Originally published 30 August 2015.
Hello to all! I hope everyone enjoyed Last week’s Travel Essentials blog! Today’s post is a little different, but just as important when packing: what NOT to pack. Because let’s be honest, people over pack. Americans are pretty notorious for it, but let’s be honest again, people EVERYWHERE over pack! Unless you are actually moving your entire family to a new place permanently, you really don’t need to take your whole house with you!
People over pack for lots of reasons: we want to be sure we didn’t forget something (and inevitably, you do); we want to be prepared for anything (and inevitably, we can’t be); we think we need all those things (I often make myself revisit the meanings of “want” and “need”); perhaps we think we’re better safe than sorry (except when the bag is so heavy with all that stuff you end up injuring yourself while lifting, dragging, pushing, pulling, or lowering it from the overhead bin).
I’ll tell you a secret.
I sometimes over pack. But not for lack of trying!
Last weekend, Steve and I met some friends in Monterey, CA, to celebrate Val’s and my 30th birthdays. Woohoo! But did I wear the nice dress I packed to go to dinner? Nope. Did I wear that other top I brought so I wouldn’t have to re-wear the top I really liked best? Nope. Did I lug those things around the whole time? Yep!
I’ll tell you another secret.
I have occasionally under packed!
While traveling in Warsaw, Krakow, Bratislava, and Prague a few years ago, I was not prepared for the climate. It was unseasonably warm in Warsaw, chilly in Krakow, hot as an oven in Bratislava, and chilly again in Prague! I finally couldn’t take the heat again in Bratislava, so I went and bought a dress at a local store. It was not expensive, and it’s ended up being one of my favorites, and I still wear it to this day. It’s also the last thing I purchased before meeting my future husband, Steve, in Prague a couple of days later! So that all worked out–I have a great souvenir!
So cute, right?
Oh, and I wish I’d taken maybe one more shirt to the Galapagos with me. But it worked out fine! I just re-wore my t-shirt another time before it was time to toss it! (More on tossing clothes later.)
Here is my list of things that I never bother packing. I realize everyone’s different, and you should certainly use your own judgement, but maybe this post will give you some ideas for packing light next time you travel, even just overnight!
1. A Checked Bag
These are all carry-on sized. Pick one, two at most!
Maybe you’re convinced you HAVE to check a bag. You can’t possibly fit an entire day and night’s wardrobe and accessories into one carry-on and one personal item (like a purse or laptop bag). But I’m here to save your back and your space! Let’s be frank: checking a bag is expensive. If you pay around $75 a year for an airline club card, you might be able to check one bag free, but then you’ve paid $75 for something “free.” If you’re lucky, your airline only charges $20 for your first domestic checked bag, but international checked bag fees can certainly be even more than that! And what if your bag is just an ounce over the weight limit? Be ready for an extra $100 coming out of your pocket on many airlines! I never ever check a bag!
Not only is there an extra cost, it takes an awful lot more time to wait for it once you reach your destination. And what if your connecting flight gets cancelled? Then you’re on a different flight, but are your bags? And bags do still get lost, believe it or not. With as much as Steve and I travel, our odds of having a bag lost go way up!
2. More Clothes than I’ll Need
Do not pack your entire closet!
A good rule of thumb is to pack your bag, then take out half of your clothes. If that scares you, just take out a third! Really, if you do a little planning, pack things that mix and match (you don’t have to pack all black, but that’s sure an easy way to go!). It IS ok to re-wear a few or even all of your things! I will be writing a blog post soon about clothes to leave behind. Subscribe above and look for it coming to your inbox! For now, just wrap your mind around packing half of what you think you’ll need.
3. My Laptop
OK, as a travel writer, this is a hard one to type up (I’m currently typing on my precious laptop!). I have a very efficient MacBook Air. It’s five years old, and I bought it with the intent of taking it with me while I travel. But in the age of iPads, e-readers, smartphones, and more gadgets coming out all the time, laptops have almost become obsolete! There are plenty of things I prefer to do on my laptop, but while I’m traveling, I can do pretty much everything I need to do on my iPhone. I blog in the Notes app, and it goes straight to the Notes app on my laptop so I can copy-and-paste it into my blogging website. I can review sites, hotels, and restaurants on my phone (and find them with the “Near Me Now” feature in the Trip Advisor app), I can post pictures, Skype or FaceTime with my family, and have my calendar at my fingertips when I need to know what we have up next on our schedule.
However, if I was going to be gone two weeks or more, and I wouldn’t be moving around too much (like if we went on a cruise), it would make sense to have my laptop with me and do some day-of blog posts. But for trips 10 days or fewer, I can be patient enough to use my phone for all my computing needs abroad and save laptop work for when I get home!
4. Beautification Tools
This would be things like curling irons, hair dryers (even “travel size”), nail polish, flat iron, curlers, etc. Embrace the hair God gave you and enjoy the natural look! Most hotels have hair dryers, and if not, maybe you’ll find a new way to wear your hair that you like even better! Or wear a ponytail. Or wear a hat. Or better yet, get a fabulous hat as a souvenir!
5. Excessive Toiletries
Meet my travel toiletries stash. No, I do not pack them all!
Just about any place you stay (even many hostels) have shampoo, conditioner, soap, and maybe even lotion, toothpaste, and mouthwash!
I have also learned that I do not need to shampoo my hair every day. And actually, no one does! I can easily go 8-10 days between shampoos and no one is the wiser! So I don’t bother bringing shampoo unless I’ll be gone more than 10 days or will be at the beach.
Personally, I’m particular about my conditioner, so I have a 3-oz, TSA-approved bottle I take with me and refill from home as needed. If I had straight hair, I would totally use whatever the hotel or hostel gave me for free. Conditioner is my one toiletry item I maybe shouldn’t pack, but do.
Liquid face wash:
Don’t do it! The wipes are a little more expensive, perhaps, but #1 you don’t have to worry about another liquid; #2 they lay flat instead of being an awkward shape and size, so they’re easy to pack and take up almost no precious space; and #3 you can use them on the plane or in the airport after a long flight without getting messy with water splashing everywhere (like on your clothes or your luggage).
Just use what’s provided. It’ll get you clean, even if it’s not your favorite scent.
There is usually some in your accommodation, but if not, you can use the coconut oil I recommended in my Travel Essentials post that pulls double and triple duty!
If you’re traveling with friends or family, they don’t care how you smell as long as you’re clean! If you’re traveling alone, you have no one to impress!
6. TSA Prohibited Items
NO WATER! (Or peanut butter.)
Absolutely no water at all, and no liquids over 3.4 ounces. Three ounces is more common, and there is less room for discrepancies! Steve and I were going through security a couple of weeks ago, and the woman in front of us had a 16-ounce bottle of unopened, freshly purchased water. Liquids, even unopened bottles of water, have been banned since 2006. Bring an empty bottle and refill it. Oh, and I once had my 16-oz peanut butter confiscated. The security officer said it can be melted and made into a liquid. I was upset. That was for my in-flight snack!
See “NO WATER!” Additionally, they take up too much precious space.
Dip spreaders, knives, scissors, optometry tools, and the like:
I’m originally from the South, and I know tons of people who’ve lost their pocket knives because they simply forgot. My mom got her bag searched going through security from Canada to the US because she had bought a dip spreader as a gift and decided to carry-on her bag at the last minute. Whoops. My dad, an optometrist, had some of his optometric tools with him (rather expensive items) on our way home from a trip. He got stopped at security, but thankfully he didn’t have them confiscated! He was able to mail them back to himself.
These are the most common faux pas I can think of. But please check the TSA website for more!
Believe it or not! I never travel with cash money. Sure, take some if it makes you feel more comfortable–perhaps for a cab to get to your hotel if you get in late at night, or for a cab ride home once you return to your homeland. I take one credit card (one that has a good rewards program and NO international fees) and my debit card. In most of the popular destinations like countries in western Europe, North America, Australia, Asia, and more, you can use a credit card for everything you need. The big exception here is Ecuador. They use US currency as their own for now, and small bills are what you want to have on hand. Just about anywhere else, you’re better off leaving your money at home most of the time.
I like to have some of the local currency on me for that cool, tiny shop that doesn’t take a credit card, or for street vendors, or for tips for tour guides, but I get it from the first ATM I see. Exchanging money is expensive (more expensive than you think), but getting money from an ATM charges a nominal fee, if any fee at all, depending on your banks ATM regulations.
So those are some things I never pack, or if I do, I better have a good reason or be going to a third-world country where they may not have toiletries! What would you add to this list?