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

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

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