We've all seen these people and, inevitably, at some point we've actually been these people. The urge to overpack is a phenomenon most people experience in their early travel years and eventually outgrow. But some never quite make the connection between overpacking and the resulting inconvenience and misery it creates for them - and sometimes fellow travellers.
Thus, I present my totally non-debatable, tough-love list of things that, unless you're moving to Papua New Guinea for more than a year, you should never pack.
More than one suitcase
If there is one thing on this list that can be easily avoided, it's bringing two suitcases. I've known seasoned travellers on short trips that routinely travel with two giant, rolling suitcases, big and heavy enough to be holding actual kitchen sinks. What are people putting in those things that they can't live without for two weeks? Madness. The unforgiveable part is when this packing indulgence affects others, like all the innocent shins bashed while dragging the double-wide bags through airports and train stations or the already exhausted fellow travellers that succumb to the social pressure to help the guilty parties heave those things off luggage carousels. Any bag (never mind two) that a perfectly healthy adult can't lift on to a bus without assistance should be emptied and repacked.
Full disclosure: the hostel guitar guys are my nemeses. You know the guys. They brought their guitars on their three-month backpacking trip because 'I can't live without my music, man.' Then they station themselves in the centre of the hostel each evening and force their hobby on unwilling bystanders. Piano, tuba and bagpipe players are miraculously able to get through a trip without their instruments, not to mention every other person on the planet with a hobby, so why are guitar guys uniquely unable to travel without their instruments for a few weeks or months? Also, those damn things take up critical space on buses and trains. I don’t care if you're the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix, leave your guitar at home.
Would you bring a full-sized mirror or a full-sized frying pan? Of course not. I'm not totally unsympathetic to pillow people. Being a light sleeper, I know the singular frustration of sleeping – read, failing to sleep – on planes better than most. After years of scepticism and mild mocking, I admitted my folly and bought an inflatable neck pillow and it changed my life. Take advantage of modern innovation or use an airplane pillow.
Unless you're heading to Cannes to screen the film that you wrote, directed and starred in, travel and glamour do not belong together. If having perfect hair is that important, you probably aren't cut out for travel. Moreover, if you're staying in a hotel, there will almost certainly be a hairdryer hanging on the bathroom wall anyway. Same goes for shampoo, conditioner, soap and all the other grooming/styling goop. Your skin will not disintegrate in only a couple days if you leave the fancypants stuff at home and your sex appeal (probably) won't be affected by the temporary absence of hair fixer.
The only reasons to bring a pet on an airplane is if you're never returning home or if one genuinely needs a service dog. That's it. Bringing a dog on a short trip, or travelling with a cat for any reason, is just plain cruel. They become anxious and scared. And you may be risking their lives. Even the mellowest, best trained service dogs have their travel limitations, as we learned in May when a dog on a delayed Los Angeles-Philadelphia flight decided he'd forestalled nature's call long enough and unloaded so much poop into the aisle that the flight had to be diverted to Kansas City. Leave your pets in their happy places!
More than two pair of shoes
I'll let this stretch to three pair of shoes if you're going to a wedding or accepting a lifetime achievement award or some such. Otherwise, limit it to casual shoes and dress shoes. Or dress shoes and sandals. Notice I didn't say high heels.
Don't shoot the messenger, please. When I posted a call for suggestions on social media for items to include on this list, 'children' was the number one apparently serious reply. But if you must bring your spawn, please, for the love of Buddha, leave the noisy toys at home, namely video games without headsets. Even a short flight with that racket will drive fellow passengers bonkers.
Just because you're heading home doesn't excuse you from packing like an idiot. Nothing unnecessarily complicates travel like rainsticks, hammocks, rice paddy hats, didgeridoos, bamboo art or the giant walking stick you found while hiking in Costa Rica. Even if there was enough space in the overhead bins for such nonsense, those things will likely get damaged during take-off or landing anyway. Instead of bringing that stuff home, take a picture. It'll last longer.
Leave these things at home, the lightning round:
- A carry-on bag that you literally can't carry. With the exception of people who are prohibitively old or sick, any bag you can't easily lift above your head should be checked.
- Coffee/coffee maker: cowboy up and drink the local coffee for a week. You'll live.
- Blender: this green smoothies fad is officially out of control.
- Snorkelling gear: unless you have a prescription mask, rent gear at the destination.
- Full-sized umbrella: who are you, Mary Poppins?
- Audio speakers: so you can force your musical tastes on other people in the hostel/hotel? Don't be a jerk. Also, those huge headphones are just begging to be mocked.
- Fanny packs: have some self-respect. Also, trust me when I tell you that you don't want to say 'fanny' around anyone from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and minimalist packing wizard-guru-ninja-Jedi. He’s visited 52 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.