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11 Suitcase Packing Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Vacation

Updated: May 12, 2023

Don't let a poor packing job mess up your perfect getaway! Follow these tips for a smartly filled suitcase next time you travel.

Woman Packing Suitcase At Home
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There’s a lot to consider when packing for the perfect vacation: What will the weather be like? What activities will you be doing? Which clothes travel well? If you don’t ask these questions, you might find yourself packing too much, not enough or all the wrong things.

If you want to get better at packing, start with making and following a packing list. Learning both how to roll clothes for packing and how to pack a carry-on are also great first steps to making sure you have what you need, no more and no less.

But once you’ve tried these tricks while packing a suitcase, what else can you do? We spoke to travel experts and frequent fliers who offered their own hard-earned packing tips to eliminate common travel mistakes so you can make the most of your vacation.

Woman packing suitcase on bed
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You have a “when in doubt” mindset

“We don’t need to take our entire wardrobe with us, nor do we need to take our entire shoe collection,” says Suzanne of Phila Travel Girl. “The key is to pack around a color scheme (like a capsule wardrobe) and pack layers for day and night. As hard as it is, three pairs of shoes is generally good—everyday, sandals and dress shoes.” It’s also likely that you’ll be able to wear your bottoms more than once, so when packing a suitcase, pack more tops that you can match with the same pair of jeans.

Ski trip time
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You wait until the last minute

“Then you’re stressed and can’t think clearly, so you end up packing too many options and don’t have what you need,” says Dacy Gillespie, a St. Louis–based personal stylist who runs Mindful Closet. Start packing a few days in advance. Make a list of the activities on your itinerary to determine what you need: comfy shoes vs. sandals, dressy clothes vs. casual. The best time to book a hotel may be just before you need it, but the best time to start packing is well before then.

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You forget to check your destination’s weather

Put your weather app to good use. Checking the weather should always be your first step to packing a suitcase! “This way you won’t be stuck with all pants if it’s hot or no jacket if it’s cool,” explains Yasir Shamim, an executive at PureVPN who travels frequently. Even if you’re only going on a mini vacation, you’ll want to make sure you’re dressed appropriately so you can really enjoy your time away.

Another packing mistake you shouldn’t make? Not making the most out of this duffel bag with garment rack.

Woman open her suitcase for pack and arranging cloths for travelling on holiday period.
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You fold instead of roll

“The biggest suitcase mistake I was guilty of before my husband finally (lovingly) harassed me out of it was folding instead of rolling,” says Jennifer Walden, director of operations at WikiLawn. “Folding just made more sense to me, and I assumed it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. But I actually had more problems with wrinkles when folding, and certainly less space overall.”

Tightly rolling your clothes will actually allow you to fit a lot more when packing a suitcase than if you were to fold—and yes, even if you’re Marie Kondo folding!

woman hands with watch put clothes in suitcase. travel concept. copy space. biometric passport laptop wallet
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You don’t make the most of your shoes

“I love to stuff small items like jewelry, underwear or socks in my shoes. This saves a lot of space,” says Gillespie. Slip each pair in a Ziploc or plastic grocery bag to avoid spreading dirt. Using these best luggage sets will also help you make the most of your storage (and protect your things in transit).

Black woman looking and choosing crafts at Olinda fair
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You don’t factor in souvenirs

Overdo it on shopping and your suitcase might not zip up anymore, possibly adding an extra bag on the way home. “If people tend to buy many souvenirs, the best practice is to carry a separate bag,” says Jeremy Owens, CMO of Seriously Smoked.

“However, you need to make sure that you can handle your possessions after buying the souvenirs. Before going on the trip, fill the souvenir bag with mock items, and carry it with other belongings. You need to let go of some items if the total weight is more than you can handle.” This affordable luggage is a good choice if you need to purchase an extra bag for souvenirs.

Woman Looking At Blouse While Out Shopping
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You buy a whole new wardrobe specifically for your trip

“Don’t try a new look on vacation!” says Gillespie. New clothes you’re not used to wearing may not fit as well or look as good as they did in the dressing room when you bought them. Instead, “stick with trusted outfits you know you look good in,” she says. Pay attention to fabrics—knits and denim travel well; silk and linen wrinkle easily. You also want to avoid these items that cause luggage problems at security.

Couple at the airport walking to board
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You want one whole suitcase all to yourself

If you’re traveling with a partner, it seems logical to each pack your own suitcase (perhaps in one of these best luggage brands). But if a piece of luggage gets lost, one of you is left with nothing. “If you are traveling with your partner, it would be best to put half of your things in their suitcase and vice versa,” explains Jeremy Harrison, founder of Hustle Life. “In case you lose your luggage, you still have half of your stuff to use!”

Cosmetics permitted
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You don’t keep your toiletries well contained

If it is capable of leaking, assume it will. The last thing you want on a trip is your favorite luggage and clothing ruined by your toiletries. Place all non-solids like hair gel, shampoo or mouthwash in a zip-top bag to keep your stuff safe from any potential spillage.

“Don’t just put your shampoo into your suitcase and expect things to turn out fine,” explains Walden. “Even if you’ve never opened it. Put toiletries in a zip-top bag! If you don’t want certain products mixing, use several different bags. Press the air out of them before sealing. Sometimes I’ll even put them inside a plastic grocery bag too, just to be extra safe.” And don’t forget to make sure all toiletries fall within the TSA liquid limit.

Handwritten reminder list on lined paper for holiday packing
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You throw out your packing list

A packing list can help make sure you don’t forget anything important, but don’t chuck it in the trash when you’re finished. “Make a list a week in advance,” says author and etiquette expert April Masini. “Go over it several times throughout the week. Put your packable items out the night before. Go through them the next day. And then, when you’re sure you have everything you need, pack your suitcase.” Packing in stages is great as far as how to use packing cubes: Just fill up one cube at a time when you’ve finalized what should go in each one.

Woman packing suitcase for travel
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You don’t bring your own cleaning products

You may not want to rely on others to keep spaces clean for you, so it’s best to pack extra hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to ensure clean surfaces, especially in a hotel room.


Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest