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7 Common Packing Mistakes to Avoid

Packing Mistake: Overstuffing a suitcase

full bagNo matter how well-seasoned a traveler we may be, we are still likely to make one of many common packing mistakes when preparing for our next trip. With so many small details and logistics to remember, it can be easy to let something simple slip our minds.

Recently Brooke and I shared some of our previous packing mistakes with one another and then thought of many others that friends and family have lamented over the years. With a couple of trips on the horizon in the first half of 2012, I hope to avoid some of these common packing mistakes.

1. Overpacking

You’ve probably heard the rule to “lay out everything you want to bring and then only pack half of the amount“. One 20-something gal on my Outback tour should have taken that to heart. Her large backpack was so full and heavy that even our tour guide had a difficult time helping her with it. Resist the urge to pack an item “just in case” – you’ll save money on paying for an overweight bag at the airport, save your back the aches and pains, and save room to bring back a souvenir or two.

>>See 20 reasons why packing light rocks.

2. Leaky toiletries

When I first started traveling domestically, I didn’t think about large bottles of shampoo exploding in my suitcase until I arrived at my destination and discovered a “goo” throughout the suitcase. Since then, I have opened any bottle I plan to pack and squeezed out a bit of air before resealing the cap. Then, I place bottles in Ziploc bags for extra protection. Brooke places a piece of tape across the top her bottles before placing them in bags.

tsa toiletries

3. Not adhering to the 3oz/100ml rule for liquids

I advised my dad not to bring the regular size toothpaste tube in his carry on, but he insisted that since it had only an ounce or two or product inside that it would be no problem. You know what happened at security…goodbye toothpaste!

On one of my trips to London, I bought a unique flavor of jam and packed it in my carry on in the event that my checked bag went missing. I forgot that jams are considered a liquid, and into the bin went the delicious jar of jam.

4. Packing valuables in your checked bag

For safety and security, never pack expensive, rare, or items of value in your checked bag, as passengers have been known to lose items to theft or missing bags. If you must pack a breakable item in your checked bag (e.g., a bottle of wine), wrap it carefully and place it strategically in your case. Then make sure to choose a proper bag lock to keep out opportune thieves.

carry-on bag

5. Not packing extra clothes in your carry on

An airline once lost my bag and I did not receive it until well after my trip had ended. Thankfully I had packed one pair of underwear in my carry on, but I had to immediately go shopping for new clothing (which wouldn’t have been so bad except for the currency conversion rate). Since then, I have always packed one outfit in my carry-on bag.

6. Forgetting to pack an item (or two or three)

I have forgotten to pack a hairbrush, deodorant, a toothbrush, and more. Even when I make a list, one lone item always gets left at home. Thankfully I’m not alone in forgetting an important item at home. At least I can buy new items on the road!

>>Read what to do if you forget to pack something.

tank top in winter

7. Not packing appropriately for your destination

On my first trip to Australia, I knew I was arriving in winter, but I still packed capris, short-sleeved shirts, and one jacket. As soon as my sister and I landed, we sought out scarves for the colder days. Fast forward four years, and I’m arriving in Australia again in the winter, but this time I’m staying for 12-months instead of 3 weeks. You’d think I had learned my lesson, but I still didn’t pack warmly enough for the southern coast. Disregard your assumptions and read about the weather before you go!

Which of these packing mistakes have you made on your travels or seen someone else make? From the funny to the annoying to the major inconvenience, share your story.

Photo credit: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Written by Heather

Heather Rudd Palmer is a 30-something with a love for travel, food, and healthy living. After short trips to Europe in her 20s, Heather left her job at 30 to live, work, and travel in Australia for a year. She visited every state and territory, embarked on two road trips, worked at an organic food store, and ate her way through Sydney. She's now a career counselor for university students. You can find Heather at There's No Place Like Oz and Healthy Life Heather.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

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Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


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Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Alouise says

    I used to overpack. I’d start taking items “just in case,” like I’d pack black high heel shoes even though I don’t wear high heels when I’m at home. Now I double check everything I pack and make sure it’s something I’ll need and use.

  2. Monica | The Travel Hack says

    Over packing is defintiely my biggest problem. I always pack way too much! I’m very tempted to take a teeny backpack on my next trip to make sure I can’t pack all those ‘just incase’ items.
    I think you have to remember that you can buy most things you would need in virtually every country in the world. I packed about 3 months supply of shampoo just incase I couldn’t find it elsewhere. What was I thinking?

    • Brooke says

      Haha, wow 3 month supply of shampoo? That’s one I haven’t heard yet 😉 Less is more… although I will say that it all depends on what you’re overpacking and where you’ll be traveling in the world.

  3. Rebecca says

    Usually I am super anal about liquids (just don’t bring them, buy when I arrive) but for some reason I brought a regular size tooth paste to San Francisco last month. But unlike your dad, I got it through security both times! Guess it just depends whose checking your bag. (A good or scarey thing?)

      • Adri says

        Exactly! I once made it through airport “security” with a 6″ dive knife in my carry-on (accidentally; I’d used the same backpack a couple days before on a scuba trip and forgot to unpack the knife). Didn’t even get stopped.

  4. Anastasia says

    I ALWAYS overpack. There’s always something I think I’ll need for whatever silly reason and I can’t stop myself from shoving it into my suitcase. 😛 I also almost always forget something necessary, like socks or earphones or, one time, my ID!

  5. Mary says

    I thought I was so smart. I packed a relatively small backpack for a two month trip through South East Asia and I was bragging to my buddy who was driving me to the airport. I got almost all the way to the airport when I realized I had no money, passport,credit cards or bank card with me. How is that for smart?

  6. Dena says

    Isn’t it an old saying that says ” Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it”? I’m horrible with over packing. My daughter and I were going on a train trip and I told her we were going to stop at the store and pick up ” just a few snacks” for the ride
    (even though all our meals were included). I had heard rumors of trains running out of food, and didn’t want to be stranded for 2 1/2 days with a hungry child. Needless to say, $38 and two grocery bags later…we had to leave it mostly at home. I’m thinking now- it would have been smarter just to pay the $2 for a bag of chips on-board.

  7. Emily says

    When I lived in Italy for three months, I traveled to Greece for about 10 days, and finalllllly found an H&M and they had pantene shampoo. I’d been using cheap-o Italian shampoo for over a month, and I was so excited. Sadly, when I took my next trip (a flight from London to Ireland) I was dumb enough to pack it in my carry on. Sad, sad day. Definitely pay attention to the liquids.

  8. Laura says

    How about packing enough clothes for 3 days even though you will only be gone 2, and still running out of underwear?! Then this last time I packed enough underwear, but not enough tops!

  9. Fede says

    On my first trip to Chile I brougt EVERYTHING. including my tattoo machine, Ink,needles, clipcord, and of course out of stupidity i forgot the powerplugs were different and didn’t use it -.- lots of unesesary weight the PRO is I sold it and made $$$ when I ran out of money, I definatley learned to pack ESSENTIALS ONLY

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