Let's be honest: Packing for an upcoming trip can be as daunting as missing the flight to your next adventure. Packing is an art just like any other, but I'm sure you'll see results faster.
For years I've mastered the art of packing and staying within airlines' weight regulations. Many times the scale at the check-in desk showed 22.8 kilos. Back then, I thought to myself: Jackpot, Viki – you've done it again! Today I approach packing completely differently: I've come a long way from compulsory over packing to travelling hand luggage only on as many occasions as possible. Let me show you what things you really do not ever need to pack again and suggestions for more useful items that will save time, space, nerves and back pain.
Don't pack liquid shower gels and shampoo in bottles
Bottles can leak, and they leak when we need it the least: namely, in our luggage when travelling. Liquid shower gel and shampoo can turn any neatly organized luggage into a messy war zone that will hardly ever recover. Don't let any liquids destroy your trip, and leave them at home.
What to pack instead of liquid shower gel and shampoo?
Lush has been my go-to resource for beauty travel supply. I've fallen in love with so many of their products as they are super travel-friendly in many ways: they don't leak, are small and lightweight, and they are long-lasting and affordable.
I don't travel without my solid shampoo bar Seanik or bar soaps (my current favourite: Parsley Porridge) anymore. I started using the metal tins made by Lush, but I've found that these plastic containers work even better (and don't leak).
Don't pack passport covers
I have to admit it myself: there are so many cute passport covers out there, and I truly wish I could use them all to the extent that they deserve. Yet they are the most impractical travel gadget on the planet. They are the mosquitos of travel items. Why? Most immigration officers I had to get by, made me take it off and some passport covers are so tight, that eventually, I ripped a page.
What to pack instead of passport covers?
Use a small, flat pouch and use it as the place where all your travel documents come together (here's a more basic and a fancy version). I've been using a colourful one that I got in Mexico a couple of years ago. In there I gather my passport, boarding passes, miles membership cards, some spare cash and an extra credit card in case something happens to the first one.
Don't pack neck pillows
Neck pillows promise to turn flying economy into a business class experience. But they don't. After much trial and error, I can assure you.
What to pack instead of neck pillows?
While neck pillows aren't what I use for travelling, I've discovered a different style of pillow that has travelled to more than 30 countries with me. The Ostrich Pillow Light is my permanent and most reliable travel companion. It may look odd just like an ostrich, but it is the most comfortable travel gadget I own.
Don't pack money belts
Travelling with a money belt instantly outs you as a newbie traveller just as sandals and socks outs all Germans as such (sorry neighbours). Just don't do money belts, ever.
What to pack instead of a money belt?
Use common sense when travelling. Don't put all your IDs, money and debit and credit cards in the same place. When I travel, I carry the following items in my wallet: some cash, one debit card, one credit card, ID card. In a separate wallet or pouch, I have some spare cash, a second debit card, a second credit card and my passport. Both wallets should never be in the same bag. They should be like magnetic poles of the same pole: they can't get close.
Don't pack laundry detergent
What laundry detergents can do, regular soaps can too. When you need to wash your clothes on the road, simply use the soap that is available instead of bringing one that's just only good for that. I've washed my clothes with bar soap or the soaps in your hotel or hostel. Alternatively, use a local laundry.
What to pack instead of laundry detergent?
Either wash your clothes with the soaps available at the places you are staying, or change over to Dr Bronner's multi-use soaps. You can clean pretty much anything with them: face, hair, body, even your teeth. They are available as liquid soaps as well as bar soaps. If you go for the liquid version, make sure to get these spill-proof travel bottles too.
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Don't pack heavy books and guide books
I've travelled with more books than many book shops have in stock. Maybe not, but you can relate why I struggled with the weight restrictions when flying for quite some time. Books are g, and I love the feeling of flipping through the pages, but they are not travel-friendly.
What to pack instead of books and guide books?
Get yourself an eBook reader like a Kindle. As an Amazon prime member, you get unlimited access to thousands of eBooks for free. You can always use your phone and the Kindle app to download and read on your own device. If you enjoy listening to books, try audible (for one audiobook per month) or Bookbeat (for unlimited audiobooks).
Don't pack handbags
I used to think handbags that I can wear in the front were safer than anything on my back that I can't see. And while this is definitely true, my back and especially my shoulders don't agree. When I venture out for the day, I carry more than a packhorse. And handbags are never really comfortable.
What to pack instead of a handbag?
I own a variety of different backpacks, some of which I use almost daily. My favourite one that I use as a carry on item is by Minaal, and I've had it for years now, and it's been a loyal travel buddy. Other backpacks I frequently use for travelling are the Osprey Farpoint 40 or a daypack. In case I find something that I'd like to buy, and that doesn't fit my backpack, there is at least one cotton bag in my backpack.
Don't pack new electronics and new gadgets
How many times have I ordered a new gadget, taken it on a trip and then either didn't have the time to set it up or some tiny thing was missing, and I couldn't even try it.
What to pack instead of new electronics and gadgets?
Before taking off with new gadgets like a drone, stabilizer or even a new camera, make time to play with it while you are still at home and figure out how everything works. This will save you time and nerves on your well-deserved trip.
Don't pack big tripods
Tripods are either a hit or miss: you'll either use them constantly, or they'll stay in your bag forever. A couple of years ago, I carried a big and heavy tripod on my RTW trip. As I was filming for a TV series, I thought that I had to take it with me to look more professional. How often did I end up using the big thing? Not a single time.
What to pack instead of a big tripod?
If you are keen on taking amazing photos of yourself while travelling solo and 200% confident about it, you are probably travel blogger and tripod queen Glo from The Blog Abroad. On some trips, I do carry my large, but lightweight tripod, but most of the times I'm happy with a small tripod or even a micro tripod that will fit your jeans pockets. Try to work with the smallest first and then get a bigger one if necessary.
Don't pack all those “just-in-case” things
Be travel-smart, and don't pack any of these things – there are better options out there:
- Sleeping bag → pack a thick scarf that doubles as a blanket.
- Jewellery → leave them at home or bring something that you could lose and wouldn't break your heart.
- Hair dryer or hair straightener → most hotels and hostels have them, so save it.
- More than three pairs of shoes → bring flip-flops for warmer temperatures and for dirty bathrooms, and shoes that you can walk in all day long.
- Clothes for more than a week → simply wash your clothes – ideally every day after wearing them, so you'll never run out of fresh clothes.
- Enormous first aid kits → bring the essentials like charcoal tablets and tiger balm, you'll be able to get whatever you need at your destination as well.
- Anything that you pack thinking “what if I do this activity, then maybe I will need that, and then that and that” leave them at home. You won't need them.
Remember this rule: if you don't use it at home, you probably won't use it when you are travelling. Pack smart. And enjoy your next trip without having to carry heavy bags. What is on top of your anti packing list? Let me know in the comments below.
ps. find my regular packing lists here.
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[Updated July 2019]