How to make yourself unpack after a trip

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Passports in the air if this sounds familiar. You come home from a trip with the best of intentions—you’ll check in with work, water your plants, unpack your bags, maybe sneak in a quick half-hour of Yogilates…

Then there’s what really happens. You leave your suitcase two feet in front of your apartment door, flop into bed and sleep for so long you actually may have visibly aged since you last glanced in a mirror. Fast-forward through the next five days of reaching through an arm-sized gap in your suitcase zipper, blindly feeling around for your contact solution, phone charger and a black shirt (‘is this black? This feels distinctly charcoal’).

Thesis? Packing is hard. Unpacking is harder.

Besides the sheer convenience of having your belongings back in their rightful places, there are so many reasons why unpacking as soon as you get home from the airport is a good idea—first off, by immediately putting all of your clothes in the washing machine, it lessens the chance of any bed bugs or foreign germs infiltrating your home (we’ve all heard the horror stories, right? It happens). Second, the sooner you unpack and wash dirty undergarments and wet bathing suits, the better your chances they won’t retain that stale, bottom-of-the-bag smell after washing—because who hasn’t had to throw out a drawer’s worth of socks and underwear after a particularly shower-free backpacking excursion? Third, it’s always a good idea to vacuum out your empty suitcase sooner rather than later after travel to rid it of any grains of sand or other vacation-related gems that may have made their way into the crevices of the lining.

Maybe it’s the lack of destination anticipation—the same way the trip home always feels twice as long as the trip there–but packing your suitcase is about twice as fun as unpacking it. Or maybe we’re just hopeless procrastinators. Either way, some of us need a little extra motivation when it comes to getting us to empty our bags with Type-A promptness and efficiency. Here are a few ways you can trick, train and treat yourself into timely unpacking.

For the chocoholic

square of caramel-filled chocolate
Unpack candy first! Ginnycaramel chocolate bar  via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Buy a box of your favorite chocolate bars (or better yet, a box of the local treat of wherever you’re visiting) in mini, Halloween-sized form. One at a time, roll them up into each item of clothing as you pack it. Just make sure they’re tightly wrapped to avoid any melted chocolate disasters. Now you’ll have to at the very least pull everything out of your suitcase to get your high-fructose corn syrup fix.

For the tech addict

Right before you zip it up, have your travel buddy hide your phone somewhere deep inside your suitcase (carry-ons only!). If you can’t handle taking a flight without the comfort of a glorified Handycam on airplane mode, have him or her do it immediately upon landing. Note: This highly sophisticated method of personal motivation is not recommended if you are traveling alone. And by that, we mean don’t hand a stranger in your hostel your iPhone, cover your eyes and have him hide it in your bag for you while you count to 30. This is a recipe to have valuables stolen and it also sounds like an SNL sketch waiting to happen.

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For the risk taker

Tuck vital items and pieces of documentation into random pockets throughout your carry-on bag. Phone number of the potential future SO you met rolled up into a shirtsleeve. Car keys shoved into a mystery pair of socks. The ending of Making a Murderer scrawled on the back of a jeans tag. It’s like a personal high-stakes scavenger hunt. What could go wrong?

For the person who still needs gamification to complete basic tasks

Pretend you’re babysitting children under age 10 and design a game that will make them unpack in the quickest, least-destructive way possible (blindfolds, three-legged races, timed obstacle courses, et al). Then turn that game into a drinking game. This, friends, is how you adult.

For the easily annoyed

alarm clock
Set a time to unpack. Henrique Simplicio, Despertador via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Place an alarm set to ring on high volume precisely 30 minutes after you arrive home in the bottom of your bag. Bonus points if you set it to play an earworm-y song from early 2015 that you now can’t stand to hear more than three bars of without needing an Advil (we recommend “Happy,” “Cheerleader” or “Uptown Funk”).

For the travel junkie

contents of a suitcase
Don’t bother unpacking and head right back out!

Don’t unpack, just take another trip. A last resort, but one we definitely condone.

For the lost cause

Make a cocoon out of your clothing. Poke holes in the top of your suitcase. Gently place a small hibernating animal in your bag.*
*Totally kidding. Please don’t.

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How to make yourself unpack after a trip was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Chelsey Burnside
Author: Chelsey Burnside (22 posts)

Chelsey is a travel, fashion and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Her work also appears in The Coveteur, The Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star and various notebooks left in airports.