Hot on the heels of my last post about How to Travel Ultralight With Carry-On Luggage, you might be looking at your packing list and wondering what you could possibly do without. Here are 26 things you shouldn’t travel with, with advice from the professional travelling community as well.
Dear Nora: I read your post on How to Travel Ultralight With Carry-On Luggage, but I still want to take everything but the kitchen sink with me when I travel! What am I doing wrong? – Roberta
The Golden Rules of Packing
When I first started travelling full-time, I was made privy to the golden rule of packing:
- Step One: Lay out everything you want to pack in front of you.
- Step Two: Take away half of the stuff.
- (Optional Step Three: Take away half again).
Although through experience, I truly understand this rule of thumb, at the time it baffled me. What could I possibly eliminate? I’ll need everything! I was mesmerized with the plethora of travel gadgets and gear available, and I couldn’t anticipate what would be practical and what would be dead weight.
Depending on the type of travel you do and where you go, some things are considerably more useful than others. So while you might agree that some of the items on this list are completely useless on the road, you might argue that other items will be invaluable.
Packing is a very individual and unique thing; when I started travelling full-time, I brought way too much stuff). I eventually narrowed it down to a manageable (checked bag) packing list before I narrowed down my travel entourage to carry-on size only.
Don’t be surprised if you go through a similar culling process, but hopefully with these tips you won’t start off (like I did) with a bevy of useless travel gear.
Note: I still love travel gear, but I choose carefully – here’s a roundup of some of my favourites.
26 Things You Shouldn’t Travel With
Again subject to context and preference, here are 26 things that most likely will have no place in your bag.
Water Purification Tablets
Raymond Walsh is a cubicle-escapee who writes about quirky getaways, offbeat attractions, and unique adventures at Man On The Lam. For him, water purification tablets no longer have a place in his bag. “When I first started travelling I carried water purification tablets, and while they didn’t take up much space, they were an added expense that I didn’t need. Bottled water is readily available just about everywhere, and unless you’re going to be free camping in the jungle, you just won’t need anything to purify your water.”
Personally I don’t like the waste of buying bottled water, so if I’m travelling to a country where the water is questionable, I have a SteriPen.
“I used to travel with maps of my destination but smartphones with GPS have made them obsolete,” says Rick Griffin of Mid Life Road Trip, an unscripted food/travel/adventure series that has been named among the best travel blogs of 2014 by Luxe Insider and TripIt.
An umbrella takes up extra space in your bag, and if you’re on the move with gear, you’ll want your hands free. I find a rain jacket to be much more practical, and it’s lighter.
Unless you have an ultralight travel towel, leave your bath towel at home. Towels are available almost everywhere you go, and they take up way too much space and weight in your bag. Besides which, packing up a wet towel after your morning shower is begging for all your stuff to become mildewy.
Turner Wright (who blogs on his millennial adventures at Once A Traveler) disagrees about the towel, saying “both Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and South Park have taught me it’s absolutely essential to travel with a towel”.
But he does offer that other bulky items like pillows and blankets are dead weight. “Most of these can be purchased on the cheap once you land, or are simply unnecessary to maintain the comforts of home.”
Electronics/Appliances Without Built-In Voltage Adaptors
Your computer and many electronics have built-in voltage adaptors that, with a simple plug adaptor, you can use anywhere in the world. (Look for something on the appliance/electronic itself or the adaptor cord that says “120-240V” and you’re covered). But if the item you want to take can’t accommodate different voltages (and you’re traveling to a country where the voltage is different), it either won’t work at all, or the local electricity will burn out your appliance.
A hair dryer is a perfect example of an appliance that doesn’t convert to different voltages. Many of the travellers I spoke to concurred that hair dryers can be found in most hotels, and those who initially brought one along found they never used it.
Don’t think you’re getting smart by bringing along a voltage converter; they’re often heavy and bulky – and do you really need the extra appliances that badly?
Too Many Pairs of Shoes
Dena Roché of The Travel Diet teaches people how travel nourishes your brain, feeds your soul, and whittles your waist. She says too many pairs of shoes will simply weigh you down. “Don’t take the perfect cute pair for one outfit; bring a neutral pair that goes with everything and one pair that won’t kill you walking around town.” Girls – this means you leave the high heels at home.
(See also: My Search for the Perfect Travel Sandal)
Too Many Clothes
I watched two friends pack for a two-week trip to Mexico, bringing four oversized and overweight checked bags in addition to their carry-on luggage. One of them is prone to heavy sweating, so he said he needed one to two t-shirts for every day. Given that they paid over $150 in extra baggage fines, he could have bought enough t-shirts in Mexico to last two weeks and thrown them away! At the very least, he could have filled up the sink and relegated himself to doing hand laundry.
Travel Clothes Line
Speaking of doing hand laundry (a common ultralight packing necessity), Tracey Pedersen of Life Changing Year who is on an indefinite travel adventure with her family and carry-on luggage only, says a travel clothes line was one of the first things she got rid of. “I must have forgotten they had chairs, showers and basins to hang my hand washing efforts on. I found it earlier today and tossed it out!”
The way to make less clothing work is to ensure that everything matches, giving you more outfit combination possibilities. Choose two to three complementary colours and stick to them.
Utilitarian “Travel” Clothing
Alexandra Jimenez is the packing list guru over at TravelFashionGirl.com helping women pack light, efficiently, and stylishly. (Like me, she also travels full-time with carry-on luggage only). “When I first started my full-time travels seven years ago I thought that I had to follow a designated travel uniform that consisted of quick dry tees, convertible pants, and outdoor sandals. As a woman that also has an interest in wearing fashionable apparel, I now know that it’s wiser to find a balance between clothing I actually like to wear and items that are also functional for my travels.”
I did the exact same thing myself! I was so uninspired by my utilitarian “travel” wardrobe that I hated getting dressed every morning. Now, with the help of fashionable and functional travel designers like Anatomie Style (which comprises 90% of my travel wardrobe), I can travel in function – and style.
More than One Pair of Jeans
Some travellers argue that you shouldn’t bring jeans at all, while others say the comfort and style of a favourite pair of jeans is worth it. I recently acquired a pair of jeans and enjoy travelling with them, but any more than one pair is excessive (on weight, bulk, and practicality).
An iron is another appliance that doesn’t adapt to different voltages. Most hotels have one available, but you’d be much better off travelling with wrinkle-free clothing that doesn’t need ironing to begin with.
Cooling Neck Kerchiefs
Nothing says you’re a tourist like a cooling neck kerchief. Vanessa of TurnipseedTravel.com agrees: “We bought two ‘cooling’ neck kerchiefs prior to our July visit to Death Valley National Park. But once we arrived we were so focused on stocking up on water, ice, and snacks that we forgot to use them! In an attempt to redeem this silly purchase, we then insisted on wearing the slimy, drippy cloths in other warm climates, like Las Vegas, and ended up looking like we got lost on route to our safari!”
Toiletries take up a lot of space and weight, and one of the first things you’ll realize when you start travelling is that just about everything is available, just about everywhere you go. Everybody needs soap – it may not be your favourite soap, but you might find an even better alternative by immersing yourself in the culture and living as the locals do.
Dariece of Goats On The Road has been travelling full-time for five years with her husband Nick. “In my opinion, make-up, skin care products, and hair care products have no business in a backpack! If you really must pack make-up, bring a tube of mascara and call it a day. In my experience travelling in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean, most travellers don’t bother with make-up.”
I’ll admit I bring more than mascara (such as moisturizer, hair product, eyeliner, and one shade of compact shadow), but I generally agree – the big make-up bag can stay at home.
Travelling with expensive jewelry is begging for a theft, and even cheap jewelry will weigh you down. I like jewelry, but I travel with very little more than what I can wear. Besides which – the less jewelry you travel with, the more local things you can find along the way that make for wearable souvenirs!
I’ve spoken to many a traveller who started off with a stash of heavy books, only to realize there are opportunities to get and trade books at many hostels/libraries/bookstores along the way, only necessitating the need to carry one book at a time. And if you aren’t too attached to good old fashioned paper books, you can carry a compact and effective virtual library with e-readers and tablets.
Medicines/First Aid Kit
When I started travelling full-time, I brought an adventure medical kit. With my mountaineering background it was a viable if not necessary item. Eight years later I’ve used it maybe twice. Unless you’re going into the backcountry, you can always find a band-aid and medications.
Melvin of Traveldudes (a site specializing in advice for travellers, by travellers) agrees. “You don’t need a complete bag with medicines, unless you take pills on a daily basis. You will find all the pills you need in the country you visit. Probably they will be even cheaper there.” Indeed – I’ve walked into many a pharmacy abroad and gotten medical advice and “prescription” drugs over the counter, all for a fraction of the cost of medicines at home.
There was once a time when a sleeping bag was a must for travelling, especially for dodgy hostels. Now sleeping bags are banned in most hostels (since they’re notorious for carrying bed bugs), so unless you’re travelling to camp (which requires a whole different packing technique), leave the sleeping bag at home. If you really want something to keep you warm (and protected from icky bedsheets), a thin light sleep sack will do.
Perma-traveller Yomadic Nate agrees; he has been on the road for 800 days through 50+ countries. He started out with a small towel and a sleeping bag; “I got rid of the towel about 200 days in, and I finally ditched the sleeping bag a few months back. In all my time on the road – I only used each item once, maybe twice. Who knew – they have towels and blankets, all over the world these days!”
When I started traveling, I bought bulky solar charging panels (which required a voltage converter and other equipment to work properly). Luckily I saw the light and returned them before I left Canada. These days solar chargers come in much more compact sizes. Meagen Collins of the budget travel website Five Dollar Traveller tried one and says it’s still a bad idea. “Turns out our solar charger was a waste of space – why? Because the world has power. There wasn’t a place we found that we couldn’t plug in and charge up. Even in the wilderness of Mongolia our Russian van came with a usb plug that we could charge stuff with. Unless you’re going completely off the grid, don’t bother.”
Tim Leffel, author of five books including The World’s Cheapest Destinations and editor of PracticalTravelGear.com disagrees. “A solar charger is really useful when you’re away from an outlet for a while and with iPhones especially having such a short battery life, it’s good to have another power source.”
Tim may like his solar charger, but he realized the error of his ways with regards to travelling with a tent. “When I left on my first trip around the world, I read too much about people traveling in Europe and assumed we’d be camping. In reality, we spent most of our time in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, where you can always find a cheap hotel and hardly anyone camps. So I used it a total of two nights out of 364. One of those nights was by choice just to wake up with a view of the Himalayas. I lugged the stupid thing around the world for nothing.”
I’ve done my own share of camping around the world, and always managed to borrow or rent equipment like tents, sleeping bags, and other gear; unless you’re travelling to camp around the world, don’t lug all that gear around with you.
Portable Air Conditioners/Humidifiers
Unless you have serious medical problems, don’t bother with portable air devices. They simply can’t be small enough to warrant the space in your luggage. Travel is about exposure to many things – foreign culture, food, and yes, even air.
Dave and Deb are Canada’s adventure couple, inspiring people to follow their dreams and push boundaries with their award winning travel blog ThePlanetD.com. They don’t think much of money belts: “We used to travel with a money belt but we never used it. We found them to be bulky, annoying, and uncomfortable. We could never get to our cards or money and nothing was organized. We now find that traveling smart and being aware of our surroundings is the best defence against thieves and pickpockets.”
Unless you have severe allergies or want to carry a few energy bars for snacking, get out there and experience the local cuisine! I watched somebody who travelled with a “portable” juicer (which wasn’t all that portable), only to have it shatter in her bag with her first turbulent flight.
Did we miss anything? What things do you think are best left at home?