Packing might seem like a pretty simple task. But deciding what to bring and how to fit it in your bag can be more of a challenge than you’d think. Many travelers make significant packing mistakes that impact the ease of travel and the enjoyment of their trip. Over my many years of far-flung adventures, I’ve certainly had packing regrets and seen others have more. To help you avoid common errors, I’ve put together a list of the five biggest packing mistakes. Plus, of course, tips to help you avoid them!
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I know this one’s pretty obvious, but overpacking is the number one biggest mistake travelers make. Even a little extra size and weight can make it much more difficult to haul around your bag. Not to mention oversize or overweight charges… You definitely don’t need two suitcases! No matter how long I’m traveling for, I always pack in one carry-on sized suitcase and one small personal bag. Of course not every wants to needs to be as minimalist as I am. If you want to use a larger checked bag, go for it. But two large suitcases is too much. You definitely won’t need everything and it will just be a giant pain and put a damper on your trip.
Don’t fill your suitcase to the brim either, even if you go carry-on only. Cramming everything in will make repacking throughout the trip super annoying. Plus, you’ll want to leave room for souvenirs and other things you may purchase on your trip! “Overpacking” covers so many things that I wanted to break out three specific areas to watch out for:
Too Many Shoes
People always bring too many shoes! I say having one pair is essential, two pair is good for versatility, three pair is the max you should consider. Definitely bring a good walking shoe. Whether this is a sport sandal, sneaker, or boot depends on your taste and the climate of your destination. I almost always bring my Keen Whisper sport sandals. These are perfect for summer weather. Plus, I can discreetly wear them with a pair of waterproof socks on cold, rainy, or even snowy days for added warmth and weather protection. Then I like to bring a comfortable but nicer-looking pair of ballet flats that are easy to pack flat but can be dressed up if I have a fancier occasion. Basically, a walking shoe and a dressier shoe will do you. If you can fit them in and really think you will need them, bring a third pair. Flip-flops for showers/beaches/lounging or some other destination-appropriate, easily-packable shoes are good third pair choices.
Too Many Hair & Beauty Products/Tools/Accessories
Leave the hairspray at home. You can deal without it. Definitely don’t bring large and heavy tools like hairdryers, straighteners, and curling irons. They take up way too much space and you might not even be able to use them if the electrical voltage is different in your destination. There is a difference between a power adapter and a power converter! You also don’t need a different bag for each outfit or lots of bulky jewelry, hair accessories, or belts. Choose one day bag and a few small, select accessories that can go with any outfit. Bring minimal make-up. You don’t need to be fully made up while traveling and those products can be heavy and max out your liquids (see #5!)
Too Many “Just in Case” Items
I can sometimes be guilty of this. I’ll bring things like pain killers, cold medicine, bandaids, etc. I have used them on occasion, but not frequently enough to warrant bringing them on every trip. In the majority of destinations you can buy over-the-counter meds on the rare occasion you need them. Prescription meds, on the other hand, you should certainly bring. Don’t throw in that extra jacket, though, or another dressy outfit. Odds are you won’t need them and they’ll just take up space and weight in your luggage.
2. Disorganized Packing
Disorganized packing leads to forgetting items and not being able to find the items you did pack when you need them. A packing list can really help. It makes you aware of what you are bringing so you don’t overpack and you know what you have. Don’t create a list, pack, and then throw out the list. Bring it with you! You can refer to it when repacking so you don’t leave anything at your accommodation.
Be sure to check the weather in your destination before creating your packing list. Even if you know what the typical, seasonal weather should be, look at the actual forecast. It might be unseasonably hot, cold, or rainy and this could change what you need to pack. Don’t leave your packing to the last minute, however. This leads to stress and throwing things into your bag without thinking too much about them, contributing to disorganization and overpacking. Packing cubes are a great way to stay organized within your bag. Or try zip lock bags for a cheap, waterproof alternative.
3. Not Thinking About Fabrics, Colors & Cultural Appropriateness
When choosing what to pack, don’t just think about clothes in terms of the weather and your activities. Fabrics, colors, cultural norms are also important. Lightweight fabrics will help prevent your bag from being overweight. You can always layer them on cooler days. Wool is great for cold-weather trips, while cotton, silk, rayon, and moisture-wicking fabrics are nice for warm-weather trips. You can take fewer items with you if they can all be mixed and matched, so try to color-coordinate your travel wardrobe as much as possible.
Lastly, be sure to check if there are any modesty practices or cultural clothing taboos in your destination. You want to be respectful, so be sure your clothing choices are appropriate. Sometimes even if the everyday dress is similar to your home, if you plan on visiting any religious sites, check their requirements. In certain temples and churches you must cover knees and elbows, for example. Ladies may also need to cover their heads or wear a skirt. Make sure you pack what you need or that it is available to borrow at the entrance.
4. Buying All New Clothes & Shoes
It can be nice to splurge and buy some cool new things for your vacation. Sometimes you actually need to buy something for a specific activity. Don’t get a whole new wardrobe, however. You will be most comfortable in your old, familiar clothing. There are enough uncomfortable aspects to travel without your clothes being one of them.
It takes a few wears to break in new items (especially shoes!). Try to buy any new things you absolutely need far enough before your trip that you can wear them several times and get used to them at home. Travel can be dirty and unpredictable. Don’t bring pieces you would hate to mess up or lose. I often deliberately bring clothes that are on their last legs so that I can wear them once or twice and then leave them behind. This frees up room in my bag for fun new items I might buy abroad.
5. Not Managing Liquids (Especially in Carry-Ons)
You don’t need your entire bottle of shampoo for a two-week vacation. Travel sizes are your friends. If your chosen brand doesn’t come in travel-size, buy refillable containers that fit the TSA 3-1-1 Rule. Be especially careful with liquids in your carry-on. You are only allowed 3 oz or 100 ml bottles that fit within one quart-sized clear bag. I try to avoid liquids all together with products like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets (yes, pastes and gels count as liquids!). Or, depending on your destination and your product pickiness, you could get away with not bringing toiletries at all. Most hotels provide the basics: shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion. Often AirBNB rooms and hostels will have a supply of free products that previous travelers have left behind.
Or, if worse comes to worst, you can always buy anything you need once you get there. If you do bring or buy items that you don’t finish and are staying at a hostel or AirBNB, consider paying it forward and leaving them for other travelers when you leave. If you do bring liquids, don’t just throw them in your bag. The pressure of airplanes and rough treatment of luggage can sometimes cause bottles to break. Definitely pack liquids within a sealable plastic bag. This way, if they do break, they should be contained in the bag and not get all over your clothes, shoes, and electronics. Be doubly safe by putting a piece of cling film/plastic wrap under the lid. This helps create a better seal and provides back-up protection.
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