10 Mistakes People Make When Packing A Suitcase

Experts share travelers' common missteps when packing for a trip and how to get it right.
Don't make these common mistakes when you're packing for a trip.
LeoPatrizi via Getty Images
Don't make these common mistakes when you're packing for a trip.

Going on vacation is enjoyable and relaxing. Packing for said vacation is decidedly less so.

Many of us dread the part before a trip when we’re scrambling to figure out what we need to put in our suitcases. And inevitably, there will be issues with space or forgotten items.

To help make the experience less daunting, HuffPost asked travel experts to share the common packing mishaps they’ve observed or experienced firsthand. From folding clothes to adding too many pairs of shoes, here are 10 mistakes people often make while packing for a trip ― and some advice for avoiding these errors when you travel.

1. Not Using A List

Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer, emphasized the importance of making a packing list before a trip so that you don’t forget any essentials. Taking the time to write down what you need and check items off can save time and space.

“While using a pen and paper works, I make my packing list with the Notes app on my phone,” he said. “It allows me to quickly move items in my list from the ‘not yet packed’ section to the ‘packed’ section. In addition to helping you not forget anything, a packing list also prevents you from double-packing items that you may have already packed at the bottom of your suitcase.”

2. Folding Clothes

Seasoned travelers often caution against folding your clothes when you pack your suitcase, but that doesn’t mean they want you to toss them in haphazardly. Instead, go for the rolling method.

“Properly rolling your clothing is essential to getting the most out of your luggage space,” Dengler said. “Do this when initially packing your suitcase as well as when you put dirty clothes in your laundry bag. I find that rolling my clothes also means fewer wrinkles than when folding them. Finally, I recommend using rubber bands to keep your rolled clothes tight and secure.”

3. Failing To Check Weight And Size Restrictions

Methods like rolling your clothes allow you to fit more into your suitcase, but that doesn’t mean you have to use every inch available, especially if your items are heavier. This is particularly true if you’re traveling by plane.

“Travelers who check their bags may be used to weighing their luggage, but did you know carry-ons may get weighed and measured too?” said Olivia Christine Perez, a travel blogger at O. Christine. “This most often happens on international flights where you are required to check in at the airport, and with budget airlines that capitalize on baggage fees.”

To avoid extra fees or other issues, Perez advised double-checking the airline website for bag size requirements and using a luggage scale before heading to the airport. Cheryl Nelson, a travel preparedness expert and founder of Prepare With Cher, echoed this advice.

“Only pack what you need ― really,” she said. “This will save you time and stress at the check-in bag drop counter. If you’re traveling with a roller bag onboard, make sure you can lift the bag into the overhead bin yourself. You may not always be able to count on another passenger to help you.”

Limit the number of shoes you bring on a trip.
Dean Mitchell via Getty Images
Limit the number of shoes you bring on a trip.

4. Adding Too Many Pairs Of Shoes

There are many unnecessary items we tend to throw into our suitcases, but Dengler believes the worst offender is footwear.

“Always pack the minimum number of shoes as possible for your itinerary,” Dengler said. “Unless they are sandals or flip-flops, shoes take up a lot of valuable luggage space. They also cannot be folded, so packing becomes even more difficult. Additionally, you should wear your largest pair of shoes when flying. For example, wear your hiking boots on the plane if you are going on a hiking trip.”

Jessica van Dop DeJesus, a travel media specialist and blogger at The Dining Traveler, said she also tries to reduce the amount of footwear she packs.

“Shoes are usually the heaviest item on a suitcase, so I pick one or two pairs of shoes and work my outfits around them to have more space,” she noted.

5. Packing All Your Bottles Of Medication

It’s important to pack the medications you take when traveling, but you don’t have to throw in your full supply.

“Don’t pack every single medication or supplement bottle ― those take up too much space,” Nelson said. “Pack your pills in a pill container or small bags and label them so you know what each pill is.”

In addition to your everyday medication, she also advised packing products that support overall health while traveling ― like cold relief medicine. This is especially essential if these drugs won’t be readily available for purchase at your destination.

“Most people will not wear 50% of what they packed in their bags.”

- Jessica van Dop DeJesus, travel media specialist and blogger

6. Forgetting A Laundry Bag

“I pack a laundry bag for my dirty clothes before doing anything else,” Dengler said. “There is nothing worse than mixing dirty clothes with clean clothes, and it is often not possible nor desirable to do laundry on vacation.”

He noted that a simple trash bag will do, but you can also purchase a reusable laundry bag made out of strong material like nylon online or at a local retailer for relatively cheap.

7. Overpacking

“One of the main mistakes people make while packing for a trip is overpacking,” said van Dop DeJesus. “You can easily do a five- to seven-day trip with a carry-on. Most people will not wear 50% of what they packed in their bags.”

There are many ways to avoid overpacking, like cutting down on outfits or choosing items like jeans that can be worn multiple times before washing. Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app Tripscout, believes everyone could pare down.

“Nearly every traveler packs way too much,” she said. “Even if you travel light and never check a bag, try traveling lighter. If you need something you didn’t pack, you can buy it locally, which often becomes a unique travel experience in itself! It makes for a much better and easier travel experience.”

Make sure you bring your vaccine card and keep it in a safe place.
mixetto via Getty Images
Make sure you bring your vaccine card and keep it in a safe place.

8. Improperly Storing Your Vaccine Card

These days, there’s an additional document that you need to take on your travels: proof of vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card is annoyingly larger than wallet-sized, so you can’t slip it in easily next to your driver’s license. As a result, travelers need to be more mindful of where they pack their cards.

“Don’t store your vaccine card in your passport,” cautioned Molly Fergus, vice president and general manager of TripSavvy. “My husband did this, and the card slipped out when he was going through security. We didn’t notice until we were at the gate, and he was unable to get a replacement card until recently. Instead, he had to rely on photo documentation and vaccine records from his doctor.”

She suggested buying a passport holder that includes a secure spot for your CDC card or keeping the card in a safe pocket in your bag at all times. And whatever you do, don’t store it in your checked luggage.

“Don’t pack any electronics, money, or valuables into your checked luggage,” said Ciara Johnson, a travel blogger at Hey Ciara. “If your luggage is broken, lost or delayed, you’ll be out of luck! I always recommend getting travel insurance because you’ll be covered if this does end up happening.”

9. Not Leaving Extra Room

Another reason to avoid adding too many pairs of shoes or unnecessary outfits to your luggage: It reduces the amount of room you have for souvenirs. Think about what you might acquire during your travels as you pack your bags.

“If you’re planning to buy items on your trip, make sure you have extra space in your suitcase,” Nelson said.

10. Packing At The Last Minute

Many packing mistakes can be avoided by giving yourself enough time to get it done properly.

“People either overpack by bringing way too many unnecessary things ― or the opposite, they ‘underpack’ by forgetting some essential items. The one way to avoid either scenario is simply to not pack at the last minute!” said Marek Bron, a travel blogger at Indie Traveller.

“It’s often panicky last-minute packing that makes you pack very poorly, which is why I always pack a day in advance whenever I can,” he added. “This takes away so much of the stress and lets me bring just what I need for a specific trip.”

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