I've been traveling the world now for more than a decade; I've visited 60+ countries on 6 continents, and have traveled in just about every climate and biome imaginable, from tropical islands to the frigid Arctic Circle.
But one thing that I *still* dread before every trip? Packing.
Packing for a trip can be stressful; you need to take into account where you're going, what the weather will be like, and if there are any cultural norms you need to follow or any special occasions you need to dress for. And, oh yeah, you need to make sure you can fit everything in without going over luggage weight limits!
Believe me when I say I've seen and done it all when it comes to packing. When I moved abroad for five months in college, I left for New Zealand with two massive suitcases, plus a couple carry-on bags. When I traveled around Europe and Southeast Asia during grad school, I did so with just a 45-liter backpack.
I've used duffle bags and rolling bags; checked luggage and gone carry-on-only. I don't believe that there's any one “right” way to pack – it depends on so many different factors, including your travel style and where you're going.
So I'm not here to tell you exactly HOW to pack, or what sort of luggage you should be using (though I do have a guide to my favorite luggage here). And this isn't a packing list (you can find those over here).
Instead, this is more of a “what not to pack” list, based on things that I really DON'T think you need on most trips.
What NOT to pack for travel
1. Multiple pairs of jeans
You may have learned this the hard way already, but actual denim is HEAVY, bulky, and slow to dry if you have to wash it on the road. If you're going to pack jeans on a trip, I recommend only taking 1 or 2 pairs along with some non-denim pants or bottoms.
I don't think I even own any real denim jeans any longer (I'm a big fan of American Eagle's Dream Jeggings or Old Navy's Rock Star Jeggings instead), but even so I never travel with more than 2 pairs of jean-like pants on any given trip.
Why? Well, because I can generally wear one pair more than once before they need washing, and because they still take up more space than a pair of (comfier) leggings or a dress.
2. High heels
Especially if you're going to be traveling in Europe where uneven cobblestones abound, ladies can probably leave the high heels at home. Unless you're someone famous going to a red carpet event, chances are you're not going to wear heels more than once or twice on a trip, and you could probably get away with flats or sandals or something more versatile instead.
I usually limit myself to 2-3 pairs of shoes per trip, and heels never make the cut as essentials for traveling.
Even if you don't find high heels uncomfortable, the likelihood of you needing them on your travels is probably pretty slim.
3. Shoes you haven't broken in
And since we're talking about things that are likely to hurt your feet… I also don't recommend buying brand new shoes for a trip and putting them into your suitcase straight out of the box.
If you buy new shoes specifically for a trip (and, come on, we've all done it!), make sure to break them in at home beforehand. This way, you won't be caught by surprise by a spot that rubs or slips; believe me, you don't want blisters ruining your enjoyment of your trip!
I now have a range of “travel shoes” at home that I know are both comfortable and versatile enough for me to travel with regularly. For warm-weather trips, I usually travel with a pair of walking sandals, a pair of dressy flats, and a pair of casual walking shoes. For colder weather, I swap out the sandals for short boots.
RELATED: My Favorite Shoes for Travel in 2021
4. Workout gear if you don't regularly work out at home
I know, I know: You see photos of the amazing fitness room at your hotel, or read about all the opportunities to get active at your destination and feel inspired.
But honestly? If you don't work out in a gym or go for a run regularly at home, believe me when I tell you that you ARE NOT going to magically feel motivated to do so while you're on vacation.
Don't bother packing running shoes and multiple workout outfits if they're not already part of your daily routine at home.
If you DO have any active activities planned (like maybe a kayaking trip, or some horseback riding), chances are you can get away with packing just one active outfit and footwear you can also use on other parts of your trip.
(And if you ARE a runner or someone who hits the gym daily, then you can totally ignore this one and go ahead and pack your gear!)
5. Things you may only use once
Speaking of packing things like running shoes if you're not a regular runner… leave other similar “just in case” items at home, too.
If you MIGHT only use something like a formal outfit or hiking boots once, then you probably don't need to pack it. I can't tell you how many times I've thrown in a swimsuit or quick-dry towel with a “just in case I stumble upon a romantic hot spring!” thought, or taken a fancy outfit with no plans to wear it and regretted it taking up space in my suitcase.
Unless you have definite plans to actually USE an item, don't pack it “just in case.”
The one exception to this rule might be a rain coat, or warmer coat if you're going to a destination that *might* be wet and/or cold. If there's any chance of cold weather (even if it's just for a small part of your trip), definitely pack at least one warm layer so you're not miserable. They make great packable down coats these days that take up very little extra space in your luggage.
6. A different outfit for every day
I'll lovingly poke fun at my mom with this one: When you travel, you definitely do not need to pack a different outfit for every day!
A lot of travelers swear by the “capsule wardrobe” method, where every item you pack can mix and match with all the others. I don't quite take things this far, but I do limit how much I allow myself to pack on a trip.
My rule is usually 4 bottoms, 5-6 tops, 2 layering pieces (like cardigans), and maybe 2-3 dresses. Add in a scarf and some other accessories, and you can get a lot of outfits out of that amount of clothing! Whether I'm traveling for 2 weeks or 2 months, this is more or less what I try to stick to.
When you're traveling, no one is going to notice if you wear an outfit more than once. And if you're worrying about things getting stinky, guess what? You can totally do laundry when you're traveling!
7. A laundry line
When it comes to doing laundry on the road, there are several routes you can take: you can hand-wash things in your hotel room, you can go to a local laundromat, or you can send your washing out with a laundry service.
In my early days of traveling as a backpacker, trying to save money and staying in a lot of hostels, I assumed I'd be doing a lot of hand-washing of my clothing. Because of this, I carried a portable laundry line and handful of clothespins with me all across Europe and Asia. But guess what? I never used them once!
On the few occasions when I have hand-washed small things in a sink, I've always just hung them up to dry overnight in the bathroom – some hotels even have built-in clotheslines in the shower!
But now, on trips when I know I'll need to do some laundry, I'll either book an Airbnb or other rental with laundry facilities at a strategic point in my trip, or I'll simply send out my laundry to be done elsewhere. The latter is very popular and affordable all across Asia, and I've done it in North Africa, too.
8. A bunch of hair styling tools
This one is mostly for the ladies! Even if you rely on a lot of hair tools at home, all of those straighteners and curling irons can take up a LOT of room in a suitcase. And, honesty, you can probably get by without most of them while you're away.
It's also worth noting that some hair tools you use in the US may not work in many other countries because of different voltages – my mom and I found this out the hard way years ago when she tried to use her American curling iron in New Zealand, and blew the fuse in our hotel room!
If you are going to bring any hair tools with you, make sure they're dual or universal voltage (110-240V) if you're traveling abroad.
The one exception I'll make to this is a foldable, dual voltage hair dryer. I do often travel with my own small hair dryer, simply because I can't stand the ones you find attached to the wall in many hotel room bathrooms. (This is a good one that's also really affordable.)
9. Expensive jewelry/electronics
This one should go without saying, but you definitely don't want to be carrying grandma's precious family jewels around with you on your trip. Leave the expensive jewelry and flashy electronics at home.
Costume jewelry or less-expensive accessories are usually just fine, and I only recommend bringing the electronics that you'll actually USE on a trip with you. Otherwise, you run the risk of absentmindedly forgetting things like your iPad in the seatback pocket on an airplane (it may have happened to a loved one of mine…).
As a travel blogger/photographer who works on the road, I'm usually at the very least toting around a laptop and expensive camera gear on all my trips. But if this wasn't my job, you can bet I would be traveling a lot lighter!
10. A lot of cash
You also probably don't need to bring a ton of cash. Many destinations around the world accept credit cards now; in fact, some parts of Europe are almost cash-less at this point!
It should be pretty easy to research whether you'll need a lot of cash for your trip before you go. If you need to bring cash, only bring what you need, and don't keep it all in one place in your bag.
If you don't need a lot of cash, I still recommend having a small amount of local currency on you for small purchases, tips, etc. But there's not usually any need to get this cash ahead of time; you can likely use a local ATM once you get to your destination, or visit a local bank. (One thing I DON'T recommend is using a currency conversion counter inside an airport; those give you the worst rates!)
And obviously when you're out and about on your travels, you don't want to be carrying all of your cash and credit cards on you all at once. Only take what you need.
11. A money belt or passport necklace
Long gone are the days of money belts and bulky passport necklaces being the best way to keep things safe on the road. These might still be useful on travel days when you have no choice but to carry everything with you, but they are impractical for everyday use when you're traveling.
If you need to dig under your clothing every time you need to access money, it gets both awkward and time-consuming. Not to mention that by doing this you're advertising to everyone around you that you're a tourist with a money belt.
12. A tripod if you aren't a photographer
If you've ever asked a travel blogger their secret to taking great selfies while traveling, chances are they'll tell you all about their favorite camera tripod.
And while, yes, I do sometimes travel with a tripod myself, I find that I can usually count the number of times I use it on a trip on one hand – and I do this professionally!
Unless you're a professional photographer or have plans for very specific photography (like taking photos of the Northern Lights, or a solar eclipse), the chances of you needing to travel regularly with a tripod are pretty low.
And if you decide you want to snap a selfie after all? You can improvise with just about anything – I've used rocks, fences, and the backs of chairs in place of tripods in the past!
So there you have it; my list of items that you probably never need to pack for any trip.
Other travelers may add things like umbrellas or certain toiletries to this list, but I personally think those are things you may indeed want to pack for certain trips.
Tell me: What are some things YOU have regretted packing for travel in the past?
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