Confessions of a Hopeless Over-Packer…

What to pack...

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller

As an admitted over-packer, I often have difficulty determining which items are essential and which are not—especially when making preparations for overseas travel.  The whole clothing issue is dependent in large part upon the season, and the majority of toiletry items that I pack are non-negotiable.  Beyond that (and an umbrella and/or raincoat), I have settled upon ten things that I would classify as “Do Not Leave Home Without” necessities.  I will briefly discuss them below, though not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. Passport – This one is obvious as you will never even make it onto the plane without yours.  Of particular importance in light of the recent disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines jet is the need to secure your passport to the greatest extent possible.  Make sure you have a photocopy of the original—which you will have to produce should you lose your passport abroad—and take precautionary measures to protect it exactly as you would the original.  (This is when a theft-proof bag comes in handy…see below for more info.)
  2. Plug Adaptors and Converter – I purchased a nice combo kit from Best Buy before we traveled overseas for the first time.  It includes a relatively heavy-duty converter and multiple plug adaptors designed to work with most any outlet in the world.  Since some overseas outlets are recessed into the wall, I also picked up an extra component that—when plugged into the wall first—easily accommodates the plugging in of various implements.  While this was a bit cumbersome at times, it enabled me to utilize existing outlets (with the addition of a plug adaptor as well) to operate my electronics…i.e. charge my cell phone and camera batteries.  Many travel-size dual-voltage appliances (such as laptops, some cell phones, flat irons, and hair dryers) can run on both 110-volt and 220-volt currents.  In that case, only a plug adaptor is required.  Just be sure that the switch is turned to the correct voltage before using these appliances.  (Many overseas hotels have built-in hair dryers for patron convenience.)  For more information about converters and adaptors and when to use each, visit
  3. Camera(s) – For me, the days of traveling with a single camera are long gone.  I routinely carry my full-size DSLR camera, a small SONY Cyber-shot, as well as my iPhone, and utilize each one for a different purpose.  For quick uploading to Facebook or Twitter, I generally depend on the iPhone.  The Sony takes amazingly good pics considering its size and range and has panoramic and video capabilities that are easy to use.  It is also the perfect size to slip into my pocket or purse when making a climb over rough terrain or in close quarters (such as hiking through mountainous San Marino or climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa/the Duomo in Florence).  I use my large camera when it can be easily carried, or when I want the best quality photographs.  I am known to carry all three at once more often than not!
  4. Guidebook(s) and Maps – I am a firm believer in having a reliable guidebook (such as Rick Steves’ informative volumes) at my fingertips for quick reference.  It is also wise to pick up a map from your hotel or a tourist information center as you will likely find yourself referring to it over and over again.
  5. Smartphone – Useful not only for obvious reasons (photos, phone calls, texting, emails, etc.), but also for  quick access to handy travel apps (trip advisor, currency converter, translators, interactive maps, etc.), podcasts, notes, and reminders.  Just be sure to get a SIM card for the region you intend to visit or set up an international calling/data plan before you go.  Failure to do this can result in unexpected—and shocking—consequences!  (Another story, another time…)
  6. Cash and Credit Card(s) – Opinion varies from person to person as to whether you should exchange your money before or after arriving overseas.  I, personally, prefer to make daily withdrawals from an ATM once I arrive in the country I am visiting.  I carry only enough cash to cover my expenses for one day—two at most—rather than running the risk of being mugged or pickpocketed and having all of my travel funds lifted in one fell swoop.  I prefer to use a credit card for purchases when possible.  (Be sure to contact your credit card company before you leave the country and notify them that you will be using your card abroad.)  For money advice beyond what I am equipped to provide, check out
  7. Anti-theft bags – I invested in a variety of anti-theft gear for sheer peace of mind.  The last thing I want to worry about while conquering new frontiers is whether or not a stealthy thief will succeed in divesting me of my personal information and/or documents, money, etc.  The bag that I routinely carry is a cross-body model that is large enough to hold necessary items, but not too bulky or heavy to carry around all day.  It has wire mesh panels in front and back, hidden zippers with zipper locks, and a slash-proof strap.  As an additional precaution, I store my passport and credit cards in an RFID-blocking wallet inside the bag.  I also have a backpack and a camera bag with the same safety features as my mini-messenger bag.  I would love to find a cute, mid-size convertible backpack/purse with anti-theft features, but so far have not found one that suits my fancy.  I intend to keep looking…
  8. Luggage scale – This handy-dandy little gadget is small enough and light enough to easily tuck into a corner of your suitcase.  Using it to weigh your bags before checking them at the airport is a simple way to save those steep overweight baggage fees.
  9. Travel Journal – A first-hand account of your travels in written format will cement the details of your experience for a lifetime.  Not only is it an inexpensive memento, but also one that is uniquely reflective of your own perspective.  A travel journal can be as simple as a small lined notebook or as fancy as a pricey leather-bound book.  Journal writing is most effective if you take time each day—even just a few minutes—to jot down your thoughts and activities while it is fresh in your memory.  I make a point of doing this on a daily basis—even when it means sacrificing a little sleep!
  10. Comfortable Walking Shoes – Last but not least, a pair of comfortable walking shoes is a must!  There is nothing more distracting or likely to cut sightseeing short than a poorly fitting pair of shoes.  I wear rubber-soled sandals in the summer (the ones pictured above are Merrells…love them!) and Gore-Tex, rubber-soled boots in winter.  Thankfully, today’s active footwear is not only comfortable, but also fairly attractive.  Be sure to break in your walking shoes before striking out on your trip!!

Happy travels!!


6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Hopeless Over-Packer…

  1. I travel differently than this. I never use a converter as all my electronics are dual voltage. That means I only need an adapter. I also don’t use anti-theft bags as I find them stiff and heavy. Instead, I use a working wallet for the day’s money and keep the rest hidden in my money belt. I now carry my guidebooks on my Kindle app on my smartphone, although the local maps are quick and easy to use. I usually turn off data roaming on my phone, and just use wifi to avoid charges.
    I don’t carry a luggage scale because I usually pack light enough where I’m not even close to the limit.
    I do agree that Merrells are wonderful shoes. Good walking shoes are critical to the enjoyment of the trip!


    • Yes, it is best to have the dual-voltage electronics for sure! I am glad that they are more readily available than they used to be in the U.S.
      Hmmm…not sure which anti-theft bags you have used…mine are not stiff and heavy–though the camera big is big and bulky (dislike). Guess it depends on the brand. I have a neck wallet, but do not find it or the hidden money belts comfortable to wear.
      I agree that it is handy to have guidebooks in electronic format, but I am old-fashioned in that I like to have the “real thing” on hand as well—even if I don’t carry it with me outside the hotel. I also try to conserve my phone battery as much as possible while out and about.
      Wish I didn’t need the luggage scale…but I have not mastered the art of packing light!! ha!
      Thanks for your comments!


    • I have not yet been to Rome (it’s on my bucket list!), but that was the case in the cities we visited—particularly Florence, where we did a lot of walking around on ancient cobblestones and pavers. Good shoes are a must! 🙂


  2. We also inform our bank of the dates we will be out of the country and which countries we will be visiting. We wait until we arrive and then withdraw cash from the ATM machine. The thought that one company has the monopoly on currency exchange here in the US does not appeal to me.

    As for footwear, I personally do not like closed toe shoes, of any kind. Last year I purchased TEVA sandals, so comfortable and walked miles around Brussels, Paris and the beaches of Normandy.


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