7 Common Packing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

See recent posts by Margot Bigg

Learning how to pack your bags efficiently can come with a steep learning curve, especially for those who aren't used to traveling light. However, the process need not be painful, as long as you are prepared. Here are seven common packing mistakes travelers make and tips on how to avoid them. 

1. Carrying Two Backpacks (or Two Suitcases)

Francisco Antunes/Flickr

Francisco Antunes/Flickr

You can usually spot rookie backpackers by their doubled-up backpacks: one large pack worthy of a jaunt along the Pacific Crest Trail on their backs, and another smaller book bag strapped to their front. Similarly, you’ll often see people with two suitcases (one in each hand) trying to make their way down cobbled city streets. If you need to carry two bags, opt for a suitcase with wheels (preferably the type that can be rolled upright) and a smaller backpack that can double as your carry-on. Doing so will make getting on crowded public transportation much easier, plus you’ll still have a hand free.

2. Folding Instead of Rolling

The golden rule of packing is to roll, rather than fold, your clothes. Rolling your clothing makes it easier to cram small items into the nooks and crannies of your suitcase, plus it helps prevent unsightly creases and wrinkles. Take it up a notch and use rubber bands to keep your rolled items in place, then sort them into large storage bags to ensure everything stays organized and compressed.  

3. Not Dressing for Your Destination



Dress for your destination’s formality, climate, and activities. If you’re traveling to London, for example, your clothing choices probably won’t vary too much from what you’d wear back home. However, if you’re off to Egypt, you may want to wear things that are a bit more modest, but still lightweight enough to keep you comfortable in sweltering temperatures. Simply put, make sure you research what’s appropriate before you start to pack.

4. Bringing Too Many Shoes

One of the easiest ways to load up your suitcase is by packing too many pairs of shoes. While you’ll certainly want something more formal than just tennis shoes, you’re best off keeping footwear to a minimum. Depending on your destination, you should be able to get away with one or two pairs: semi-casual sneakers that can also be used at the gym and a pair of dressier kicks (like comfy ballet flats or sandals, for the ladies). Flip-flops are a good idea if you’re going somewhere warm or using shared showers, while heels are best left at home due to their awkward-to-pack shape. 

5. Lugging Along a Pharmacy

Global X/Flickr

Global X/Flickr

If your destination has an airport, it likely also has pharmacies, hospitals, doctors, and access to modern medicine, so there’s really no need to bring a gargantuan first-aid kid. Any supplements or prescription medicines from back home are definitely worth packing (as is Sudafed, since it’s not available in some countries or even U.S. states). Plus, it’s never a bad idea to have a small selection of basics, including ibuprofen, antacids, and bandages. Just leave the family-size bottles of aspirin at home — if you need more, you’ll be able to buy it, possibly for much cheaper than in your home country. 

6. Buying SIM Cards Ahead of Time

While plenty of phone carriers will suggest that you buy an international SIM card before you leave home, it’s usually much cheaper and easier to purchase one at the airport. Just make sure your phone is unlocked with your local carrier before you go, so that you can use third-party SIM cards freely and with ease.

7. Packing Big Containers of Liquid in Your Carry-On

EasySentri Sentri via Flickr

EasySentri Sentri via Flickr

Finally, don’t forget that what goes in your checked luggage and what goes in your carry-on bag are two very different things. Most countries won’t allow you to carry liquids or gels in bottles over 100 milliliters (or 3.4 ounces) in your carry-on luggage. When in doubt, check it. In the same vein, if you want your security line experience to go extra smoothly (for you and your fellow passengers), make sure to pack all of your liquids in an easy-to-access baggy and have your computer within easy reach — you’ll usually be asked to take both out of your bag ahead of time for easy screening. Being prepared can keep lines moving quickly.  

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