So you just booked your impromptu ticket to Europe next week. Or you just got your student Visa from the Chinese Embassy days before your flight date (because lets be honest, that is what always happens with student visas). All you have left to do is decide what to pack.  If this is your first time going abroad, you will probably be tempted to pack your whole room in your suitcase for all the “what if’s”.  Trust me when I say that you do not need to pack as much as you think you do.

The Quick and Dirty: LESS IS MORE

Folks in the economics have this concept called “diminishing marginal returns.” Basically, the more junk you pack in your bag, the less use you get out of each individual item you pack. Especially considering you have to lug all of that stuff around. Conversely the less you pack, the more use you get out of each individual item and the less burden you have of dealing with deadweight in your bag.  By packing half as much, you can get twice the enjoyment out of your travels.


Save time and money at the airport – Some international flights don’t charge for your first or second pieces of luggage, but many domestic flights do. Do you really want to spend your first moments in your destination waiting for your luggage to come out of the carousel? NO, you want to hit the ground running (or hit it sitting in a taxi, if that is your thing).

Less of a target – We have seen the image of a traveler carrying a back pack, a duffle and a large rolling suitcase.  It just screams tourist and makes you a target to thieves, pick pockets and con artists alike. Not only that, dealing with multiple bags splits your attention that could be used for both enjoying the atmosphere and keeping an eye out for potential dangers around you.

Easier to organize – It is much easier to organize your belongs by sheer nature of having less of them. This means you have a smaller chance of losing and misplacing things. The best part about having less is that you have less stuff to unpack and repack, saving time and trouble especially if you are moving between different hotels or hostels.


Multipurpose is king – Thinking about bringing a flashlight, a camera, a guidebook, a language dictionary? Your smartphone is all of those plus more in your pocket. It saves a ton of space and weight.

If you can help it, one carry on plus a small backpack is all you really need. Anything important like documents and electronics goes in your backpack for easy access, everything else can go in your carry on. I have literally packed everything I need for my next 6-7 months in China in a 35 liter REM bag, plus a little draw string daypack.

One week of clothes at most, depending on the type of travel.  – If you are a student traveling abroad a weeks worth of clothing is more than enough, just do your laundry every week.

Why pack when you can buy/borrow? – Thinking about bringing that extra bar of soap, q- tips and/or hair product? Don’t. Nine times out of ten you can buy these things when you get to your destination. If you are in a hotel, you get many of these things for free. Same applies to towels, most hotels have them, or you can buy them cheap for the duration of your stay.

BONUS:  Pack consumables that you can’t buy at your destination. Once they are gone you have more room to take presents back! Junk foods like Oreos, Twinkies or M&Ms are usually either non-existent or over priced outside of the US. If your case is the latter, you get the extra bonus of saving money if you were going to buy those Oreos anyway.


We already know that you are going to have an amazing time when abroad. By following these guidelines you can free yourself up to get the most out of your travels

Author’s Bio

Richard Huynh is a Global Economics major at University of California, Santa Cruz specializing in China/Africa relations. He has studied / lived in Hong Kong, Kenya, Brazil and is currently studying abroad in China. He enjoys martial arts, cooking, and climbing up to high places.

You can Internet stalk his travels at: