What NOT to Pack: Leave This S*** Behind

Fred Perrotta
Packing carry-on-only is as much about what not to pack as what to pack. Getting your load down to just a carry on is all about subtraction. We write a lot about what to pack. Today, we’ll cover which items you can safely leave at home to lighten your load, reduce your risk, and make your trip easier.

If you will be staying at a hostel, we already covered what not to pack for your hostel stay on the Hostelling International blog.


If you’re looking for a way to save space, especially on a longer trip, leave your toiletries at home. Picking up toiletries on the road is easy and often cheaper than buying them at home. Plus, you won’t have to worry about TSA-friendly bottles, which are hard to find for most brands and expensive by volume. The other benefit of not packing toiletries is that you won’t have to take your toiletry bag out while going through airport security. A more moderate version of this idea is to bring only the most basic toiletries so that you can get through your flight feeling human. A toothbrush, toothpaste, and face wash will do wonders on a fifteen hour flight.

Laundry Detergent

Detergent is even less necessary than your toiletries. For trips lasting longer than a week, plan to do laundry. Spending a few dollars for wash-and-fold or an hour at the laundromat means that you can pack less clothing. If you drop your clothes off at a wash-and-fold, you won’t need your own detergent. If you hand wash or launder your clothes, you can buy a small, single-use packet of detergent for very little money. To cut down your toiletries and avoid packing detergent, use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. The concentrated soap can be used as toothpaste, face wash, body wash, shaving cream, or detergent. To save money, buy a large bottle of Dr. Bronner’s, but only bring enough to fill a three ounce GoToob.


Don’t bring your valuables. This suggestions is to benefit your wallet, not your packing space. Leave expensive jewelry and electronics at home. Do you need your phone, laptop, tablet, and Kindle? Only bring one or two devices. Even your phone is powerful enough to accomplish most tasks.

Point-and-Shoot Camera

If you’re a photographer, pack a DSLR camera. It’s big, but that’s okay. Your DSLR probably has its own dedicated bag. That bag qualifies as a personal item and won’t subtract from your carry on bag’s space. If you don’t have a DSLR, don’t waste space on a point-and-shoot. Your smartphone camera is nearly as good, and you’re already carrying it. The fewer expensive items you bring, the less you can lose.

Over Ear Headphones

I love my big Sony headphones. They’re perfect for shutting out the noise of a busy office environment, and the sound quality is great. When I travel, I use my Apple earbuds. The sound quality is pretty good, and they’re tiny. I’m not an audio engineer. I can live with the downgrade in sound quality for the ease of packing. If you don’t already have a pair, the Wirecutter has multiple earbud suggestions depending on your budget.

Extra Socks, Underwear, and Shoes

Most people tend to overpack shoes and basics like underwear. I certainly fall into the “one more pair…” trap. Save space by limiting the number of socks and underwear that you bring. Both can be easily washed in the sink every few days. Products made of quick-dry fabrics will be dry by morning. By hand washing, you can easily get by on as few as three pairs of socks or underwear. Packing less doesn’t mean you’re dirty. We recommend ExOfficio underwear and Smartwool socks. ExOfficio’s tagline says it all, 17 countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear. Shoes can take up a lot of space in your luggage. Never bring more than two pairs of shoes including the pair you’re wearing. If you need more than one pair, always wear the bulkier ones, like boots of sneakers. Then pack a light pair of flats, sandals, boat shoes, or espadrilles.

Cold Weather Clothes

When packing for a cold-weather trip, think layers. One bulky sweater or coat can take up most of your carry on bag. Instead, plan to dress in layers. Two or three thin layers of the right material will keep you warm. With layers, your wardrobe will be versatile enough for any weather. Just add or remove clothes as the temperature changes. Buy merino wool base layers. They work well in any climate but are expensive. Save up and invest in a few pieces that you’ll wear often.

Sleep Sack

Read the reviews of anywhere you plan to stay. If the place has bed bugs, you’ll find out. Even non-hotel accommodations must keep their sheets clean or run the risk of bad reviews. You don’t need an extra layer of protection from a sleep sack when staying in Airbnbs or hostels. Some hostels forbid sleep sacks so that guests don’t bring bed bugs into the hostel.

Traveler’s Checks

Welcome to the 21st century. You don’t need traveler’s checks. Don’t bother wasting your time. Get a debit card that won’t charge you for using other ATMs and get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Our guide to travel debit and credit cards lists our favorite cards. For more advice, check out the Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide.  

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