Have You Ever Tried Throw-Away Packing?
Imagine a suitcase that gets lighter every day. No, it's not QUITE the same thing as disposable clothing for travel. But it's close. I've got a packing method you'll love!
I think I look pretty cute here, chasing pigeons outside Athens' Archaeological Museum. It's all thanks to my jaunty outfit - a beaded, embroidered tunic top and wrinkle resistant, slim fit trousers. It was the perfect outfit for traveling in Greece's warm autumn weather. I was comfortable and everything fit well. So why did I throw it away at the end of the day? No, I wasn't traveling with specialty disposable clothing for travel and, no, I didn't have a disastrous spill. Well, at least not this day! So what's going on?
Welcome to the world of throw away packing. Your carry on kit is about to get a lot lighter!
Some thoughts about disposable income, disposable clothing for travel, and re-using old clothing in new ways.
I rarely throw away my clothing. My disposable income goes towards - you guessed it -travel! When it comes to clothing I favor quality over quantity and I also try to get said quality at bargain basement prices whenever I can. But like most people, every year I seem to acquire a small pile of items whose life cycle is over - or at least it's over for me. Those items in good condition make their way to our donation pile but the rest are destined to be discarded around the world, thanks to throw away packing.
I plan my carry on pack with precision. Nothing makes the cut without careful consideration. It's not unusual for me to travel for a month with just three pairs of trousers and five shirts - and I always try to under-pack my bag, leaving room for souvenirs. But for those first few days of the trip, before conference papers or bags of coffee claim the space, I have room for a few extra items in addition to my usual packing list and that's where I stash my throw away gear.
When I say throw away gear, I'm NOT talking about disposable clothing for travel in the sense of items that are specifically sold to be worn once and then discarded. But I know what you mean! You're talking about items like this, a 10 pack of undies that are each worn once (or twice at the most if you hand wash) and then thrown away. There are also disposable travel baby bibs and even sports socks! For me I'd rather invest in one or two very high quality pieces of travel gear that I can use again and again. But we're getting a bit off track! So, no, I'm not talking about one time use disposable clothing for travel but rather regular clothing that you're taking with you when you travel to wear one last time. Let me explain....
So what exactly will you find in my throw away luggage?
So what's included in my disposable clothing list? It includes stuff like my beaded tunic top you saw me wear in Athens. A broken thread meant half the beads had been lost beyond repair. So it was good for one finale hurrah in front of the good citizens of Athens who would never see me again - but it wasn't salvageable for business meetings or social events at home. It had one proud, final day in the sunshine before getting tossed back at my hotel room. Same with those blue trousers - they looked fine from a distance but up close. those 5 year old stretchy pants were frayed and covered with a thousand tiny broken threads. Bye bye!
Also on the chopping block during my last trip to Europe? A pink cardigan (6 years old) which had been stretched out and had some mysterious micro-holes. There was also a purple tank top that had shrunk in the wash and required a camisole underneath for decency. The camisole went too -it had a pasta sauce stain that was only obscured by the purple tank top! Put it all together and I had a not-horrible ensemble, if only for 24 hours.
Finally, there was a green blouse that always seemed to gap in the wrong places and a pink camisole top that was too translucent for solo wear (both did just fine when layered together for a day at the Acropolis.) Oh, there was also plenty of underwear that had seen better days. And some socks that had just one wear left in 'em. All told, my pack had room for four days worth of throw away outfits (in addition to my usual gear) and, yes, I really did throw it all away!
Time for some packing strategy. What do you keep and what do you "throw away"?
If you have something that's a little bit too loose or just a tiny bit too tight, or something that rides up or bunches up, or always wrinkles, or always needs a second layer, or only looks good at a distance, or has a few impossible stains, put it in your throw away packing pile. Throw away packing is great for minimalist travelers and all people who have a "one in, one out" philosophy to buying new clothing. Toss the old item in your bag, wear it one last time, and throw it away. (If your clothing is still recyclable, send it to the airport or hotel lost & found, where it will eventually find its way to charity. Throw away packing doesn't actually mean everything goes in the garbage - it's just parting ways with you!)
Throw away packing has tons of travel advantages. It's a fun way to send off old favourites with one final hurrah. It's an easy way to give yourself a little bit of variety in your travel wardrobe (at least at the beginning of your trip.) And at least you're not wearing the identical shirt in EVERY photo you take - there's more than one color going on! It's fun to mix and match outfits, pairing standard items from your regular travel list with more funky stuff that's only good for one final wear. And it's awesome to feel like your pack is getting LIGHTER every day you travel.
Throw away packing really does keep your suitcase or backpack tidy and organized during those first few sleep-zombie, jet lag crazy days of a trip. I'll never forget arriving in Stockholm (it seems I do a lot of throw away packing in Sweden...hmmmmm.....) for the TBEX conference. I had about four days of throw away stuff crammed in with my regular gear. I can barely remember my first few days- insane jet lag combined with everything from wild boat rides to fancy receptions, to trying to stay awake on tours and in lectures. But somehow I had an occasion-appropriate outfit for each activity AND I didn't have to organize my pack once. I just kept skimming layers off the top! Travel win!
I'm completely obsessed with packing - maybe a little too obsessed - but I think throw away packing is something everyone can all get behind. It's easy, it's free, and it's fun. What's not to love?
What are you best packing tips and tricks?
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I thought I was the only person who did this. I don't always plan to do throw away packing, but if something breaks, get worn out beyond repair (or stained beyond fixing) on my travels then I'll leave it behind.
27/1/2015 08:54:12 am
That's a great way to pack when a few days of specialty gear is required. Why worry and fuss about buying fancy new sweaters before your trip when you can get them in the best possible spot overseas?
28/1/2015 01:30:44 am
Doesn't it feel so good just to declutter old stuff out of your life? And if the clothing still is in good shape (just isn't great for you), hostels are the perfect place to discard them. Chances are a roommate will snap it up and, if not, there's always a lost and found bin.
28/1/2015 07:05:23 am
I do this almost every trip.
28/1/2015 07:16:16 am
Hurrah - join the team!
Yes! Always - when I was packing for my last trip, almost everything in my bag was meant to stay in the country after I was done. The trip being cut short after 6 days meant that this did not happen, but still... the intention was there!
29/1/2015 02:54:14 am
Poor Old Navy! Little do they suspect they're being used in such a throw-away fashion! But when you consider how beat up your clothing gets with such trips, it's probably best not to invest in more expensive items.
3/2/2015 07:45:23 am
I hear you - it is so satisfying to see those things leave your pack.
3/4/2016 08:58:21 pm
I have used this approach to travel on several trips and love it. I purchased a duffel bag style laundry bag from Bed Bath & Beyond to use as disposable luggage as well. It has back straps like a ruck sack but is taller than a normal one. The fabric color is black so it looks like luggage. I only expected the bag to be used once since it only cost $10. But i have used it as checkin luggage as well as carry on and it is holding up well on 4 trips. Consider using this cheap alternative to luggage since you can even donate this item since it is so inexpensive and return with even less luggage!
27/6/2016 12:55:21 pm
That is a great idea. We have a ton of bags that would totally meet this criteria of being used one more time before calling it quits.....
21/4/2017 02:33:31 pm
I have been doing this for years. It works for me.
24/4/2017 09:13:21 am
I love hearing from people who are part of this trend!
23/7/2017 12:07:25 pm
I have been doing this for years. I once chucked all my daughters clothes away in Greece. The maid asked if she could have them ,she was delighted. They were just a tad too small for my daughter but ok for the holiday. Now I take note of the bag weigh in and then see how much lighter it is on the way back. I wouldn't advise travelling back without a bag at all though. Airport security might think you are a drug mule.
25/7/2017 10:12:13 am
Lorraine- you've made me laugh because Ryan has said the same thing to me - and he says he has the solution! If customs ever questions why I'm traveling so long with so little luggage or if they ever ask why I've been gone so long and yet am bringing back so few souvenirs, he says I should show them my Pinterest page (which demonstrates my obsessions with all things organization and minimalism) and then offer to reorganize someone's luggage to prove that I'm really just a nut, not a drug mule!
25/7/2017 12:00:58 pm
Gosh if I did that they would then ask why I am not cutting up my clothes to use for patchwork and rag rugging which is what's on my pinterest pages. Came back off holiday last saturday and Sunday put the washer on zero pants to wash for me and my daughter
22/1/2018 05:59:11 pm
I brought enough clothes to Africa for my 3 week trip that wasn't my favorites. At the end of the trip I gave all but my underwear to our safari guide for his family. I also asked everyone in our group to save all their shampoos, slippers, sewing kits and stuff and Peter got all those too.
22/1/2018 07:32:01 pm
This is a great idea! I've already started "stockpiling" my less-than-awesome clothing for my next trip. Normally I'd donate it to a charity shop near my home but if I can use it one last time and responsibly pass it on or recycle it on the road, even better.
I like to do this when I go to Las Vegas when all my clothes become saturated with smoke and I don't want to bring it home. Question, how do you manage to string together enough pieces to make an outfit? Often I will have miscellaneous tops but not always pants, shorts or skirts that fit the one last use criteria but it's all odds and ends of different colors and pieces.
26/2/2018 10:06:31 am
Good question! I definitely have a lot more tops than bottoms. I approach it like I'm wearing my regular travel wardrobe (three bottoms, five tops) and the "throw away" tops are just bonus to the wardrobe. As my travel bottoms are pretty neutral, usually just about any top works.
6/3/2018 01:02:10 pm
Do you pack throw away clothing for local weekend trips that may not require travel by plane? Also, for the international trips - we have been seeing on travel websites that they are not encouraging this practice. People in Europe don’t want it?!
6/3/2018 02:09:55 pm
Hi Chris - I think there's a more widespread concern about there just being too much unwanted textiles/ disposable fast fashion in most countries. I'm not sure it's limited to any one country or region. I try to approach it as using the last little bit of wear ability up in a memorable way and then discarding the garments as responsibly as I can (maybe they'll be donated to charity... maybe they get shredded and used for insulation.....). I've never looked at it as "oh, these other people in this other country will really want my cast offs" - for me it's more "I am done with this garment for a number of reasons. I'm going to use it one last time, memorably, and dispose of it as responsibly as I can".
10/6/2018 09:52:05 am
Vanessa, just to clarify, you bring the standard 3 pants, 5 shirts on a trip - regular travel clothes in addition to any throw away items? Sounds like your trips can be up to a month, so you end up washing your clothes and bringing those back? You are not packing all throw away clothes only?
21/8/2018 02:08:06 pm
Correct. Laundry is a big part of our travels but adding in some throw away items helps to stretch things out at the beginning of a trip.
9/2/2019 08:39:26 pm
I do this. I wear an old set to travel and change on arrival so not all rumpled. I come back with my nice pieces and leave all night clothes - old T-shirt’s etc and some old but worth a last wear for a couple of weeks clothes - I then have lots of room to bring stuff home. I also take toiletries to use up and always manage to use up everything save one lippy by the last day
9/2/2019 08:36:14 pm
I’m so glad I found you! My friends think I’m either crazy or wasteful. They don’t get why I take old clothes to wear and throw away. They want me to give them to charity - they would throw these old clothes away! I feel vindicated!
11/2/2019 12:47:29 pm
Yay! So glad you found this post!! And, of course, many of the clothing which is "thrown away" actually does go to charity so it's not that bad - tell them they can do it!!
8/10/2019 08:28:51 pm
I have been “doing” throw away travel since 1970...when I was 3o years old and met a couple in the airport in Guadalajara that told me about “throw away” travel. My friends think i’m Crazy but it’s almost a game to see how much stuff u can take on a trip and throw away. I take old underwear or if I don’t have any I buy cheap stuff at Walmart like 8 pairs of panties for $9.00!(one way underpants)... I always take a photo of the stuff I am leaving behind along with a note that says “please donate”... when I look at my travel photos... I say “0h, i left that shirt in Athens”. Or
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