So you’ve picked flights, booked a hotel or two, and it’s almost time to go.  We should pack those bags of yours.

Or rather, that bag.  For short vacations to Tokyo, I take one bag, and it’s just a carry-on. Whether it’s a backpack or a suitcase, it’s fine, so long as it’s small enough to fit in the overhead bins.

Why take just one carry-on bag all the way to Tokyo? Here are five great reasons:

  1. The TSA can’t break into your bag and steal stuff, because the bag is with you.
  2. You don’t have to wait for baggage claim, so you can head to the front of the customs line while everyone else is still waiting.
  3. You have less weight to carry around Tokyo. 
  4. You’ll look really silly if you take a gigantic suitcase and another huge bag onto a busy Tokyo train.  I speak from experience.
  5. All of the above reasons work for your return trip, too.

With that in mind, we’ll be cutting out a lot of the things you might have thought you need to bring.  Keep in mind that Tokyo is a big, civilized place.  Even if you have to buy something after you land, consider this: a $5 bottle of shampoo is cheaper than checked bag fees for two flights, and may be worth the peace of mind knowing you’re the only one handling your bag.

So, here’s a list of things you should not bring:

Half of your clothes: Bring enough clothes to last half of your trip and do laundry once while you’re there.  It takes a couple of hours, less than $5, and gives you a good chance to relax with a snack and perhaps your travel buddy.  We’ll cover doing laundry later on.  And while we’re at it, is it really going to kill you to “recycle” that T-shirt for a second day?  I admit, I’m a guy, but still I keep pretty clean.  Think about it.

More than two pairs of shoes: One comfortable pair for traveling and sightseeing, and one (optional) pair that’s a bit nicer for things like going out, going to nice restaurants, or nightclubs.

Your laptop: Unless you have some pressing professional need that specifically requires your laptop, leave it at home.  You can check your email at an Internet cafe, which we’ll discuss later. Or on your smartphone, which we’ll also discuss later.

Your cell phone (maybe): Unless you want to bring your smartphone and pay for roaming data, you’ll rent a phone once you land.

Shampoo, conditioner, soap: Your hotel will supply this, unless you’re staying at a hostel.  In which case, there may be some to mooch, or you can get it cheaply at a nearby pharmacy.

Toothbrush: Again, your hotel will have these, unless you’re staying in a hostel.

OK, with that space freed up, these are the things you should make sure you bring:

A small notepad: Go to a grocery store or office supply store and get the smallest pocket notepad you can find.  Mine is smaller than a business card.  You’ll use this to write down hotel addresses and phone numbers, flight and train information, and contact information for people you meet along the way.  Keep it in your pocket, not in your bag.

41NJx1yVeZL._AA280_ Space Bags: Get a set of the travel-size vacuum bags that you can shrink down without a vacuum cleaner.  I find it easiest to put small clothes like socks and underwear in them.

$100 in cash: Save this for after your arrival.  Don’t spend this money at your home airport, because we’ll be changing this into yen. Why just $100?

Medicine: Bring your own kind of the following medicines: allergies (non-drowsy!), stomach, cold/flu, and pain relief.  Expats generally consider Japanese medicine to be worthless.  If you take prescription medicine, bring the medicine and the prescription. 

A special note on medicine: Do not bring the behind-the-counter Sudafed or any medicines containing its generic form (pseudoephedrine) as it’s considered an illegal drug in Japan.

Toiletries: Bring deodorant, toothpaste (the Japanese stuff isn’t that good), and whatever hair styling products you like.  If you’re a girl, bring your girly stuff if you’ll need it.

Shaving stuff: It’s the most convenient to pack an electric razor, but if you manually shave, bring a safety razor and leave the shaving cream at home.  Buy some at a pharmacy after you land.

Make sure your toiletries fit TSA’s carry-on rules.  Nothing over 3 oz, and everything fits in a sandwich bag.

Got your bag all packed up and ready to go?  Let’s get you cleared for take-off.