I’m always looking for ways to pack less. Traveling carry-on only is important to me, so anything I can do to reduce the amount and weight of what’s in my backpack is worthwhile. This means that instead of packing something, I may simply buy it there.
Plus exploring markets and shops at your destination can be a real cultural experience!
Subscribing to this mindset is not always the easiest when heading to new and unknown (to you) destinations, but it’s the one that can make the biggest impact on your packing. Let yourself buy it there, if you actually end up needing it.
Buy It There: Toiletries
This is especially important if you’re traveling for a long period of time. The liquids restriction is a major hassle, and you don’t want to be forced to check your bag because your shampoo bottle is bigger than 3.4 ounces/100ml.
- You probably don’t need as much as you think. Read about how long toiletries last.
Pack enough shampoo and conditioner to get through the first week or two of your trip, and then buy more while you’re traveling. People wash their hair in other parts of the world too, so you’ll find shampoo just about everywhere. It might not be your favorite brand, but it’ll still clean your hair.
The same goes for lotion, soap, sunscreen, after-sun lotion, bug spray, and much more. Some things might be a little more expensive in other places, but the cost is usually offset by not having to pay for checked bags. And sometimes you’ll get lucky and pay less than you would at home.
- Check out the best toiletries for carry-on travel.
Buy It There: Medical Items
It’s always worth having a few first aid items in your bag, but you don’t need to plan for every possible medical emergency. Pharmacies exist in most parts of the world, and you can get supplies there if you need something, often for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.
If you take prescription medication on a regular basis, talk to your doctor before you leave for a long trip. Common prescriptions can often be filled in other parts of the world as long as you have the prescription written out with the generic name.
- See our tips for packing medications for travel.
You can also find optical shops in many countries and get more contact lenses. Again, you should have your eye doctor at home write out your prescription to take with you. You can also restock on contact solution at optical shops around the world.
I never take more than a few weeks worth of solution because of the liquids restriction. (Note: The US considers contact solution a medical necessity, so it doesn’t count towards your liquids limit, but not all countries view it that way.)
- See some insight on how to pack and travel with contact lens solution.
Buy It There: Things You Don’t Need for the Whole Trip
This tip is especially for those on long-term travel adventures, like gap years and round-the-world trips. Remembering this is an option will greatly reduce packing and luggage stress.
If you’re spending a lot of time in warm climates like Southeast Asia and a short amount of time in cold weather like New Zealand in winter, buy a winter jacket and some warmer clothes once you get to the cold destination. Look for secondhand stores or talk to other travelers who might be leaving and don’t need their gear anymore.
If most of your trip is spent on the beach, but you’re planning a trek in the mountains, it doesn’t make sense to lug around heavy jackets and hiking equipment for the entire trip. You can buy just about anything you need when you arrive at your hiking destination.
Consider Things That May Be Difficult to Buy
Sometimes it’s not practical to buy something while you’re traveling and you’re better off taking it with you or finding an alternative.
Wedding and other special occasion clothing
Special occasion clothing can be tricky. At the end of my round the world trip, I had a wedding to attend in Atlanta before going back home to Germany. I knew I could find something cheap to wear while I was there, so I didn’t travel with nice clothes I wouldn’t wear for five months.
But if you’re going to a wedding in certain parts of Asia where the clothing sizes might be too small, you might want to pack a nice outfit. Pack something versatile that can be dressed up for the wedding but also dressed down for other occasions while you’re traveling.
Caroline wore her Encircled Chrysalis Cardi as a dress to a wedding, but it can be worn in lots of other styles. Tieks ballet flats are a good choice for shoes since they’re comfortable enough (for some people) to wear while sightseeing, but they can also be paired with a dress.
In some parts of the world, tampons are hard or impossible to find. For a short trip, bring what you need to get you through. But for longer trips, consider switching to something like the Diva Cup. You won’t have to worry about buying tampons, and they’re better for the environment.
- Read more about managing your period on the road.
Some medication is hard to find in other parts of the world. Do some research to find out, but if you don’t feel you can fill your prescriptions on the road, bring as much as is practical. You can have someone back home mail you more later. If that’s not an option, you might have to plan a short trip home or to another country where you can get your medication.
What items have you bought while traveling? What things have you had trouble finding on the road?