[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
Maybe you’ve seen all those amazing fares to Europe and thought to yourself, time for a trip. Smart, but here’s some more good advice: What you pack matters. Let me turn that on its head: What you don’t pack is nearly important as what you do pack. Put these things on your don’t list to streamline your trip (and life) and sometimes save money.
The Do-Not-Pack List
1. A Nice, Big Bag
Forget packing (OK, packing in...) a big bag – not necessarily because it could go missing. According to the latest Department of Transportation statistics, 2016 saw the lowest annual rate of lost luggage since the department started collecting these figures back in 1987. But it still happens and when it does it’s a pain. Pack a carry-on because it stays with you. Beyond that, it make hopping on and off trains and other forms of public transportation a breeze, which will come in handy if you do decide to go to Europe.
2. The Good Stuff
By this I mean valuable jewelry or anything you can’t bear to part with. During travels, things get lost, bags are stolen or riffled through (and this has even happened to bags in overhead bins while passengers were sleeping). So do not bring your good stuff with the exception of your phone or another electronic device which you will guard with your life (kidding – kind of – but be sure everything on your device is backed up). Tip: If you must bring those diamond-stud earrings, wear them. But in general, avoid the flashy stuff that can make you extra-enticing to thieves.
3. Liters of Liquid
You already know that containers of liquid larger than 3.4 ounces are a no-go through TSA security checkpoints. You are allowed to pack bottles of wine in checked bags, but they can break and that lovely burgundy may clash with your chartreuse shorts. Ship breakable liquids, or, if you’re flying to wine country on Alaska Airlines on certain routes, the carrier will ship a case of your favorite vintage for free.
4. These Tools, but not Those Tools
Knowing what the TSA does and does not allow in carry-ons (and other bags) can be complicated, but here are some examples.
- Allowed in carry-ons: Disposable razors, knitting needles, scissors (if blades are less than 4 inches long), screwdrivers and wrenches (less than 7 inches long), ice skates and roller blades, vaping devices, safety matches (one book).
- Not allowed in carry-ons: Self-defense aerosols such as pepper spray, razor blades (unless in a cartridge), lighters with fuel in them, maple syrup (unless in a container 3.4 ounces or less), hammers, chainsaws, cattle prods, machetes.
Don’t laugh about the machete and cattle prod; passengers have indeed tried to bring such items through security. You can learn more about security dos-and-don’ts here.
5. Bulky Reading Material
I love books, but not when I’m traveling. They weigh too much (and overweight baggage fees can be steep), but mostly they take up too much room. Put your favorites on your electronic device.
6. A Third Pair of Shoes
Like books, shoes weigh too much and are too darned bulky. We can’t do without them, so do with less. My motto is: Wear a pair, pack a pair. If you must have a third, make them something thin and flexible like flip-flops. Better yet, buy them at your destination.
7. Hair Stuff
Yes, you can pack big bottles of shampoo and conditioner in a checked-bag but why would you want to? As for the blow-dryer, even the most modest hotels have them these days (call ahead if uncertain), and you know for sure your in-laws will. One caveat, from a well-traveled friend: Some hotels only supply a shampoo-conditioner combination product. If your hair requires a separate shampoo and conditioner, pack your own travel-size bottles.
8. Too Many Cards, Too Much Cash
We all have way too many cards these days so before you take off, clean out your wallet and pick two: one to use and one for back-up. (Make sure you keep a record of the numbers and contact info in case they go missing.). Fewer cards mean fewer to lose or get stolen. As for cash, there are ATMs everywhere and your bank (or phone) can help you find them wherever you go.
9. Too Many Outfits
No one is ever going to mistake me for a fashion icon, but my clothes-packing rule can work for anyone: Whatever you pack must be something you like, something that looks good on you, and something that’s comfortable. Easy to clean and wrinkle-free (or on that spectrum) work best. Tip: Don’t go on a clothes-buying binge before a big trip because you won’t have a chance to road-test your outfits.
Keep all your valuables on your person. And if you forgot anything, don’t panic. Unless you’re traveling to Mars, you can buy it at your destination.