Buy This Stuff When You Arrive: A Trick to Pack Even Lighter

Laura Lopuch

When my flight’s wheels bounced on sun-baked Florida tarmac, I realized my silly mistake.

Now, we could chalk it up to the head cold I had. Ever tried to think a good think with a head cold? 

Or, we could chalk it up to the fact I’d managed to wrangle a week away from the office — paid, without taking vacation time — a miracle to compete with water turning into wine.

Actually, it was a blessing in disguise. See, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen as protection for my winter-bleached skin against Florida’s hot late-May sun. So I found a local Target and got a bottle. It was the easiest fix. Ever.

Lesson learned: buy it there.

You can do it, too.

3 Tiers of Buy it There Travelers

Buying it there can work for any sort of traveler. Even if you’re just taking baby steps toward lightening your bag. Even if you still *gasp* check a bag.

Types of travelers who buy it there:

Ulta-Light Packers

Your bag is under 30L and you’ve been known to use a daypack as your one-bag on a weekend getaway

Light Packer (but not ultra)

Your travel backpack is the exact maximum carry on size. Depending on duration of your trip, you use every available square inch. Or, you have room to spare.

Beginner Carry On Packer 

You used to pack like a celebrity with 2+ checked bags for a one-week getaway. But on your last trip you packed in a carry on sized roller suitcase. For the first time ever. You’ve managed to step down to carry on sized luggage. Congratulations.

The #1 Mistake You’re Probably Making

Most people are bringing too much stuff. Seriously, you don’t need all that crap you’re hauling around.

See, stuff weighs us down. It needs dusting, gentle handling, and takes up space in our lives. When you’re seeking adventure, what you’re truly seeking is change. And additional stuff is like chains tight around your ankles which are anchored to concrete blocks; it’s keeping you from transforming.

Don’t let your stuff own you. Own your stuff.

Challenge yourself to bring less stuff on your next trip. 

As Tim Ferriss writes:

“If you pack for every contingency — better bring the hiking books in case we go hiking, better bring an umbrella in case it rains, better bring dress shoes and slacks in case we go to a nice restaurant, etc. — carrying a mule-worthy load is inevitable. I’ve learned to instead allocate $50-200 per trip to a “settling fund,” which I use to buy needed items once they’re 100% needed. This includes cumbersome and hassle items like umbrellas and bottles of sunscreen that love to explode. Also, never buy if you can borrow. If you’re going on a bird watching trip in Costa Rica, you don’t need to bring binoculars — someone else will have them.”

Develop a Core Packing List

A core packing list is key. This packing list looks different for everyone, because it’s the answer to a very personal question: “What would force me to call off my trip if I left it at home because it is irreplaceable?”

For me, my most-valuable item is simple: my prescription glasses. Without ‘em, I’m blind as a mole and just as helpless.

With that in mind, here’s a core packing list that addresses those must-haves in your carry on:

Level 1: Start Here

Just starting out in carry on travel? Or, want to shave off unnecessary items from your packing list?

This list helps you examine your carry on with an analytical eye, working towards the answer to “What else can I not bring?”

To begin with, try buying these things when you get there:

  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Laundry detergent
  • Food: snacks, food to cook at your Airbnb,
  • Contact solution (if you wear contact lenses)
  • Women: any makeup you must have + didn’t pack, like ? mascara, blush, foundation

Tips to pull it off

What are the liquid-based items you bring on every trip? For me, it’s shampoo, sunscreen, lotion, and contact lens solution.

Instead of packing all those little 3 oz bottle into my quart baggie, I hit up a Target (or similar store) at my destination and buy them with my snacks and food. Unless I’m staying in a hotel — then I’d snag those small bottles from my hotel bathroom and get new ones after the maid service has swept through.  

Level 2: Learning New Tricks

Already a carry on pro, but your bag is getting heavier despite your best intentions? Or you’re crossing multiple weather zones on one trip? This level is for you. 

Up your game by not packing these items and, instead, buying them there:

  • Swimsuit
  • Umbrella
  • New book for when you finish your current one (if you travel with a physical book)
  • Underwear or socks
  • Weather-relevant shirts (i.e. long-sleeve if you’re in a cold destination)
  • Sweaters
  • Swimsuit cover-up
  • Winter coat: especially if you’re on a ski trip
  • Destination-specific items (like: binoculars for whale-watching in Vancouver)

Tips to pull it off

Level 2 is focused on 2 types of items:

  • Those everyday items evvvvverybody wears around the world (i.e. underwear, socks)
  • And items needed for occasional activities at your destination. Think: stuff you’ll probably use 2-3 times on your trip and that you might (or not) want to bring home.

So, what do you do with the extra clothes — like a swimsuit — that you’ve picked up and don’t need at your next destination? Donate it to a fellow traveler or second-hand store. Or repurpose its use, like swimsuit bottoms are now underwear.

And what about the extra costs of buying gear, like a winter coat, on the road?

Shop second-hand or budget. Your winter coat needs to accomplish 1 goal: keep you warm while you’re in this cold destination. Once you move on, its purpose has been served, so you don’t need to spend lots of dinero on a fancy-schmancy Helly Hanson coat.

Plan one morning or afternoon into your itinerary for shopping. Do a little research ahead of your trip to find that one-stop-shopping destination (i.e. mall, strip mall, outdoor market) and scout out which stores will have the items you need.

Level 3: Advanced

We’re dancing fancy now, so hang on.

Jessie, a fellow writer at Tortuga, and dedicated minimalist packer shaved down her carry on to only a daypack for a three-week trip in Southeast Asia. She recommends that  you get rid of duplicate items in your bag and miniaturize items (or swap them out) for more compact versions.

For example, bring a foldable platypus water bottle, bring a small change purse instead of a full-size wallet, use your smartphone camera instead of a DSLR. 

For this level, you want to carefully examine each item in your bag and ask: “Do I really need this? If yes, can I bring a smaller version and buy a bigger size when I get there?”

Think back to your most-valuable item that, if you left it at home, could force you to cancel your trip. Everything else in your bag is replaceable… and by extension, unnecessary.

Challenge yourself to see what’s truly important in your bag (and your life) by daring to leave the unnecessary shit at home.

Tips to pull it off

This is going to feel frightening. Thanks to the Boy Scout motto of “Always be prepared,” our stuff is our safety net. Level 3 is about cutting away that safety net — really, it’s an imaginary one that we’ve invented — and figuring out what we’re capable of doing without.

What’s is in your bag isn’t what makes it possible for you to surmount any challenge.

What matters is already in you and the strength gathered from challenges you’ve already overcome. If you could do that wildly amazing stuff, you can handle anything, even without your usual stuff.


Challenge yourself to a cleansing of your carry on and pack less on this next trip than you did on your last one. How? By buying items at your destination, like shampoo, lotion, or deodorant.

Figure out your most-valuable item (mine is my prescription glasses) and make sure that’s in your bag. Everything else is unnecessary, so experiment and see how light you can travel.  


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