10 Packing Tips for common Travel Packing Mistakes

Whether you need to pack for a quick weekend getaway or for a year-long sabbatical abroad, here are 10 common packing mistakes you should avoid, like the plague and some tips on how to pack better.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
10 common travel packing mistakes and how to avoid them
10 common travel packing mistakes and how to avoid them

I’ve made my fair share of packing mistakes, but through those experiences, 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 packing tips and common packing mistakes you should avoid, like the plague.

Even the pros make packing mistakes.

“It’s freezing outside, and I didn’t pack anything warm to wear! Not even a sweater.”

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

I know what you’re thinking: 

How stupid!

How careless!

The scary part Is I’m no newbie to packing. And if a seasoned traveller like me can make a simple newbie packing mistake, then it can happen to anyone—especially busy moms who need to pack for an entire family.

I put together this simple list of common packing mistakes and some advice on how to pack better to help save you time, space and frustration.

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 November, about a month and a half after we arrived, the temperature dropped to near-freezing temperatures and… WE NOTICED. Yes, it gets cold at night in the south of France. 

pack cold weather clothes
Less than two months later, at the end of November, we were wearing winter snow jackets and hats. 

I’m one of those mothers who prepare for every scenario, so I did a fabulous job of packing clothes for the kids, who each had a warm jacket, a scarf, a pair of gloves and a couple of sweaters we brought with us from Montreal.

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. 

Every single piece of clothing I had was for warm weather. 

The solution was simple. I popped into a department store to buy a few things, but I was annoyed with myself because I could have saved myself some money and brought my nice winter jackets and sweaters I left behind in Montreal. 

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.

How to not overpack

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 and leave some room in your bag to put the things you buy along the way.

If you have no choice but to stuff your bags to the brim, 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.

Travel bags 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 themselves. 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:

Foldable travel duffle bag
$12.99 $9.99

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02/28/2024 07:43 pm GMT
Foldable backpack

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02/19/2024 06:26 am GMT

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.

Compression Stuff Sack

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02/18/2024 02:16 am GMT

It’s a system of organization where you stuff smaller bags (the stuff bags) full of similar types of items and 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 packing cubes, which are similar to stuff sacks because they also help save space and keep items in my bags organized.

Compression travel packing cubes

 Double zippers of the packing cube work perfectly in compressing clothes to help save space in your carry-on, luggage or backpack. 

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02/19/2024 07:11 am GMT

Here are a few I use and recommend.

Packing Cubes: 

I 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, and 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 pull it out of my bag and hang it. It’s convenient.

TUO: Travel Undergarment Organizer by Origami Unicorn

Whether I'm taking the train for a weekend getaway, or flying internationally, I always bring my origami unicorn travel undergarment organizer. It's where I keep my undies, bras, pyjamas and bathing suit. When I arrive, I just hang it on a hanger, bathroom hook or door handle.

Shop at Amazon Shop at Origami Unicorn


Similar 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, seal and roll the bag as tightly as possible 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 for Travel or storing seasonal clothes

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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02/18/2024 07:01 pm GMT

compression-stuff-sacks for packing

6-Not Following TSA Guidelines For Carry-On Liquids

Always follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 security guidelines (most countries have adopted this system) 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 one quart-sized, zip-top bag in which to place all your liquids in.
  • Only one zip-top bag full of liquids per passenger is allowed.

I usually prepare my one-quart size zip-top bag beforehand and keep it handy. As I pass through security, I 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 airline loses 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’re going, you may want to buy the local currency before leaving your home country.

Not all airports 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.


When I lost my passport in Japan, I went to the nearest embassy and 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, and passport number. I was very grateful I took the time to make the copies.

When I was in Thailand visiting my family, I got a sim card for my phone but forgot to bring my passport. Luckily, I had a digital photocopy of my passport on my phone, 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 and 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 somewhere. You can carry a printout, put them on a flash drive or store it in the cloud on your Google Docs.

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 weren’t on the TSA list of prohibited items. Remember

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 things listed here have helped me save time and frustration and make travelling so much easier.

You might be interested in reading:

Long Layover? How To Sleep At An Airport Like A Pro

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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