Luke Armstrong | Feb 24, 2021
I don't know how it happens, but somehow it always happens—my bag fills up when I'm only halfway through packing the pile of stuff I planned to take. As a location independent travel writer, I live out of a bag, so I've spent many a late night hour before a flight pondering a pile of stuff and wondering what is and what is not necessary to bring.
Over the last few years, I've taken note of the extraneous things that I'm consistently hauling around the globe. Many commonly brought items do not need to be packed because they are easily procured in most any location that has an international airport service to it. Here's a list of things to consider nixing from your packing list to make room for more important things—like a bear mask to impress the locals (always a huge hit).
It's something you need, but not something you need to pack since it's available in most any country where the sun is shining bright enough to burn you. Unless you are picky and want a specific brand of sunscreen, why not just grab it on the other side and ditch it with some fair skinned traveler on the last day of you trip?
Ladies, feel free to skip this one. While clothing companies have us thinking otherwise, swimming trunks can leave the pool to run the trails and there’s nothing athletic shorts love more than a dip in the pool. This may blow some minds, but subtract marketing and swimming trunks and athletic shorts are the essentially the same thing.
While my inner Boy Scout in me is upset to see me type this, unless you will be trekking away from civilization, a first aid kit tends to remain untouched on trips. Even if you need first aid on your trip, most travelers never take it out of their room (when was the last time you seriously injured yourself in your hotel room?). To be on the safe side, bring a few band-aids and antiseptic wipes in your wallet, but leave the kit at home.
Ladies, don't crucify me for this one, but shoes take up a lot of space. I opt for a good pair of waterproof hiking boots which look stylish enough to pull off evening outings. Because I'm a jogger, I've switched to the Vibram five finger running shoes which take up a third of the space as regular runners.
Sidebar: if you're traveling for business purposes, this question does not apply to you. Coming from the guy who earns his living via his laptop, this is an interesting item to include. But on a short trip, it's one more expensive piece of equipment to worry about protecting and it’s capable of preventing you from getting the most out of your trip by distracting you with Facebook, email and other social media networks. Unless you absolutely need it, leave it and find yourself more present in the intrepid moment.
Yes, you do need some clothes. I'm not advocating that you become a nudist, but I do suggest you make a pile of clothes to pack and then cut it in half. Clothes are what everyone always seems to over pack. Since people wear clothes most everywhere in the world, if you under-pack, pick up some new duds at your destination. These then become souvenirs, as in, "This is my yak jacket I got in Mongolia!"
Take this one with some salt, especially if you're going to be roughing it in the bush. But if you're traveling on the beaten path, think about how much you use your flashlight at home. That's about how much you'll use it on your trip. Worst comes to worst, you can buy one for a few bucks on the other side and give it to a grateful kid before you leave.
Bring your toiletries, but if you're over-packed and need to make space, or you're going carry-on only, nix em. All you really need is a toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste to keep that breath fresh while in transit. Everything else you can get when you get there and leave behind upon your return.
I'm likely the worst offender in the world on this one. Not likely, I am. I just flew from Japan to the U.S. with six books in my bag. Even after I purchased a Kindle, I still tend to have way too many books with me. Once I carried a 1,200-page novel from Chile to Colombia without opening it. It's easy to assume that you will have plenty of time to read on a trip, but in reality, you will likely be doing more than reading. If you run out of reading materials, English language books tend to be available everywhere. Leaving it to chance will introduce you to books you might have never otherwise opened.
Travel guidebooks are great resources, but I recommend reading them ahead of time and bringing notes instead of the bulky guidebook. They not only take up space, but they limit your experience to what one guidebook writer has found. As a travel writer I'm a believer that people should carve their own path rather than following exactly someone else's. The best travel guides are the ones that walk on two legs - the people you befriend when you get there.
Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.