You should know, I pride myself on being an excellent packer. I was doing the carry on only thing way before it was cool (and before the airlines started charging for checked baggage). I can pack fast and light. So how could I possibly make any packing mistakes?
Turns out, I’m not the perfect packer. Despite moving houses probably close to 30 times in my life (another story for another blog post), I do make packing mistakes. This became clear to me on my trip to London and Iceland last October.
So here are the eight big packing mistakes I made. And I’ve also included a few of my packing wins and tips at the bottom – because even though I have made packing mistakes, I’m learning from them!
Packing mistake #1: Jeans
I know some people love jeans. They are into the denim. I am not those people. Jeans are uncomfortable. I own a few pairs and will wear them when I have to. But I much rather wear leggings or even tights and a dress/skirt. I’m all about the elastic waistband (this tells you a lot about me).
And you know when I really hate wearing jeans? When I have to sit on a train for six hours in a single day or when I’m trying to eat my weight in French pastries.
Jeans are awful for travelling. They’re horrible to wear on a plane, train or long car ride. They’re super heavy in your bag. And if they get wet, they’re even more disgusting. I definitely regret packing jeans and even went out to buy some non-jean pants as soon as we got home for future trips.
Packing mistake #2: Not enough layers
For some reason, I completely forgot about the cardinal rule of travel clothing: layers! I showed up in Europe in the middle of October and didn’t have a single cardigan or light sweater with me. I had my rain jacket and that was about it.
Cut to me buying a super soft cardigan at Primark a few days into our trip because I was freezing. I know sweaters are bulky, but I do suggest packing a few light sweaters or cardigans if you’re doing any winter/fall travel.
And don’t forget your under layers, like tank tops, either!
Packing mistake #3: Unprepared for the rain
Like I said, I did pack a rain jacket, which is essential for London. But I didn’t bother to pack rain boots, an umbrella or anything waterproof. And I can’t quite call this a packing mistake. I think rain boots would have been really heavy – and I only wanted them on one day when it rained really bad.
So what should I have done? Bought an umbrella! I did buy one eventually, but only after walking through torrential rain for twenty minutes. Seriously, I was soaked! I was literally wringing out my jeans (I told you wet jeans were the worst) and squishing water out of my shoes with every step.
If you don’t have space to pack rain gear, buy an umbrella and/or get indoors the minute the skies open up. Believe me, the rest of your day will be a lot better if you don’t have to walk around looking like a drowned rat.
Packing mistake #4: Bad shoes
I opted out of packing rain boots and instead decided to do 8 days in London and Iceland in a pair of Vans sneakers. At first, I thought this was a great choice. The shoes were cute, pretty comfy and super lightweight. Unfortunately, they were not travel ready.
While comfortable for daily life back home, Vans were not appropriate for walking all day long in London. And they definitely were the wrong choice for walking around glaciers and beaches in Iceland. By the end of the eight days, I had blisters and my Vans had to be thrown out.
So for my next trip (back to Europe 10 days later for Paris & Amsterdam), I wanted to be prepared. I headed to the mall and bought a pair of sturdy, water-resistant shoes with a memory-foam sole. And for comfy old lady shoes, they aren’t as hideous as I thought they would be!
Packing mistake #5: Library books
Just before our trip, I finally got myself a local library card and was all excited to start taking out books from the library. I love reading and it’s one of my 2019 goals to read a book a month and even try to read every day. And a library card means free books!
But I definitely regret packing library books on our trip to Europe. For starters, if I had lost them, that would have meant some major fines. Luckily, I didn’t lose them. But I did finish reading them and then had to tote two books around. Instead, I should’ve brought a book that I could leave behind once I finished it – saving me space and weight.
Or, better yet, I should invest in a Kindle!
Packing mistake #6: Too much paper
I like to be prepared and I love to plan ahead. So before we head out on a trip, I put together a spreadsheet with our accommodations, flights and itinerary. I know, it’s a lot. But it makes me happy! And to really make sure I’m on top of it all, I like to print out all of our flight/hotel/ticket/ confirmations. Just in case we can’t find wi-fi, I want to make sure we’re prepared.
And that’s how we ended up in London with a binder full of flight reservations, train tickets, hotel confirmations and more.
Sometimes, it’s important to print things out. Some attractions, like the Louvre for instance, actually require a paper ticket. But nine times out of ten, they don’t even ask for your confirmation or, if they do, you can just pull it up on your phone.
So for my next trip, I’m going to try to limit my print-outs. Not every single thing I book needs paper proof. If I’m worried about wi-fi access, I can always screenshot things and keep the photo on my phone.
Packing mistake #7: No day bag
When I travel carry on, I usually have my big backpack and then my purse. If I’m bringing my laptop, I’ll put it in its case and put that in my big backpack.
Unfortunately, I don’t usually bring a day bag. In Ireland, Colin ended up buying a day pack of his own because we just couldn’t fit everything into my purse. And in London, I ended up buying a shoulder bag (thanks again, Primark!) so I could have something to hold my laptop. But because the bag was bulky, I had to leave it in London when we left.
For future trips, I want to buy a lightweight packable day bag that I can throw in my carry on and pull out for daily use. Something like this bag would be perfect!
Packing mistake #8: Bad snacks
I’m a huge proponent of eating local food. In fact, some of the best parts of travelling are sampling the local cuisine. But I also believe in packing snacks. I don’t think you should pass on the pad thai in favour of a granola bar, but I do think a granola bar can save you in a pinch if you sleep through your flight’s meal service or get stuck on a long subway ride.
Unfortunately, I made the easiest packing mistake there is to make. I packed bad snacks! I packed granola bars that I didn’t like and every time I got hungry, I was so unhappy with my options. Pretty sure I managed to get one down, on an early morning when we didn’t have time to stop for breakfast, but I threw the rest out when we got home.
All right, enough about my packing mistakes. Let’s move onto some of my packing tips and packing wins! Because despite these eight packing mistakes, I do still consider myself a pretty good packer.
- You can always pack in a carry on. You can read more about why carry on is best here. Unless you are moving to the place, there’s no reason to check luggage. You’re probably thinking, “But I’m going to be in Thailand for six weeks! There’s no way I can fit six weeks of clothes in a carry on bag!” And you would be exactly right. You don’t need to fit six weeks of clothes. You need to fit one week and you need to do laundry.
- Write a packing list. I like to start a checklist on my phone a couple of weeks before a trip. I’ll add things to the list as I remember them, and then use the list as a guide when it comes time to pack.
- If you’re not sure if you should pack something, you probably shouldn’t. When you’re trying to pack light, you don’t have space for something you think you maybe might wear. Get rid of anything that’s uncomfortable (if you don’t like putting it on at your own home, you’ll hate doing it in a tiny hostel bathroom on a hot day in Italy) or anything that can only be worn once. Odds are if you do end up needing the thing, you can buy a replacement wherever you are.
- Make sure all of the clothing you bring can be mixed and matched to create different outfits. If you have a shirt that only goes with one pair of pants, leave it at home.
- Don’t go with a full bag. If you leave home with a completely full bag, you’ll be in trouble coming back. Odds are you’re going to buy things abroad and you won’t be packing as neatly on the way home. Leave yourself some space.
- Packing cubes! I’m a huge fan of packing cubes. They are the perfect way to keep your things organized, especially if you’re throwing everything into a backpack. Get your hands on some packing cubes now!
- Two things I always pack: a scarf and Ziploc or plastic bags. A scarf is a great travel accessory and can be used to keep you warm, cover you up for temple hopping, or even as a picnic blanket or beach towel. And Ziploc or plastic bags are perfect for storing laundry and liquids.
- Wear your heaviest outfit. This includes shoes and coat. If you’re worried about the space or weight of your bag, wear your heaviest outfit onto the plane. They may weigh your bag but they won’t weigh you!
- Know where your essentials are. If you’re flying, keep your bag of liquids and any electronics easily accessible so you can pull them out for security. If you need medication at a certain time, ensure you know exactly where that is packed.
- Read the rules. Don’t be that person who shows up at the airport security line with a full-sized shampoo bottle. And don’t be shocked when an airline makes you pay to check your bag because it’s way bigger and heavier than the carry on restrictions. Read the rules for your airline and ensure you’re following them.
For more packing tips and travel tips in general, check out my travel tips post!
Because it’s not all about packing mistakes, I want to weigh in on some of the great packing debates of our time.
Roll or fold your clothing?
There are two people in this world: those who roll their clothing and those who fold (or flatpack) their clothing. Choose your side wisely. Some people swear by rolling, others think flatpacking is the way to go, and still others prefer a combo of both.
I would have to say I align myself with the flatpackers. Honestly, this is usually due to laziness. My clothes are already folded in my closet, so it’s pretty easy to just drop them into my luggage. I’m also a big believer in leaving space in my luggage, so I have no desire to fill every crevice by rolling my stuff.
Pack early or pack last-minute?
I used to be a huge last-minute packer. I got this from my mom. My mom is notorious for packing for a trip the day of the trip. And I totally understand why. It’s so annoying to pack things for a trip and then realize you can’t pack something because you still need it or to keep pulling things back out of the suitcase.
But after committing so many packing mistakes on our last Europe trip, I began to wonder if my last-minute packing was to blame. Maybe I would’ve realized I was missing things if I had packed ahead of time. And plus, it was super stressful running around the house to get everything together the night before the trip.
So I’m trying out this packing early thing, but in moderation. For our Southeast Asia trip, I pulled out my backpack two weeks before our flight. I spent an afternoon trying on some summer clothing and putting things in the bag. Because we were flying to summer weather, it was easy to start packing clothes I wouldn’t need for January in Vancouver. And because I started packing early, I had time to try on shorts and dresses and pare down my packing list. But certain things, like toiletries and electronics, had to be packed last-minute.
Compression bags – yay or nay?
Compression or vacuum bags allegedly help you pack more by condensing all of your stuff down as tiny as possible. A lot of people get these confused with packing cubes, which don’t compress.
So far, I haven’t tried compression bags. I’m not totally sold on the idea. I know there are ones now that self-compress so you don’t have to travel around with a vacuum. But don’t they make your clothing all wrinkly? And if the idea is to be able to get more into a bag, that’s something I would want to avoid since I prefer to travel as light as possible.
Backpack or rolling suitcase?
This one is no contest to me. If I’m going carry on (which I always am), I choose a backpack every time. Backpacks give you ultimate mobility. Your hands are free and you can take stairs, walk over cobblestones and cut through crowds. You can also squish your bag into overhead bins, tie things to the outside of it, and even use it as a makeshift pillow when you’re waiting at the airport.
The only downside? Carrying the weight on your back. And this is why I try so hard to pack light. I know that I have to carry everything on my back, so I’m going to try as hard as I can to keep the weight down.
Hard shell luggage or soft shell?
If I do have to take a rolling suitcase, I prefer the soft ones to the hard shells. First, soft shell suitcases are often lighter than hard shell ones, meaning you have more weight you can add to them. Second, soft shell suitcases are flexible. You can often add way more stuff and the soft siding will stretch to fit around it. That’s not the case with hard shell luggage.
I also don’t travel with many valuables (and if I do, they’d be in my carry on backpack), so I don’t worry about things getting damaged in a suitcase. Many hard shell lovers brag about the impenetrable shell but I’ve seen many a dented hard suitcase on the baggage carousel that says otherwise.
Whichever you get, hard or soft shell, try to get one with four wheels! For big heavy suitcases, four wheels make manoeuvering them so much easier.
Phew! That’s a lot of packing talk.
I’d love to know, what are some packing mistakes you’ve made? What’s your #1 packing tip? And where do you come down on the great packing debates?
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