How Much Clothing Is Too Much for an International Vacation?
We got to the bottom of the perennial travel debate with expert packing advice.
When I am packing for a trip, I first go overboard on packing underwear. I pack three pairs of panties per day, which immediately takes up an entire packing cube. Unsurprisingly, this leads me to be an overpacker. On trips with friends, they roll their eyes as I wrestle an overstuffed duffle bag or a giant piece of checked luggage.
Apparently, my overpacking proclivities are not a charming quirk to many people. In a recent thread on the r/Travel subreddit, frequent travelers let their opinions on extreme overpackers loose. Most of the top complaints involved roping other people on your trip to carry the overpacked luggage you brought—no one wants to strain their back helping you lug a suitcase packed with eight pairs of shoes up a European stairwell.
"I went on a 6-day vacation with my sister once," one Redditor commented. "When she showed up at the airport, she had a huge bag. She had everything in there including 1) her favorite pillow and 2) a full-size can of spray starch for the clothes she planned on ironing during the week."
Packing a full-sized pillow is obviously over the top—but where's the line? And what are you to do if you're prone to overpacking? To find out exactly the right amount to pack for an international trip, Thrillist spoke with two different experts: a stylish frequent traveler, and a packing organization expert.
How much luggage should you bring for an international trip?
Kayleen Kelly is a professional organizer who owns a home design and organization company and also runs the popular @KayleenKellyOrganize TikTok account filled with packing and organizing tips. She advises travelers to keep it as simple as possible, especially if you're not limiting your stay to one spot.
"If you are traveling to multiple locations on your trip I definitely recommend keeping it simple with a carry-on only," Kelly told Thrillist. "Lugging multiple, large cases around and having to repack many times can cause a lot of stress. The less you bring the less you have to manage. However, if you are staying at one location and can unpack comfortably feel free to pack more in a checked bag."
But what does that mean for the people who genuinely want to dress up while traveling, and simply can’t fit all of their outfits in a single carry-on bag? This is where Harmony Obasi's advice comes in. Obasi is a frequent traveler who runs the TikTok account @PassportGoat. Obasi, like many travelers, started out traveling with just one book bag. It was cheaper and easier not to check a bag. As someone who liked to look good on their trips though, a single backpack for an international trip just wasn't cutting it.
"The book-bag thing wasn't working," Obasi said. "I was carrying around this 40-pound backpack through the airport. My back was killing me. So then I transitioned over to doing one checked bag and one carry-on."
That has proved to be the winning combination for Obasi: one medium-sized checked bag, and one carry-on. The medium-sized checked bag also was a recommendation from the Reddit thread. One traveler who shared that they need to have a checked bag for international trips added an important caveat: "If I can't carry the bag by myself up a broken escalator, it's a no-go."
This determination is, again, not set in stone. You may not be in a position to carry a suitcase up a flight of stairs; but to help determine what kind of luggage you should bring for a longer international trip, you should consider the logistics of getting the luggage around.
How much clothing should you pack for an international trip?
There is no perfect formula for how much clothing to pack for an international trip. Factors like destination, weather, and types of activities automatically mean that every person's needs will be different. But, there are ways to make it work.
On the heavier packing end of the spectrum, Obasi said he typically packs two outfits per day for trips. This is typically to accommodate daytime activities like going to the beach, doing excursions, and exploring, and nighttime activities, which include dressier activities like going to restaurants, bars, and venues.
Kelly advises packing a week's worth of clothing, and then finding ways to wash those items while you're traveling. "Many hotels have laundry services or you can bring hand-wash laundry tabs to wash in the sink and hang dry," Kelly explained. This method encourages lighter packing, he said.
These tips aren't entirely contradictory, either. If you plan on spending an extended period of time on a trip, you can still follow the two outfits-per-day tip; but pack a total of eight outfits, which you can wash and rewear after the fourth day of your trip.
Another way to extend the life of your outfits? Make your outfit combinations interchangeable—that way, when it comes time to re-wear items you've packed, you can still wear a "new outfit" even if said outfit was recently washed in the sink.
"My best tip is for you to pack all within a certain color palette," Kelly said. "This allows you to bring less but mix and match to create more looks."
Final tips on packing for longer international trips
Packing well is not an easy task. This is why it is so easy to overpack and end up with a cabal of suitcases that the rest of your traveling group can quickly grow to resent. It's important to think of packing as something you have to learn how to do, much like any other new activity or chore. And it might not be perfect on your first attempt.
"People struggle. It's actually a skill. Packing is a skill," Obasi said. "You have to do it a couple times to understand, 'OK, this is my technique. This is what is going to work best for me.'"
Another tip? Both Kelly and Obasi swear by packing cubes. They are the difference between total chaos and actually managing what you've got, even during the most hectic days of your trip. Looking for even more packing tips for long trips? Check out Thrillist's guide to the five most underrated packing essentials.
Looking for more travel tips?
Whether you need help sneaking weed onto a plane, finding an airport where you can sign up for PreCheck without an appointment, or making sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to when your flight is canceled, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for up-to-date travel hacks and all the travel news you need to help you plan your next big adventure.