kermit in a suitcase realising his travel packing mistakes

Booking and organising your holiday is the fun part. Then later comes the tedious chore of packing your suitcase. So do you ever think about how to avoid some common packing mistakes?

For some travellers, like myself, travel packing is an easy process. Years of trial and error have streamlined my packing into a two hour process. I’ve learnt how to avoid those packing mistakes now. For others, it’s a long process which sometimes involve repacking.

Below are the top 10 packing mistakes commonly made when packing for your holiday, together with some antidotes. Are you guilty of any of these?

Last minute packing

My mother is notorious leaving packing until the very last minute. She will start packing at midnight for a 6am flight!

The danger here is that you’ll end up over packing. You’re in such a rush to finish the packing, that you’re not thinking clearly. So you throw in more stuff than you actually need.

The key here is some pre-planning and organising. I start my packing 3 days prior to departure. First I lay out all the clothes I think I will need. Then sleep on it - not literally of course! The following day I cull it in half and pack the remainder in my bag, shut the zip and don't think about it again.

Full size bottles

pack and travel light

Throwing your current shampoo and conditioner bottles straight into your bag might seem like the easiest thing to do. But it’s not the most efficient way to pack.

Firstly, it takes up a lot of space and secondly, it adds a lot of unnecessary extra weight.

Your toiletry bag will be the heaviest item in your suitcase. So the aim here is to keep it to a minimum. Buy yourself some travel size bottles and fill them up. I find that a 130ml shampoo bottle can last me for a six week holiday. 

I also tend to keep any small bottle I find or have finished using and keep them in a box. Then I can use it later when required. Thereby saving me money buying more empty travel bottles. I simply write on the outside what I have put inside.

Handy tip: when I buy new travel bottles, I buy them in different colours so I can colour code them instead of adding labels. For example, in the picture above, the blue bottle is shampoo, yellow for conditioner and pink for shower gel.

Oversized bags

packing mistakes by using the large orange suitcase compared to the smaller bags carried by the frog

It's tempting to buy a slightly larger suitcase in case you make lots of overseas purchases. You’ll want to be able to bring them all home. All those lovely souveniers for yourself or family/friends. All those new clothes and shoes to make everyone at home jealous.

But remember that a larger suitcase = more weight. Therefore, you increase the chance of going over the luggage weight limit. Which then leads to hefty luggage excess fees at the airport as you don’t want to leave anything behind. Or the check-in staff may make you remove items from the bags or shuffle them around to stick with strict weight guidelines. I've seen it many times. The poor travellers stuff in full view of other passengers. Quite embarrassing and frustrating. Not to mention having to lug around a heavy suitcase/bag everywhere.

Stick to smaller bags or suitcases. And make sure they are lightweight. Some suitcases weight up to 5kg, which is not good if your low cost airline will only grant you 15kg max. I always look for suitcases that weight under 3kg/6.6lb.

Lightweight suitcases

Click here to help you get started on your search for light weight suitcases. Travel Luggage & Cabin Bags offer many designs available to suit all travellers.

‘Just in case I need it’ excuse

I was on a tour in hot India when I noticed that my Canadian roommate had packed in her suitcase a thick woolly sweater. She told me that she brought it along ‘just in case’ the weather got bad. The ‘just in case’ excuse was certainly taken to the extreme. That woolly sweater is great for a Canadian winter but not really suitable for an Indian summer.

In general travel packing, travellers do tend to add extra items of clothing for ‘just in case’. Maybe they'll include all the different coloured tops. Or adding evening wear in case you go out somewhere fancy.

Travellers often find when they return home, they only wore half the clothes anyway. In fact, when I ask travellers what is their number one travel tip they would like to share, every single person answered "don't pack too much". They had all over packed and realised they didn't wear half of it.

 So ask yourself before placing it in the suitcase “do I REALLY need it?”

Don’t check the weather

Following on from the above point, check the weather at your destination.

Check the average rainfall as well as the temperature. My recent trip to the east coast of Australia caught me off guard. I travelled in February to Byron Bay for a festival. So of course  I knew that its summer during this time.

But if I had checked the weather just before I departed, then I could have prepared for a week of unusual torrential rain. So while in Byron bay, I had to buy a light jacket, a rain coat and umbrella.

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Don’t think how fabrics play a part

clothes on a rack of different types of material

People forget that some fabrics weigh more than others. So I always go for lighter options.

For example, I always bring a pair of jeans with me because I know I always end up wearing them. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered Levi’s sell jeans made of much lighter material than my old pairs. And I noticed the reduction of weight and space it took in my backpack.

Also, look for fabrics that don’t crease so easily. Then there is no need for ironing or looking like you just came out of a suitcase! I steer clear of linen and silk.

Bring too many shoes

female sitting in cupboard surrounded by shoe shelves

Especially for us ladies, we have shoes of different colours for different occasions. It might be true that you never know what circumstance will eventuate while on holidays. But you can’t bring ALL your shoes with you.

Shoes take up a lot of space and some can weigh quite a bit.

So limit the number of shoes to bring with you and be strict with yourself about it. Principals I employ when I pack:

  • Bring neutral coloured shoes, so the one pair will match everything I will wear.
  • Have one pair of comfortable walking shoes.
  • They must be light in nature. The heavy, clunky shoes stay at home!

Not full-proofing your liquids

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I always seem to have one bottle that leaks on every holiday I take.

Thankfully now, I always keep liquids in a plastic bag for this reason alone. It’s no fun cleaning out your bag and clothes smeared with your shampoo!

Handy tip: don't always choose the cheapest empty travel size bottles. They are cheap because they are cheaply made. Like the $1.99 shampoo bottle below. I bought it last week and leaked in my bag on my first flight. It has a tiny hole in the top rim, that was impossible to see with the naked eye.

finger pointing to a leak on top of the shampoo bottle

Don’t use a packing list

You have two choices. You can open up your wardrobe door and randomly select items you think you will need. But with this method you also tend to choose all your favourite items too. And then you add all the ‘just in case’ items as discussed earlier in this post.

Or you can write out a list of what you will actually need. When you write your travel packing list, also add the number of items for each type of clothing. Then go to your wardrobe and select only what's written on your list.

Purchase an international SIM card

a sim card with international flags on it

Yes, purchasing an international SIM card is cheaper than activating global roaming on your phone plan. Unless you’re European with EU access on mobile your plan. But many people don’t realise that it’s cheaper still if you buy a prepaid SIM card within the country itself.

For example, in 2019 I travelled to the Balkans for 7 weeks. In Greece I purchased a 30 day tourist SIM card for €12. In Albania, I purchased 14 day tourist SIM card for $18. And in Montenegro, a 20 day SIM card there cost only €5. It came with 1000GB of data. I don’t even use that much in 12 months, let alone in one month.

So before you leave home, google what are the current prepaid SIM only plans for your destination. Or download a prepared cheat sheet, in which all the research work is done for you.

Are you guilty of travel packing mistakes?

There are many other travel packing mistakes. But I find these are the most common ones when I chat with other travellers.

Are you guilty of any of them? Have you learnt from your mistakes or do you keep repeating them? Do you want to share any other packing mistakes not mentioned above? What will you do to improve next time?

Start planning your trip now with the following helpful links:

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Hotels - find hotels on any budget at
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Tours - pre book your tours and activities at Viator
Attractions - save up to 55% on top attractions and museums with a Go City Pass.
Travel guides - get 10% discount on Lonely Planet guides and books.

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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