On the last day of your vacation, you open up your suitcase to start packing and uncover a dirty little secret — you never used some of the items you brought with you!
We’ve all been there. Sometimes, it’s due to poor planning—you waited until the last minute to pack, so you just stuffed every clean piece of clothing into your suitcase. Other times, it’s because you’re overly cautious—just in case it rains, you bring an umbrella, rain boots and a jacket even though the forecast for your beach vacation is sunny and warm.
This post isn’t about packing lighter; it’s about packing smarter. There’s no reason to lug around the extra items. By getting rid of them, you’ll make more room for the essentials or, better yet, reserve space for on-the-road purchases.
Here are some things that always seemed to stay in my bag. Nowadays, I leave them all at home.
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1 | Laptop
Between my smartphone, tablet, e-reader, laptop and their accompanying chargers and cords, I could have one carry-on bag devoted just to electronics.
Only a decade ago, traveling with a laptop was a must. As long as my hotel had internet access, it was the easiest way to stay in touch with family and friends when I traveled overseas. I’d use it to email, update Facebook, get directions to attractions and check-in to my return flight.
Today, I can do all of these things on my smartphone, yet I still I continued lugging around my laptop for the sole reason of backing up my photos. This year I finally decided to leave it at home and bring an iPad Air 2 instead. Using the Logitech Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard makes it easy to use an iPad just like you would a laptop. I was able to easily download and back up my photos while freeing up space and reducing the weight of my carry-on bag. (It’s also sometimes nice to type on an actual keyboard instead of your smartphone screen, especially if you’re writing lengthy emails and messages!)
2 | Snacks
My earliest long-distance travels were on week-long school trips. Both times, every student’s suitcase was loaded down with snacks to last the entire trip. Looking back, this makes sense. It allowed our parents to control the quality and amount of snacks and reduced the amount of pocket money we needed. (On our trip to England, I remember one girl brought at least one six-pack of Dr. Pepper with her because it wasn’t widely available in England!)
As I started to travel on my own as an adult, I followed this example. I would bring pristine boxes of granola bars, peanut butter cracker sandwiches and sweets with me. In most cases, they would return with me, squished and unopened, because I’d discovered more delicious treats at my destination. Who wants to get a crushed granola bar when you can have a Cadbury Pot of Joy instead?
Take along enough snacks to get you to your destination so you can avoid the higher airport prices. Once you get to where your going, drop by a local grocery store or market to pick up some local goodies to keep in your hotel room and day bag.
3 | Hairdryers, Curling Irons and Flat Irons
I’m a big fan of no fuss hairstyles. Not being a morning person, I prefer sleeping in a few more minutes instead of messing with my hair. But, for some odd reason, I always felt the need to take along hair appliances I didn’t normally usually use at home when I traveled. I’d imagine myself walking down the cobbled lanes of London with perfect curls or standing on top of the Eiffel Tower with sleek and shiny hair. But once I get there, reality sets in, and the curling and flat irons never leave my bag.
As for hairdryers, I can’t remember the last time I stayed at a hotel that didn’t have one in the room. In most cases, it’s a full-size hairdryer that’s more powerful the travel one I have. Every now and again, I come across one of those dinky wall dryers, but they seem to be becoming rarer. Check the amenities list on the hotel website or contact the hotel to find out if hairdryers are available.
Another thing to keep in mind if you’re convinced you need these tools while traveling internationally — you likely need a plug adapter and dual voltage appliances. There’s nothing more horrible than blowing out the electricity in your hotel because you used a hairdryer on the wrong voltage setting!
How can you cope without these tools? Experiment with some different hairstyles beforehand. Perfect the messy bun. Get a new haircut that works for your natural hair texture. Learn how to use a few strategically placed Velcro rollers to give your hair some volume. Splurge on a keratin treatment that will last the length of your trip. Once you’re on vacation, enjoy the time you will spend sightseeing instead of styling your hair.
4 | Exercise Clothes
We all have good intentions, but no one wants to go to the gym on vacation!
I’m an active traveler—on the go from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. According to my FitBit, all of my most active days have been those when I was on vacation. On a day trip to Paris, I took over 24,000 steps!
I have a lot of friends that prefer low key and relaxing vacations. Even if you’re headed to a resort town, you can get in some activity without heading to the gym. Ditch the treadmill for a hike or walking tour. Explore the area on a rental bike instead cycling to nowhere on a stationary bike. You’ll have more fun and create some new memories.
5 | Jewelry Box
A few years ago, I found an adorable travel jewelry box at World Market. It had multiple compartments for a half-dozen pairs of earrings; a strap for rings; a pouch for necklaces. I’m a sucker for organization products, so I snatched it up and filled it with jewelry for my next trip. Jewelry that I never ended up wearing.
In my non-travel life, I rarely wear jewelry other than basic stud earrings. When I’m feeling fancy or going to a special event, I’ll put on a necklace and possibly a ring. I wear a bracelet once, maybe twice, a year.
So why did I feel like I needed to bring it all with me when I traveled? No idea! I don’t like fiddling with it when I’m at home, so I’m definitely not going to do it when I’m on holiday.
Nowadays, I wear a necklace and pair of stud earrings on the plane. I might pack a couple of extra items, especially if my vacation includes a wedding or party, but everything fits in my toiletries bag.
6 | High Heels
There’s a common theme here — if you don’t use it in your non-travel life, don’t pack it.
I like comfortable shoes. I generally wear flats, loafers or hiking shoes, but that didn’t stop me from packing a pair of fancy high heels “just in case” I needed them. Why on earth would I need them? It’s not like I was going to get a last minute invite to the Queen’s Garden Party.
High heels just aren’t good for travel. They are wonky on cobble stones, get stuck in sidewalk grates and sink into soil. They might make your legs look nice, but they are terrible for your feet and alignment. Unless you are going to a special event and can’t bear to wear flats, leave the high heels at home. (Even Victoria Beckham is rumored to be trading in her heels for flats, so you can do it, too!)
7 | Duplicative Makeup Products
I have a very simple makeup routine, but I like a lot of variety. Open up my makeup drawer, and you’ll find multiple tubes of lipstick, each in a slightly different hue. For the day, I’ll wear a soft pink; at night, I’ll wear a richer red. There are stacks of eyeshadow palettes and eye pencils — in varying shadows of brown, green, and purple. I have tubes of primers, foundations, CC creams and tinted moisturizers. And then there are the cream and powder blushes.
My travel makeup bag is much more streamlined. I bring two lip products– a long lasting lipstick in my toiletries kit and a tinted lip balm in my day bag. I stick to one neutral eyeshadow palette, eye pencil and mascara tube. Add in a CC cream and blush, and that’s all the makeup I need for vacation.
8 | Books
One of my favorite modern inventions is the e-reader. I resisted it at first. I love the look and feel of books. I love the smell of books. I couldn’t imagine holding a piece of plastic and pressing a button to “turn” the page. But once I finally gave in, I was hooked. They are especially great for travel because you can carry multiple books with you without losing much space or adding a lot of weight. In fact, my beloved Kindle Voyage weighs less than half a pound!
If you still cherish physical books, bring one with you on your trip. It will keep you company at the airport, on the train, in your hotel room. But choose wisely.
During college, I carried The Brothers Karamazov around Europe for six weeks. At 944 pages, it weighed nearly a pound (twice as much as my e-reader!). Even though I kept it in my day bag, I didn’t read past the first couple of pages. I’m not even sure why I thought I wanted to read it! It just seemed like a good long book to keep me busy during my time away from home. So, make sure the book you bring is a book you want to read.
On that same trip, I discovered many large bookstores and train station news stands in Europe have a selection of books in English. I came across The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, in Innsbruck and ended up picking up the other books in the series as I came across them in stores. So, don’t be worried that you’ll be without reading material if you finish your book. If you’re in a city, you’ll likely be able to find a bookstore that offers books (or at least magazines) in English.