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10 Common Travel Packing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

By Annie André

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I’ve made my fair share of packing mistakes, but through those mistakes, I’ve learned a thing or two about packing optimally. Whether you need to pack for a quick weekend getaway or a year-long sabbatical abroad, here are ten common packing mistakes you should avoid like the plague and some tips on how to pack better.

travel-packing-mistakes and how to avoid them

“It’s freezing outside, and I didn’t pack a single warm article of clothing! What am I going to do?

Those were the exact words I muttered to myself when I realized I forgot to pack the right clothes for my trip.

I know what you’re thinking:  how stupid and careless, but the scary part is, I’m no newbie to packing. And if a seasoned traveller like me can make a newbie packing mistake, than it can happen to anyone—especially busy moms who need to pack for an entire family.

Here are ten common packing mistakes anyone can make plus some advice on how to pack better.

pintrest pin about Common travel packing mistakes

1- Always Check The Weather and Pack Accordingly

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

You might be interested in reading about how we moved to the south of France.

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 became a little colder, but like a frog who sits in a pot of gradually boiling water, we never noticed the temperature dropping until one day in December, about two months after we arrived, the temperature dropped a few degrees below freezing and… WE NOTICED.

I’m one of those mothers who tries to prepare for ever scenario, so I packed year-round clothes for the kids. They each had a warm jacket, a scarf, a pair of gloves and a sweater which we brought with us from Montreal.

pack cold weather clothes
Less than two months later in December Wearing Winter Snow Gear.

Unfortunately, in my haste to get the family packed, I didn’t prepare my own luggage with such thoughtfulness. I packed for the weather I wanted and not for the actual weather. 

2- Don’t Over Pack:

It’s good to be prepared, but have you ever over-prepared and packed something you never actually used or wore on your trip? Yeah, me too. Overpacking is probably the single biggest mistake people make when packing for a trip.

A simple rule of thumb is “don’t pack for a worst-case scenario.” Instead, pack for a best-case scenario. You can always buy what you need on the rare occasion; a worst-case scenario arises.

Another trick is to lay out everything you want to bring with you on the bed or the floor. Have a good look and then bring only half of it. It’s tough but trust me; you’ll thank me later.

3- Don’t Over Stuff Your Suitcases

travel don't over stuff your bags

Unless you have superhuman willpower, chances are you’re going to buy some souvenirs, unique clothing itemscandy or gifts for your friends back home. So do yourself a favour, leave some room in your bag to put the things you buy along the way.

If you pack your bag to the brim, no problem if you follow my tip number 4 below. 

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

Always, always bring an extra day bag, backpack or carryall bag to fit your travel needs. They come in handy if you want to carry your maps, camera, sweaters and extra supplies on your daily excursions. They also come in handy if you do any shopping and don’t have enough room in your suitcase.

The size and type of bag you bring will depend on your style and your needs, but I like to bring those foldable bags that fold into itself. They take up hardly any space in your main bag, and they usually fold up small enough to fit into your pocket or purse.

Here are a few examples:

Cute Foldable Reusable Grocery Bags
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5- Use Packing Cubes or Small Stuff Bags To Organize Your Luggage

Backpackers and campers often use something called stuff sacks and compression bags to pack their bags.

It’s a system of organization where you stuff smaller bags (the stuff bags) full of similar type items then place them into a bigger bag (like a backpack). There are many benefits to doing this including saving space and keeping things organized. They can also keep your clothes dry in rainy conditions.

I don’t use stuff sacks like the ones backpackers use, but I use something similar that also saves space and keeps my bags organized. Here are a few of the things I use and recommend.

Packing CubesI ALWAYS, ALWAYS use packing cubes, AND I LOVE THEM. I honestly don’t know how I lived without them, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Use one cube for shirts, another for pants, another for toiletries, shoes and so on. I have a set of four for each one of our family members.  The best part is when not in use for travelling, I use them to store off-season clothes under my bed.

Another bag organizer I use is a hangable undergarment bag. I only know of one, and it’s called  “TUO: The ultimate travel undergarment organizer” by Origami Unicorn. I love my TUO thing so much because I can fit a whole week’s worth of undergarments in it. Plus, it hangs, so I don’t have to unpack my undergarments. I just pull it out of my bag and hang it. It’s convenient.

Compression bagsSimilar to compression stuff bags that backpackers use are plastic compression sacks. Instead of a bag that simply compresses your clothes, you put your clothes in a large zip-lock type plastic bag. Then, simply seal and 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, keeping your clothes compressed and giving you as much as 50 percent more space in your bag.

Travel Compression Bags
$13.99

These compression bags are a real space saver. They can Increase your luggage space by up to 70%. NO PUMP or VACUUM CLEANER REQUIRED! Once you place your clothing items in the bag, simply zip the bag up, and roll it like a burrito, squeezing the air out through the valves on the bottom side.

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compression-stuff-sacks for packing

6-Not Following TSA Guidelines For Carry-On Liquids

Always follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 security guidelines for bringing liquids in your carry on. You’ll keep that security line going faster if you do.

  • Bring liquids in bottles that are no bigger than 3.4 ounces (100ml)
  • Bring a one quart-sized, zip-top bag which to place all your liquids in.
  • Only one zip-top bag full of liquids per passenger allowed.

I usually prepare my one-quart size zip-top bag beforehand and keep it handy. As I pass through security, I just pull it out and place it in the bin. That way, I never have to root around my bag to find liquids at the last moment.

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

At a minimum, pack an extra shirt and undies with a small travel-sized toiletry set (deodorant, toothbrush, etc.) in your carry on. That way, if the airlines lose your luggage or you spill something horrendous on yourself like chocolate milk, 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.

Depending on where you are going, you may want to buy the local currency before leaving your home country.

The simple fact is, not all airports will have a place where you can exchange money. Although credit cards are taken almost everywhere, they won’t help you if you need to pay for a taxi ride or buy something where credit cards are not accepted. Also, your credit card might not work in those other countries. So be prepared.

You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, searching for an A.T.M. at the last minute.

9- Don’t Forget To Bring A Copy of VITAL DOCUMENTS: Passport, Health Insurance, Credit Cards.

Carrying photocopies of vital documents can be a lifesaver.

Passport: when I lost my passport in Japan, I simply went to the nearest embassy, showed them a photocopy of my passport, and they were able to re-issue a new one more quickly than if I had shown up with nothing. All the information they needed to track down my passport was right there on the photocopy. My name, photo, passport number.  I was very grateful I took the time to make the copies. 

When I was in Thailand visiting my family, I went to get a sim card for my phone but forgot to bring my passport with me. Luckily, I had a photocopy of my passport, which was acceptable to the sales rep, and I was able to buy the SIM on the spot rather than going back to my hotel to get my actual passport.

Credit cards: If you lose your credit card, who do you call? Do you know the phone numbers by heart, your credit card number? With a photocopy, you have all the relevant info right at your fingertips.

Make sure you keep your photocopies secured or hidden someplace. I carry a printout, but I also put them on a small flash drive. I also keep them stored in the cloud in my google docs account at all times.

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

I’ve had nail clippers, knitting needles and small eyebrow grooming 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 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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?
      Right!

  3. 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!!

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. Sylviane,
      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.

      Ps
      Hope the sweater you bought was nice. :)

  5. 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

    Oliver

    1. Oliver,
      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?

  6. 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.

    Awesome.

    I’m a stuffer.

    Good advice (but who knew about the scissors?)

    1. 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.

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

      1. My sarcastic sense of humor not translating well in comments again … you have warned me about this before…

        I did think twice about this one ;-)

  7. > 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.

  8. 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.

    ~Adrienne

    1. Adrienne,
      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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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….

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

    Tim

    1. 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…

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