You know the travel expression, "Bring twice as much money and half as much clothing"? Westerners are inherently a consumer culture these days, and we LIKE our stuff. I just visited my girlfriend's storage unit, and it seems like everyone has a condo for the things that don't fit in their condo, so it should come as no surprise that we tend to over-pack when we travel.
With airlines charging $60 for a second bag domestically, and international airlines beginning to reduce the free luggage allowance, it's like having to buy your stuff twice just to schlep it to your destination.
These questions should help you become a wiser and (hopefully) a "less is more" packer.
1. Do I really need it?
Ask yourself this about every single item as you lay everything out you think you'll need. Cull whatever items you hear NO about from your Intuition -- don't go back and talk yourself into something -- it will likely just sit in your bag.
2. Toiletries: Will I use it every day?
Yeah, yeah, toothpaste and deodorant are required (they REALLY are when you travel, please!) but do you need the big container of shampoo and contact lens solution? Or more than one type of perfume, or all 5 of your daily go-to hair products?
Tip: Ladies, depending on climate, your hair may do completely different things than when you are home, so you might just want to wash and go.
3. Medications: Do I need to travel with half my medicine cabinet?
Yes, you're used to seeing those bottles on your counter, but unless it's prescription, you can probably buy the equivalent there if you need it.
Count the number of days you're traveling and take exactly that many of each medication. Store the pills in plastic Ziplock baggies or if necessary, a pill box with dividers (which will take up both extra room and weight, so ask yourself question 1 again!)
Tip: Remember to bring copies of prescriptions in case you are stopped by customs in a foreign country.
4. Makeup: Do I really need my full makeup kit?
Will people like you less if you can't switch between your brown eyeshadow palette and your blue one?
Look at the climate of where you are visiting, too. If it's tropical, you may find your makeup sliding off your face every day -- better to invest in a couple of great lipsticks and some eyeliner, unless you're on a business trip, and still -- less is more in a work environment.
Tips about perfume: be considerate of your fellow passengers and don't wear any on the plane. You may also want to check out some new samples at the makeup counter of a local department store before you go. A couple will likely last your whole trip.
5. Electronics: What can I leave at home and will be more stressful if I don't?
Many people can leave their computers behind, but they just don't.
If it's a vacation, and you absolutely have to keep in touch, will your smartphone do? What about the business center of the hotel or a local Internet cafe?
In some foreign countries, even paid WiFi is still unbearably slow -- do you need this time-consuming stress on your vacation?
Can you consolidate chargers and do you have the right power converters? Don't just bring everything -- it weighs you down and besides, we have this thing called the internet, and you can Google images of the right converter for your country easily.
6. Cell phones: Will the world come to an end if someone has to call me on the hotel phone, and, if so, will I spend as much as my vacation costs on roaming charges?
Cell phone data in any country other than the US usually cost a fraction of the charges you will incur adding international calling to your plan. It is much likely cheaper for you to bring an older phone with a removable SIM card (or better yet, buy one when you arrive) and a data plan (no contract and the plan usually expires after a month if you haven't used all your data).
Traveling in the US? At least see if you can consolidate chargers, like ganging a USB cable onto your computer to charge the phone instead of bringing its own separate charger.
7. Clothes: How many days am I traveling for and how many outfits do I need for each day?
Guys, you're just better at this, no question, so I'm taking my cue from you: bring fewer bottoms and just plan to change tops more often. For a week, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 skirts, and a pair of jeans might do, because I need day and night clothes and I can mix and match the bottoms with 10 tops total.
Ask yourself: can I wear it twice if I pair it with something new? Where am I wearing this outfit?
Remember: if you don't have the perfect thing, chances are you can buy it and it will be a great souvenir!
Tip: lay it out on the bed, and take photos of each outfit.
Not bringing your phone? Good for you. Print out small photos of each day's clothing, just enough to jog your memory.
8. Colors: Can I theme my vacation wardrobe on a single neutral color, like black, brown, blue, beige, or white?
It will reduce both the number of pieces you need and the number of shoes and bags you have to bring.
Tip: change up outfits significantly with small accessories like scarves, cardigans or shrugs, and jewelry. Layered over neutral pieces, you can create several outfits from just 2 tops, a pair of pants or shorts, and a skirt.
9. Shoes: What's the least number of shoes I can get away with?
This is absolutely my worst downfall. I have been known to pack 9 pairs for 8 days. Yet I can also get away with just a great pair of hiking shoes and a pair of strappy sandals.
Matching shoes to a single color (see #8, above) is a great way to reduce. Again, review when you're going to wear them.
10. Carry-ons: What am I sure I will use on the flight?
Usually limited to 15 lbs and these days, often enforced to a single bag, you'd better be sure that each item in your carry-on is essential.
I wrote an article on essential carry-on items but the important thing is to know you will use it. Then weigh, see how much room you've got left, and add other things in that you might use, like that second book or extra magazine.
Tip: if you don't have a good travel scale, pick up the bag, step on the scale, then weigh yourself again without holding the bag.
Bonus -- you'll be thrilled to see the lower number the second time around!
Have a terrific trip!