How Not to Overpack (You know you’re guilty of it)

Let’s start by running some numbers:

  • Seven Weeks Vacation = 1 40 liter backpack
  • Two Week Vacation (Colder climate) = 1 40 liter backpack
  • One Week Island Hopping = One medium sized tote purse
  • Three Weeks to visit home = One standard roller carry on & small backpack
  • One Week Business Trip = One standard roller carry on & Laptop Purse

I think you get the picture. Over the past couple years I have become a MASTER packer. I know there are people out there who are even more streamlined, but I’m improving all the time. I refuse to take any more than I need and if I am flying somewhere, I’ll be damned if I have to check my luggage. Therefore, I’ve learned how to take exactly what I’ll need, fit it all in a small space, and have much smoother trips.

First tip: As I stated above, try to plan with only carry-on luggage to work with. You’ll automatically reduce the amount of things you can bring since you just won’t have the space to fit all of it.

Second tip: Research the climate of your destination, then make a list of all the activities you’ll be doing while there. If this is a business trip, you know you’ll be indoors working. But if you’re on vacation, will you be hiking? Swimming? Skiing? Once you have all your days planned, you can start working out how many clothes you’ll really need.

Third tip: EVERYTHING you pack needs to go with one or two pairs of shoes. Shoes are heavy, bulky, and are the biggest culprit when it comes to overpacking becuase they take up so much freaking space. For example, if I’m going to a warm climate, I pack a pair of sandals and a pair of trainers. For a cold climate, a pair of heavy boots and a pair of light boots. For business, I pack a pair of heels and my workout shoes.

Fourth tip: Ok, once you know what you’ll be doing on your trip, and which shoes you’ll need, you can plan your clothes. Since you have all your activities noted, you know exactly what kinds of clothes you need, and since you have your shoes picked, you limit the clothes to what goes with those shoes. The key here is to only pack MAXIMUM one outfit per day. I say maximum because I rewear pants, bras, and shirts (if I don’t sweat), and it’s actually surprisingly cheap and easy to do laundry on the road. Don’t sit there and say “well I want options for each day”. You’re killing me. You’re gonna bring all this crap and you’re gonna end up wearing the most comfortable outfit anyway. My only exception to this is that I like to have one reasonably nice outfit to wear just in case of a party or nice dinner. (The shoe rule still stands though!).

Fifth tip: Lay out all your clothes on your bed to make sure you’ve got everything, including socks and underwear! Then, to make everything fit in a small space, I recommend rolling all your clothes. I’m sure you’ve seen this tip before, but it really does make a big difference in space saving. If you’re an even bigger packing nerd like me, roll your clothes by category and put them all into packing cubes to stay organized (example ones here).

Ok you’ve got clothes and shoes but here are some other things you’ll want to bring no matter what:

  • Pack Towel (lightweight towel)
  • Toiletry kit (make sure all your liquids fit according to TSA rules) & toothbrush!
  • Comb or Brush
  • Headphones (but bring earbuds, over the earphones are bulky)
  • Book, journal, or Kindle.
  • One set of sleepwear (if you really need it)
  • Scarf (light or heavy depending on destination)
  • Travel necessities – passport, wallet, phone, medicine, etc.

The feeling that most overpackers suffer from is fear of the unknown. The what if’s. It starts with: what if I spill on this nice shirt and need another? And then get’s crazy: what if I get invited to tea at Buckingham Palace? There are always situations that will arise that you didn’t plan for but packing too much stuff will just make your life harder. If something happens along the way, just buy what you need at your destination. If you know you love to shop, pack even less to be able to fit your new stuff and wear your new stuff as you get it. For souvenirs or gifts to bring back for friends, I opt for jewelry or small prints that lie perfectly flat against the back of my bag and take up little space.

Overpacking means you’ll literally be dragging a bunch of stuff you don’t need to a new destination and just lugging it all back home again. Next time you pack, I want you to pick up each item and justify WHY you’re packing it. If you start you’re reasoning with “what if” or “something could come up”, then leave it behind. I promise you’ll be ok without it.

If you have any tips to prevent overpacking, please share! I love travelling light and am literally always scouring packing and travel lists to make trips as streamlined as possible. Happy travels!


A peek into my business trip suitcase. Something I always bring? My massage ball since I always get kinks in my back.





Yes, I took these photos at the Calgary airport…