I am embarrassed to admit it now, but when I first started traveling, I was a veritable packing disaster on legs. My back protested as I lugged 32kg of hard-shell suitcase around Peru – what was I thinking? When I downsized for a long weekend to La Paz, I took with me a fabric holdall whose narrow straps cut into my shoulders as I trudged miserably to my hotel. Twenty-odd years later, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and so can you. Here are 10 packing mistakes you’re making and how to avoid them.
1. You pack every item of clothing you’ve ever owned (and wear precisely half of it)
A bit of self control at the packing stage will pay dividends later. Think about what goes together – the goal is to pack a capsule wardrobe where each piece is sufficiently versatile to work with several outfits. Stick to a simple color palette of three or four complementary colors and classic pieces that can work for different occasions. If it can only be worn once, it doesn’t go in. Opt for easy care fabrics that don’t crease, roll T-shirts and tuck socks into shoes.
2. You’ve forgotten that they have shops where you’re going
Unless you’re headed to a remote island hideaway or mountain retreat, here’s absolutely no need to pack everything. Who’s guilty of prepping for a city break by carefully placing the entire contents of their bathroom shelf in their case? Don’t do it – you can always pop to the drugstore or supermarket when you arrive and buy it there. Your life is not going to be over if you switch shampoo brands for a week. The same goes for sunscreen, hair driers, even beach towels. Most good hotels will provide you with the basics, and a quick pop to the store will get you the rest.
3. You think you’re going to die if you leave behind your blow dryer
There’s a balance between spending hours trying to emulate a Hollywood A-lister and looking like you got dragged through a hedge backwards in your Instagram shots. Talk to your hair stylist about a cut that’s easy to maintain, tie up long hair and go for a natural look with a slick of mascara and a smudge of lip balm. Use the time you save on your beauty regime to go and explore the place you’ve come to see.
4. You don’t bag your shoes
Shoes, even clean shoes, are mucky. Plus, after a few wears, they start to smell and can permeate your whole bag. Pack a couple of canvas shoe bags and tuck your shoes inside to stop the dirt from soiling your clean clothes. They’ll double as laundry bags on the return trip.
5. You’ve mixed up your prohibited items
Most of us have figured out the 100ml rule when it comes to airports and hand luggage (except, maddeningly, the person in front of you in the security queue). But after that it gets a little more complicated. Should you pack your spare lithium battery in your carry on or your checked luggage? (That’s carry on, by the way, as there’s a risk they’ll catch fire, so they go in the part of the plane where someone’s more likely to notice the smoke.) Read the airline’s instructions carefully and make sure everything is in its proper place.
6. You got sucked in by the travel gadget adverts
It seems there's always a new travel gadget guaranteed to make your trip easier. But don't get caught in the trap of buying every single item advertised in your in-flight magazine. Odds are, you won't need more than one pair of headphones, and if you aren't a professional photographer leave the seven extra cameras at home. Just spring for a travel adapter, and a few of the items you use on a regular basis. Otherwise, your electronics will take up space and time as you attempt to charge them all.
7. You think it’s a case of one-size-fits-all when it comes to luggage
Different types of luggage suit different types of trip. If you’re planning to take a wheelie on a rail trip, make sure it’s not too wide to roll down the aisle. Booked a light aircraft transfer to an offshore island or an inaccessible safari lodge? You’ll need something small and preferably soft-sided, like a holdall. Heading off on a gap year adventure? Test out that backpack with a load to assess comfort, capacity and weight. Don’t assume you can take the same luggage every time.
8. You don't check the weather
There's nothing worse than arriving in a foreign country expecting flip-flops and t-shirt weather and instead getting hit by a storm. Weather predictions aren't always reliable, but doing a little research before you pack could save you from getting caught off guard. Check seasonal averages as well as 10-day forecasts. Even if it looks like everything will be clear, you may choose to throw in a lightweight rain jacket, just in case. The reverse is true too — add a short-sleeved shirt to your bag in preparation for a sunny day. Worst case scenario, you can use that shirt as a base layer for the rest of a chilly trip.
9. You don't prepare for souvenirs
Whether you plan on doing some shopping while abroad or not, it's always smart to save a little space on the way home for that super cute dress you just had to have or a small bag of trinkets for your friends and family back home. You don't want to pass on the experience of haggling in a Moroccan souk just because you can't fit something in your bag. Here's a tip: bring a small, compact duffel or tote bag that you can pull out on the way home. Throw it in your suitcase on the way there, and then pull it out for the extra items you acquire on your way home.
10. You ignore local culture and customs
Some cultures are more conservative than others, and whether you agree with the local culture's style, remember, you're going into their home. You wouldn't want someone bursting into your home and loudly disregarding your customs or beliefs. In addition, many of the world's religious sites require shoulders and knees to be covered. Others ask that you remove your shoes before entering. So do your research on your destination and pack accordingly. This doesn't mean you need to adopt the local culture's customs to a tee, but do be respectful when planning your outfits.