Why we overpack - 5 reasons and 10 solutions

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Today travelers go for thousands of miles every week and have dozens of flights a year. Holiday travelers, the ones who don’t go airborne that often have one big nuisance – overpacking.

Have you been in this situation before?

You’re all hyped and can’t wait for that amazing holiday you’re about to have. Everything is great, as the anticipated date finally draws near.

You start preparing your suitcase: few necessary things here and there, a couple of random things for you to wear on several occasions, and some bathroom equipment.

You don’t go on a vacation without your favorite clothes or a favorite blanket for the kids. Some food, travel documentation like passports and licenses, and only the essentials, right?

“Oh God, this suitcase is too small.”

You try to stuff everything inside and end up trying to squeeze as much as possible.

Did you ask yourself why did you pack so much? What could be the reason behind this?

We did some research and looked at people’s habits and problems online to see what could be the possible reason for overpacking. Turns out, we all overpack, for more than one reason. The reasons are many, and we narrowed down the reasons for you to get a grasp of the problem.

Here are the main reasons why we overpack, and ten effective techniques to prevent that.

Reason for Overpacking #1: “Circumstances.”

Your trip will last a couple of days, and you’ll go out for dinner a couple of times, and some occasional afternoons. Perhaps you’ll go on a night out and a meeting during the day.

Special clothing for different occasions is “a must” as you don’t want to look like someone who doesn’t care.

But what to wear if something unplanned happens?

Did you ever find yourself doing (thinking like) this?

I’m looking at you ladies.

Reason for Overpacking #2: Insecurity

Are you one of those people? Insecure, and picking your clothing style for a long time, afraid that you’ll look bad?

Choosing your outfit only to change several times?

A good scenario for freaking out and carrying the whole closet with you.

Overpacking Reason #3: Overthinking

“Ok, I will need this on Monday, and on Thursday.

This jacket is for unexpected occasions.

And this shirt in the case something happens.

This dress is my favorite.

For this event, I will use that outfit, and I will bring a spare, just in case.

Who knows what might happen?

These spare undies are important. Oh, I’ll bring my favorite shirt as well.

… Damn, I can’t fit everything in the bag!”

Reason  for Overpacking #4: You're a Gadgets-oriented Geek

There is a ton of advice out there suggesting that one should pack lightly.

However, like a real newbie, you didn’t look into it, and just “went with a flow.”

Obsessed with your gadgets, you are bringing EVERY SINGLE ONE with you.

Including chargers, cables, boxes, lenses, and everything else.

Good luck carrying all of that.

Reason for Overpacking #5: Children

Another reason people overpack are children, especially babies.

Moms usually overpack because they don’t want to miss anything for the little one -  diapers, extra clothing, wipes, bottles, snacks…

Add that to your already over-packed bags, and you’ll have yourself a large cargo.

Good luck on gateways and staircases.

Sounds familiar?

Chances are, you’re guilty of at least one or more of them. They are counterproductive, and you you’ll end up with a huge, stuffed bag, that is too heavy to drag around. Not to mention luggage fees and the accumulated stress.

There are a lot of “pack light” tips all over the web, which you have read multiple times. But somehow you fail to implement them.

You’re probably wondering:

“Ok, but how to pack lighter for real? Are there techniques that actually work?”

Well today, I’m going to make it easy for you.

All you need to do is carve out a few minutes of your day and use one of the ten simple solutions below.

Let’s do this.

1. Cut the clothing in half. You will thank yourself.

You found all the perfect combinations.

Dresses, shoes, cosmetics. You’re covered.

What about the unplanned events you might encounter? Oh, God.

Admit to yourself. You’re not going to wear that many clothes.

Research shows, people (especially women) overpack for holidays because of clothing they think they’ll wear.

You don't have to do this.

A simple solution is – double duty clothes.

Here are some essential features your clothes have to meet to be titled as a “double-duty outfit”:

  • Outfit comfortable for exploring, but can be worn for the evening.
  • It is appropriate for the weather zone you’re traveling to and is stain resistible.
  • Folds (or rolls) into small proportions.
  • Goes well with everything else you’re carrying.

At least 3 of these features must be covered by the clothing piece you’re bringing.

Here’s good example of multiple combinations from two pieces of clothing. Some clothes look both elegant AND sporty when they’re well combined. The color matching system helps in many occasions, but is especially useful when you’re packing for a holiday.

When you combine several pieces, you can create unique outfit arrangements.

Eight pieces of clothes can make 32 combinations, more than enough for a 10-day holiday.

Creativity is your friend in this situation. And you’ll have fewer clothes in your travel bag.

It will take some time, but you’ll be ready then.

No more over packing with unnecessary stuff.

Here's some more amazing packing advice from the author of World of Wanderlust, Brooke Saward.

2. Check out your bag, and replace it with suitable (lighter) one.

Do you know how much can fit in your suitcase?

In most of the cases, a bit more than it should.

In 85% of the cases, the travel bag is bigger than it has to be.

When you pack for your trip, your suitcase will have the space for stuff that you won’t need. Stuff that will stay in your bag for the whole time during the vacation.

Items like training equipment (unless you’re a committed to exercising for real), books, unnecessary clothes are all heavyweight, and you can have a pleasant vacation without them. Anything can put extra load on your bag, even things like the sleeping equipment (some people can't sleep in a new bed without their sleeping “equipment”)

Did somebody mention extra baggage fees on airplanes?

Get a smaller bag.

You won’t have space for over packing, and your luggage will be lighter.

3. Don’t worry. Some things are not that necessary

Overpreparing, overthinking, forgetting or adding more and more stuff  “just in case” are some of the most common reasons for over packing.

You don’t need that much.

The root of this problem is psychological. People have a tendency to be afraid when leaving the comfort zone and want to make themselves as cozy as possible.

And the fear of the unknown and unexpected always overcomes excitement.

Ask yourself: “What is the worst that could happen if I don’t bring this?”

And then break down the scenario. Think what you would do in the circumstances. In mere moments, you’ll find the solution.

There is no reason to worry yourself to exhaustion and to ruin your holiday.

You’ll have more space in your travel bag and less weight on your back.

4. Plan your itinerary.

How long will your trip last? Is your endeavor a business trip or a personal getaway?

Answering these two questions will help you define the size and luggage you’ll need to take with you.

Going on a business trip? The elegant suit will never miss the target. Here's how to pack a suit in a carry-on bag.

Unexpected circumstances?

Not a problem, you are looking great, and you don’t need to change.

Maybe a slight adjustment of the business suit (remove the tie) or a different combination of regular clothes you brought on a holiday will do the trick.

Girls, don’t panic. You look beautiful. :-)

Unexpected circumstances are dealt with just fine when you are calm and well-prepared for your trip.

5. Leave some space in your bag. You’ll need it.

On your travels, you usually buy some souvenirs, and some small necessities that we always tend to buy during the holidays (flip-flops, big hats, colorful T-shirts). This means stuffing the travel bag more.

More luggage = more pain, more luggage fees, more dragging.

One odd, but useful advice for packing is to leave almost 50% of the stuff that you might need, and buy it during the holidays.

That fits best for cosmetics and toiletries. Same goes for tech stuff - you can have a tough decision picking a travel adapter - Dave Dean from TooManyAdapters might help here.

Buy what you need when you arrive to your holiday destination (toiletries aren't expensive), and get rid of them when preparing to go home.

Heck, people with enough money in their pocket sometimes go without any luggage and buy whatever they need.

This sound interesting, right?

Travel expert Rolf Pots suggests traveling without a bag at all.

So, get rid of some stuff that aren’t going to be that necessary. It’s not going to hurt.

6. Master the art of packing.

The way you pack your bag can define the volume of clothes you can take. Your packing skills can make the difference between a mess and a perfectly packed bag.

Pack your clothes with minimalism in mind.

The smaller they end up looking when packed, the more efficiently you packed your travel bag.

Rolling is the new and more efficient way to pack your bags.

The benefits are multifunctional.

Your clothes will take less space, and you can organize them better.

Further reading:  James & Susan, the Savvy Backpackers, provide great ways to pack your bags.

Bonus feature – when you want to get something from your bag, you don’t have to remove the “layers” of clothes to reach something from the bottom of the bag.

Just think about it, how many times you reached for something inside your piece of luggage (usually at the bottom) and made your bag looking like a mess after getting it?

Rolling clothes is easier than folding, and sorting this way is more efficient.

Bonus: Kiersten from TheBlondeAbroad.com has an ultimate carry-on packing guide.

This practice will make the clothes  more compact and will preserve loads of space for your bag so you can insert things into small spaces between the bigger pieces in  your luggage.

Pro tip #1: Shirts and torso clothing go from the bottoms up, and leggings go the opposite way.

A small disadvantage to this method is wrinkling.

Good news – you can avoid it.

You have two ways to evade wrinkling while packing:

  1. Choosing the clothing which naturally doesn’t wrinkle that much (Some fabrics tend to wrinkle more)
  2. Putting the clothes that do wrinkle in a plastic dry cleaner’s bag first, and then rolling it up. That will avoid most of the wrinkling of your clothes

This practice will make you more efficient and your bag will not be overpacked for sure. Just keep practicing and remember to take your time while rolling.

  1. Steph from Twenty-Something Travel implements this technique when organizing her closets this way.


Pro tip #2: Add some rubber bands around the rolled package to prevent unraveling.

7. Check the restrictions on luggage size and weight twice.

If you’re going on a trip by plane, it’s essential to know how much weight you’re allowed to carry with you.

First, you need to know how airline companies measure luggage.

The linear inch dimension is calculated by adding your bag’s width, depth, and height together.

If your bag’s dimensions are 15-by-15-by-30 inches (38.1 by – 38.1 – by 76.2 centimeters) its linear measurement is 60 inches (152 centimeters).

For most international companies, extra fees apply on any checked bag over 61 linear inches.

Size limitations vary between states and countries, but by small differences.

Larger items of up to 190cm – 75cm – 65cm (75inch – 29.5inch – 25.5inch) can be carried for an added over-sized bag charge.

The average max weight for airline flight companies is 23kg. (51 lbs)

You must have this info in your mind while packing, as well as the average extra baggage fee which goes from 75$ to 200$, depending on the size or weight rules that you broke.

Look how light Robert Schrader from LeaveYourDailyHell packs.

Weigh in your bag at home so you’ll know if it’s too heavy.

If you put too much inside you can remove something lighter from the top.

8. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Are you that type of a person?

You have a relaxed lifestyle, and you don’t worry too much about the incoming trip. There is a new episode of your favorite show. You say to yourself: “I’ll pack quickly. I don’t need that much time.”

The time passes by, and you realize that you need to go. Fast.

You realize you're late, and you start grabbing whatever you can get and stuff it into the travel bag. In this situation, people usually stuff the bag without thinking and just rush to the airport. (some don’t bring a half of what they actually need)

Be strategic about packing.

Have at least two hours the day before your trip to prepare your packing.

If you have a tight schedule, you can ask for help from your family, or your partner.

Invest some time in packing and preparing everything. Having a plan is vital for safe traveling. You have to stay safe when you're on the road and it starts with the decision where to go and what to pack.

You won’t stress out or won’t rush the packing because you’re running late.

Help yourself and make a procedure:

  • Make a list of things you’re taking with you (Check out the weather and your planned itinerary. You did make it, right?)
  • Check your bag, and see if everything you intended to carry fits inside.
  • Set aside the time for packing. Rolling can take some time.
  • Start sorting out luggage inside your bag from the largest to the smallest pieces.
  • Think of your gadgets, and hold off from carrying them all with you. Sort them out by the ones you’ll use the most, and leave the rest. Use the small places and gaps in the luggage to insert cables, chargers and rest of the equipment.
  • Select some of your clothes that you’ll wear during your trip. Make sure you choose to wear the bulkiest as to preserve space in your suitcase.

When you invest the time for preparation, your trip will be a pleasure and not a nightmare. Dave & Deb from ThePlanetD have a list of 8 travel organizers that can really help.

9. Split up and have a list of your kids’ favorites.

If a reason for your overpacking is
baby equipment, kids’ clothes, food or toys,  you must know that organization is everything.

A big part of groundwork is about knowing your child. What does your child like, what does it need, what calms it down, what is necessary for a stress-free journey?

Condé Nast Traveler gives advice on how to pack for a family vacation, backed up by travel bloggers.

Child clothing must be easily washable and quick to dry as well.

If you’re going somewhere that offers washing service, that’s great – you can keep your packing to a minimum. If not, you must prepare for this as well.

Separation is the key for organizing a holiday with the kids.

In practice, this means – food section, entertainment section, toilet section, health/medicine section, emergency section.

Pro tip: Always have in mind what it is your child’s favorite food, treat, and toy, and keep small portions of them with the toy within your reach.

Separate the stuff you need to carry and place each of the parts into a labeled bag/case “for [name of a child].”

Excellent practice for traveling with kids, which will help loosen up your traveling bag: don't bring and buy stuff like towels, toiletries, etc. abroad.

If you’re traveling with a toddler, the entertainment section must be well prepared.

Your youngster will need to have his mind occupied with games, books, and toys until you arrive at the destination.

Make a list of toys and entertainment, gather the items from the list, and have them close.

Night flights are a good idea for stress-free travel with children.

If you applied some of these tactics, your suitcase is bound to be lighter. We can guarantee that.

However, here is another great advice which will give you reliable results.

Prepare and pack your bag one day in advance, and take it for a test-drive. Carry it around your home for some time, put it on your back and walk with it, or drag it for half an hour.

See how you will feel and will it drag you down. Will it be tiresome, and how quickly?

You have to put in the effort to pack light. Here's some additional advice from Rick Steves to pack smart and travel light.

Now I have some quick questions for you:

Are you ready to drop your “reasons” for overpacking? Are you prepared to enjoy your travels light weighted?

Are you ready to use one of the techniques from this post?

You know the benefits. You know it will work.

Just start using them. Today.

A traveler knowledge junkie and Zante habitant every summer season, where he helps travelers have the best holiday on the island.

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