Girl sitting next to a large backpack
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Packing Tips

The 7 Worst Packing Mistakes You Can Make

Here’s what you don’t want to be thinking on vacation: Why did I use this bag? Why did I pack this way? Where the heck is my [insert one essential thing]? Was I even awake when I threw this suitcase together? It’s not a good feeling to be thinking these things when you’re supposed to be having the best time ever. Not to worry, we’ve listed out the worst packing mistakes a traveler can make so you can totally avoid doing them.

1. Using the Wrong Kind of Bag

That quilted duffel bag your grandma gave you 10 years ago? Chuck it. You may love your granny, but we promise, your shoulder will not love a strap you have to shift side to side all day long. Upgrade to a carry-on spinner that does all the heavy lifting for you and resist those giant hardback suitcases that get heavy really quick. Or go the backpack route. Trust us, when you’re racing through the airport with a connection to catch, two shoulder straps are better than one at keeping things comfortable.

2. Packing Too Much

We’ve all done it—filled our suitcase with stuff on stuff on stuff. The impulse is understandable. Maybe you want shoes that match each outfit. Or a straightener, curling iron, and state-of-the-art blow dryer to get selfie-ready hair. Or you just want loads of “options.” But try to resist this and curate everything. Embrace clothes that pull double-duty. The ideal item can be worn multiple times and can be dressed up and down with jewelry and a swipe of lipstick. Channel those stylish French women that wear one scarf 20 ways. Think quality over quantity.

3. Forgetting the Essentials

You know what’s no fun? Wandering around a drugstore in some foreign city at 10 pm hunting for that one thing you forgot to pack. How can you avoid this fate? Get a foolproof checklist and mentally go through your morning and night routines to add all the things you use. That contact lens solution and your phone charger won’t be forgotten if you take the time to assemble your list. Finally, plan your outfits. Is a hike on the itinerary? Don’t forget durable shoes. Are you traveling to a colder climate? Better toss in that hat and gloves. If you aren’t a list person, this is the perfect time to become one. Don’t wing it.

4. Ignoring TSA Rules for Carry-Ons

The 3-1-1 rule. Learn it. Know it. Live by it. Because when you ignore the TSA’s liquid restrictions, your favorite moisturizer gets confiscated and tossed in the trash. Our preferred way to pack toiletries is decanting our liquids into TSA-approved bottles, which saves both security time and luggage space. But it’s not just toiletries that can get taken away when you go through security. The TSA has plenty of other items that land in the no-go zone, including seemly innocent household objects like corkscrews. Do yourself—and everyone behind you in line—a favor and double check what is allowed onboard before you pack your suitcase.

5. Leaving No Room for Souvenirs

Some strong souls can resist the siren call of souvenirs, but not us. Whether it’s a kitschy snow globe, an artisanal market item, or just a bottle of duty-free booze, you’ll need to leave a little room in your suitcase to get that stuff home. Give yourself that breathing room and leave at least an inch on top of your bag for extras you pick up on the road. If you tend to go hard on the souvenirs, pack a fold-up travel bag, which you can fill as you travel, and check on your return flight.

6. Packing Messily

Your suitcase shouldn’t be a junk drawer where everything just gets tossed in. Take the time to get organized. To really tame clutter, consider packing cubes. But even without these, you can utilize tons of space-saving tricks. Rolling your clothes can make a world of difference. And don’t just chuck your shoes in, either. Cover them in a shoe bag or plastic bag (so your clothes don’t get dirty), line them up with the sides of your suitcase, and put them at the bottom. You’ll also want to make sure your liquid toiletry bag is at the top of your carry-on or in an outer pocket, ready for TSA inspection. And if you’re getting to your destination late at night, make sure your PJs and toiletry bag are toward the top of your suitcase, too. That way, you can just grab ’em and go to bed. No need to unpack until the next morning.

7. Not Fully Unpacking from Your Last Trip

If you have one suitcase that you always use as your carry-on, or one bag you take with you every time you travel, it’s tempting to leave things in there you think you’ll need (shoe bags, umbrellas, reading material). But make sure you take everything out and repack it before you set off. If the trip you took before was via train or car, you may have left things in there that TSA won’t be happy to see. Or you may find yourself hauling around a book you already finished, gloves when you’re headed to the beach, or other useless items that are just weighing you down. Start fresh. Check every pocket and empty it out before repacking for your trip.

 

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