Unpacking Procrastination Syndrome (UPS): 5 Signs/Symptoms and Possible Cures

Unpacking Panic

After a trip, do you ever ‘forget’ to unpack? Or do you knowingly and actively procrastinate? I don’t mean for a few days. I’m talking weeks and weeks.

Better yet, have you ever opted to only partially unpack and simply ‘leave the bag until next time’?

365.299: Packing

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, then it’s possible that you are among the 4.5 million people around the world who suffer from a serious ailment known as…

UPS (no–not the shipping company). Unpacking Procrastination Syndrome.

How do I know? Well, I’m one of the millions…

The good news? It’s not contagious. The bad news? The more you travel, the more likely this is to happen.

Look as this poor guy. He just traveled through Latin America for a few months. And now, he’s huddled under a blanket with his laptop. I’m sure he’s got a smartphone nearby for comfort, too.

And undoubtedly, he’s got a backpack, one that’s sat–unpacked–for weeks, in the corner of his room. I can feel his pain. How about you?

Sick Kevin

With 20 years of travel experience–and a long-term battle with UPS–I feel I’m qualified to help you understand this syndrome. Perhaps, with my help, you (and I) can overcome this occasionally debilitating disease and begin to unpack….within a few days of coming home.

Without further ado, here are the signs/symptoms and possible cures. Hope it helps you!

Symptom #1: Fear…of Opening the Closed Bag

Guilty Viewing Pleasures: Fear

This might seem silly, but it’s very real. When you see that zipped up backpack or suitcase, you don’t want to disturb it. Some suitcases and backpacks just look too perfect as they are—like beautifully wrapped gifts that should not be opened.

And if you’re suffering from advanced UPS, you might view the bag as a Jack in the Box or, worse yet, a Pandora’s box. Something about it screams, “Do not disturb.” And so, you don’t.

pandora's box

Solution/Cure: prayer or meditation

Take a deep breath, say a prayer (if you’re religious), meditate and/or surround yourself with a white light (if spiritual). And then, face your fear. Unzip it!!

Symptom #2: Temporary Amnesia (or Brain Melt)…Once the Bag Is Opened

Unease and Confusion on The T

Although you knew what and where everything was while traveling, the items suddenly seem foreign to you. What the heck is that, you wonder, holding up a neck pillow. And, while picking up your eye mask, you wonder if it’s a Halloween prop?

Within seconds of opening the bag (if you’ve made it this far), you have some sort of temporary amnesia–about the items.

Solution/Cure: Visualize yourself in a hotel room

Pretend your bedroom is a hotel room or hostel dorm (which it might look like if you never unpack.) Look at the items. Take a deep break. And like magic, it will all come back to you. You’ll know what you’re dealing with.

Symptom #3: Panic Attacks…at the Thought of ‘What/Where Next?’

(141/365) Going nuclear
Here, I’m not talking about panic at the thought of ‘where you’re going next’. That, of course, makes you feel good. What I’m talking about is panic about ‘where to put the darn things that are in the bag.’

Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to unravel the mystery of what’s what, but then your heart beats a bit faster and perhaps, if you’re not super organized in your living space, you hyperventilate just a tiny bit.

The reason? Your mind if full of questions. The main one is–Where the hell do these things go? They’re odd items, aren’t they? A thin, super-absorbent towel. A small bottle of iodine. Moleskin for a foot blister. Random band-aids. Anti-bacterial wipes.

Solution/Cure: Alternative medicine

Herbal tea–the relaxing kind–might help. If that doesn’t work, try acupuncture. (No, not in China. At home.) Then revisit the bag.

Symptom #4: Mini Toiletry Trauma

TSA 3-1-1 rule

This one can be challenging for many UPS sufferers. The reason? The trauma you suffered when you put so much time/effort into purchasing and/or downsizing the damn toiletries into 3 oz. containers to meet the TSA requirements!

For many of us, it takes hours and hours–usually the night before the trip. (See my post on Packing Procrastination Syndrome to learn more.) To now have to figure out what to do with these mini-sized items is a pain in the neck!

Do you leave them as is? Do you pour them back into their larger containers? And if you bought them that way, do you use them on shorter trips? Or do you save them for next time, risking them drying out?

Solution/Cure: Shove them in a drawer

I usually just grab those ziplock bags of mini items and put them in a drawer somewhere. I hate looking at the clutter. Then, next time I travel, I go to that drawer and hope I find what I need.

Often I don’t or they’ve dried out. And the process starts all over again. Oh well.

Symptom #5: Depression…about Your Trip Being Over

Being Sick Sucks
Clinical research has shown that 75% of packing procrastinators suffer from a hint of low-grade depression after traveling. In 100% of those cases, there was evidence of denial about the trip being over.

I believe that many of us choose not to unpack right away (or ever) because it alleviates this pain. It helps us feel like we’re still on the road. We can then maintain the high we previously felt and prevent the depression.

Solution/Cure: Fantasizing about carrying the bag on your next trip

If you fall victim to this symptom, try visualization and a positive affirmation. ‘I will be traveling soon again.’ Look at that bag and imagine carrying it around on the next trip. You’ll suddenly feel lighter (although the bag might not).


That concludes my exploration of the symptoms of this syndrome, as well as solutions and possible cures. Now, I’d like to share a very special UPS tip I have–one that I think works better than dealing with the individual symptoms one by one. In fact, I believe I have found the cure to all of this.

Surrender to the “I don’t want to unpack” urge.

That’s right. Just don’t do it. Don’t unpack the bag. Or just unpack some of it.

Sure, you should pull out the clothes and perishables. You don’t want any critters or sticky or stinky stuff inside the bag. Definitely wash the clothes and trash the snacks.

Aside from that, however, there’s no real reason to unpack.

And, if you’d really like to avoid experiencing the symptoms I’ve mentioned, just leave that backpack or suitcase in the corner of your bedroom or living room. Seeing it sitting there will excite you because you know you’ll be on the road again soon.

This, I believe, is the best solution of all.

Your Thoughts/Experiences?

If you don’t suffer from UPS…

Have you always unpacked right after a trip? How many hours or days? Can you tell us–the UPS sufferers–what we can do to be more like you? Any special tips?

If you do suffer from UPS…

Please share your story. How long is the longest you’ve ever gone without unpacking? Have you ever simply not unpacked at all? Has this worked out for you? If not, please explain and share your tips. :)

To anyone who’s written about their issues with unpacking, please feel free to share a link to your post.

organized confusion

Photo Credit: Special thanks to those photographers who made their work available for use through Creative Commons. By clicking on a photo, you’ll be taken to their Flickr page.

31 Responses to Unpacking Procrastination Syndrome (UPS): 5 Signs/Symptoms and Possible Cures
  1. Fie-Nuts
    November 7, 2012 | 1:54 am


    I used to have UPS until I lived on my own in a tiny room which made me have no choice but to unpack each time I come back from a travel adventure.

    Before leaving a country, I normally pack everything in its’ own compartments eg; souveniers in one bag, dirty clothes on one side of the bag, toiletries in one bag. When you reach home, you can just put those back to where they belong accordingly!

    Also limiting the stuff you buy while travelling might help but that will take a lot of control (I know!).

    Fie-Nuts recently posted..Guest Post: Asia’s five most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage sitesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 8, 2012 | 9:29 am

      Hi, Fie. Thanks for your tips–they’re great! I think you’re on to something–keeping items in the same category together. Thanks!

  2. Sarah
    November 7, 2012 | 2:09 pm

    This is really funny. I think have all of the symptoms on the list!

    • CB Driver
      November 8, 2012 | 8:36 am

      Then you should get yourself to a doctor asap!

  3. Leektone
    November 7, 2012 | 7:52 pm

    What does it mean if you have all the symptoms on the list and you never travel and you don’t own a bag?

    • CB Driver
      November 8, 2012 | 8:37 am

      It might mean that you have VUPS–Vicarious Unpacking Procrastination Syndrome, but I’m not sure. And if that’s the case, I’m very worried about you. Set up an appointment your doctor and see what he/she can do for you. :)

  4. Simon
    November 8, 2012 | 11:34 am

    Fantastic post! I would say that I am one of the best representative of Syndrome #3. The point is that herbal-tea doesn’t help. I just unpack piece by piece, when I need things, until I have to empty the bag to… repack :-)
    Simon recently posted..Genova Old Town and its Special CharactherMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 9, 2012 | 10:43 pm

      Hi, Simon–so glad you enjoyed this. The tea doesn’t work? Crap! :) Maybe your treatment is better…just go slowly…one piece at a time! :)

  5. jenny@atasteoftravel
    November 10, 2012 | 10:47 am

    I love this post! If I didn’t know better I’d think you were writing it about me. When I finally do unpack, I end up with little piles of things around the room as I never know where to put them…yes I really do need the 5 copies of the map I bought home! In the end, it’s easier if they stay in the case until the next trip when they will go into another pile!
    jenny@atasteoftravel recently posted..10 Fabulous Restaurants in ParisMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 10, 2012 | 11:55 am

      Thanks so much, Jenny! Wild that you fit the description so well. BTW…I do the same thing with the little piles. Maybe I need a name for that symptom? Item Piling? :)

      And yeah, what’s up with saving those maps? I do that, too, and then I don’t use them again. Maybe we think it would be wasteful to throw them out? :)

  6. Gray
    November 12, 2012 | 2:16 pm

    Ha! I do not have UPS, but I have another fear: Dirty laundry. What motivates me to unpack as soon as I get home is knowing there is dirty laundry in my bag that needs to be washed ASAP! :-)
    Gray recently posted..Book Review: The Essential Guide for Baby Boomer TravelMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 13, 2012 | 12:17 pm

      Hi, Gray. So you’ve got FDLS? Fear of Dirty Laundry Syndrome? That’s not so bad. In fact, I wish I had that! LOL :)

      • Gray
        November 13, 2012 | 1:59 pm

        LOL! YES! That’s it! FDLS. That’s what I have. I wonder if there’s a support group for it….

        • CB Driver
          November 15, 2012 | 9:32 am

          I think there is–a secret FDLS group on Facebook. They say the first step is admitting that you’re powerless over the fear of dirty laundry. Once you take that step, the others are easier… :)

  7. Golfzoo
    November 12, 2012 | 9:05 pm

    This is funny, I think I’m experiencing some of the symptoms.. Should I be scared? :O

    • CB Driver
      November 13, 2012 | 12:16 pm

      Yes–please get yourself some medical attention right away! :)

  8. Cara Lopez Lee
    November 14, 2012 | 12:53 pm

    It’s been 3 days since Guatemala. I’ve thrown my pack in a closet, half-full of things I might use next time. My hamper is stuffed with smelly quintuple-use clothes. Souvenirs sit in bags on my table, camera on my desk, random objects in the corner. I’m not yet ready for your wise solutions. Even shoving things in a drawer sounds exhausting. I just want to become a vagabond and leave this house full of crap. Great post – glad to know I’m not alone.

    • CB Driver
      November 15, 2012 | 9:31 am

      Hola, Cara! I LOVE your comment. I can totally visualize this scene. One reason is that it’s exactly what I end up doing–although I usually cave and wash the clothes within a week and within a few weeks, I shove the mini toiletries in a drawer. Hilarious that it sounds exhausting to you. Know what that means?

      You’ve got AUPS. Advanced Unpacking Procrastination Syndrome.

      The good news? You have figured out one of the best cures. And yeah, you’re definitely not alone! :)

  9. Jo (The Blond)
    November 18, 2012 | 4:46 pm

    oh! I suffer from all of these! hate packing and unpacking. Unpacking also means laundry and ironing – hate it :)
    I prefer to trick my husband into unpacking my bags.
    And the post – holiday blues? I came back from Thailand a few months ago and still feel down :)

    • CB Driver
      November 18, 2012 | 9:37 pm

      Hi, Jo. Sounds like you have PPS–Packing Procrastination Syndrome, too. You might want to check out this post to see which treatments are available. Good idea to get your husband to unpack! :)

      I hear you re: the post-holiday blues. Perhaps just leave your bag unpacked? I think it helps! :)

  10. Aggy
    November 18, 2012 | 4:48 pm

    UPS! I certainly got that. I recently moved to Romania and will only be here for 4 months before moving to another country, so why bother unpacking?! I also found something interesting, my suitcase apparently can become a wardrobe AND the occasional table (you know, for coffee and stuff)!
    Aggy recently posted..Time Travel to Athens the Ancient CityMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 18, 2012 | 9:38 pm

      Hi, Aggy. Nice to meet you! I think that if you’re staying for that length of time, there’s no reason to unpack! :) And yes, use the bag as a table or for whatever you need! LOL

  11. brandy
    November 29, 2012 | 6:10 am

    Great article!

    One tip I’ve found that forces me to unpack is putting something I really want at the bottom of my bag- thereby prompting me to dump the entire backpack on the floor to acquire said desirable. Then it’s not a matter of unpacking, but cleaning your room, and we all know how to procrastinate on that for AGES.
    brandy recently posted..PENIS ENVY – what the FUD?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 29, 2012 | 9:28 am

      Hi, Brandy. That’s a great tip!! It reminds me of how supermarkets are set up. The milk is always in the back, which means you must walk past everything else to get there. I think I’ll try it next time!

  12. Limo VIP Bus
    December 14, 2012 | 7:53 am

    If you hate packing and unpacking things, then you shouldn’t go anywhere so that you will not pack things out. Hahaha, just messing around.

  13. Steve Collins
    December 14, 2012 | 5:45 pm

    Finally, someone has addressed this dreaded problem! Although not trained in psychiatric subtleties, one possible cause of this disease may be the belief that as long as the suitcase isn’t unpacked the trip isn’t actually over. I address this by using the “hold your nose and take the plunge” method. I immediately empty all the dirty clothes into the washer, from there the rest of the unpacking follows by necessity. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to trip over unpacked luggage. I have someone to fill that mission so I get the best of both worlds. Thanks for the laughs, Lisa!
    Steve Collins recently posted..Photo of the week: snow in TaosMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      December 15, 2012 | 9:44 am

      Hello, Steve. Happy this made you laugh–cool! I love your line re: ‘not being trained in psychiatric subtleties’–ha, ha!

      So you recommend the ‘hold your nose and take the plunge’ method? I will keep that in mind and try it next time. Excellent tip. Thanks! :)

  14. emma@gottakeepmovin
    February 1, 2013 | 1:15 pm

    This is brilliant! I get that a lot when I return from travels. Mostly it’s because I don’t want to admit to myself that it’s over. I’m currently trying to make sure the next place I have to unpack my backpack (which has currently been full and carried for a year) it will be somewhere new and fresh so it won’t be so depressing!
    emma@gottakeepmovin recently posted..Bolivian Salt Falt Tour Day 1 – LagoonsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 3, 2013 | 12:19 pm

      Hi, Emma. Glad you liked the UPS post! :) I think you’ve found a solution–traveling long-term so that you don’t have to unpack. Very cool!

  15. Iain Mallory
    March 22, 2013 | 8:13 pm

    I was going to comment but couldn’t decide whether I should ;) Thanks for the smiles.
    Iain Mallory recently posted..Photography Tips; Discovering PerspectivesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 26, 2013 | 12:48 pm

      Hi, Iain. Happy to know you smiled/laughed at this post! And it sounds like your caught some of that procrastination bug? Or maybe you’ve had it all along… :)

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