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I end up overpacking for every trip and that rubs off on Mom as I’m helping her get ready too. How can I stop overpacking and only take the essentials?


Hi Debbie and thanks for the question. I totally get the desire to overpack because I hate wanting to wear something and not having it with me! That said, I’ve also learned my lesson when I’m struggling with my luggage and mom’s while on the road. Even with airline skycaps and hotel valets, I still end up dragging the luggage myself at times and it just kills my back anymore to lug some enormous suitcase around. Hopefully this helps:

Right behind medications (and underwear!) is what I consider the second most important item to pack when traveling with an aging parent: appropriate footwear. My mom does not like exercise and therefore does little of it when not on vacation, so when we travel she walks much more than she’s used to (even though I arrange wheelchairs whenever and wherever we go). So on our trips I want to make sure she brings the shoes she needs to handle the increase in activity. As she’s packing, I go through her footwear options in detail over the phone and help her select one pair of dress shoes (for evenings), one pair of casual sandals, and one pair of walking shoes (to wear on the plane). Because she almost never gets rid of shoes (even long after any support is gone!), I often send her new walking shoes to take on our trips. That way I know she has at least one great shoe option that’s extra cushy and comfortable. And getting a new pair of shoes helps build her excitement for our next trip.

The items you and your parent need depend on the type of trip you’re taking, of course. Many experienced travelers offer this hard-earned advice: “Lay out on your bed all the clothes you think you’ll need for your upcoming trip. Then put half of them back in the closet.” Other great advice includes separating your clothes into three piles:

  1. Clothes you must have with you on the trip.
  2. Clothes you think you might need on the trip.
  3. Clothes you could make do without.

Once you’ve separated your clothes into these three piles, push yourself (or your parent) hard to leave behind items in the second and third groups. If something isn’t absolutely necessary, leave it at home! After all, that’s one fewer item you’ll have to tote around. Leaving a bit of empty space in your suitcase also means you’ll have room for a purchase or two when you’re on vacation. And with today’s airline baggage fees, minimizing the amount of luggage you bring can save you a lot of money, too.

stop overpacking

I use the bag on the left for longer trips or when I need multiple change of clothes. I typically use the bag on the right for trips lasting 3 – 4 days max.

When I travel, for my daytime outfits I typically plan on getting two to three days’ wear out of every bottom (slacks, skirts, shorts, jeans, etc.), and one day—perhaps two, if I don’t spill anything on it—of wear out of each top. So for a seven-day trip, I’ll bring three bottoms and six tops. I also bring items that I can mix and match into different outfits. (For example, I rarely bring a blouse that can be worn with only one particular pair of pants.) As for evening wear, I also bring either two tops and one bottom, or two dresses. Even though Mom and I usually prefer to eat at casual local establishments, it’s good to be prepared in case we decide to do something fancy.

When on vacation, neither Mom nor I worry about ironing: we’re both fine if a shirt or dress comes out of the suitcase with a few wrinkles. After all, we’re on vacation! That said, because I’m determined both not to iron and not to look like I’ve been sleeping in my clothes, I avoid bringing linen or other clothing that seriously wrinkles. Materials with the best track record for emerging wrinkle-free from a suitcase include:

  • Cotton knits and cotton-knit blends (unless treated, pure cotton typically needs ironing, while knit blends still look good after being folded and packed for hours on end);
  • Wool and cashmere;
  • Anything made of 100% nylon or polyester knits;
  • Most sweaters;
  • Denims (though lighter denim pieces, such as skirts, may need a quick once-over with an iron).
Sometimes throwing mom on the luggage cart works too!

Sometimes throwing mom on the luggage cart works too!

In addition to the basics, you and your parent may want to bring items specific to your destination and your planned activities there. If you’re going on a walking tour in the mountains of Nepal, for example, you’ll need sturdy boots. Planning to lounge on a Hawaiian beach? Don’t forget your sun hat! And if you’re planning an evening at the Paris Opera, you’ll need formal attire. Chances are, though, that you and your parent will be spending most of your time simply exploring, and for those days casual, everyday dress is all you’ll likely need. Be sure, though, to research what constitutes acceptable “everyday” dress at your destination, because some cultures frown on certain fashions—such as shorts or sleeveless tops, for example.

For additional packing suggestions, check out these blogs from Travel with Aging Parents:

Hopefully this is helpful Debbie when packing for your next trip. Thanks again for the question and keep me posted on how these tips work for you!