Disposable Packing: Take it & Leave it

Shannon Whitney

Around here, we’re proud of how light we travel. To a traditional vacationer, our bags are pretty small and our loads are unusually light. No checked bags and simple wardrobes are our speed.

But what if we took it one step further?

What if we came back from a trip with even less than we took. Like, nothing at all. Take a capsule wardrobe to the extreme: make it a disposable wardrobe.

The idea of disposable packing is appealing for those who want to tote back a bag full of souvenirs (or maybe PBR). If you tossed your clothes after wearing them, you could avoid a huge pile of laundry upon arriving home and have plenty of room for exotic new duds from far away lands, instead of the mall.

But, my Clothes!

Sure, if you’re the kind of person who invests in long-lasting pieces, this approach is not going to be for you. Throw away packing doesn’t mean pitching your brand-name jeans, new sneakers, and Patagonia after wearing them for a month or two abroad.

We do not recommend deciding to do this once you’ve already left home. In order to execute this strategy properly, you have to pack with intention to leave behind. For starters, grab some of your older clothes. You know, the ones you love and are not quite ready to get rid of. They’re on their way out anyway. Why not give them a Cher-style farewell tour? Make some killer memories in them exploring new places and then say goodbye.

Another option is to pick up basics at a thrift store. Find comfortable jeans for under $20. At Goodwill you’ll find cardigans and simple tops in a rainbow of colors. Get stuff you like and things you look good in on the cheap, knowing that they will meet their end on a different continent or state.

Another reasonably inexpensive option is at the mall. Check out the usual bargain stores  like H&M, Old Navy, Target and Forever 21 for trendy and reasonable clothes. I find most of these clothes don’t last more than a season at home. They’re not made to be heirloom-quality, so I wouldn’t feel bad washing that sundress a couple of times and then leaving it behind. I’ve bought jeggings at Forever 21 for $7.80, they lasted about a year, perfect for a summer abroad.

Pros and Cons

Let’s start with the downsides. If you’re not wearing good clothes that you truly love, you run the risk of being uncomfortable. Old clothes (especially from cheap-o places) often get too tight, stretched out, and shrink or fade after a while. You don’t want to be running around London adjusting your leggings on every corner.

If they’re not quality clothes, you can’t always expect high performance. If you take $15 shoes, they might blister, but shoes that cost $150 could rub too. Some belongings are worth the investment, I would be wary of really cheap coats and shoes in particular. Be sure to give everything, new or old, a test run.

Depending on where you’re going and who’s traveling with you, it’s possible you won’t ever see those people again. Looking your absolute best is not necessary- it’s ok if your shirt is a little stretched out around the sleeves. At the same time, I want to look and feel put together. More importantly, I don’t want to regret my outfits in every vacation photo- a risk when wearing older clothes.

Moving on to the advantages of throw away packing: a lighter bag! Wooohooo! More room to bring back treasures for your family and friends.

I love the idea of coming home to no laundry. Unpacking is a reminder that the fun is over and it’s back to the grind. If you leave your clothes behind, there’s much less to do upon returning.

There’s a popular rule that says every time you buy something new, you have to clear something old out of your closet. If you’re a follower, disposable packing makes room for the new stuff you bought in Asia and lessens clutter in your drawers in general.

Throw Away Items

Not ready to fully commit? I’m not either. How about throwing away just a thing or two from your bag to make room. I’m not saying a total overhaul, just enough space for a couple of pounds of Guatemalan coffee, okay?

Tennis shoes– They take up a lot of room. Pack your oldest ones and wear sandals or boat shoes for the trip back. I’ve done this a few times and never regretted it. Sneakers come and go, this is just about timing it with your trip.

Coat– Another space hog in your bag. If you’re going somewhere seriously cold or a place you need performance gear, this isn’t for you.

UnderwearDisposable underwear is a real thing. While I’m not sure that’s my speed, the panties I like are not expensive, so I wouldn’t be sad to part with them. On the other hand, they don’t take up a lot of room or weight, so they probably wouldn’t make a dent in my belongings.

Pajamas – If you wear an old shirt and shorts or flannels, why not say goodbye? You probably have a bunch of other old shirts you can use later and this means less to carry home.

Toiletries– Bring bottles from hotels, use them up and leave ’em.

Books– If you’re still fighting the e-reader craze and finish one on your trip, chances are you don’t want to haul it back. Gift it to someone who’ll read it (don’t throw it away!) or leave it on a library shelf at your hostel. Maybe even swap out your book for something you haven’t read yet.

Wet clothes– If you like to swim or dive in a tshirt or hat and it’s wet when it’s time to go, forget it. Be sure to pack clothes for this purpose that aren’t important to you.

Be Responsible

If your clothes are totally ruined when you’re done with them, by all means, pitch them. If they are still in reasonable shape but you no longer want or need them, find someone who does. If possible, donate. Leave clothes with someone in particular, so they aren’t thrown away. You can also turn them in yourself to your hotel or hostel lost and found. Those are usually cleaned out and the items are donated from time to time.

So what do you think? Would you leave your clothes behind?  Do you find this too indicative of disposable American culture and clothes? Or, would you appreciate a lighter load and more room for goodies?


Have you ever tried packing clothes with the intent of not bringing them home? Give yourself more room in your suitcase on the way home and clean out your closet on your next trip.

If you’re not ready to pitch everything, you can leave behind a key item or two like shoes, toiletries, pajamas or books.

Image: tabsinthe (Flickr)