Welcome to the first post in my series “Top Travel Mistakes.” I recently collected information on the biggest mistakes people make when traveling and composed a list of the top 10 (plus a few bonus tips!) This series explores and expands on that list and provides more detail about how to avoid making common errors while you travel.
#1 Packing and Overpacking
I felt like I needed to start with this one first because it is probably the most common mistake we make when getting ready to travel: Overpacking. This is the one item on this list that is the hardest for me to correct even when I know I’m doing it. Whether I am spending a couple weeks on holiday, or just the weekend at my parent’s, I always seem to over-pack.
Overpacking is the product of either over-planning, or under-planning. If we start too far in advance, we will always think of more things we ‘need.’ Inversely, if we wait until the last minute, we tend to just start throwing everything see into a bag and hope for the best.
One thing we should try to remember is that (most of the time) we are traveling to a place where there is still civilization… Meaning… If we forget something that we can’t live without, we can almost always count on there being a convenient store around the corner where it can be found. There are also many items that you won’t need to pack at all because they will be provided for you. This is especially true if you’re visiting family or friends, or lodging somewhere where things such as toiletries, bedding, and towels are already provided in your room. Remember, the less you pack for your trip, the more room you will have to bring back souvenirs.
So, what do you pack and what do you leave home? Well, that depends on a number of things. Where are you going? How many days will be you gone? What kind of lodging will you have? What will the weather be like? Will you be doing a lot of lounging, or more exploring? For instance, if you are going skiing you will not likely need to bring sandals or water shoes because you won’t need them. However, if you’re going on a Caribbean cruise, you may want to have several different types of shoes based on what your itinerary is. Business travel will likely be a more formal attire and just a few personal items, whereas a camping trip will be far more casual and will require many more supplies.
Regardless of where you are adventuring to, your packing list will be as unique as each trip you are packing for. But… here are my general suggestions:
-Any medications and/or vitamins you are taking (including birth control!) with their prescriptions, if necessary.
-Your itinerary (itineraries), as well as IDs and documents you will need, travel confirmations, and local maps (if you haven’t downloaded them on your phone.)
-A list of emergency contacts and special medical conditions.
-Enough socks and underwear for the majority of the trip.
-One or two pair of pants/shorts, and a couple of shirts. (Pick things that you can mix and match over several days to get the most out of your clothes and save space!)
-A sweater or jacket (even if you’re going somewhere warm, because evenings and mornings are typically cooler.)
-Multiple forms of payment, such as physical cash, credit card, and debit card.
-Electronics you want to have with you (Phone, tablet, music player, headphones, camera, and chargers, and CORD ADAPTERS if necessary.)
*Note to self: you don’t need a pair of shoes to match every outfit. One pair of walking shoes and one pair of dress shoes will be fine! If those dress shoes can be sandals, even better!
-More clothes than you need (Check the weather for where you’ll be staying and pack accordingly. And remember, mix-and-match!)
-Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash (These take up space, and if you’re flying they must be packed in your luggage. If you’re staying at a hotel or resort these items will likely already be in your room. I’ve also had bottles leak in my bag and have had to wash EVERYTHING before I could wear any of it. Talk about inconvenient!)
-Food (a small snack or two is fine, especially if you’re traveling with kids, but definitely no more. No matter where you go you will always be able to find food.)
-Liquids. (If you’re flying, any liquid over 4 ounces will need to be packed in your luggage and will only take up space. And again, you risk leakage)
-Expensive jewelry, or anything you are unwilling to lose.
-Too many appliances. Things such as curling irons, blow-dryers, electric razors, multiple electronic gaming devices, and blenders. (Don’t ask… I’ve seen it!)
*Pro Tip 1: It’s not unusual for an airline to occasionally lose your checked luggage. This occurs most often if you have a layover- you may change planes, but your luggage may not. I’ve had it happen, and while it’s usually taken care of pretty quickly (with 24 hours), it’s still quite inconvenient. So, what can you do to avoid being completely stranded? Make sure you have all of your basic necessities in your carry-on or personal bag. Always pack your medications, IDs, documents, cash or cards, phone chargers and anything else you will need immediately so that you can access it immediately if you need to. I also always pack at least one change of clothes in my carry-on, as well as my socks and undies.
Luggage vs Carry On
If you are traveling via airplane there are some extra luggage restrictions you should be aware of. Before you start packing you should become familiar with the TSA packing guidelines, as well as your airline’s specific rules regarding luggage. Keep in mind that if you are using more than one airline for your trip you will need to check with each of them.
Most airlines within the US allow passengers one checked bag up to a certain size and weight, one carry-on item with size restrictions, and one personal item such as a laptop, briefcase, or purse. Most of the time these are already included in the price of your air ticket, but I have been on some flights (Spirit) where you have to pay for everything separately. You may also be charged an additional fee for extra bags, or bags that exceed the size or weight limits. Be aware of what you’re actually getting before you book or you may end up paying more than you planned.
Aside from size and weight, there are even more luggage restrictions. For example, some items must be packed a certain way. Items such as liquids over 4oz, weapons, and even some household appliances must be packed in your checked luggage, while other items such as some batteries and chargers must be packed in a carry-on.
Larger items such as musical instruments, snowboards, surfboards, and almost all sports equipment will have special travel instructions that vary by airline.
If you are traveling with pets, you will need to check with the specific airline you’ll be on. Sometimes you need to purchase an additional seat for them, and there will always be requirements on how they must be handled.
I have provided a link to the TSA website that goes over all of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ items below. There is also a convenient little search box on the site where you can type in any item that you’re uncertain about and it will inform you how it should be packed.
*Pro Tip 2* Have you ever seen luggage and suitcases going around the baggage claim with curled ribbons or a big tacky bow on them? There is a reason for that… Have you noticed that many luggage bags all look the same? Adding something really unique to your baggage will make it easier for you to pick yours out from the crowd, and this will make it quicker for you to grab your bags and move on. If you are not into the big flashy ribbons and bows, don’t despair, you have other options. Get creative! Add something that is unique to you! And if you’re not creative, there are some beautiful luggage tags you can order from places like Etsy and Amazon!
When To Pack
So when should you pack? How far in advance should you drag your suitcases out and start throwing all of your clothes in them? My recommendation is to pack the week that you are leaving. Any further out than that may cause you to want to keep throwing more things in. *Guilty!* or to unpack, re-evaluate your options, and re-pack with all new items. *Double guilty!*
But you also don’t want to pack the night before you leave either. You want to make sure you have time to look for the things you actually do want to take with you. You may have to pull your summer clothes out in the middle of winter if you’re visiting Aruba in December. Some clothes may need washed before they’re packed. And packing right before you leave may cause you to end up forgetting things that you actually do need, such as specific travel documents, or underwear other than what you’re wearing.
*Pro Tip 3* One of the best pieces of advice I can offer you is to make a list of all the things you will need (or want) and check them off as you pack them. This will help you get all of the necessities, and disregard anything that’s not on the list. It will also help you re-pack when you return home, to ensure you don’t leave anything behind.
Another suggestion I like to make, and something I do a lot when I travel, is pack things that you won’t mind leaving behind. My style of travel is a little more adventurous than relaxing. I do a lot of hiking, and adventure excursions, which usually leaves my clothing and shoes in shambles by the end of my trip. What I like to do is pack old shoes or t-shirts that I can just toss out before returning home. This will leave more space for souvenirs, and as a bonus, less dirty laundry to have to deal with when I get home!
In Clothes-ing Remarks (see what I did there)
Of course, each adventure will require you to pack differently based on where you’re going and what you’re doing. I have searched far and wide and can tell you, for certain, that there is no one, perfect, cover-all list that embodies every item you will need for each and every trip you will ever take. The best generalization I can provide for you is this: IDs, Money, Phone, Medications, Underwear. Adjust to taste.
If this stressed you out or you are uncertain about how to pack for an upcoming trip, talk to a travel advisor! (Hello! My name is Sarah, and I’m a travel advisor!) We are always happy to share our knowledge! As an added bonus, I am sharing my ULTIMATE PACKING LIST with you as a downloadable PDF. You’ll find it useful when planning your next trip!
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