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The Things They Carried (And Didn’t Need To)

About a year and a half ago, I was obsessed with finding a universal sink plug. I was about to set off on a three-month backpacking jaunt around Southeast Asia, staying in the sorts of places that cost the same per night as my daily Starbucks habit in the States, and apparently a universal sink plug was de rigueur. I mean, honestly, all the guidebooks said so.

So after several weeks–and various forays into many, many stores–I finally found one. Into my backpack it went, along with my mosquito repellent, my sunscreen, my travel detergent, and a hundred pocket-sized packets of tissues. After thrice-daily applications, the mosquito repellent and the sunscreen were gone within a week; the travel detergent was equally as indispensable, given the frequency with which I used the communal laundry facilities in youth hostels (can you imagined carrying a Target-sized container of Tide around Asia? I think not.) And the pocket-sized packets of tissues proved, time and time again, to be as important as you would imagine them to be in a series of third world countries where toilet paper in public restrooms is not exactly high on the list of priorities.

But the universal sink plug? Didn’t even use it once.

Ditto the flashlight and the padlock I’d been convinced I needed. If, however, I could somehow have squeezed more hand sanitizing wipes into my backpack or added a few thousand more band-aids to cover my everpresent blisters, I would have done it in a heartbeat. And don’t even get me started on how many more travel packs of ibuprofen you’re guaranteed to wish you’d packed when you’re aching and shivering and rather suspecting you might have contracted Dengue fever in Burma. (All the guidebooks I had with me, by the way, advised not buying any medication in Burma, since it’s fairly likely to be either counterfeit or expired. I reckon if I’d skipped the universal sink plug, I could have fit at least another bottle of Advil into my carry-on. But hindsight, of course, is 20-20.)

This got me thinking about the things we convince ourselves we absolutely need to take on vacation and then end up never actually using. I’m fairly certain I can’t be the only girl (or boy) who thought it entirely warranted to bring six pairs of shoes on a weekend mini-break. (Oh, alright then, seven.)

So what would you advise a space-conscious packer not to bother bringing with them on a trip, despite what the guidebooks tell you? (And don’t you dare say a universal sink plug. I mean, really; you could have told me earlier.)




I’ve always heard that you should travel with a sense of humor, but frankly, that’s for the birds. How useful is that going to be when a six year old is kicking your seat repeatedly for a ten hour flight while his mom and dad snore like cavemen?

“Haha… kicking seats is funn.. STOP KICKING ME YOU DEMON.”


One thing that I can’t live without at home that I’ve found extraneous on the road is my iPod. I’m better off using any downtime to sleep, read up on my destination, or bond with my companions. I always bring it and never use it; it only contributes extra weight and security concerns. From now on, it’s staying home! (For real this time.)


Other than the shoes, I can’t think of something I’ve brought that ended up being completely useless. Unless you count the time that I brought my ski gear to the French Alps when there wasn’t a single speck of snow on the ground.

I tend to operate under a few self-imposed packing rules:

Packing Rule #1: Before you put a single item into your suitcase, make one pile of “must-haves” (be honest!) and one pile of “if there’s room.” Start by packing the “must-haves.”

Packing Rule #2: Everything must fit comfortably into one suitcase. Don’t want to pay overweight baggage fees at check-in!

Packing Rule #3: Take a few space saver bags for the return home. I stuff all of my dirty clothes in these and suck the air out of ‘em. Makes for a little extra room for souvenirs.

Packing Rule #4: Two pair of shoes. PERIOD! I only take one pair of comfy walking shoes to wear during the day, and one pair of sassy blacks for night.

Besides, I always figure if I can’t live without it I can always buy it. Unless, of course, I need Advil in Burma.


Once I took a GIANT suitcase abroad. After lugging it up one ancient Roman staircase after another, I learned my lesson.

Now, I just throw in very minimal clothing, my iPod, some magazines, and go.

Magazines are even better than books, in my opinion, because you can abandon them for others to read or recycle them.


Well to use my most recent trip to Chicago as an example. I could have done without my ipod and book. I used them for about 20 mins before my flight in and not once after that. It was only a 90 min flight though.

I always pack too many “what if” clothes and 99% of the time I never wear them. I also always take my blow dryer but then the hotel always has one. But God forbid I ever don’t bring it and then I’ll need it.

I don’t get to travel much so I don’t have much to offer with this question. But I love hearing about your travels.


Believe it or not… I’m one of those women who tend not to take things which are not considered unnecessary. On the contrary, I tend to need things I don’t take. Last year I went hiking with just one pair of trainers. They hurt my feet and ended up the whole weekend wearing my four-size-bigger boyfriend’s trainers. Thanks God he was cautious and took two pairs just in case!

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