Packing Anxiety

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My husband laughs at my packing. He laughed even harder when I mentioned that I was going to blog about packing for, you see, in the last 4 years of full time travel, of constantly moving on to pastures new, packing anxiety has been my constant companion. I hate packing! I really, really can’t stand the stress, it leaves me agitated, confused and wound up. Thankfully I love travelling so much that it don’t let it stop me, but still, after all the practise I’ve had, it’s a big issue.

Packing Anxiety is Real, Packing is my Worst Nightmare!

What more can I say? I have to leave myself hours to pack, a full morning for instance, for a job that should take 5 minutes.

The worst packing scenario is trekking, where the majority of our stuff stays in storage and only absolute essentials come along for the hike. Multiply my stress by 3 because I have to make these choices for the kids too.

Thankfully, Chef can pack his own stuff.

Packing anxiety. packing tips
Random picture of a tropical plant because I don’t have any packing anxiety pictures.

This is what I do, according to him.

Panic for a few weeks, write a list, panic some more, pack. Unpack and put everything all over the bed, panic again, take a few things out, panic again and then pack 5 pairs of jeans and forget my socks.

This is what he does

Leave everything to the last second, grab stuff  that’s clean and shove it all in a battered old backpack.

I think his method is possibly better, but he doesn’t worry about forgetting things and doesn’t care what he looks like, ever.

I suffer from packing anxiety, a terrible affliction which gives me nightmares and sees me reaching for the gin. I’m not joking, I suffer from intermittent anxiety, but packing anxiety, when it hits,  has made me quite unwell. For somebody who loves to travel it’s no laughing matter.

Update: I have learned in recent years, that my anxiety gets much better if I take my magnesium. I have also learned that I have ADHD, which is closely bound to anxiety, perfectionism, procrastination and a whole bunch of fun things. Isn’t it interesting how we get to know ourselves as we age?

Anyway, I’ve got better at it over the years, I know what I need to take and what can stay at home, and I know the signs of packing anxiety creeping up on me, so here are my tips, born of experience. And breath….

NOTE: I originally wrote this post a few months before we set off to travel the world in 2012, I’ve chilled out not much since. I am, however, fully proficient at travel with just a carry-on bag with a new attitude. Not I just think “If I need something I’ll buy it.” This doesn’t work for all destinations, of course!

This is a very old post that for some reason gets some search traffic. I have little more to say on the subject of packing anxiety, other than, you are not alone and I fully sympathise.

My Best Packing Tips to Ease Packing Anxiety

1. If you forget something you can usually buy it at your destination.



3. Don’t forget a first aid kit.

This is where the packing anxiety really kicks in!

I always take Betadine iodine spray, we’ve used that loads on cuts and grazes and trench foot.

Plasters, dressings, tape and bandages, same.

Medicines for the kids are going to be a worry.

I’m wondering about taking some worming tablets. The kids get worms all the time here in tropical Australia. I think this will continue around the world as they will invariably continue to play with other children. (update – they never got worms again after leaving Australia.)

Nits are a problem here, too.  Maybe I should I take nit treatment.

Maybe an antihistamine for reactions to insect bites, stops itching and scratching and allows them to get some sleep.

I’d love to take an antibiotic cream, but it’s only available on prescription, for what is called school sores here,  a bacterial skin infection that spreads rapidly and is very contagious. It’s hard to treat, but Bactroban cream seems to knock it on the head if you treat it early.

Again, it’s common in the tropics in children. We just had another run in with impetigo or school sores, my least favorite tropical disease, click the link to read all about it. (Update: We never had school sores again after leaving Australia.)

You see, normal people wouldn’t be worrying about all this 6 months before departure, packing anxiety sufferers can’t stop thinking about the “what ifs”

4. You can’t beat Thailand for children’s and men’s T shirts.

OK, so no T-shirt emergencies.

5. Plastic zip lock bags, oh how I love them!

Take loads. I have one for everything.

Kids underwear, my underwear, kids T-shirts, socks, everything.

I like to be able to find stuff, you see.

I bag anything that could leak.  Particularly if flying into high altitudes, like Peru. Things seem to explode in the lower pressure, it’s happened to us. The ball popped out of a roll-on antiperspirant.

Extra bags for stinky dirty laundry and wet stuff, too. Plastic bags make me feel much better in general, lots of them.

6. Backpacks are not my friend.

I hate having to rummage about for something that is invariably right at the bottom of my backpack.

For that reason I always prefer a pack that zips open like a conventional travel bag, not a top loader. My husband disagrees, so make up your own mind.

Being able to see what’s in my pack helps a lot.

 packing anxiety and the best trekking pack ever
My best trekking pack ever. Now, sadly, retired.

7. I can’t live without wet wipes.

I know I can’t, I have to take some.

And so it goes on, the thought process, the list writing. A packing list helps, but then I get anxious about the list. Is it long enough, what did I forget?

That’s all I can think of right now, but I’m sure that this list will be added to over the months as the packing anxiety starts to take a grip. I hate packing! Have you got any more packing tips to share? Are you a fellow packing anxiety sufferer? If you want to find out how I get on with the packing nightmare on the countdown to our big family adventure, put your email in the box. Thanks ever so much!

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

13 thoughts on “Packing Anxiety”

  1. The thing I find the most horrible to do in life is PACKING! And unfortunately it often does prevent me from doing things 🙁
    I have not been able to overcome this anxiety but one thing I find that helps a bit is a thing I created, that I call an Un-Pack list.

    I am a list maker so of course I would make a list before every trip, over night stay or a day out. But what I do now is reverse it by making an un-pack list.
    I’ll explain briefly: say I go do a particular activity, when I return from this activity, I make a list of all the things that I needed or were actually useful (as I un-pack them). So next time I am getting ready for activity X I can refer to this list. I also make a section on the same list of what I took but didn’t need as a reminder that I don’t need to pack it if I feel temped next time.

    I have a few lists for different types of activities (eg. hiking, motorbike trail riding, different types of camping, domestic travel)

    Anxiety unfortunately is still there but I reduce some of the steps for myself by (mostly) being able to follow what worked last time.

    I hope this helps someone else.

  2. I can’t explain my packing anxiety very well, but it is different than the descriptions here. I just can’t make myself do it sometimes. I have a pile of stuff right by the door, and I have been days trying to overcome my resistance to just put it in the truck. I had another issue, which for some reason I usually also do: I feel the need to fix something that will go on the trip. This time it was putting a secure phone holder in my truck. I can’t depend on the suction cup kind, and had this one taped to my dash, but I am a tinkerer and needed to finish the job in a better way, even though I have been living with the tape for weeks! There was also an issue with my ATV that I felt the need to repair, and it could have been left alone had I not started to work on it. I am relieved that I am not the only person with packing anxiety, and that you were able to give it a name. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I was supposed to arrive in Maine yesterday or the day before.

  3. I have been suffering from packing anxiety for 22 years and it’s not getting any better! 🙁 I HATE packing! It makes me so nervous, overwhelmed, I even sometimes get panick attacks!. I have to pack for myself, my hubby and son 🙁 more the trip duration is long, More my anxiety is strong. The main issue is packing clothes that should nicely match with shoes, bags and accessories and fit for the weather forecast and the events or holiday occasions. And the worst is that no one understands my struggle, they simply accuse me of being slow and late. 🙁

    • I used to be that way too Loubna. I’m much better now since travelling full time for 6 years but I do still worry for days in advance what to pack. The main problem is – we own too many clothes, we believe the marketers and think we have to have the perfect thing for every eventuality. What do I pack now … jeans and running tights or leggings, plastic flip flops, hiking boots, a couple of long sleeve T shirts, a sleeveless T shirt and a nice shirt to throw over the top. That’s it. It does me for any general travel trip. Obviously for more hi tech travel, like, trekking up Everest or scuba diving, you’re looking at gear. But next week I’m off to Borneo, Thailand and Bali, That, plus a swimsuit and travel towel 2 bras, maybe 3 knickers – is all I’m taking. It will be fine. If it’s not fine I can buy stuff there, but it will be. And I only buy black white and blue and very rarely travel with white. Simples!

  4. Thank you for writing this blog, understanding about packing anxiety. I have not travelled in a while, so I feel I have to learn some things, in addition to feeling anxious and dare I say angry. Thank you.

  5. My issue is I have to pack my dietary needs. So one suitcase for food. Plus, I know o can’t get what I forget in another country. Clothes maybe, but at a high cost.

  6. My packing anxiety is not related to forgetting anything as the article suggested. This is not about PACKING ANXIETY it is about what to pack and being organised.

    My packing anxiety is based on 2 things; 1. my bag is so heavy it will break. (I’ve had the wheel handle snap on the back of a suitcase). 2. The bag will be so heavy the airline won’t allow it on the plane. (Has happened to me and also to my sister).

  7. Oh my goodness, I am going to have to tell everyone about that Head & Shoulders as body wash idea. Lots of my friends’ kids have been having fungal problems, including the white patches thing you mentioned. I also do the sarong as personal cooling system trick.

  8. You’re full of great tips! I especially enjoyed learning that Head and Shoulders will double as a body wash and would prohibit fungal infections. I had no idea.

    • Thanks Tonya and yes, absolutely true, I was troubled by a fungal skin thing for a while, years ago, working in Pathology I had easy access to Dermatology consultants, the one I saw suggested I cover myself in Head and Shoulders for a few minutes and then shower off. It works a treat. I often use it as shower wash to keep those things at bay, they can be a problem in the tropics. My husband has just had it, white patches appear, your ( inevitable here) tan disappears in patches, not to be confused with vitiligo, obviously. The shampoo sorted him out, too.

  9. You are full of great tips, and they are entertaining to read to boot! I don’t know how I haven’t happened upon your site before, but thanks for linking up today, so I could come over and get to know another traveling family!

  10. I think the thing it took me the longest to learn is not only can you buy something when you need it, but secondly it might be cheaper if you buy it there!

    Although if I ever did buy something I had to be firm and stick with the one in one out (and into the bin) rule, so my bag did not get too heavy.


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