Do you struggle with heavy suitcases wherever you go? Do the zippers and seams on your bags routinely break? Do you sometimes have to pay excess baggage fees? Do you return from a trip to find that half the things in your suitcase were unused? If the answer is yes to all of these questions, chances are you’re a chronic over-packer and you urgently need to learn about what not to pack before your next trip.
Over packing a trip is one of the most common mistakes people make while packing, but you can avoid this problem if you plan ahead and research the written and unwritten rules on what is allowed or needed for your trip.
Different trips have different requirements. On one end of the spectrum there are strict restrictions on sharp objects and amounts of liquid allowed in carry on luggage on airplanes. On the other hand, if you travel internationally, there may be things you cannot do without but will be difficult to find at your destination.
Whatever your trip, here are some tips to help you figure out what not to pack.
Table of Contents
What to Leave Out for Any Trip
Some things shouldn’t be packed no matter what trip you’re going on.
- Lots of reading material
I know reading on vacation is very relaxing and having a good book takes the edge off long waits in airports, stations and on board, but either keep it to one light paperback or use an e-reader or tablet. Traditional reading material is always heavy, but you won’t feel deprived with a convenient library of e-books on an inexpensive Kindle.
- Valuable jewelry
Leave your gold and platinum at home and you won’t have to worry about pickpockets and thieves. Even if you have an in-room safe or access to a hotel one, there’ve been reports of thieves breaking into them and making off with expensive jewelry. Costume jewelry is more fun for vacations anyway!
- Lots of color-specific clothes
If you’re in the habit of coordinating different pieces of outfits in lots of different colors, leave that habit at home! If you stick to neutral colors like black, beige, gray, white, and off-whites, you can mix and match pieces to create new looks every time you go out. This way you keep your bags light.
- Produce to Some Island and International Destinations
You may think that you can take fruit with you on a plane for emergencies, but depending on the destination, it may be thrown away before you board. We explain the rules and how to pack fruit for air travel if you are allowed.
In addition to the above general rules, different trips require more meticulous planning…
What Not to Pack When Flying
When you’re flying, you have to be careful of staying within size and weight restrictions for each airline, or you could end up paying for excess baggage or being forced to check what should have been your carry on bag.
Also be sure to put the right things in the right bag. Some things belong in the carry on while others belong in the checked bag. Here’s a guide on bringing a hair straightener or other hair styling tools in your luggage and another guide on flying with heavy tools.
In a Carry On
- Oversized bottle of liquids
Everyone should know the 3-1-1 rule by now – the TSA will confiscate any container larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml). Get travel sized containers and fill those with your shampoo, lotion, etc. Then place all your liquids in one 1 quart clear plastic zip top bag before packing it into your carry on. If everything doesn’t fit into that one bag, you’ll have to get rid of some items or put them in your checked bag. Prescription medication, baby formula or milk is exempted from this rule as long as you declare them for inspection.
If you’re flying with a fountain pen, try to make it one with a vacuum filler or disposable cartridges so that it doesn’t leak when you land at your destination due to pressure changes.
- Dangerous items
This may seem obvious – no firearms, combustible materials or anything sharp is allowed on your carry on. But did you know that most nail clippers won’t get past security? To be on the safe side, familiarize yourself with the list of prohibited items for carry on luggage.
In Checked Luggage
Don’t pack expensive gadgets like a smartphone, laptop or tablet in your checked bags. You never know when the bag may go missing permanently. Besides, these days carry on luggage is designed to hold those things and mostly in their own special compartments, so use them!
Same goes for jewelry. Unless it’s for a formal event at the destination, you shouldn’t carry any valuable jewelry with you. Tourists are magnets for pickpockets, so don’t let your jewelry be a hindrance to you. If you really have to, pack your valuable trinkets into a compact jewelry roll that will go in a carry on.
- Wine or Other Alcohol
Carry in wine when you fly is only possible in your checked luggage unless you buy it at duty free just before your flight. You should also know about other alcohol restrictions and what amounts are allowed, especially if flying internationally. We have more guidelines on flying with wine and other alcoholic beverages and what to use to pack wine bottles.
For a Cruise
- Anything with a heating element
Because fire related accidents are especially dangerous on board a ship, most cruise lines prohibit things like a hot plate, clothes iron, blow dryer, curler, etc. Although hair care devices are allowed on a few cruise ships, it’s best to check with the line to make sure. You also can’t take a coffee maker unless it’s the manual press kind.
- Anything sharp
Just like on airplanes, sharp objects are not allowed. Not even Swiss Army Knives.
Yes, some cruise lines charge exorbitant prices for the use of their bar, but that doesn’t mean you should BYO as alcohol of any type in your luggage is strictly prohibited.
When Backpacking or Hiking
- Heavy clothes
Jeans seem like the perfect item of clothing for the rough hiking world, but they can get heavy if it rains and they won’t dry anytime soon. Instead take layered clothing to keep the chill off. That way you’re more prepared for varying temperatures throughout the day.
Ok, I know I said you should take an e-reader or tablet instead of physical books while traveling, but that rule does not apply for backpacking! Think about it – where are you going to charge your device anyway? Besides, the whole point of getting away from bright city lights is to… get away!
On a Safari
- White, bright and formal clothing
Your goal while you dress for a safari is to not distract the animals, so anything bright is out. Black or blue clothes attract flies. So what is left? Khaki, beige and olive green are safe. Also leave the formal wear out. Even upscale lodges don’t expect you to be dressed to the nines.
- A wheeled bag
The terrain is not friendly to rolling bags and many lodges are only accessible by small chartered planes where you’ll only be allowed to carry a small bag. Instead pack your things in a duffel bag or backpack. For the actual safari, a day pack is a good choice.
On a Beach Vacation
- Structured clothes
Even if you plan on going out to a fancy dinner on your beach vacation, chances are you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you dress in formal evening clothes. Instead, pack flowing chiffon gowns and open sandals for a beachy vibe.
- Beach towels
Most hotels, resorts and vacation rentals at beach locations provide beach towels, so if you’re not sure, call ahead to find out if they’re really needed.
On a Ski Trip
- Ski equipment
Renting ski equipment at your destination is not as expensive as you might think. Besides, if you’re flying, your equipment counts as checked baggage. That means you may have to pay baggage fees for it.
- Onesie or all-in-one ski suit
Not only are they unflattering on most body types, they’re impractical too. Have you figured out how to go to the restroom in a onesie?
When Traveling Internationally
- Shorts and tank tops
While some western countries are used to seeing women in these items of clothing, many are not. Even if it is legally OK to wear skimpy clothing, you run the risk of being stared at. In conservative countries, it’s considered taboo for women to expose their knees and shoulders. In fact, did you know that you can’t enter the Vatican like that? That’s true of many religious places.
Even quite a few Europeans don’t look very kindly upon these extra casual outfits, as to them comfort doesn’t always trump style!
Capris and short sleeved t-shirts are best, both for comfort and modesty. If that is too difficult for you to adhere to throughout the day, at the very least you should pack a light shirt and long skirt to carry with you in a day pack. That way if it becomes mandatory to cover up before entering a religious place, you can quickly throw these on.
- Lots of gadgets without a travel adapter and voltage converter
The voltage range in North America, Japan, Taiwan and a few parts of South America is around 120V, while the range in the rest of the world is mostly around 230V. Many electronic devices come with chargers that work on dual voltages, so you’ll only need a travel adapter plug to fit the plug into the socket. Just make sure it says so on the charger! If it doesn’t, then you should also carry a voltage converter or travel charger with you or you’ll blow out your device when you plug it in. This is usually the case for clothes irons and hair care electricals.
Have I left out a particular type of holiday in this list? Let us know or share your own advice on what not to pack. We’d love to hear from you!