Why you hate packing for vacation and what to do about it

Many people hate packing for vacation and I could never figure out why. I just grab a big ole suitcase, toss my stuff in and done! Yet others find it to be a daunting and stressful activity. I explored why people hate packing for vacation and have come up with some interesting reasons and more importantly, what to do about it so your next vacation isn’t overshadowed by the dreaded job of packing. 

Why you hate packing for vacation:  Travel gurus tell us we should aim to “pack light” but it’s hard and often means deciding what to leave behind which can be stressful and leave us anxious. Or we feel guilty packing more than we actually use or need on our trip. All this leads to confusion and overwhelm over what to pack so we procrastinate the task of packing – waiting until the last minute – raising the stress level even more.

Everyone seems obsessed with packing light for vacation. It’s like a competition where the winner is able to jam a week’s worth of vacation clothes, toiletries, and other necessities into the tiniest bag possible. But why? What’s so wrong with tossing ALL your stuff into a big giant suitcase?  I’ll explore why we fall into the trap of trying to pack light and what to do about it. 

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Reasons you hate packing for vacation

You Might Hate Packing for Fear of overpacking Causing you to feel Guilty

overpacked suitcase
Slightly overpacked suitcase.

In the past, you packed too much and felt guilty for not using everything. It doesn’t help that we’re regularly inundated by “travel experts” telling us that we should pack light and how to do it.  They tell us:

Get all your stuff into a backpack.”
Use packing cubes, they’re awesome!”

I call this Teeny Tiny Backpack Syndrome. (It’s not an official medical term, I just made it up). 

The question you need to ask yourself is “are you really that travel expert’s intended audience?” 

In other words, if your goal is to pack the tiniest bag for vacation then you are probably their target audience and should heed their advice. Go borrow your 5-year old’s backpack and get packing!

But if the thought of cramming a week’s worth of vacation stuff into a tiny bag stresses you out (show of hands) then the advice is not for you. Hit the back button, step away, and stop reading because the article is not for you. You don’t have the problem the article is helping to solve. It’s that simple.

These faux experts deliver their message as if it applies to the masses and when it doesn’t work for us, we’re left feeling inadequate and stupid.

My question is – who said these people are experts anyway? They are expressing their opinion based on their own unique goals. Maybe their goal is to convince you to buy some really cute packing cubes or a teeny tiny backpack. Or maybe their goal is to take a vacation from personal hygiene for a week. I don’t know – just sayin’. 

I’m here to tell you packing a big-ass suitcase is ok.

My point is to not fall into the trap of believing everything you hear. If the advice makes you anxious it’s probably not for you and that’s ok. Don’t read any more into it than that.  Besides, I have yet to discover a single reason why packing a big-ass suitcase is wrong.

Objections
I can hear some of you right now.

“But Tammy, you can’t take a big-ass suitcase on an airplane and airlines charge for checked bags now.”

This is true. Many airlines charge a fee to check bags but in the whole scheme of things isn’t that fee a tiny drop in the bucket of your total vacation cost?  Think about it. If I pay $30 for a checked bag and my total trip costs $2,500 then the checked bag ends up being 1.2% of the total vacation cost. And in my opinion, the peace of mind it brings is priceless. 

“But Tammy, I didn’t wear everything I packed.”

So what? If you wanted to wear it it was there for you to wear. Your life did not magically take a turn south because your suitcase had extra clothes you never wore. You can beat yourself up for not anticipating exactly what you’d want to wear each day but it serves no purpose. Be gentle on yourself. 

You Might Hate Packing For Fear of underpacking Causing You to Feel Anxious

I bet this boy would loan you his teeny-tiny backpack for your trip!
Image by Achim Mandler from Pixabay

In the past, you packed too little and didn’t have the things you needed so now you feel anxious about packing. Underpacking has caused undue suffering for many of us at least once in our lives. Does any of this resonate with you?

  • You only packed three pairs of shorts for a week in Aruba but ended up sweating through all of them in three days leaving you with no clean shorts to wear the rest of the week. PU!
  • You didn’t pack pain meds, the gift shop was out and you ended up suffering through a screaming headache for two days. Ugh!
  • You didn’t pack slippers and ended up at a hotel with grubby, disgusting floors you were forced to walk on with bare feet. Yuk!
  • The other couple you traveled with came to dinner dressed to the nines and you & hubby showed up in flip flops, shorts, and tank tops. Awkward!

I could go on and on with examples of things we wish we had packed but didn’t because we were on a mission to pack light. 

You Might Hate Packing Because You Don’t Know Where to Begin Causing You to Feel Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed thinking just thinking about packing. Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

You feel overwhelmed because in the past you packed too much or too little and now you have no fricken idea what to pack. The overwhelm paralyzes you so you do nothing. You don’t pack. 

Next thing you know, it’s one week before you leave and you still haven’t given one thought to packing. Now it’s seven days before you leave. Six-five-four-three-two-one day before departure. Now the anxiety really sets in. It’s one day before you leave and you STILL haven’t given an iota of effort toward packing.

Man, I feel for ya. I’ve been there. In fact, one year I started packing the night before only to realize my passport was missing. I spent the next four hours turning my house upside-down but still no passport.   I called my friend 9 hours before wheels-up to say I had to cancel. Don’t let that be you. Do not wait for the night before.

How to fall in love with packing for vacation (or at least stop hating it)

Packing doesn’t have to be the anxiety-inducing and overwhelming activity we think it is. Here’s how to fall in love with packing for your vacation – or at least stop hating it.  

Packing Rule #1: Forget what the travel experts say

We’re going to get out our big-ass suitcase and pack what we want. No guilt, no anxiety, no overwhelm. Just a big ole suitcase filled with our stuff. We may use everything we pack, we may not. It doesn’t matter. The goal is to get packed so we can look forward to our vacation instead of swirling in the dread of having to pack.

large blue suitcase
My favorite big-ass suitcase – 28″ Samsonite Englewood Hard Suitcase

My favorite big-ass suitcase is the 28″ Samsonite Englewood which is a glorious 30.4″ tall, 21.5″ wide and 13.25″ deep (and expands an additional 1.5″!).

Packing Rule #2: Make a Packing List of Essentials 

Part of the anxiety we feel toward packing is all the possibilities floating through our heads. By making a list we get it out of our heads and onto paper our anxiety immediately eases. 

Don’t know where to start making your list? Fret not. I already created a list you can easily customize so you don’t have to start from scratch. You can download a copy of my packing list.

Essentials Packing List

BEFORE LEAVING

  • Passport: Locate & verify expiration at least 6 months from departure 
  • Credit Card Co: Notify of trip dates
  • Cell Phone Provider: Add International Plan
  • Bank: Get singles
  • Confirm hotel reservations
  • Confirm air reservations

CARRY-ON

  • Passport
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Wallet (Credit Cards + Cash)
  • Sunscreen+ SPF Lip balm 
  • Prescriptions
  • Sunglasses
  • Books/Magazines
  • Snacks (nuts, Quest bars)
  • Earbuds

BIG-ASS SUITCASE

Clothing

  • Dresses/Skirts
  • Shirts + Tank Tops
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Underwear
  • Bras
  • Swimsuit + Coverup
  • Pajamas
  • Slippers
  • Sunhat
  • Flip-flops
  • Casual Sandals 
  • Dressy sandals

Technology

  • Phone Charger
  • Camera Charger + Batteries + SD cards

Toiletries

  • Toothbrush  + Toothpaste
  • Shampoo + Conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Hairstyling Products
  • Soap
  • Makeup + Remover
  • Moisturizer
  • Eyeglass Cleaner
  • Shaving Cream + Razor
  • After-Sun Lotion
  • Pain Medication 
  • Beach Bag
  • Antibacterial Wipes

Packing Rule #3: Start Gathering Things One Week Before Departure

One week before you’re scheduled to leave get your big-ass suitcase out of storage and open it up in the corner of your bedroom. 

large suitcase opened with items in it
My big-ass suitcase filled with items I’ve been tossing into it throughout the week before departure.

Next, tape your packing list to the suitcase and throughout the week toss items into the suitcase crossing them off the list as you go. Don’t be concerned with packing efficiency at this point, just get the items in the suitcase. We’re not really packing at this point, we’re just getting things together.

packing list taped to the inside of an open suitcase
The packing list conveniently taped to the suitcase.

A Word about Clothing

If you suffer from underpacking anxiety (like me) especially as it relates to clothing, first I advise you to put the minimum in the suitcase. For example, if the vacation is for 7 days, you’ll need at least:

  • 7 shirts
  • 7 pair of shorts
  • 7 pair of underwear
  • 3-4 bras
  • Etc

Now grab some of your favorite clothes, outfits, footwear, and place in your big-ass suitcase.

clothing added to suitcase
Clothes you may want to wear added to the suitcase.

Packing Rule #4: One Day Before You Leave – Pack Your Suitcase In Less than 15 Minutes

Everything you need to pack is already in the suitcase. Dump it all out, fold the clothes and begin placing items in the suitcase. Don’t get caught up in packing rules. I have three simple guidelines:  

  1. Clothing: Lay it flat, roll it, fold it into origami – it doesn’t matter. 
  2. Pack lotions and liquids in Ziplocs. 
  3. Jam sandals and smaller items where they fit. 

We all stress over packing for some reason but it doesn’t have to be that way. You’re going on vacation and hopefully will distress while there so don’t make it worse by super-stressing beforehand. Download my packing list to get you started then follow my guidelines to fall in love with packing and I guarantee packing will never be the chore it once was.

Happy Planning & Packing!

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