10 Common Travel Packing Mistakes To Avoid So You Can Pack Better

“What am I going to do? It’s below freezing and I didn’t pack a jacket, sweater or anything warm”……

Those were the words I muttered to myself when I realized I had forgotten to pack one single warm piece of clothing in my bags.

If you thought packing for a 2 weak vacation was tricky or daunting, try packing for a year long adventure for you and your family of five. Oh and you can only bring one 50 pound suitcase each for the entire year.

How will you get everything you need into your bags? What do you bring? What do you leave behind?

Today I’m going to share my top 10 list of common mistakes you should avoid like the plague which might help you pack just a little better for your next trip.

Frogs Don’t Jump Out Of Slowly Boiling Water

When the kids and I first arrived in France in October of 2011, the weather was lovely. As expected, we could wear shorts and light tops all day and night without feeling the least bit cold.

kids gare st charles wearing summer clothes

Around October 15th. It’s so hot we’re sweating and wearing summer clothes and t-shirts

A month flew by and gradually the weather got colder and colder but like a frog who sits in a pot of gradually boiling water, we never noticed the temperature dropping. Then in December, about 2 months after we arrived, it got cold. Really cold, below freezing cold, snowing cold and WE NOTICED.

I’m used to snow after living in Montreal but I never expected it to snow in the Mediterranean.  I didn’t even know that it’s common for it to get close to freezing during the winter months. Now I know.

pack cold weather clothes

Less than 2 months later in December Wearing Winter Snow Gear

Luckily, I packed year round clothes for the kids and they each had winter jackets, scarves gloves and sweaters we brought from Montreal. Me on the other hand, well…..when I looked in my closet, all I saw were summer dresses, light weight skirts and shirts.

[quote]In my haste to get the family packed and excitement at the prospect of living in a Mediterranean climate for a year, I made one of the most common mistakes travellers make when packing their bags.[/quote]

I packed for the weather I wanted and not for the actual weather to be. Ooooops. It could have been worse. It can always be worse.

Don’t laugh, it could happen to you.

Guess what? It happens to the best of us. Even seasoned travelers like me who have traveled all over the world, logged hundreds of thousands of miles and packed hundreds of bags.

And it can happen to you too.

The best you can do is reduce the amount of unnecessary mistakes by learning from your personal experiences and from the experiences of others.

With that said, here are 10 common packing mistakes to avoid.

10 Common Packing Mistakes To Avoid Like The Plague.

1- Don’t Pack For The Season You Want Or Hope To Have.

Not packing appropriate clothes for the season and destination is more common than you think. Remember how I only packed light summery dresses and shirts and didn’t pack one single jacket for my year abroad? Nuf Said.

2- Don’t Over Pack:

packing don't overload bags  Have you ever packed something that you never used or wore on your trip? You’re not alone.

Over packing is  probably the single biggest mistake people make when packing for a trip.

I brought two pairs of dress slacks that still have not seen the light of day.  A simple rule of thumb is don’t pack for a worst case scenario, pack for the best case scenario. At worst, you can buy what you need in the rare occasion a worst case scenario arises. You’ll thank me when you’re not lugging your heavy over packed luggage up and down stairs at the airport and train stations across the world.

3- Don’t Forget To Bring A Day Bag or Back Pack

Always, always bring an extra day bag, back pack or carry all.  It comes in handy especially as a way to carry your maps, camera, sweaters and extra supplies for when you go out on your daily excursions.

4- Don’t Over Stuff Your Suitcasestravel don't over stuff your bags

You’re going to buy something on your trip. A souvenir, some new clothes, gifts for your friends back home. Leave some room in your bag to put the things you buy; unless you have super human powers and never plan on buying anything.

5- NOT Using Smaller Stuff Type Bags To Organize Your Luggage

packing cubes

Packing Cubes Keep your luggage contents organized

People who go camping use something called stuff sacks when packing. It’s a system of organization where you stuff smaller bags full of similar type items into a bigger bag that you carry. There are many benefits to doing this including saving space, keeping things organized and it makes it easier to get to certain things in your bag.

You don’t have to use camping type stuff sacks unless you want to.  Here are three travel organizers I recommend..

Packing cubes are a great way to keep your bag organized. Use one cube for shirts, another for pants, another for toiletries, shoes, toiletries and so on.

compression sack bag

Compression bags can give you tons of extra room in your bags.

If you want to keep your luggage organized AND fit more into your bag but don’t want to get a bigger luggage set than use  compression sacks.
You put your clothes in these big plastic bags, seal it shut and then roll the bag as tightly as you can to get all the air out. There is a special valve on the bag which lets air out but not back in compressing your clothes and giving you as much as 50 percent more space in your bag.
Check out the video demonstration below of compression sacks.

DIY ORGANIZER AND SPACE SAVER:  In a pinch, you can use plain old Gallon Ziplock bags. I use them for smaller items like undies, t-shirts, shorts, medication etc.

6-Not Following TSA Guidelines For Carry On Liquids.

LIQUID CARRY ON LUGGAGEAlways check TSA guidelines for bringing liquids onto the plane in your carry on. You’ll keep that security line going faster if you do.
Use the 3-1-1 method for liquid in your carry-ons =

3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) ;

1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag;

1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin.
3-1-1 method explained: One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring and it prevents any liquids that leak to get all over your carry on luggage. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure.

7- Don’t Forget To Pack A Change Of Clothes In Your Carry On.

At minimum, pack an extra shirt and undies with a small travel sized toiletry set (soap, deodorant etc.) in your carry on. That way, if the airlines lose your luggage, you’ll be ok for a day or two while you sort things out.

8- Money: Don’t Wait Until You Get There To Get Local Currency.

Credit cards are taken almost everywhere. ALMOST. Make sure you get enough cash for your destination country so that you can have some in case someone doesn’t take credit cards. Like a cab ride, or vending machine or whatever. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches searching for an A.T.M. at the last minute.

9- You Don’t Have A Copy of VITAL DOCUMENTS: Passport, Health Insurance, Credit Cards.

It takes a second to make copies but can save you countless hours of leg work and make an otherwise stressful situation less stressful.

I’ve had my passport stolen, lost and mutilated. When I needed my passport replaced while abroad, I just went to the nearest embassy, showed them a photo copy of my passport and they were able to re-issue a new one more quickly and more easily than if I didn’t show them a photo copy. I didn’t have to wait for them to track down my passport number or prove I was who I was. I was very grateful I took the time to make the copies.

With credit cards, if you lose them you can look at the photo copy for all the relevant info including card number and phone numbers.
On security: Keep your copies secured or hidden some place. I put them on a small flash drive and I keep them stored in the cloud on places like Google docs or dropbox.com.

10- Don’t Bring Ice Picks or Scissors On The Plane

I’ve gotten nail clippers, knitting needles and small scissors confiscated from me even though they are not on the TSA list of prohibited items. When in doubt, just put sharp objects in your checked baggage. Here is the official list of things you can and can’t bring with you in your carry on and in your checked luggage.  TSA Prohibited Items List.

It’s Not That Hard

This might seem like a lot of things to remember but it’s not. All the little things listed here have helped me save time, frustration and makes travelling so much easier.

What about you? Do you have any Mistakes people should avoid when packing for a long trip?  Leave it in the comments below. I would love to hear what you have to say.

Photo: Girl on suitcase

Tim Bonner

Hi Annie

These are some great tips.

#7 is something I would reiterate over and over again.

It might be an extreme example but a few years back my wife and I took a summer vacation to Switzerland for a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately whilst we were enjoying the delights of Zermatt, terrorists struck in London.

We had a flight transfer in London Heathrow back to Edinburgh. Our luggage left Geneva no problem but when we got to Heathrow there was absolute chaos.

We were glad to have packed a change of clothes and toiletries because our luggage vanished into thin air at Heathrow and there were no flights out for 3 days. We ended up staying in the Hilton! We eventually managed to get a flight back to Edinburgh where our car was parked.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to have car keys in the hand luggage under the special security measures in place at Heathrow so these were packed in our hold luggage at Geneva. So, no car back in Edinburgh and we ended up getting a taxi back home from the airport.

Our luggage didn’t turn up for a month, so our car was stuck in the airport car park for that period because our keys were in the luggage.

So the moral of this story is, follow Annie’s tips – be prepared, you never know what’s going to happen.

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    Annie Andre

    Oh my what a story. But you are so right. It might seem like a pain to pack a few extra things but when it happens to you and your luggage is lost, you’re sure glad you packed those few extra things.

    I can’t believe the part about your car keys though. I hope you didn’t have to pay for the storage of your car for a whole month. YIKES. that would be expensive…


Super awesome rundown of the important things to remember! My biggest challenge is not to overpack. It’s always hard for me to fit in the extra stuff I purchase or end up with after the trip! But I do love those packing cubes, and the compression bags saved my butt when I was traveling in Asia with only a backpack!
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    Annie Andre

    I love the cubes and the compression bags too. It’s amazing how much smaller a bag you can carry with an organized suitcase isn’t it?


I’m no world traveler Annie but I tend to over pack because in my mind, I’d rather have too much then not enough.

I don’t think though that I’ve ever forgotten any piece of clothing but I also haven’t ever been gone for more than a week and I knew of course what the weather was going to be like.

I can’t even imagine packing for a year. How the heck are you suppose to know what you’ll need. These are great tips though so thank you for sharing them. I’ll have to keep them in mind for the next time.

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    Annie Andre

    I think a lot of people think the same way as you. Myself included. I would rather have all the little things i need with me. However, when you are travelling especially with kids, after a while having all those things seem less important because you have to lug them around.
    I remember leaving a whole bag behind once because i was so sick of carrying it. It just didn’t matter to me anymore. Now, if i had servants to carry it all for me through train stations and airports, heck yeah. I would be like Paris hilton and bring a caravan. JK.

    Thanks for stopping by.

Praveen Rajarao

Annie – these are wonderful tips, and when I do travel to India and back, those customs and security guys make it a hell for me. The point about liquids is very true and it blows my mind off….just because of some “miscreants” everyone travelling are suffering by having to spend so much time at airports.

These are good points to remember…thanks for sharing.
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    Annie Andre

    I know Praveen, it blows my mind to at the security measure but it’s just easier to comply than to fight it. I remember when you used to be able to bring samurai swords on planes and golf clubs. Now a pair of nail clippers and cork screws get nicked by the tsa. Let alone my perfume because it’s more than 3 oz. GRRRRR….

J.D. Meier

> I packed for the weather I wanted and not for the actual weather to be
I made that mistake before. Never again.

And I practice the habit of hope for the best, but plan for the worst. It’s saved me on multiple occasions.


You were kidding about the ice-picks & scissors right?

I loved this post – very timely too as I just packed m bag – I reckon I’m a pretty good packer too.

I particularly liked points #3 and 5 – I have a cool smaller backpack which I stuff into my bigger (but still hold-luggage) backpack.

In fact today is the first time I’ve ever considered one of those pilot bags – you know the square ones with wheelies and pully out handles. BUt I like my backpack and I don’t need much stuff anyway.

I liked #5 because I do that but I didn’t realize it had a name. A stuff bag. At home I also have a carrier bag bag.


I’m a stuffer.

Good advice (but who knew about the scissors?)
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    Annie Andre

    Hi Alan,
    I don’t see you as a wheely airline bag type. Maybe one of those leather book bags with shorts and elbow patches? Just kidding…

    I never knew the name of those stuff bags either until a couple of years ago. It was something i just did because i saw other people do. So it was nice to give it a name.

    You could probably bring scissors on the plane but why chance it? Ice picks definitely not though.

Oliver Tausend

Hi Annie,

I am learning more and more to travel light. That means, I take clothes for different weather conditions with me (according to the onion principle) but usually you can buy anything anywhere when needed.

We usually travel by car which means that we used to take too much stuff with us, especially for the children.

Thanks for sharing your insights.

Take care

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    Annie Andre

    It really does require some mindful packing and thinking to be a minimalist packer especially with kids and when you have access to a car. But when you have to carry everything, you think a little differently.

    If i had our car and our truck, i might be more inclined to bring everything under the sun with us “JUST IN CASE”. It’s only natural.. right?

Sylviane Nuccio

Thanks for those reminders, Annie.

I remember years ago when my bother and I traveled from New York to the Mid West and West coast in the middle of summer, I didn’t expected to be cold any where we had planed to go. However, it was so cool in San Francisco (in the middle of July) that I had to buy a sweater for that one day we stayed there. Everywhere else was in the 90s to 100s degrees.

It goes to tell you that you just never know and packing something warm at any time, and any where is a must.
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    Annie Andre

    Yes San Francisco almost always requires a sweater. And the beaches there are not always warm. In fact, I usually wear a wet suit if i go snorkeling or diving in the waters around that area. People think, because it’s California that it must be warm. Kind of how i thought the south of France must always be warm too.

    Hope the sweater you bought was nice. :)

Tracey - Life Changing Year

Can I just say packing cubes are the most amazing invention EVER for long term packing! We had a similar situation at Yellowstone National Park a few months back. We arrived in shorts and t-shirts into the sunshine. By the next day we were in waterproof gear and it was snowing on us!! Luckily our year long packing list covers all seasons! A little bit of clothing for each!!
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    Annie Andre

    LOL, yes you can say you like packing cubes Tracey. They are really a life saver.

    Normally I’m pretty spot on and I did pack all the kids bags properly. But i totally ignored my own needs for packing.

    Oh the things mom do for their kids and family. SIGH..

    ps, your Yellowstone adventure sounds amazing. I’ve wanted to take the kids to see yellow stone but the opportunity has not presented itself YET.


I found out about packing cubs almost three years ago and I thought I wish I had those before!

I’m the worst when it comes to overpacking. Bad habit that’s hard to break.
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    Annie Andre

    I know what you mean Benny. I’ve practiced so much to get my things down to a minimum. Things have to do double duty. A black dress doubles as a long shirt to wear over jeans. Or i throw a white shirt over a black dress with a skirt for a new look. I try to get as many looks out of the clothes i bring that way i don’t look like a homeless vagabond wearing the same clothes.

    A girl’s got to look good while she’s travelling right?


I couldn’t agree more with these tips. I know that I’ve had to learn a few of these the hard way. When I was in Asia, I bought a bunch of souvenirs and realized that I was running out of room. The big problem was that I bought a cashmere suit and was bringing it back with me. I didn’t have any room in my bags so I just checked it in as luggage. When I went to pick it up, I was sure it got lost. It took a long time to show up, but eventually it arrived marked with a tag saying it was oddly shaped.

I don’t think I have any other tips you could add to your list. It’s looks complete to me.
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    Annie Andre

    Oh Steve I think we had a similar experience except I shipped a few things back to lighten my load. Thanks for stopping by..

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