How to Stop Overpacking

Whether you’re taking a quick trip or traveling long term, avoiding overpacking is truly your best bet. No one likes struggling to pick up their suitcase, being that person with the giant backpack knocking people over on public transportation, or having to unpack and repack everything just to find that one thing you needed. Packing light simplifies your trip, and as a result it makes it more enjoyable.

Staying organized and taking the right luggage is part of the solution, but even the best packing strategy and backpack will only get you so far if you still just have too much stuff. And let’s face it, we’re all guilty of overpacking, oftentimes without really knowing why it’s happening.

We overpack for two reasons.

The first is that we simply don’t know what to bring.

When we don’t know what we need for a particular location, some of us opt to bring a little bit of everything, just to make sure we have our bases covered. Lazy packers & procrastinators fall into this category, too. Just throwing everything you can think of into your bag so you have it “just in case” is going to overload you quick. 

The second is that we overpack to tame our travel anxiety.

But an even bigger reason so many of us overpack is because it quells just the tiniest bit of our anxiety over traveling. This might not even be conscious anxiety, but it causes us to over prepare.

Traveling is filled with unknowns — from not knowing if your flight will get delayed, to not knowing if you’re being scammed by a cab driver, to not knowing if anyone understands a word of your poorly-practiced guidebook phrases. There are so many situations that simply can’t be prepared for in advance.

Packing is one of the few things you have total control over before your trip even begins. As a result, we end up preparing for every possible situation: completely unlikely illnesses (more on that below), a surprise dinner with the queen, starvation, flood, or the fact that we might suddenly decide to wear heels on vacation even though they haven’t made it out of the closet since prom.

These are two problems that are easily fixed, though.

Don’t know what to bring? Do your research. Pinterest is full of packing lists & tips. (If you’re looking for lists specific to Thailand & SE Asia, stay tuned!) Feeling a little anxious? Take some time to think realistically and make sure the things you’re putting in that suitcase or backpack are logical.

Here are some ways to cut back so you can travel light & stress-free.

Clothing

For many people, this is the hardest area of packing to cut back. You want to look good and feel good. It’s also a special occasion–a trip is something you invest a lot of money and time into. So you bring along all sorts of stuff you might wear because options, and individual outfits for every day of your trip, and that one really cute dress you haven’t worn in centuries but it’ll be perfect for this vacation, and a brand-new pair of wedge sandals you haven’t broken in yet, and the list goes on.

Plus, the less clothing you bring with you, the more you can shop for while you’re away. 😉

Here’s a secret: You do not transform into a different person just because you’re on a vacation.

You’re still not going to wear all the crap you don’t wear at home, even if it is ideal for your trip. Whether it’s new-but-kinda-hideous travel gear or a kind of uncomfortable but really cute sundress, if you don’t wear it normally you’re not going to wear it on your trip. You know what you are going to wear? All of the stuff you wear all the time anyway. Bring your favorite clothes. Make it easy on yourself. It’s ultimately what you’re going to end up wearing 99% of the time, so don’t waste space with all the extras.

You also aren’t going to be unexpectedly invited to a formal event mid-trip, or find yourself suddenly climbing a mountain. Be realistic about what you’re most likely going to be doing most of the time. If you prepare an outfit for every single situation you might find yourself in, you’ll end up carrying around a walk-in closet. If you do find yourself in a situation where you truly need something specific you didn’t bring, you can probably buy it in your destination.

Another tip? Don’t pack individual outfits for every single day of your trip, and then extras so you have more choices. Instead, pack basics that all match each other and can be worn together, and BAM. Instant, endless outfit options. (This is also called a capsule wardrobehere’s a great read to get you started.) Switch things up with accessories and jewelry, which take up less room in your luggage.

And don’t stress! Everywhere in the world does laundry, so there’s no reason to be worried about running out of clothes.

Toiletries

Ladies, this is another area where many of us overpack. Again, be realistic about what you’re actually going to be using on your trip. First and foremost, consider your destination. If you’re going to an island, you’re probably not going to be doing your hair and makeup much. Ditch the hairdryer and foundation. Also consider how much time you’re going to be spending getting ready. Do you want to spend your time perfecting your contour, or do you want to explore the city you’re in? Cutting back to only the essentials is an easy way to save space and make things simpler. If you do want to bring along a lot of product, consider buying travel-sized versions of your faves, or looking for multipurpose beauty products that can do double duty. (Here’s a fantastic list!)

Shoes

Shoes are the heaviest thing in your bag, so this is a huge place to cut down. Be realistic about your activities. (Do you sense a theme here?) There’s no point in packing a pair of shoes you might only wear once or twice. Try and limit yourself to three pairs: a practical, everyday shoe, a dressy shoe, and an “active” shoe, like sneakers or hiking boots. Also realize that literally no one is ever looking at your feet. I promise.

Read more: What Shoes to Bring to Southeast Asia

Medicine

This is the number one area where I’m guilty of overpacking. I like to do a lot of research on my destination before I travel, especially if it’s going to be long-term. And I always get the recommended vaccines for my destination. However, this means that I also spend a ton of time researching the various unlikely diseases I could get while traveling. Then, I totally freak myself out, and end up overpacking unnecessary medications. 

For example, when I moved to Thailand, I carried an entire bottle of malaria pills around Asia with me for almost 8 months, and never once found myself in an area with a malaria risk.

The other reason I found myself overpacking medicine was pure ignorance. I packed cold medicine, Vitamin C, pain relievers, motion sickness pills, first aid supplies, and more. I was worried that I wouldn’t have access to these things abroad.

But what I found was that in Asia, it was actually cheaper and easier to get basic medicine than at home. So it was ridiculous to carry it with me all the time.

Unless your destination is super remote, you will have access to basic health supplies. Buy medicine as needed instead of wasting space on it. If you’re still concerned, invest in travel insurance. Then you can seek medical help worry-free if you find you need it.

Electronics

Unless you’re an avid photographer or work online, you probably don’t need to carry around much besides your phone. During travel, a laptop is not only heavy, it’s also something that you have to worry about getting stolen. Unless it’ll be getting a ton of use, leave it at home. Same goes for a camera. I used to carry one around with me but rarely used it. Your phone gets the job done. Plus, it’s much easier to keep with you.

I hope these tips helped! What’s something you’re guilty of overpacking? Let me know in the comments.

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