Confessions of an Overpacker

June 11, 2012 | By | 17 Comments

Numbers intimidate me. That’s why I write. Ask me what “pernicious” means (I imagine you’ll find it in the dictionary next to a calculus problem), and I can tell you. But when I hear that my suitcase can’t exceed 23 kilograms (about 50 pounds, according to Google), my eyes glaze over, and I immediately find myself shoving more items into my bag, completely disregarding how much a week’s worth of bras and shampoo weighs.
I’m a chronic overpacker. On my last trip — a nine-day, half-land, half-cruise jaunt around Amsterdam — I was proud of myself for packing “light,” which by my definition means I only schlepped eight pairs of shoes (flip-flops don’t count, right?) instead of the two pairs per day I normally convince myself I’ll wear.
So just how bad is my overpacking problem? If the above doesn’t give you enough of an idea, I’ve got a few more things to confess.

Confession: Scarred by my own forgetfulness during bygone travels, I pack twice as many pairs of underwear as I think I’ll need. You just never know.
Confession: I find it necessary to bring at least one piece of jewelry to match every outfit. I know I’m adding an extra 10 pounds to my suitcase by packing stuff I’ll forget about later, but it’s worth the peace of mind I get from knowing I have something to complement the 37 articles of clothing I’ll also forget about later.
Confession: I take a carry-on suitcase that’s only for shoes. It doesn’t matter that it may or may not fit in the overhead bin or that if my checked bag is lost I’ll have nothing but footwear; I NEED all seven pairs of heels, thankyouverymuch.
Confession: Although I closely follow the three-ounce rule for liquids and gels, my quart-size bag is often a gallon-size. As a result, I predetermine which items can be discarded should I be stopped and have perfected the art of batting my eyes at male TSA agents. (Female agents are generally more sympathetic and understand why I simply must travel with three different types of moisturizer.)
Confession: In a fit of indecision, I usually decide to pack every single hair-styling appliance I own (hair dryer, flat iron, curling iron, double-barrel curling iron, etc.). To make up for it, I then feel obligated to use each and every one at some point on my trip, even if I don’t want to. I find great satisfaction in setting people straight when they tell me “you can’t possibly use all of that!” Oh, yes. Yes, I can.
Confession: I pack for the worst … and the best (whichever, it seems, will allow me to incur the most obscene fees for overweight luggage). If the glass is half empty, I tote sunscreen AND aloe to the Caribbean, assuming I’ll be extra crispy by the end of the first day. If the glass is half full, you can bet I’ll be taking a swimsuit to Alaska in December. Whether I’m trying to be ready for seasickness or nuclear winter, I’m like a significantly more feminine boy scout — always prepared.
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    17 Responses to “Confessions of an Overpacker”

    1. Elizabeth Schaffer
      June 11th, 2012 @ 11:33 am

      On a trip to CO and NM in 2009, my eldest teenage child, then 16, packed her own suitcase. She is my messy child. Unbeknownst to me, she had an entire shoe box full of costume jewelry in her suitcase. I saw it after we arrived to the condo. Her suitcase met the weight requirements, but barely. I bought her a travel jewelry case for Christmas, 1/4 the size of the shoe box. The rule is that everything has to fit in that.

    2. Brian
      June 11th, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

      To provide the other end of the spectrum, my wife and I traveled for 2 weeks in Europe with carry-on ONLY. My wife is a recovered over-packer, and I’m very proud of her.

    3. Shari Palermo
      June 11th, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

      Try as we might, we can’t get around 2 large suitcases, and a carry on which contains the suit/dress for elegant night. The good thing though is that we have learned from past experience, pack 1/2 mine and his together in each suitcase (except the elegant night carry on), so if we lose one piece, we still have some clothes/shoes etc. Hubby always packs WAY TOO MUCH, never even wearing 1/4 – 1/3 of what he packs. My clothes are just too big (as I am plus size). My new rule is pack what I want and take out 5 things – each of us. We never miss them.

    4. Ashley
      June 12th, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

      Elizabeth, that’s a great story! I’ve cut way back on the jewelry by bringing more neutral pieces that I can wear with everything.

      Brian, congrats to your wife. How did she do it? I could use her tips! Ha.

      Shari, I’m definitely going to try your “take out five things” rule next time I travel. Thanks for sharing!

    5. Terri
      June 13th, 2012 @ 8:31 am

      After many, many cruises, have weaned myself from the quantity of shoes that I thought were absolutely necessary. This started after I found my one pair of heels when we packed to go home as forgot to wear them with the beige dress. Now only pack a few pair of Dearform ballet shoes for dinner – some with crystals or flowers for formal nights. The space saving is amazing (both suitcase and cabin) and love the comfort.

    6. Marie
      June 13th, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

      For my very first cruise I packed one pair of walking sandals for use on board the ship and for sightseeing, one dressy pair of shoes for evenings and one pair of flip flops to use by the pool or as slippers. On the first day a strap on my sandals gave way leaving me with only a pair of dressy high heels and a pair of flip flops for the rest of the 21 day cruise. I ended up buying an overpriced pair of tennis shoes. Now I take a minimum of two pairs of walking shoes, one of which is almost always an old, tried and true pair that I can count on.

    7. Judy
      June 13th, 2012 @ 6:09 pm

      I know the feeling when it comes to packing, but don’t forget the sunscreen. It’s usually more expensive wherever you’re traveling to, and if it’s more expensive you’re less likely to slather it on like you should! :)


    8. Patti
      June 14th, 2012 @ 10:45 am

      Just booked our seventh cruise. I gain packing skills each time. For the last 7-day cruise we each took one carry-on. It worked out well although we didn’t do formal night since there was no room for my husband’s dress clothes. He decided to wear his suit coat as a jacket to the airport next time so we can do formal night in the dining room. I don’t know how well that is going to work. I only pack one pair of dressy shoes and wear them each night to dinner. If they are a neutral color (I like black) you can easily pack clothing that will work with the same shoes. Wear comfortable shoes to the airport, pack a pair of flip-flops and throw in a pair of casual sandals and you will have enough shoes for the entire cruise.

    9. Dale
      June 18th, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

      We both wear our sneakers, They are too heavy to pack and when standing in security and check-in lines, our toes are better protected. The sneakers are also great for the gym, walking track and off-shore excursions.
      I bring a pair of black and a pair of brown leather slides with 1-2″ heels and wear them for casual and formal nights (much more comfortable than heels) and I am ALL about comfort! Throw in a pair of flip-flops and I’m set.

    10. Rae
      August 10th, 2012 @ 7:21 am

      How i usually pack is, I’ll take everything cute/trendy then realize I also need the newest additions to my closet from my last shopping day and tehn realize I’m just gonna wanna be comfy so I throw in those as well. Then i take all shoes relevant and dont realize I didn’t need to till after I start packing to go home :/

    11. Marjorie Sell
      April 9th, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

      Our ship (Celebrity Millenium) had no laundry facilities for passengers to use, so I packed a ton of stuff for an 11-nighter to Hawaii. Tropical weather makes you sweaty, so it’s rare to be able to wear outfits twice, except evening dresses. You can spot the savvy packers ‘cuz they wear the little black dress and don’t try to be trendy like I did. Next time I’ll stick to two colors and mix and match. Sounds boring, but it’s the cheapest and efficient way to travel. Packing tons of clothes is stupid, but I am so guilty of being stupid, and I vow to change. Honest!

    12. Laura
      August 12th, 2014 @ 10:50 pm

      I’m not sure why people act like it is some great virtue to bring only one carry-on bag. Don’t they realize that they look like they only brought one bag? I pack how much I need for a trip to look and feel my best. After all, I’m on vacation not at a work camp. I don’t want to be wearing the same black dress or floral cover-up in every photo posted on Facebook. Plus, what if something happens to one of my few pieces of clothing? I’d have to pay way too much for something from one of the cruise ship’s limited shops. I’m not a crazy over-packer. I bring one checked bag under 50 lbs and one carry-on bag that has a swimsuit and a change of clothes in it. I know a lot of people think that’s a lot stuff but those people are probably wearing a wrinkled shirt and dirty sandals.

    13. stedor
      January 11th, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

      totally agree with Laura, I go on holiday to feel good. Don’t understand why men (my hubby) don’t get this. A bag might as well be full as half empty!

    14. Bibliophile96
      January 31st, 2015 @ 2:49 am

      I hate re-wearing clothes. But I always try to stick to a color scheme whhen I am traveling so that way after I wash verything, I can rewear all of the same pieces in different ways. Everyone STILL thinks I am an overpacker, yes, but who was allowed to see church services because she brought appropiate clothes whereas everyone else did not (haha!). At least I am finally down to taking only wearing one set of jewelry instead of taking a roll with me. If I could just cut down on makeup now…

    15. s2kreno
      March 11th, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

      I use those space-saving bags. They have them at Wal-Mart in the travel section and they allow me to put a suitcase of clothing into a carry-on. Did a ten-day trip from Montreal to Boston (summer and fall clothes and formal wear) with just the one carryon plus my laptop bag. Also a 2 week trip to Hawaii with the one carry-on. I pick one palette — either black / silver/cool colors or brown/gold warm ones and stick to it. So it’s a pair of strappy heels, a pair of sneakers and a pair of casual sandals for shoes. Everything I bring goes with several things and I have a few microfiber or silk things that wash easily enough in the sink and dry quickly on hangers. My grandmother was a tour guide and she taught me a lot. Lick how to wash your clothes in the shower. sandwich them between towels on the floor and then walk on them to get most of the moisture out.

    16. Mike Ferguson
      April 2nd, 2015 @ 7:27 am

      Clothing? Hah!!! Try being a tech-geeky wannabe! Laptop, iPad, iPhone, a point-n-shoot camera, not one, but TWO SLR cameras [and 4 extra lenses], a video camera [High Def] AND a waterproof underwater video camera. Oh yeah… batteries, chargers, and the cables needed to connect, interface, and download. My problem then begins with “where do I put ANY clothes?!?!”
      I CAN relate!!

    17. DJ Rinier
      April 12th, 2015 @ 12:37 am

      My husband and I have been traveling for 40+ years. At first with our 18 month old son. That was the challenge to bring food, vitamins and toys & clothes. Life and times change. But I found out pick a climate,then a dark color for say NY or a light color for Miami or LA. Be ready for bad weather and flight cancellations. Keep your meds with you and an extra pr of undies. I check most of the luggage. We were coming back from the south and got grounded in snow. I had at least a scarf and windbreaker on me. I wont wear expensive jewelry. Pearls work. Almost all of the material is what I call packable. the kind of blouse or skirt you can throw on the floor and walk on it and pick it up and it looks good to wear. Yes we wash clothes. 14 days on a cruise or 2 weeks in Europe. I also keep the souveniers to a minimum.

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