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Citizens Without Borders

The Case for Overpacking: A Post-Trip Autopsy

By Bethany Ivie October 4, 2018

This is the face of a person who hasn't packed enough socks but doesn't know it yet.

I have a confession: I overpack. Chronically and without remorse. 

Did you know that, for some, overpacking is the cardinal sin of travel? I didn't, but a quick google search confirms:  people have put a lot of energy into "traveling light" and advising others how to do so. And I don't blame them! It's less hassle. It can help you avoid pesky baggage fees. And, most importantly, you get to tell  people that you only needed one checked bag for your entire three-week trip across the Himalayas.

Last month, I was lucky enough to be sent on a 17 day World Ark assignment in Tanzania and Rwanda and I packed...a lot. Now,  I've been back for two and a half weeks and, as I start to unload my suitcase (don't judge me), it's led me to reflect on the things I'm glad I took and the things that were deeply unnecessary. That's right, it's time for an episode of Suitcase Autopsy. 


WHAT I PACKED

I won't go into exhaustive detail, but here's the gist.

CLOTHES

  • Too many shirts
  • Some pants
  • An inadequate number of socks
  • Approximately 90 pairs of underwear

TOILETRIES

  • About 5 tiny bottles each of shampoo, baby shampoo, conditioner, body wash and face soap 
  • Toothpaste
  • A toothbrush 
  • Mysteriously, another toothbrush
  • Multiple rolls of toilet paper
  • A small hairdryer 
  • Many, many, many pads, pantyliners and tampons
What do you need? I got it.

MEDICINE AND FIRST AID

  • Every painkiller known to man
  • Antibiotic cream
  • The biggest bandaids I could find
  • Multiple types of bug repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • More sunscreen
  • At least 5 different medicines that would fall under the umbrella of "intestinal distress" 
Knitting made long waits at the airport peaceful and even kind of fun.

ENTERTAINMENT 

  • 1 skein of yarn and a pair of knitting needles
  • 1 cross stitch project 
  • A Kindle
  • Legions of downloaded podcasts 
  • A few audio books

SNACKS

  • An excessive amount of peanut butter crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix 

WHERE I FAILED

I PACKED TOO MANY CLOTHES

In planning my outfits for the trip, I forgot something: hotels have laundry services. Gone are the days where I have to pack my entire wardrobe for fear of running out of clean clothes. A new day has dawned. Now I know that I could have packed far fewer clothes and, next time, I might (but I probably won't). 

The Exception: Socks

Hey, fellow sweaty people? You need more socks than you think you do. I don't know if I hid my clean socks from myself in my sleep or simply didn't take as many as I thought, but I could never find a pair when I needed them. And at the end of each sweaty, hot day, I DID need them. 

TOILETRIES 

Here's another no-brainer that didn't occur to me in my packing frenzy: hotels have and provide soap, shampoo and conditioner. Every day. Do you know what they also provide? Tiny hairdryers. I brought my own and found its bulk so irritating that I never used it. 

SNACKS 

I brought an obscene amount of snacks and I needed none of them. The peanut butter crackers? I left in Rwanda for others to enjoy. 

On the first leg of my flight to Tanzania, the plane's entertainment system wasn't working. But this cross stitch project kept me busy (and, honestly, feeling pretty smug).

WHERE I (DARE I SAY?) NAILED IT 

CLOTHES

I will never, NEVER, apologize for bringing too many pairs of underwear. At any given point, I want to have access to more clean underoos than I could possibly, physically need and I did because I brought every functional pair that I own. Who's in rural Tanzania without clean bloomers? Not this girl. No way. 

Medicines

This is the area that took my suitcase from "hoarder's basement" to "friendly neighborhood pharmacy." I didn't use 80% of the meds I brought but I am SO glad I brought them. I was prepared for any kind of ailment (from a skinned knee to a UTI) that could pop up and hinder me as I tried to do my job and could take care of myself without bothering my teammates or hosts. When one of my travel buddies had a headache? There I was dispensing painkillers like a sweaty, dusty Mary Poppins. 

ENTERTAINMENT

Even as a professed over-packer, I felt pretty extra taking two different types of handicrafts (especially two that have been historically enjoyed by women over 80). But those crafts saved my sanity on the long plane rides and in the many hours of airport waiting. If you have a portable hobby I highly suggest you take it. Interestingly enough, though, I didn't touch my Kindle or any of the audiobooks I downloaded for the trip. 

Final Thoughts

Here's my two cents: if something would make you more comfortable during your travels and you have enough room in your suitcase,  take it. It doesn't matter if you use it or not. Traveling is awesome, but it causes a lot of anxiety and if you can mitigate that for yourself by bringing too many pairs of underwear or, I don't know, one of every type of anti-nausea medicine available for public consumption, I say do it. Bring too many shirts and bring an extra bottle of your favorite soap. Carry your own extremely heavy bag and get going! 

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