In Defense of Overpacking

It’s all fun and games until someone realizes she forgot to pack underwear. It was very nearly the end of my seven-year-old world the first time it happened to me. I am a strict rule-follower with impeccable hygiene, so despite my careless oversight, “Don’t wear any,” or, “Flip the ones you wore yesterday inside-out,” were not viable solutions. I was the one who had packed this bag; I was the one who had forfeited adult assistance. I was bare-bottomed and stranded — emotionally, sartorially and metaphorically, too hubris-filled to ask the family friends with whom I was staying to make a pit stop at Target. I do not remember the weekend’s outcome, but I’ve packed three pairs for every one overnight since (a five day trip means fifteen pairs, minimum). That is not an exaggeration.

You say over-packer; I call myself a responsible inclusionist. Overweight luggage penalty fees at airlines are baked into my travel budget. My carry-ons are so loaded up that to distribute the excess fat would require a mule. Yet I am never the one who doesn’t have a top that goes with her outfit. I’m never the one who’s cold on a beach vacation when the weather has turned. If one swimsuit’s wet and still drying, I’ve got four more. You forgot one? Here, I lied: I have five. It’s not so much doomsday prepping as it is an “Always Be Prepared” mentality. I pack with all possible outcomes in mind: rainy days, unexpected heat, surprise black-tie occasions and accidental twinning (I hate travel-companion matching). Every outfit also means accompanying shoes, accessories and required underpinnings.

My pajamas are packed just as thoughtfully. What if it’s chilly in the room? What if it’s a thousand degrees? Will there be a documented stay-in night with a heavy Instagram element? 

Then, of course, there are toiletries, and though I’m savvy about how I pack these them (I put foundation, serums, lotions, etc. into old screw-top contact cases), I arrive equipped with a full-size set of my preferred shampoo, conditioner, perfume and shaving cream. I would always rather bear the brunt of my own crap than use the hotel’s life-sucking, rationed-for-a-bald-insect’s excuse for shampoo or worse, that 2-in-1 B.S.

I have heard the well-meaning expression, “stuff ruins trips.” Before it crossed my eardrums, I had a moment of weakness where I might have nearly agreed as I lugged a 65-pound suitcase up five stories in Italy. I had another flash of insanity as I bounced down a series of stone steps on my butt — world’s worst accidental sledding experience — with my suitcase crashing into my back. So much fun. And I know the drill: that when you pack the whole closet, inevitably you’ll end up wearing the same pair of shorts for ten days straight. But these tiny spells are short and fleeting. Schlep misery ends once you’re in the door. Vacations begin, for me, the moment I unzip my duffel and place, one by by one, about twenty pairs of underwear in a new adventure’s drawer.

Illustration by Juliana Vido; follow her on Instagram @julianavido.

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  • Here to say that the old contact case trick is brrrrrrilliant and I am stealing that from now on!

    • Amelia Diamond

      do it and it makes you realize how little product you actually NEED to use at home, makes stuff last longer because of it!

  • Caroline

    What if I need more socks than ever because there are puddles everywhere
    What if I suddenly really want to underdress for this wedding
    What if I get this and that one pink jacket I have would have actually been the ONLY PERFECT JACKET

    These are contingencies that must be packed for!!! Amen amen to this article and we the over-prepared

  • There are gems like “responsible inclusionist” in almost every MR read and I love you all for it.

  • T-Fierce

    “Will there be a documented stay-in night with a heavy Instagram element?” << something we all need to remember to be packing for. And then the cute workout clothes in case there's a photo op during your walk on the beach . . .

  • Elizabeth

    Amelia…yes. I bring 3 undies/day too (day pair, night pair, emergency backup pair) and always bring my own full sized hair products. Hotel rations are the worst but so is being the friend who uses “just a little” of someone’s stash but then blacks out and ends up with a palmful of $$$ conditioner!!!

  • I am EXACTLY the same, you can never overpack!!
    Great post

    Kirsty x |

  • Harriet Johns

    Everyone trash talks me for overpacking & then constantly borrows my stuff, its endless.

  • Argy

    Isn’t there a happy in-between?

  • Maurissa Dahms

    THANK YOU for the justification to pack all of everything for my trip to Tokyo this weekend!!!!

    • Meg S

      If you haven’t been to Tokyo, I can guarantee you will love it. Be sure to hit up the Meiji Shrine.

      • Maurissa Dahms

        We’re planning on it! And this is my first time; super freaking excited!

        • Meg S

          What kind of things are you planning on doing? We did some interesting things – there’s a mall with all kinds of really interesting Japanese alternative fashion, and I bought some jewelry. I didn’t make it to Cat Street, but Takeshita Street was pretty interesting. I somehow figured out how to get reservations at a Butler Cafe. We did a lot of pop culture things that you can really only experience in Japan. And you’re in Tokyo, so why not? How long will you be there?

          • Maurissa Dahms

            We’re doing a bit of everything: a baseball game, temples/shrines/gardens, hopefully the art museum, as much shopping as my husband can handle, (I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair of vintage-y jeans), and literally all the food that we can consume. I definitely want to explore Harajuku and Omotesando, and Shinjuku, which is where we’re staying. It’s going to be wicked hard to pack it all in to the long weekend, but luckily we live on Guam, which is less than a 4 hour flight away!

          • Meg S

            Definitely check Harajuku and Shibuya for resale/vintage shops. I packed Tokyo into a weekend with my friend while we were in South Korea, because I didn’t know when we would be back in Asia. We stayed in Shinjuku too. I wish it was such a short flight for me, but my flight to Seoul was a little over 13 hours. So long. At least it was overnight.

  • Meg S

    What if it’s colder in Germany and Paris than I think it will be? I’ve never been to Paris, and I’ve never been to Germany in June. What should I wear in Paris not to look like a tourist in Paris though I’ll look like one anyway? I might need those abstract flats that are really sketchers but don’t look it. Of course I need two pairs of sneakers. Motorcycle boots. Three more pairs of flats. As many pairs of skinny jeans as I can fit. All my regularly worn cardigans. Two blouses, two pants, two dresses. Leggings. Allergy medication. Pain killers. Bandaids. Half of Lush in my carry on because I can’t pick just one shampoo bar and one conditioner bar. That would be too easy. Repacking in the airport to make sure my luggage is under the weight limit, and that all my ‘but I need it now’ liquids are still in that tiny bag.

    And I’ll probably get there and wish I had brought something that I didn’t. Oh well.

  • Katie

    This is brilliant!! I just showed it to my mum as we’re guilty of over-packing and saw her on the couch throwing her head back laughing multiple times! You’ve now made us proud of being over-packers :’)

  • Carrieanne Luicadi

    This is me. It started when i was around 6/7, when my family and i went on our first (and last) caravan holiday. We arrived after 3 hours of driving on busy motorways, to which my mum found my whole underwear drawer on the parcel-shelf in the boot of the car! When i say the whole drawer i do not mean i packed them in a bag or case; i mean i actually took the drawer from the dressing unit and placed it in the car. Needless to say every holiday since my dad always asks if i’ve packed my apple catchers…

  • Elizabeth

    I always dressed based on those around me when I’m away, i guess because I hate feeling like a tourist. Because of this I am a terrible packer, I don’t know how people will dress until I get there and by then its too late. I live in a cold and wet country, so I’ll see a weather forecast of 60 degrees and get over excited, packing my favourite summer dresses only to see everyone else is wearing jeans and sweaters. I’ll pack a colourful collection of garments, only to arrive in Paris and see everyone is wearing black. I dress up when everyone else is dressed down. I’ll wear jeans and a tshirt when everyone else is wearing ball gowns. I hate myself in these moments. I never fail to disappoint. I need to start praying to the packing gods. Overpacking for everything seems like a somewhat impractical but still effective resolution.

  • Basil

    I love how you’re the yin to Leandra’s yang. I hope you two travel together because I’m assuming together you pack an average person’s luggage.

    I totally agree on shampoo – my husband relies on hotel shampoo but 1. He doesn’t really care about his hair and 2. It shows

  • Kay Nguyen

    If you’re like me – a extremely picky shopper – it’s very hard to just go out and buy something. You never know what’s gonna happen so it’s better safe than sorry!

  • Adrianna

    I don’t travel a lot, but when we do we tend to pack as many locations as possible in a span of 1-2 weeks. That means we’re carrying and dragging our luggage every day or every three days.

  • Ciccollina

    Finally, a girl that understands the peril of having the perfect thing to wear….at home….in your closet. Nothing is more painful than wishing it had been included in your luggage. Nothing.

  • LaRissa Foster

    All of these websites have been making me feel horrible for over packing (with my 28″ suitcase + 22″ carry-on) for my 2 week trip to Italy & London this month! My bad for not wanting to look like an American tourist, and for wanting to have multiple options to be prepared for ANY situation… and for making my personalized toiletries a necessity LOL. Thanks so much for this post! 🙂

  • LaRissa

    All of these websites have been making me feel horrible for overpacking (with my 28″ suitcase + 22″ carry-on) for my 2 week trip to Italy & London this month! My bad for not wanting to look like an American tourist, and for wanting to have multiple options to be prepared for ANY situation… and for making my personalized toiletries a necessity LOL. Thanks so much for this post! 🙂