Mistakes people make when packing for Japan

Packing for Japan or anywhere really. Four international trips last year, three the year before and before that. I’ve gotten really used to big packing. So let me share some tips and learn from my mistakes. Hopefully I stick to these rules well since I’m leaving for a month in Japan in a few weeks!

This is a guideline for most airlines which means you can have two checked bags and two carry-ons. If you have different requirements always check and tailor to those.

Not theme packing or considering each piece

A lot of times people say to make a capsule collection of clothing when packing. Based on some theme or something. I like the idea, I do. If anything polyvore and pinterest are great at compiling them. But it doesn’t seem to work for me in real life and it’s mostly geared towards normcore or minimalist. Two things I have realized I am not. And even if I try to do with with my own closet, I do not feel like that capsule person 24/7.

So instead I stick with a few rules.

BIG RULE! Can everything you pack be worn with two other things or more you pack. Is that printed skirt good with more than one top? And as you do this you may find yourself relying on one item more and more. So just play around with it and see.

I’m a big fan of drawing out all the items I plan to pack and doing this check. See my silly drawings of this in the Getting back to Gal post.

Other rule: Bring one coat/sweater cardigan/trench during Spring/Summer/Fall make it go with everything else. Wear it/carry it on the plane. Coats are big suitcase killers. They’re both heavy AND take up space. If you need to bring 1 coat and 1 jacket. But really they’re chunky.

Other rule: Sometimes its better to bring separates than dresses because it’s easier to wear a separate two days in a row. Or just multiple times that week.

Other rule: Consider shoes. Shoes are heavy. Shoes need to be walked in miles everyday. Pick three including the ones you’re wearing to travel. If it’s only a week you get two. (more on this below)

Bringing too much clothing

Too much clothing? You regularly hear people complain they didn’t pack warmly or cooly enough (solve that at uniqlo or GU for cheap), but too much clothing? 

You’ve packed your coordinates and then immediately throw out most of the ideas when you arrive to Japan. You’ve bought new clothes and you probably want to wear them immediately. All your packed clothes seem dull when you see the new releases at stores. Or a good vintage find. You’ll despise most of what you’ve packed. I do this every damn trip.

I swear I’m packing the chicest looks every time. I feel top-level stylish. I arrive. Buy things. Ignore what I packed in my suitcase.

If you’re planning on clothes buying pack much less than you need!

I’m really trying to break my habit of this. And its important. You’ve got to stay a few pounds under your suitcase weight limit so you can bring all the cute stuff you’re buying back.

This is a trick I like to do. I get on the scale and weigh myself, and then weigh myself holding my (fully packed) suitcase. Subtract and you’ll get a better and more accurate weight number than just putting a suitcase on a scale. 7 lbs under is smart, 10 lbs under is genius.

Not considering the trip home

This brings me to sub mistake:  Pack less. You’ll have so much less to worry about on your way home. Packing to head home can be the most stressful part of your whole trip. 

Shoes are a big offender. Wear your heaviest pair of shoes to travel and pack only 3 or less. 

Bring an expandable bag. An eco bag or zip tote you can flatten. If it’s an eco-bag most long-haul flights accept that people coming home are bringing presents. If it looks shopping-like it’s most allowed WITH your carry-on and purse. Or you can shove your purse into the eco bag.


My recommendation is an adjustable shoulder strap duffle bag. Especially a collapse-able one like this with soft sides and light-weight nylon (so it wont take up weight in your luggage). You can find them for $15 or so on eBay or amazon.

If you’ve got a little extra even after that bring it along in a shopping bag. Yes you’re fudging airplane rules, but I’ve never been told no. Especially since a lot of people are carrying these because of duty-free shopping. You’d be amazed how much you can fit into a shopping bag.


Shopping bags are a great way to skirt weight rules.

Carry a large carry-on. Put your purse in it. It can work as a second luggage. You can fill it up at the end of the trip with excess items.

If you have preferred status on airlines usually you can get on first and secure your storage. Most long haul flights have ample storage so it’s not such a pickle.

I usually end up on the flight home with my large carryon and my duffle bag and a shopping bag. Never been told no.

Worrying too much about cute and not enough about comfortable

Long-haul flights cause your belly to store bad bacteria and lack of sleep can cause water retention.  New food to your system and you can have some digestive issues. All of these can lead to a lot of bloating. Also studies have shown the sleep deprivation can help you pack on the pounds even without the water issue.

Or you want to go to the all-you-can-eat Sweets Paradise or indulge at q-pot.  Or you had a really good time last night and drank too much at nomihodai.

While you’ve feeling like it’s time to put your body into the sea and let it be with the rest of the whales, wear something comfy and cute. 

A little bit uncomfortable is okay, but have some back-ups.

Also fitted clothes can be an opposite problem. Sometimes the extra walking and busyness can lead to lots of weight loss and you’re in baggy items. So let elastic be your friend.

Suggestions: A lower heel or platforms or sneakers, an elastic skirt, forgiving jeans. Babydoll and a-line dresses are making a comeback this season. Or just a big cosy sweater dress or sweater + skirt to hide in.


Low heel options are available for every style

Allergy & Stomach medicine

Allergy medicine is my big recommendation. The pollen, mold and other allergens are different in Japan. You may just find out you’re allergic to ginkgo pollen. Zrytec and Claritin and such are prescribed medicines in Japan or at much lower doses if over-the-counter. The flu-like symptoms of allergies can knock you out for days if you don’t prepare beforehand.

I shared earlier why your belly may be upset. And when you’re stomach is bad you don’t need to go hunting to a drug store, you need relief now. I usually pack pepto and a digestive tea. 

Not researching adapters

Universal adapters are cheap. But unnecessary and heavy if your MacBook or laptop or hairdryer is only two prongs US-style. Most of the time you can leave them at home if you’re US or Canada, but have to bring them maybe if you’re from certain European countries. Here’s a quick on travel adapters in Japan

Not packing food

Pack food in your carryon. Pack snacks: nuts etc… This goes in my eating healthy post I’m going to make, but maybe the first night you arrive in Japan you’ll wake up at 2:00am wanting to eat. You can easily snatch it out of your carryon. Your belly will thank me when it has something from home to eat. Again your belly may get messed up, best to have something from home to ease it into foreign food. If you buy bulk snacks from home and put them in snack bags you’re also saving money.

Make everything travel sized and don’t buy travel size

I just buy hairspray in Japan because it saves me from buying a travel one in the US. But switch to solid soap and just pack that. Get cheap travel bottles, don’t buy travel sized items. Travel sized items are usually more expensive and you can make your own of your favorite products instead of having to settle for what’s drugstore travel-size brand.

A while ago I invested in the “GoToob” brand and I really like them. They’re silicone, haven’t leaked for me, and are dishwasher safe. I usually bring 3-4 of them: shampoo, conditioner, lotion and face mask (for the plane). You can find cheaper options on eBay just search “silicone bottle”.


Bring plastic grocery bags or gallon sized bags

Plastic bags can help you store liquids in travel. You can also use plastic bags to store shoes in your luggage. Shoe soles get dirty and you don’t want that dirt on your clean clothes or just floating off in your luggage. I usually bring shoe dust bags but really plastic bags work just fine. They weigh nothing, take up very little space and can really help you manage the mix of your luggage. If you’re in a bind, hotel shower caps work great for covering shoe soles.


These sure-zip ones are perfect for packing lots of liquids.

I hope you’ve learned from my mistakes and have now become a smarter packer!  :wink:

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  1. October 26, 2015 / 11:05 am

    I’ve definitely utilized a few of these tips myself! I’ve never traveled for as long as a month [never have enough leave at work ;-( ] but since I know I will be clothes shopping, if I’m going for 11 days, I’ll pack only enough clothes for 6 and make sure what I do bring can be worn again in a slightly different way if needed. And I definitely spend some time thinking about that lol. But the shoes is usually my biggest headache because I’ll want to bring only one pair to save on space but I know that’s not good for your feet. I tend to solve that by purchasing shoes once I get there or bringing one “flatter shoe” for practical purposes and one that I wear for fashion lol.
    For Japan, my bf actually found that it’s helpful to bring your own Tylenol/equivalent too since the pills Japan sells are smaller and therefore not as strong (but also more expensive!). And I remember that when we were doing the study abroad, they told us to make sure to bring around a month or two extra of your personal medications if you can because you never know what’s going to happen and you might get stuck in a foreign country for XY or Z reason and your medication will not always be readily available there for refill (antidepressants or BCP for example). They told us this girl got stuck in a SE Asian country for 1.5 months after she was supposed to come back for some reason :icon_eek:.
    We’ve also come to rely heavily on our luggage scale since my family/travel companions and I almost always come close to the 50lb weight limit for not just one but sometimes 2 or more of our check in bags lol. They’re usually really accurate and compact so you can just throw it in a side pocket. It’s mostly used throughout the trip as we buy stuff and temp pack so we know how much more we’ll be able to buy since regular (human body) weight scales aren’t always available in hotels etc. But that’s probably just because we do a lot of shopping. I know my bf and I each did at least 10 different scale checks during our last trip and having to rearrange our bags so as to avoid overage fees.

    • Mitsu
      October 28, 2015 / 1:44 pm

      Emii!! I really loved all of your recent Japanese posts. You were more thorough than I will ever be and I think they were both helpful and fun!

      Packing only enough for 6 seems like a smart move! Shoes are such a pickle aren’t they :)
      Tylenol is a great suggestion. I always pack it just in case. I used to always throw out my back with luggage I packed too much of so I always had it on hand :) LOL

      Medication is so important. A friend of mine recently just went through a customs argument in Japan that involved 3 physical offices and multiple phone calls. Apparently mailing versus carry has different laws. So you can carry a lot more of a prescription than shipping. Which seems so weird, but welll… it is what it is >_,

      Overage fees are so crazy! Which scale did you get? My at home one is definitely too heavy to come with as a viable option.

      • November 2, 2015 / 10:14 am

        Mitsu, your posts definitely make my Japan travel so much easier and exciting with the suggestions you blog about! I know that there are several places I wouldn’t have thought to go if I hadn’t read it here first.
        When my cousin was coming back from Australia after a semester study abroad, she had so much extra weight in her luggage that the overage charge was literally around $600. She started crying so they reduced it a bit but I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t keeping track of that!
        Our luggage scale looks something like this – http://www.amazon.com/Travelon-Luggage-Scale-Black-Size/dp/B001CZP22S/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1446484281&sr=8-7&keywords=luggage+scale (it’s not that exact brand but basically that’s what it is). They have some electronic ones now too but this is the one we’ve had for years lol.

  2. Chesca
    September 2, 2016 / 9:28 am

    Thank you so much for this post, not exactly what I was looking for, but it really helped me with minimizing the amount of clothes I’m packing ^^;;
    Especially like that you mentioned that seperates might be better than dresses! I didn’t even think about that! >_ o <

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