How to Kick Your Over-Packing Habits

If you're a college student reading this, chances are that spring break was pretty recent for you. And while most are reminiscing about the fun memories (or lack thereof), there’s one thing about travel that’s often overlooked until the very last minute: how to pack. This seemingly small detail actually becomes extremely important when looking at budgeting for trips, the weather conditions you will be dealing with, and overall stress and anxiety leading up to a trip.

Coming from someone who goes to school in Utah but whose family lives across the country, I have had my fair share of travel experience just in the two years I’ve been here. Even last weekend I took a total of four flights just to make it home for a couple of days. (Side note: I’m extremely grateful that having such a large scholarship to school gives me the opportunity to save up money to fly so much.) This goes without even mentioning that I am obsessed with clothes and always want to take my cutest outfits everywhere I go. So, in that time, I’ve come to live by some rules and tips in particular that have helped me change my old over-packing ways into a case study in traveling light. Here are six of my tips to help anyone who struggles with packing for trips long and short, near and far, to destinations both cold and warm.

1. Choose your airline strategically

For domestic flights, I almost always fly Southwest, which is the only airline that offers two free checked bags, plus a free carry-on and personal item. So, if you are willing to pay less to be able to take more and not be assigned a specific seat, that is my first recommendation. In certain cases, other airlines might offer a free personal item and carry-on, which is more than enough room to work with for most regular trips. For international flights, watch out for discount airlines’ steep baggage fees. When my friends and I took a trip last summer, we actually came up with the idea to split two large checked bags rather than pay for separate carry-on’s and this is something that came in handy for saving money. Occasionally, it’s easy to be tempted to pay for more baggage, but the more you save on travel the more you can spend during your trip which is much more worth it.

2. Don’t leave packing until the last minute

Once again, I speak from experience when I say I am the biggest procrastinator I know. But, leaving your packing for the night before sets you up for failure in multiple ways. First of all, it leads to a ton of unnecessary stress. Packing should make you excited for your upcoming trip, not exhausted, stressed, and frustrated. Putting off packing also makes it more likely to forget things that you actually need. Finally, and most importantly, packing the night before a trip does not allow you the time you need to be able to truly make a good judgment call about weeding out pieces that you won’t really need for your trip. In order to do so, I recommend packing 2-3 days before a trip, and then unpacking and repacking your suitcase the night before, thinking critically about each piece you’re taking. (Sounds kind of Marie Kondo, but hey! It works)

3. Make sure your clothes are put away before you start packing

If you are running around your house, attempting to frantically do laundry at the last minute, or searching through that pile of kind-of-clean, kind-of-dirty clothes on your floor, you are doing yourself a disservice when it comes to packing. Once again, this stems both from using up mental space or causing stress as well as limiting your time to think clearly about what you are packing. In most situations, cleaning my space allows me to destress, and the same goes for packing. If what you want to pack is in the place where it should be, it will make it easier and quicker for you to find everything you need without forgetting things that are misplaced. This tip also helps for the unpacking portion of the trip.

4. Don’t waste your personal item

Almost all flights will give a free personal item to each person who flies. This can include anything from a small purse to a backpack, as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. My biggest tip: always go for the backpack option. Personal items are the perfect place to store smaller items like chargers and makeup, things that are valuable and you want to keep on you at all times, or any kind of jackets and backup clothing just in case. Additionally, if you want to take a small to medium sized purse along, you can put it inside of a backpack to make it count as one personal item rather than two. Lastly, having this little bit of extra space gives you some wiggle room for budgeting space for any kind of souvenirs/extra purchases you gained. My personal item usually houses a combination of my laptop, notebooks/journals, chargers/electronics, cosmetics, wallet, purse, food, and a jacket. And of course, wear your largest and heaviest clothing pieces while traveling.

5. Think realistically

For any kind of trip, people tend to overestimate the amount of space they need to actually pack what they are taking. A really good way to not over pack is to consciously give yourself less space than you think you need. I’ve realized that a full carry-on can last people up to 10 or 11 days, a medium sized suitcase can last someone 2-3 weeks, and a large suitcase can last a month or even longer, depending on the person and the season. Obviously, you will need more space if you are traveling with lots of outerwear, and you should be sure to account for this. Another small thing that can make a big difference is to make sure almost all of your items fit without using the expander function on the suitcase. Lastly, on the note of realism, be sure to always prepare for the worst when it comes to baggage. Make sure to pack a spare change of clothes and anything you would not be willing to lose in the pieces of luggage that will stay with you through the duration of your traveling. Also, think about what your journey to and from the airport will consist of, and how much luggage you would really be willing to cart around with you. And, if you are really concerned about pushing the weight limits of items, be sure to bring a bag scale along to weigh things before you get to the airport.

6. Pack less than you think you need for everything but socks and underwear

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Overall, packing for trips is a daunting task for most of us, especially those who feel a strong connection to our clothing as a means of self-expression. But, with these tips in mind, plus a little practice in time and stress management, anyone can successfully kick their over-packing habits.