and are generally an annoyance most of the time.

As pervasive as this stuff is, though, there are several approaches you can take to manage the clutter, and avoid a birds-nest of electrical junk greeting you whenever you open your bag.

Elimination

It might seem obvious, but the best way to reduce the number of cables and chargers you're carrying is to leave the gadgets they power at home.

Think seriously about how much tech gear you really need to travel with. Does everyone in your group need a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and camera for a week on the beach? Probably not.

You'll travel with less weight, fewer distractions and concerns about theft or breakage, and a much tidier suitcase. Travel insurance becomes cheaper, too, which is never a bad thing!

Consolidation

Now that you've eliminated a few of your gadgets, get rid of some of the cables as well. Micro-USB is the closest thing we've got to a universal charging standard, and many non-Apple smartphones and tablets can be powered by the same cable.

An increasing number of cameras, e-readers, and other devices fall into the same category, so just take one or two high-quality micro-USB cables to charge everything instead of half a dozen or more. If you've got multiple Apple devices, the same theory applies -- you probably don't need one Lightning cable per gadget.

If the cable breaks, it's usually cheap and easy to replace. Still, it's worth dropping a short (one foot or less) spare in your bag as well. It's useful for charging from the USB ports in plane seat-backs and other places where space is limited, and if your main cable gets damaged, you can still charge your phone until you're able to track down a replacement.

Storage

Keeping all of your cables and chargers in a bag makes them easier to find when you need them, and prevents them from getting snagged and damaged by other items in your suitcase.

Airport security staff can also sometimes get concerned about large numbers of chargers and cables when they show up on X-ray machines. Keeping them all in one place makes them much easier to take out for inspection if necessary.

The bag doesn't need to be particularly large, but it does need to be sturdy since metal prongs will tear a hole right through flimsy mesh. A three-liter (~100 fl. oz) dry sack is ideal for this, and it gives the added benefit of keeping the water out if your main bag gets unexpectedly soaked.

Management

While longer cables can be useful while traveling (especially when power sockets are, inevitably, half-way up a wall), they're a pain to transport.

The longer they are, the greater the clutter and chance of getting tangled up with everything else.

That's where automatic cable winders come in handy. After inserting one end and activating the winding mechanism, the rest of the cable gets wrapped around the winder to keep things tidy and reduce the chance of damage.

They're particularly good for earphones and other thin cables, but as long as you buy the appropriate size winder, they're useful for almost any cable type. Winders can be bought individually, or in mix and match packs.

You can also wrap Velcro ties around cables to keep them under control, which is a cheap and versatile alternative. They're best for thicker, longer cables, and are more fiddly to use than automated winders.

Multi-Purpose

If you're heading overseas, don't take a travel plug adapter for each gadget.Instead, just buy a single adapter, and take a small power strip from home instead.

By plugging all your chargers into the power strip, and the strip into the plug adapter, you save plenty of space and money.

Several companies make power strips appropriate for travel. There isn't much difference between them, but it's worth finding one that also has one or two USB sockets to make charging phones and tablets easier.

If all your gear can be charged over USB, there's an even better option. Go for one of these four-way USB adapters, and you'll save a bunch of space, money, and wall sockets. It's reasonably priced, especially since it comes with clip-on plug adapters for around 150 countries, so you usually won't need to buy a separate travel adapter.