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What Kind Of Packer Are You? (Tips For Extremists)

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Woman walking with a red suitcase

Did you know there's a packing spectrum? And, you're on it? It might not be within a scientific study, but everyone recognizes its existence, particularly when traveling in a group. Many people call it your packing personality, and the contents of your suitcase say it all.

On the extreme left, there are the "underpackers." On the extreme right are the "overpackers." And then there's everyone in between who probably lean toward one of these personalities but just aren't as intense and don't bring negative baggage with them. (Haha, see what I did there?)

Maybe you recognize that you're an extremist on the packing spectrum and perhaps you don't and should read on to learn and accept it about yourself. Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle and are just in need of some packing help. No matter what your tendencies are, I've got you covered with some tips for being a better packer while still maintaining that dazzling travel personality.

THE UNDERPACKER: I tend to bring less than the bare essentials.

I typically fall on this side of the spectrum. Ultra-light packing can work really well for camping or a day or weekend trip. Another time this came in handy for me was when I moved to Australia for 5 months and had limited luggage space. This type of packer doesn’t worry about suitcase weight limits, and they’re easily able to be on the go.

However, there is a dark side. If you're a light packer and don't do any planning, you probablyforget a few things (and the underpacker is born). This can lead to higher costs during the trip because you have to buy what you forgot, unpreparedness if plans change OR becoming “the stealer” in the group.

Oh yes, you know what I'm talking about when I refer to "the stealer." This means you run into vacation situations that go something like this: “Uh oh, I forgot to bring my hairbrush. Hey, Sarah ... Can I borrow your hairbrush real quick? Now that I think about it, do you care if I use your deodorant?” I’ve been this person before, and it hasn’t worked out well. (Let’s just say some really essential items that you can’t borrow were forgotten.)

If you want to move closer to a "healthier" version of an underpacker or are going on a longer trip and need some help making sure you have everything you need, take the following into consideration:

Tip #1: Use a packing checklist. This will ensure you don’t forget anything that’s necessary. (I’ve been using a free template from Day Designer lately.)

Tip #2: Ease into “preparedness” packing. Start packing more than the bare minimum by adding 1-2 items to your suitcase that you wouldn’t usually bring. This will allow you to pack light but also prepare for any unplanned changes.

Tip #3: Remember the 3-1-1 rule. Sometimes a simple carry-on is the best way to go, but other times, it’s not. Keep in mind that when you only bring a carry-on, you can only include 3.4-oz (or less) bottles, one quart-size bag and one other bag. Depending on your destination and the length of your trip, the 3-1-1 rule might determine that checked luggage is definitely a necessity.

THE OVERPACKER: I prefer to bring my entire house.

The good news is that you’re always prepared! The bad news is that you’re often crossing your fingers and hoping you’re within the luggage weight limit and don’t have to sacrifice any of your belongings, you’ll probably lag behind in a group of people with more convenient packs and there might not be room in your suitcase for souvenirs at the end of your trip. (Parents, you don’t count because you’re also trying to pack for and take care of others.)

No, I’m not trying to bash overpackers. In fact, you’re the people who often help me out when I’m in a jam! And I’m not expecting you to stray too far from your comfort level, but try taking these steps to move toward the middle of the packing spectrum.

Tip #1: Be sure you don't see double. You might be surprised how often you pack two of the same items. For example, maybe you have a rain jacket AND an umbrella. Pick one. Doubling up also typically starts with clothing. You look at both pairs of shorts and think, “I really only need this one, but what if I happen to need the other? Okay, I’ll throw them both in.” Opposite of my tip for ultra-light packers, ease yourself into this by eliminating 1-2 items after you’ve already finalized your packing list. Also, learn to include versatile clothing.

Tip #2: Consider your hotel or Airbnb perks. Towels are almost always available. A blowdryer is another easy thing to leave behind, as it's in most hotel rooms. For those who don’t want to be particular about shampoo, conditioner and body soap, remember that hotels and most Airbnbs carry small bottles of it.

Tip #3: Take advantage of packing hacks. First, don’t buy a bag that’s bigger than the limit. You can also try rolling your clothes to fit more snugly in your suitcase or using compression bags. If you really have to have everything that you’ve packed and your luggage still won’t close or is too heavy, keep in mind these plane hacks:

  • Use a larger backpack as your one item to keep with you. It might be the fact that I look young, but I’ve never not been able to keep a backpack on the plane with me. You can put your purse in it and still have a lot of space left over for other things. Just be sure that it can mostly fit under the seat in front of you.

  • Wear your bulkiest jacket and shoes on the plane. This saves room in your bag, plus planes typically get cold anyway.

It's great to be a light packer, and it's great to be a prepared packer. Just be careful that you don't fall too far into either category and create unfavorable situations for yourself or your traveling companions. Use these tips to help bring you back closer to the middle of the packing spectrum or at least to make sure next time you go on vacation you're not asking to borrow someone else's underwear.



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