I’ve had a lot of experience packing. I’ve been flying with just a carry-on since before airlines started charging for checked bags. And I’ve moved houses over 30 times in my life, so I have lots of packed boxes under my belt. I’ve also made my share of packing mistakes but I consider myself a pretty great packer. So I’m going to share some of my best packing tips with you!
My packing tips philosophy: Less is more. Channel your inner Mari Kondo and go full minimalist on your suitcase. And you can start, by ditching these 21 popular travel items (that you don’t actually need).
Below, I’m sharing 21 items that always pop up on packing lists but that I think you should skip. Now, this is just my opinion. If you swear by your money belt and portable safe, good for you. Personally, I think they’re unecessary.
But it’s not all negative. Once I’ve gone through what you can toss from your bag, I’ll share my packing tips on what essentials you should bring.
Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support and happy packing!
Packing Tips – What NOT to Pack:
I think travel pillows are incredibly overrated and yet they still end up on every packing tips list! Travel pillows are bulky and take up a lot of space. And the ones that collapse are often crappy quality. You only ever use them on the plane, which means you end up carrying them around for a few weeks just to use for an eight hour plane ride. And most planes provide pillows these days, or you can fashion your sweater into a pillow. Skip it!
I’m not a fan of compression bags. These vacuum bags condense your clothing so you can fit more into your luggage. But they don’t decrease the weight. So you end up overloading your bag and weighing yourself down. You don’t need to compress your stuff; you just need to pack less.
Fancy packing cubes
Now, don’t get me wrong; I love a packing cube. But you do not need to buy expensive fancy packing cubes. Packing cubes are just glorified Ziploc bags. In fact, using a Ziploc bag in place of a packing cube isn’t such a bad idea! I was gifted a set of fancy packing cubes and they now have holes in them (while my cheap ones are still going strong)! So opt for cheaper packing cubes (like these ones) because they work just as well as the fancy ones.
Clothing with secret pockets
You’re not a spy. You don’t need a scarf with a compartment for your passport, a tank top with secret money-holding zippers or a jacket with more pockets than you know what to do with. This kind of special travel clothing is usually expensive, ugly and, in my opinion, pretty pointless. I’d much rather spend money on a secure (and cute!) purse, than have to buy six different tops with secret money compartments.
Plus, as soon as you reach into your secret pocket one time, the jig is up! Now everyone knows where you’re storing your valuables.
I do own a luggage scale and find it useful. However, I would not advise packing it with you on vacation. A luggage scale is great to have at home – but leave it there. Weigh your bags when you leave home and use the scale to get an approximate weight for each bag. Don’t treat that number like it’s a definite. I find that bags always tend to weigh a few pounds more or less at the airport than my luggage scale said they would.
On most trips, a wifi hotspot is not necessary. For years, I would put my phone on airplane mode and just rely on free wifi wherever I could get it while travelling. Sure, this isn’t the most convenient way to travel (especially if you’re trying to call an Uber) but it is doable. If you need to be more connected, it’s usually very cheap to buy a local SIM card and get internet access that way. You can then tether your phone to your laptop, which sometimes winds up cheaper than paying for a wifi hotspot.
Of course, if you’re going somewhere more remote where a local SIM isn’t an option, grab a wifi hotspot. But just do your research first to see if you really need one!
Anytime I see a portable safe listed on a packing tips post, I roll my eyes. This item just seems so ridiculous to me! Maybe because I never travel with anything that valuable. The portable safes I have seen look bulky, heavy and like a giant sign that says, “I’m rich! Steal from me!”
Most people in the world are good and are not trying to rob you. And if they are, a portable safe won’t stop them. They’ll find a way to get in or they’ll steal something else. I don’t travel with valuables, besides my phone, passport and laptop. I usually put those in the hotel safe, or hide them in my bag when I’m leaving the room. (Knock on wood) I haven’t had anything stolen yet.
Toiletry bag with eight million compartments
Your toiletry bag should not pop out and expand down the length of the wall. It shouldn’t have more pockets and compartments than you have fingers on your hands. You just don’t need that much stuff! Plus, with all that extra packaging, you’re only weighing yourself down. Scale back and fit all of your toiletries into a small single-pouch bag.
I don’t believe that we need a whole new wardrobe and pile of accessories to travel. There’s really no need to own a bunch of things that are designated “travel-only.” So no, you don’t need to switch over from your regular wallet to a travel wallet.
A travel wallet usually has a separate compartment for your passport and boarding pass. But since you only need those documents for a few hours at the airport, it’s really not necessary to buy a brand new wallet to hold them. Simply keep them in your purse or an easy to reach spot while you’re at the airport. Many travel wallets are also outfitted with special tech so theives can’t scan your information. But I’ve been to 40 countries and have never had a problem with my trusty wallet from Winners!
All the camera lenses
Unless you’re a professional photographer travelling on a photo assignment (and even then, I think you could pare down), you do not need to bring a bunch of lenses with you. If you’re a hobby photographer, bring a lens or two that you regularly use and that you think will be important for where you’re going. If you’re just using your phone, you really don’t need to have a bunch of fancy attachments and lenses. Remember my packing tips philosophy: less is more!
For most trips, you do not need to bring money with you. Shocked? I know, it sounds strange. But it’s true. You do not need to come to Europe with hundreds of Euros in your pocket or, worse, hundreds of your home currency with plans to exchange it. For starters, most of the world uses credit cards (welcome to 2019). And in places where credit cards aren’t as commonly used, it is almost always cheaper to take local currency out of a local ATM when you arrive.
If you bring a bunch of money with you, odds are you got a terrible rate from your bank at home. And you’re just asking to be mugged carrying all of that cash.
Plane hacking items
By plane hacking items, I’m talking about all of those nifty contraptions we’ve seen popping up online like a hammock you can hang on your seatback to rest your feet or a device that holds your head up while you nap. For the most part, these items are unecessary. Your flight is such a small part of your trip and you do not need to buy special items to make it minimally better. Odds are these items are expensive and not as beneficial as the ads make them appear. Plus, for the 95% of your trip when you’re not airborne, you just have to lug these things around.
There are endless travel items whose sole job is to keep you organized. Now, I’m all for organization. I love a spreadsheet! But most of these items are pretty useless. You don’t need a special box that organizes jewelry or a separate bag that organizes all of your cords. These things just cost money, add bulk to your suitcase/backpack, and encourage you to pack more. If you’re packing enough jewelry that you feel you need a special device to organize it, you’re packing too much jewelry.
Unless you’re going on a trip where you know without a doubt that you’ll need to play music for a group in a public setting, leave your speaker at home. You won’t need it. Your fellow hostel dormmates don’t care to hear your Spotify playlist. Your fellow train passengers don’t need to tune into your latest podcast episode. The only time I’ve been glad to have one of these along is on a camping trip and even then, we had to turn it off as soon as quiet hours started.
I am all for doing laundry on the road. In fact, one of my biggest packing tips is to only pack for a week and then plan on doing laundry, instead of bringing clothing to last your entire trip length. But some people take this laundry thing to the next level. Your laundry supplies should not take the place of all the clothing you could have brought if you didn’t want to do laundry.
Travel packing lists will encourage you to bring laundry detergents, laundry pods, special laundry cleaning cloths, bags to launder your clothing in and lines to hang your clothing. Do you really need all of that? Of course not! If you end up spending more money on laundry supplies than you would to just take your clothing to the laundromat down the street from your hostel, you’re doing something wrong.
I love wandering the travel-sized section of the drugstore as much as the next person, but I would not advise stocking up on these for your travels. For starters, it’s a big waste of money to go out and buy mini shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, deodorant, etc. every time you go on vacation. And, it’s wasteful. Instead, invest in a set of reusable travel bottles that are 100 mL and fill those up with your stuff from home.
Even if you bring your own travel-sized bottles from home, I would still advise only bringing a few essentials. For example, I’m dedicated to the face lotion I use, so always bring a travel-sized bottle of that. But you don’t need to bring a travel-sized version of everything. Pare down; only pack what you absolutely need. Where you can, opt for a solid version that will be less weight, last longer and not count against your liquid allowance (since you’re packing into a carry-on).
For example, I love a solid shampoo bar instead of a tiny bottle of shampoo (these ones from Lush are my favourite!). And if you’re going to be travelling for a while, you can always buy full-sized toiletries when you land.
Safety & security items
Please don’t get me wrong: Of course, I want you to be safe. But I think safety comes from being vigilant and aware of your surroundings (I talk about this more in my travel tips post). I don’t think it comes from buying all of the latest safety and security devices.
So many travel items are advertised as anti-theft with super secure straps or pockets. I understand buying an antitheft bag if you’re concerned about being mugged while you walk. But also buying a special antitheft camera strap, belt and jacket is probably overkill. On the same token, you probably do not need to bring a security camera or door alarm with you while you travel. A lot of these items are unecessary, expensive, faulty and make you stand out as a target.
Locks on luggage
I’m going to include this as its own sub-section under safety and security. Personally, I’m not a fan of locks on luggage. As they say, locks don’t stop thieves. If someone wants to get into your bag, a lock isn’t going to stop them. Even if it’s the most high-tech and expensive theif-proof lock on the market, if someone is determined, they are getting in there. And then there’s security. Even if you have a TSA-approved lock, I’ve heard many stories of the TSA still chopping off locks anyway!
I think money belts also deserve their own sub-section. I’m not a fan of money belts. I think for most trips, they are unecessary. The idea of a money belt is that you put your money, passport and valuables in it and then wear it underneath your clothing, either as a belt (usually around the stomach) or necklace-style around your neck. That way, no one can rob you, right? Wrong.
For starters, you do not need to walk around with all of your money, passport and valuables. These are much more likely to go missing or get stolen as you walk around tourist sights, than if you kept them in a safe at your hotel. Secondly, money belts are often impractical because if you’re out shopping, it won’t work to keep reaching under your shirt every time you need to pay for something. This is not only weird but it also makes you a target. Third, thieves know about money belts. If they see you fussing with yours, they may come over and work their magic to get it off you. And, lastly, do you really want to have a fanny pack strapped around your body all day long? I didn’t think so.
Instead of a money belt, leave your valuables (including your passport) in the safe back at your hotel. You should also leave one of your credit cards back at the hotel, so you still have a money source in case your wallet does go missing or get stolen. For daily use, I prefer to have a small cross-body purse with a zipper. I wear it high up on my body and in crowds, I keep my hand on top of the zipper cover.
Unless you’re actually camping, there’s no need to pack pillows, blankets and bedding. Back in the day, people used to suggest bringing your own bedding to hostels. But these days, many hostels actually don’t allow you to do that. They would rather use their own bedding, where they can supervise the washing, than allow you to bring your own bedding that comes along with whatever germs or bed bugs were at your previous hostel. And if you’re not staying at a hostel, you really don’t need to worry about this as every hotel, Airbnb, etc. will provide bedding. So please, leave your bedding at home!
Selfie stick, GoPro or a drone
Do you really want to be that guy who pulls out his selfie stick at the viewpoint? Or the girl who is carrying a GoPro around on a hike? Or the person who takes hours to get through airport security with your drone only to find out you can’t fly it at most tourist sights?
Unless you’re super dedicated to making GoPro movies and going on awesome white water rafting or sky diving adventures, you can leave that at home. Drones seem unecessary to me unless, again, you’re a professional and have read up on all the rules of where you can use your drone.
And just say no to selfie sticks.
You don’t need to pack food when you go on vacation. The whole point of a trip is to eat the food there (at least, I think it is). I can’t imagine passing up Singapore’s Hawker Stalls in favour of whatever snack I could’ve brought over from Canada. Even if you’re a picky eater or have an allergy, odds are you will find something you can eat anywhere in the world.
And please don’t be that person who packs their own coffee grounds and a French Press!
Leave your hair dryer, curling iron, straightener and any other beauty appliance at home! Why? They likely won’t work. Even if you have an adapter, that doesn’t change the voltage of your appliance. That’s why you hear stories of people frying their expensive hair dyers when they plug them in abroad. You could try using an electrical converter, but even those won’t work with every appliance. Some appliances advertise as dual voltage but they are usually expensive and still don’t always work abroad.
If you can manage it, try to let your natural mane go wild on vacation. I know I’m very lucky that I have wash-and-go hair, but I promise that your hair will enjoy a break from being heated and styled to death. If you really hate it, opt for a hat or put it up in a bun. As well, your hotel is likely to have a hair dryer that you can use. And if you really get desperate, buy a hair dryer in your destination. At least that way, you’ll know it will work!
Packing Tips – What you SHOULD pack:
Okay, now that I’ve gone over all of the things you don’t need to pack, your bag should be empty and you should be preparing the angry comment you’re going to leave me below because you absolutely swear by portable speakers/travel safes/secret pocket scarves, etc.
But before you do, I’m now going to share my packing tips on what should make it into your bag.
In this day and age, a portable charger is essential. If you have an old school iPhone like me, you know you can’t walk 10 feet without needing a charge. This is especially true if you’re going to be out all day taking photos on your phone and using it as your map. This is the portable charger I have. It works well, charges quickly and is sleek enough to easily fit into my purse.
Reminder: Portable chargers, because they’re a lithium battery, cannot go into your checked baggage. But that’s okay, because you’re only travelling with a carry-on anyway, right?
If you’re travelling abroad, one of the first things you should do is check what kind of outlets they have at your destination. Nothing is worse than showing up at a hotel with a bunch of dead gadgets and no way to plug them in. Invest in a universal adaptor (I’ve had that one for years and it hasn’t let me down), so you can take it all around the world with you. And when I say “invest,” I mean spend the $12 because these things are cheap!
One of my pro packing tips is not only bringing along an adaptor, but bringing along a power bar too. This can come in handy if 1) your travel buddy forgets his/her adaptor or 2) you realize your hotel room has only one convenient outlet. And we always seem to end up in that hotel room, don’t we?
Instead of fighting for the outlet or taking turns charging your appliances, bring along a power bar so everyone can plug in at once. Plus, if you whip out one of these at the airport, you’re going to be very popular!
I know I mentioned in my packing tips above that expensive packing cubes are unecessary, but I still think the whole packing cube concept is worth it. The purpose of packing cubes is to keep you organized. So instead of tearing your whole bag apart to find that one shirt you swore you packed, you can easily separate your shirts from your pants, undergarments and anything else by putting them all in separate packing cubes.
I suggest getting a set of packing cubes in different sizes, so you can utilize them for everything from pants to socks. I also suggest getting clear ones so you can see what’s inside!
A sleeping mask is one of the best things you can remember to pack on a trip. It’s the perfect thing to help you combat jetlag and catch some zzz’s whether the sun is up or not. It helps you sleep through a flight where they always feel the need to put the cabin lights on just as you’re drifting off. And a sleeping mask is indispensible when your hostel dormate decides 5:00 AM is a perfectly reasonable time to turn the lights on.
Some packing tips I’ve had to learn the hard way and packing a day bag is certainly one of them. A day bag is what you pack for day to day exploring. Depending on your destination, this might just be a purse. But some places, you’ll need to bring water, snacks, a change of clothes, chargers, etc. But if you only packed a suitcase, you’ll have nothing to carry your stuff in day-to-day when you’re in your destination.
When we travelled through Southeast Asia we packed a lightweight drawstring backpack as our day bag. It was the perfect thing because it added no weight to our luggage and easily carried our essentials for the day!
A lock (maybe)
Yes, I did say above that luggage locks are unecessary. But sometimes, you do need to pack a lock. If you’re staying in a hostel dorm room and need to store your things, you might need a lock to secure them. But before you pack one, ensure you’ll actually need it. Check with your hostel about how their storage system works. I’ve been in hostels where they ask you to bring a lock and others that had a key mechanism.
If you’re not sure you need one or forget to pack it, most hostels that require locks also conveniently happen to sell locks.
I can’t believe it’s taken until 2019 for me to add this to my packing tips essentials list but I have finally done it. An ereader is such a great thing to pack for travel! I just bought myself an ereader in May and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever purchased. Before that, I had read three books in 2019 and after buying the ereader, I’m at over 30 books for the year.
An ereader is light-weight and can store an almost endless amount of books. So instead of lugging your five favourite paperbacks with you (or god forbid, hard covers), that take up space and weight, you can slip a tiny ereader into your luggage with hundreds of books on it. Ereaders can also hold their charge forever so you don’t have to worry about charging it every night. And, you can also borrow ebooks from your local library!
Reusable water bottle
Cut down on waste and keep yourself hydrated by packing a reusable water bottle. I always get so thirsty when I’m out sightseeing for the day so I try to keep a water bottle on me at all times. In countries where the tap water is potable, it’s easy to fill up a bottle in restaurants or bathrooms throughout the day. If you can’t drink the tap water, you can still use a reusable water bottle with a water cleaning agent, like a steripen, or buy a larger jug of drinking water and transfer it into your bottle for daily drinking.
I prefer one that is lightweight and thin enough to keep in my purse, like this reusable water bottle (it even twists open to let you add ice cubes!). And if you’re worried about flying with a bottle over 100 mL, you don’t need to be. You can take it through airport security as long as it’s empty!
Let’s be honest: headphones can make or break a trip. So it’s important you have a good pair with you. You don’t necessarily need to invest in top of the line headphones but just ones that work well and won’t break during your travels.
I love my airpods for their quality and the comfort of not being attached to my device (thanks, Bluetooth!). But it’s also a good idea to bring a wired pair of headphones so you can tune into the in-flight entertainment on your plane. I also find wired headphones can come in handy if you’re taking an audio tour. Many of the audio tour devices have a headphone jack, meaning you can just plug in your headphones instead of holding the device to your ear.
It might seem a little old-fashioned but I still love having a notebook with me when I travel. I love to keep a diary of my days, jot things down, plan out future trips or even just doodle. On our last few trips, I’ve just used my phone to take notes and it doesn’t feel as good as writing things down by hand at the end of the day. Plus, it’s a nice break if you’re always on your phone or using your laptop, tablet or ereader. It feels good to go back to pen and paper.
Emergency granola bars
I did say you don’t need to pack food and I stand by that. Please do not arrive in a new destination with a bag full of snacks because you refuse to try anything new. But I make a small caveat for packing emergency granola bars.
I’m the kind of person who gets hangry on a dime (just ask Colin). I can go from not that hungry to famished and short-tempered in a matter of minutes. So when I’m travelling, it’s always safest if I have a granola bar in my purse in case of emergency. It’s also a great thing to have if you have to catch an early train and don’t have time to stop for breakfast, if your flight is delayed and you miss a meal, or that one hour hike takes a bit longer than expected.
Copy of your passport
If you’re travelling internationally, you should always have a copy of your passport. That’s packing tips 101! You should have both a paper copy and a digital copy. Keep the paper copy separate from where you’re keeping your actual passport. That way, if someone steals your purse, you don’t lose your passport and the copy.
And keep digital copies in a few places such as your hard drive and in cloud-based storage so you can access it anywhere. I usually have a copy in my inbox as well as my Google Drive. You may also want to have a digital copy emailed to a friend/family member, just in case.
One of my favourite travel items is a scarf because they are so versatile. I love a light-weight scarf and think it’s the perfect thing to always have in your luggage. A scarf can be used, obviously, to keep your neck warm when it gets chilly. But a scarf can also be unfolded and used as a wrap on colder nights or to cover your shoulders when entering holy sights. It can be turned into a beach cover-up for ocean days. It can be used as a picnic blanket. And a scarf can even be turned into a bag if you’re crafty enough.
I always advocate packing a reusable bag in your luggage. Like a scarf, a reusable bag is extremely versatile. You can also get a reusable bag that is light-weight and folds up small, so it takes up no room. You can use the bag to store dirty clothes before laundry day, to hold wet clothes from the pool, as a beach bag or when you go shopping at the local farmer’s market.
A few maybes for your packing list
Here are a few items that don’t quite make my essentials list but I don’t think they have to be left at home either. Depending on the type of trip and type of traveller, you may want:
- A tripod. I know many photographers and solo travellers swear by tripods for helping them to get their best photos. I haven’t used one myself but they do seem very handy and pack up quite small. I’m especially liking the look of this one with the bendy legs!
- A dry bag. If you’re going to be doing lots of activities out on the water, a dry bag (a bag that keeps stuff inside of it dry) is a great thing to pack. I used one when I was kayaking in Vancouver and it saved my phone when I capsized!
- Compression socks. I haven’t tried these myself but have heard great things about them. Compression socks help to keep your blood flowing on long flights when you’re stuck in one place. If you’re at risk of blood clots, compression socks can be invaluable.
- A travel towel. Generally speaking, you don’t need to pack a towel. Most hotels, Airbnbs and even some hostels will provide these. So it’s just extra weight and space in your bag, not to mention it’s no fun to pack a wet towel. But if your destination doesn’t provide towels or you’re planning to do a lot of beach hopping, you may want to pack one. Make sure it’s a travel towel that dries quick and rolls up small.
- Outdoor equipment. Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re packing for a camping/hiking/biking trip, you’ll need to pack some more gear. That’s not my area of expertise so I’ll leave those packing tips to you. I usually find that travellers who have to carry all of their belongings on their backs as they hike for hours and hours tend to pack light anyway.
And there you have it – my top packing tips on what should make it into your bag and what you can skip! What do you think? What’s on your must-pack list and what doesn’t make the cut?
Share your best packing tips with me!
And share these packing tips with someone else – Pin it!