The goal is simple: to visit your destination without running out of clean socks and without a suitcase so stuffed that you emit strange animal sounds trying to heave it into the overhead compartment. But if only it were that easy! If you've struggled over whether you need a raincoat for your trip to Cairo (just in case!) or wondered how many guidebooks is too many, you're certainly not alone. Packing for a trip is often a struggle to distinguish what we want to bring from what we need to bring.
When we're forced to choose between our favorite things, we're sometimes tempted to just bring it all and to hell with it — but overpacking can cost more than just extra suitcase space and a free hand. Checking more than one bag, exceeding your airline's weight limit or even checking a bag at all can cost you. Spirit Airlines, for example, charges passengers a $10 fee each way for checking a piece of luggage, and many other airlines charge $25 for a second checked bag. And bringing home souvenirs is impossible when you can't even remember how you managed to pack your bag so tightly in the first place.
Below is a list of what most travelers shouldn't pack, along with tips and ideas on how to pack better. Everyone's packing style is different and we all have our own travel needs, so before you turn red at the idea of leaving behind your beloved toothbrush sanitizer, please remember that these are only suggestions. Leave out a few of these items on your next trip — you'll enjoy traveling with a lighter load, and we promise you won't miss a thing!
For more packing help, see our Interactive Packing List.
Don't pack your entire beauty routine
If you use eight different products to tame your wild curls or have an elaborate face-washing regimen down to a science, let loose a bit when you travel instead of carrying an army of beauty products with you across the globe. Trust us — you won't look like a cave woman in your vacation pictures if you use a shampoo/conditioner combo for a few nights. If you're adventurous enough to leave home and explore an exotic destination, we bet you can also handle leaving behind a few hair products.
If you are staying at a major chain hotel that will offer complimentary toiletries — use them! Don't bring your own 24-ounce shampoo and conditioner bottles to the hotel and then stuff the hotel ones in your suitcase to take home. If you don't use them on the road, you'll probably never use them at home.
There are lots of products that have multiple uses. Opt for a shampoo/conditioner combo. Find a moisturizer with SPF. Let your moisturizing body wash double as a shaving cream. Share your shampoo, soap or toothpaste with your traveling partner.
Lose the bulky containers. Instead, try zip-top bags. We stuff everything we can into them, including hair products, lotions, cotton balls and even sunscreen. (If you're paranoid that a bag will puncture and deposit its messy contents onto your black silk dress, put all of your liquid-filled baggies in a large plastic grocery bag -- and be sure not to pack it next to any fishing rods or freshly sharpened pencils.)
Don't pack your jewelry and valuables
Rule of thumb — if you can't imagine living without your grandmother's wedding ring or your expensive Movado watch, it's best not to cart it overseas, where tourists are common targets for thieves and luggage often gets lost in transit. You may think you look like an icon of style, but to criminals and con-artists you appear as an icon of opportunity. It's also wise not to look like a million bucks if you're trying to bargain with the locals, and sparkly jewelry may set you apart from the natives when you're trying to fit in.
If you must bring your fancy jewelry, keep it in the hotel safe except for special occasions such as dinner in a nice restaurant — and be sure it's covered by appropriate insurance. Most homeowners' policies will not cover jewelry if it's lost or stolen while traveling, so you may need to purchase a separate policy.
Pack any valuables you buy while on your trip (and any of your own that you decide to bring) in your carry-on. Checked bags can sometimes disappear into the black hole of lost airline luggage.
Don't pack more than one guidebook
Some of us are practically addicted to these little gems of information, but we don't need to remind you how heavy a stack of books can be. One good, comprehensive guidebook should do the trick.
If you are convinced that each of your 11 guidebooks offers unique and vital information about your destination, cart them to your office or the library and photocopy your favorite sections.
Lonely Planet recently introduced mix-and-match guidebook chapters that can be downloaded a la carte on its Web site — so you only have to pay for (and pack!) the sections you need.
Research the location of an Internet cafe or two at your destination before you leave. If you are afraid of not having access to travel information during your trip, you can always find it on the Web.
Don't pack more clothes than you need
We know ... this one's a no-brainer. But deciding which clothes to bring is sometimes one of the most difficult parts of packing. Clothes tend to make up the bulk of most travelers' suitcases — and reducing the number of outfits you bring can lighten your load significantly. No one wants to run out of clean underwear in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest, but we think that travelers can find a comfortable balance between wearing the same stinky jeans and T-shirt the whole trip and changing their outfit three times each day like a celebrity.
If you're going on, say, a seven-day trip, spend a week before you leave keeping track of everything you wear. Make a list, or if you learn better with visual aids, keep these items together in a laundry basket. Then figure out which items you can do without.
Bring clothes in neutral colors that you can mix and match, and only pack shoes that can be worn with multiple outfits.
Check the weather at your destination before you leave and pack accordingly. If the weather deviates significantly from the forecast, you can always buy a sweater or rain poncho and keep it as a souvenir.
Many travel supply companies sell small packets of laundry detergent (you can also find these at a laundromat). It only takes a few minutes to wash your clothes in your hotel sink and hang them on a hanger to dry. When you wake up the next morning ... freshly washed clothes!
Don't pack unnecessary gadgets
This section applies to you if you have ever packed items such as nightlights, shoe horns, portable DVD players, book lights, coffee makers, fire-safety smoke hoods, hotel-door alarm systems, toothbrush sanitizers or electronic language translators, never to actually use them on your trip. The definition of "necessary" varies from one traveler to the next, so it's important to ask yourself if you will really need your ocean-sound machine to get to sleep each night before you stuff it in your bursting suitcase.
If you are a travel gadget addict, pick one or two that you just have to have and save the others for a future trip.
Keep in mind that some gadgets may call for more room in your luggage than you'd expect; to keep them running, you may need to pack things like spare batteries, chargers, or electrical adapters and converters (for overseas travel).
Don't pack things you can buy there
Yes, things you can buy at home are often more expensive overseas. This is especially the case in Europe, so a traveler who's flying across the pond may want to pack extra everything in the interest of saving money. But again — think of the luggage weight fees. Simple items that you may need but can probably live without, like aspirin, nail polish remover, extra razors or additional reading material for the plane ride back, can usually be purchased at drug and convenience stores in many destinations.
Remember that if you decide to buy a lot of your items abroad, you will have to create room in your suitcase to cart them back home. Buy sample-sized items if you can to save space and money.
Instead of bringing a virtual library of reading material with you, buy magazines and newspapers at the airport. Picking out what you want to read will give you something to do as you wait, and you can recycle the items so you don't have to lug them back with you.