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Shoulda Woulda Coulda: Confessions of a Chronic Over-Packer

chronic overpacker

The following is a guest submission from Laura Bronner.

I sat down on the floor of my dorm room in Port Douglas, a questionable act in itself, and began unpacking my bag one item at a time. I was three weeks into my 8 week trip and I had to find the source of my unbearably heavy backpack.

Laura Bronner and her 80L backpack suited up.
Overpack much?

In the last four years I have packed up all of my belongings and squeezed them into an 80L backpack a total of five times. You’d think I’d have it down pat by now. I thought I did, anyway. The 6th time I packed my bag was going to be perfect.

I was only going to pack what I absolutely needed and the rest would be left behind.

My two month trip around Australia would include hiking through the outback and lying on beaches dotted along the Queensland Coast. All I needed were a few t-shirts, a pair of shorts, maybe a dress or two and my bathing suit. In my mind, that was exactly what I had packed.

When it came time to hoist that sucker on my back I could just about lift it off the ground. At the airport they told me it weighed 19 kilograms, just one kilogram shy of the limit. It was right around this time I started wondering what I had packed that could make it so heavy. I knew a lot of it was books; up until that point I swore I would never buy an e-reader, so instead I suffered the consequences of carrying a small library on my shoulders.

As I made my way through the books over the first few weeks and left them behind at hostels, I couldn’t help but notice that my bag still wasn’t getting any lighter. That was how I found myself propped up against one of the bottom bunks of my 6-bed dorm room chatting to Mike from Manchester, England letting the air-conditioner attempt to cool me from behind. It was time to find out why this bag was weighing me down.

I found an umbrella, a camping shower, and at the very bottom, a pile of shirts fit for a night out on New Year’s Eve. I also found two pairs of sneakers, two pairs of sandals and a pair of ballet flats. I say found because I didn’t know any of this was in there and I wasn’t using or wearing them. Who packed this bag?

I couldn’t believe what a faux pas I had made; these were rookie mistakes and I knew better. But I do it every single time I pack for a trip; I am a chronic over-packer. The worst part is that no matter how much I pack, without fail, I always end up wearing the same pair of shorts and two or three t-shirts for the entire trip.

I’m going to try something different this time around. Seventh times the charm, right? I’m going to buy a new backpack. It’s going to be small; so small in fact that I will have no choice but to carefully consider every single thing I put inside it. That and I bought an e-reader.

>> Read about Laura’s transformation and travels with just a 40L backpack in this post.

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laura bronner bio image

About the Author: Laura Bronner is an American Expat about to pack up again and head to South Korea. After graduating from college she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel. That was three years ago. Since then she has lived and travelled all over New Zealand and Australia and the list of where else she wants to live grows longer every day. Follow along on her adventures at An American Abroad.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Sam says

    I loved reading this! I wish it was longer to find out how much you threw away lol … I’m going travelling for the first time 01/03/2014 travelling around America, Canada, Fiji and Australia to start with. This site has helped me make so many decisions! The old me would get 22KG into a suitcase for a 2 week holiday, now I’m going to confidently pack under 20KG for the next 2+ years of my life! (My boyfriend is expecting a moment or 2 like you had though- I WILL prove him wrong)

    Never thought I’d see the day 🙂

  2. Simone says

    Love it! We are traveling RTW and doing it with 40L packs. I can totally relate to the books, just a few weeks ago I was carrying 5 books that I picked up along the way and I HAVE an IPad full of e books!

  3. cherishka says

    “But, but, but… I need this…” – before I dragged around my 50L for 6 months, now I swear only <40L is needed!!! Still haven't mastered my packing skills to fit everything in a carry on. Hopefully soon!

  4. Diana says

    My husband and I are getting things ready for traveling, and we just bought our new packs on Sunday. Mine is a 32L and even that I hope fits all my stuff! I love overpacking, but now I have no choice!! This will be our first time without actual luggage and even though I have spent tons of time on HPL and reading about other’s adventures and packing, I still hope I can figure it out and not over/under pack 🙂

  5. Chris Zee says

    Hi Laura,

    I’m glad you’ve made the decision to travel light. Many years ago, when i had just started travelling, I hit the road with a 70+10L Deuter backpack. After being dragged down by the weight in France and feeling corpious amount of sweat pour from my pores even in nippy winter weather, I swore that would be the last time I took such a big and heavy bag.

    Over the years I’ve refined my packing list, and I now travel with a 32L backpack that’s only filled about two-thirds of the way. My pack weighs 7-8 pounds, fully loaded for warm weather. The feather light feeling is incredibly liberating when you’re wondering around a strange city, safe in the knowledge that you can walk indefinitely with such a light pack on your back.

    If you are looking for lightweight bags and don’t mind a top loading (hiking) backpack, the Osprey Hornets are the lightest mainstream bags you can buy. It comes in 24L, 32L and 46L capacity. I have the 32L one (it weights in at a mind-blowing 600g, or about 1 lb 5 ozs), and it works a treat for lightweight travels.

    I’ve also tried traveling with an “ordinary” Jansport daypack (Wasabi, also 32L, 500g or 1 lb 2 oz) as my main pack, and it worked well too, proving that you don’t need fancy expensive bags to travel light.

    Good luck in your quest to lighten your load.

    • Laura says

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the tips on the different bags! I’ve just started looking as I’m setting off in a few weeks time. I CANNOT wait to travel light. I’ll have a look at the Osprey bags, they sound great!

      I would love to be able to use a good old Jansport, but I think that is like an addict going cold turkey, I’ll have to work my way towards that extreme!


  6. Sinead says

    This happens to me every time. *finds three-year old candy bar in bottom of bag* WTF? It’s like my stuff copulates when I’m not looking.


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