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Stop Overpacking!

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

I just went on a 2 week road trip adventure to Idaho and Colorado. I knew I overpacked but I didn’t know to what extent until I got home and unpacked.

packing and overpacking
The pile of everything we didn't use (this is from 3 of us)!

I put everything into 3 piles - things I used, things I didn’t use and souvenirs. I was actually quite shocked at what I didn’t use!

What I saw as a visual was that I could have packed HALF of what I actually packed. Since it was a road trip I somehow felt like I could bring more because I had the space not because I actually needed everything.

travel and what to pack on vacation

Listed below are 10 things I learned to help prevent overpacking.

All clothes should go together, think capsule type wardrobe. Layers are best!

When you are planning outfits, it helps if all your shirts go with all your pants and shorts. I like to pack 2 tops to each pair of bottoms. Shoes and socks should also go with all your outfits.

Go with a color theme like blacks, greens and grays with a couple brighter colors that go together like a coral or yellow. You can incorporate different patterns as well to switch it up. I pack a variety of tanks, tees, capris, shorts, leggings depending on the climate.

what to wear on vacation and what to pack

I could have packed less warmer clothes if I thought about doing more layers to keep warm or stay cool.

Do not pack anything that you will only wear once, UNLESS an outfit is used for a special occasion.

pirate adventures in hawaii
Example of a time we knew we were going on a pirate cruise and only planned to wear the outfit this day.

Try on all your clothes before you pack them

Always try on your outfits before you pack them. You never know if it still fits or has a hole in it. When you have an outfit together, take a picture of it for a visual so you know what you packed.

outfit choices for vacation

I’ve been on trips where I take a shirt out and I don’t like the way it looks on me so I never use it. I could have saved that space or replaced it with something I liked better.

Just because there is room to bring it doesn’t mean you should bring it

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said oh I have a little bit of room here, maybe I’ll stuff this in there. 9 times out of 10 I did not need that extra thing I put in my bag.

Allow for extra space in your bag because it might come in handy when you want to take home souvenirs.

Know what activities you are doing and pretend you are going that day, what would you wear?

If you are going on a swimming adventure, pretend you are going there that day and pack what you would wear including shoes. I need a hat, swimsuit, cover-up, sandals, towel, sunscreen, chapstick, beach bag, go pro and dry bag.

going to the beach and what to pack on vacation for a warm climate

If you plan to hike a lot during the day or during the night, plan accordingly. It gets colder when the sun goes down so pack a warm layer.

Pay attention to what you wear the week before and only take those things with you. If you don’t use it at home in a week, what makes you think you will use it on vacation?

Do laundry on your trip

I think one of the biggest things I noticed was how many things I brought multiples of even when I knew I was going to do laundry. I did not need 4 pairs of leggings or 4 long sleeve shirts. One or two would have been plenty. I didn’t need 14 pairs of underwear.

How many days will you go before doing laundry? We did a load of laundry after 5 days which was perfect and then again 4-5 days later.

It’s also nice to do laundry before you leave so you can unpack all clean clothes.

Coordinate with your travel mates

For all items that you can share, try to coordinate with the person or people you are traveling with so you have more space.

Examples of shared items include shampoo, soap, clorox wipes, kleenex, backpack (can you share one on your hike), cooler or snack bag, sunscreen, lotion, umbrella, water filter, etc.

Pack outfits that you LOVE and that you’ve worn before

When you go on vacation you don’t need to pack 2 outfits per day (unless you are going to a hot climate and sweat a ton). Try to pack one outfit per 2 days.

When you are at home you probably wear your favorite outfit multiple times per week. I tend to pick a couple favorite shirts or shorts and continue to wear them while on vacation. So remember to pack your favorites.

Look at past vacation photos and see what you were wearing. Sometimes I forget what my favorites were but I look back on photos and I'm wearing the same thing for multiple days.

Just because you have the perfect dress for a Hawaiian vacation doesn’t mean you are going to wear it. If you haven’t worn it at home you probably won't wear it on vacation.

You don’t need multiples of everything just in case

I tend to pack multiples of everything just in case. I need to stop thinking that way. If something breaks I can always buy it when I’m at the store on vacation. We pass a ton of targets, walmarts, small stores, etc. If it’s something I can’t get and can’t live without then yes it makes sense to have a second one with me.

I do not need to pack 2 brushes, 2 lotions, 3 pairs of sunglasses, 2 pairs of sandals, etc. just in case something happens to one. If something happens to my sunglasses I will just have to buy another pair which I would do anyways. I once forgot my extra pair of sunglasses (which I can’t live without) and I made it the whole vacation with one pair of sunglasses. Crazy! It’s a mindset thing for me that I need to shift.

Pack in categories with cubes or smaller bags

As I packed and repacked at various hotels and places we stayed, I ended up reorganizing quite a bit for what I needed at different times.

When you go to a hotel for one night it’s great to have a small bag with toiletries, pajamas and an extra outfit instead of taking your whole bag into the hotel.

Pack a bag with all your warm gear so if it gets cold you can just take that bag out and add layers. Have a small bag that has everything you need if it rains (raincoat, umbrella, etc). Have your swimsuit, sunscreen and towels in another small bag.

Think about how and when you will be using each item and try to put them together instead of searching multiple bags for multiple things. This will help to organize your things and avoid overpacking items.

When you get home from a vacation separate out what you didn’t use

This was a huge visual for me to see how much I actually overpacked! I used 50% of what I packed. That’s crazy and really made me think about my overpacking problem.

Below is what I packed and my thought process about bringing or not bringing next time.

what to pack on vacation
Everything we packed and used for 3 people

Packed and Used

  • Tennis Shoes

  • Hiking Boots

  • Slip on shoes/flip flops

  • Hiking sandals that can get wet

  • Mole Skin or blister protection of some kind for long hikes

  • Swimsuit (just need one for me, I brought 2 for each of my boys which was good)

  • Medications (pills-tylenol-advil-allergy meds, etc.)

  • Backpack to carry snacks and water. Not everyone needs a backpack, share the load!

  • Raincoat - make sure you have it with you when hiking

  • Waterbottle for everyone - we like our water cold so we all had an insulated water bottle which was awesome because we always had it with us.

  • Thermos for extra water - this was perfect to keep in the car especially when it was extra hot or we had a long day in the car.

  • Snacks for the car or on the trail - probably could have kept it to one bigger snack bag instead of multiple snack bags. We did have a smaller snack bag for the backpack on hikes (could have just put it in the multiple pockets of the pack).

  • Microfiber quick dry towels - these were perfect to keep in the car because you never know when you need a towel

  • Sit pads - great for sitting while hiking and they are lightweight and convenient

  • Chapstick - necessity in dry climates!

  • Plastic bags for wet things - this came in handy for our wet clothes after it downpoured on us and wet/muddy shoes

  • Hand sanitizer - didn’t need to bring 4

  • Laundry soap pods - great for laundry on the road

  • Laundry bag

  • First aid - bandaids

  • Toothbrush, floss and toothpaste

  • Deodorant

  • Shampoo bars are great to save space or travel shampoo

  • Blankets for sleeping (2 per person) We LOVE our blankets

  • Pillow - I did like having my own pillow and it came in handy to use in the car. I would not bring a pillow if I was flying

  • Camera, extra batteries, charger and extra memory cards

  • Cell phone charger and cords

  • Extra battery charging pack

  • Sunglasses (only needed 2 pairs in case one broke - I had 4)

  • Cooler - hard cover and soft

  • Notebook and pens to write notes

  • Dry bags - it was great for my camera and the boat ride

  • Cooling towels - didn’t need 3 of them (only used 1)

  • Hat - I would have only needed 1 not 3

  • Masks

  • Deck of cards

  • Roll of paper towels - must have in the car for napkins, spills, etc.

These are the water bottles we used which were perfect!

Packed and Didn’t Use - still bring next time

  • Lifestraw/water filter - didn’t use but did have it with me for water. I would recommend some kind of water filter if you are going on a long hike because water is heavy and very much needed

  • Sunscreen - I didn’t use it but would only need to bring 1 (we brought 4…what were we thinking!)

  • Headlamps - didn’t use it but I didn’t do night photography like I had planned, could have used in the cave but didn’t have it with us

  • Multiple rain coats - I only needed one raincoat and I brought 2 raincoats and rain pants. When I needed the raincoat I left it in the car.

  • Umbrella - didn’t have it with me when I needed it but it would have been awesome to have, it needs to be handy if you bring it

  • Tripod - I didn’t do night photography which I originally planned to do

  • Ear plugs - never know when your hotel or airbnb is really noisy

overpacking and I brought too much stuff on vacation

Packed and Didn’t Use - consider leaving it home next time

  • Rain pants - I think a poncho would be enough. I have used them on other trips (when I was in Ireland) so I go back and forth with rain pants. Depends on where you are going of course. They also work well as wind pants to keep you warm.

  • Packable Down jacket - would have been fine with layers, but I wasn’t out at night which I originally planned. When the sun goes down it gets cold.

  • Hat and mittens - wasn’t out at night but a jacket with a hood and pockets would have worked just fine

  • Too many underwear and socks

  • Too many pants (leggings in particular)

  • Too many long sleeve shirts

  • Sweatshirts for my kids - one long sleeve would have been enough

  • Lightweight packable down blankets - I brought 2, not sure what I was thinking. Maybe if I was camping?

  • Extra pajamas - only needed 2 pair

  • Vest - maybe in the fall or winter but not needed in the summer

  • Bug nets - didn’t need them for the hiking we did

  • Hand and feet warmers

  • Ice trays - I’ve been places that didn’t have them but everywhere had them this time. I could always just buy a bag of ice.

  • Travel Picnic blanket - I had such good intentions but never used and could leave home next time. I ended up using a towel instead.

  • Water shoes - I used them at the hot springs but I could have used my hiking sandals instead and they have a better grip

Our trunk was packed to the max for the 5 of us!


In the end I know that I like to be over-prepared, which makes me over pack. I like to have everything that I think I may need for any situation which is great but the chances of me having what I need when I need it is like 25%. I either leave it in the car or at the hotel when I actually need it. Hopefully this will help you to not overpack.

When you are debating if you should bring something, ask yourself these questions.

  • Do I use it at home on a regular basis? If no, then why would I use it on vacation?

  • Can I live without it?

  • Can I use something else I packed to fit the need?

  • Do I REALLY need it?

Comment what you tend to overpack that you don’t need. I’d love to hear more suggestions!


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