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Packing for Travel? Do a Dry Run

How to avoid one of travel’s biggest pitfalls: overpacking.

The number one mistake travelers make on their first trip, besides over-planning, is overpacking. I myself am extremely guilty of this. For my first time out of the country, I brought so much stuff that I’m pretty sure I hit the overweight baggage limit… for a 13 day stay with family friends in Italy. I knew in advance that I would be staying in apartments the entire time, but for some reason I was so unsure of everything that I managed to purchase and fill the biggest suitcase I’ve seen in in my life.

It’s true that the first big trip abroad can be scary. There are going to be a lot of things you can’t control, situations you can’t predict, and your brain will constantly remind you of this. Wrapped up among all the excitement is the very real fear of the unknown. While this fades with experience, it is what makes your first major international effort so thrilling. Whether the balance leans more towards the exciting or the intimidating, there is one thing you can control: packing.

It honestly didn’t occur to me that there are washing machines abroad and that most of the stuff you need can be purchased anywhere in the world. With very few exceptions, the same day-to-day junk we need to survive and be reasonably clean is available everywhere. Even though on some level I realized this to be true, I still brought enough gear to fill the entire backseat of a Fiat. I’m not kidding either. The Dachshund had to sit on my lap in the passenger seat.

This problem would never have occurred had I been smart enough to do a dry run. The concept is pretty simple: a week before you go, pack your bags with everything you plan on taking. Live out of your bag for the rest of the week. If you can, crash at a friend’s house for a few nights so that you are 100% free from your stuff at home. Go there by public transportation, and haul your bags everywhere with you. This will soon be your reality once you hit the road, so it’s important to realize now just how much you are actually packing.

Don’t make the mistake of doing this halfheartedly, either. Done properly, this experiment will allow you to both see if you are overpacking and to test out your gear. If you plan on saving money by hand washing clothes, now is the chance to learn that your rubber sink stopper doesn’t actually stop anything and that your jeans take two days to line dry. Cooking with an alcohol stove to reduce the need to eat out? You’ll very quickly discover if that aluminum camp skillet is easy to clean or if it’s some kind of dishwasher’s nightmare.

As you use things throughout the week, separate them from the unused items by placing them in plastic bags. At the end of the experiment, take out everything you didn’t use and get rid of most of it. Some concessions can be made if you are going to a drastically different climate, but in most cases everything you haven’t yet used is simply excess. It’s far better to trim your packing list now than to toss those expensive hiking boots after you get sick of carrying them around on your back.

Filed under: Packing, Start Traveling, Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Tristan Hicks is a compulsive traveler who believes that travel and “real life” can be one and the same. He has combined working and studying with his long-term travels, living in the seven countries to date and traveling in dozens more. He is currently on the road. has written 18 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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