Packing may be the most stressful element of your vacation preparation. We’ve all forgotten to pack something important, packed too much, or not enough. It takes years of packing, repacking, and unpacking practice to master your technique. And while there may be no such thing as packing perfection, there is such thing as packing failure. I’ve asked a few expert travelers what they consider the single worst packing mistake to be. (Hint: Underwear mishaps ranked chief among them.)
Are you guilty of these serious packing mistakes?
Travel expert Johnny Jet of johnnyjet.com says, “Packing valuables and medicine in your checked luggage is the worst mistake.” According to a report by SITA, an aviation communications and technology company that tracks airline baggage performance, airlines lose a staggering 24 million bags each year. Don’t take the chance that you won’t have your medications or valuables with you when you arrive at your destination.
Packing any liquids (e.g., that bottle of rum you won in a bingo game) in your checked baggage is another serious mistake mentioned by those I polled. It never ends well. “Packing a bottle of red wine in your checked bag and thinking that just because you have wrapped it in your socks and underwear it will survive the trip. It won’t,” says Catharine Hamm, travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. She adds, “I had pink underpants for years.”
Failing to pack a spare pair of undies in your carry-on luggage won the very unscientific straw poll conducted among members of the Society of American Travel Writers. Forgetting your passport, glasses, or contact lenses, and packing your camera in your checked luggage also garnered much support for the biggest packing fails.
Stephanie Pearson, contributing editor at Outside Magazine, admits that overpacking is her nemesis. “I’m generally traveling to countries that require a lot more than a bikini, and doing a variety of activities like mountain biking, trekking, running, and meeting people. That requires a lot of clothing as well as shoes and things like a first-aid kit and medicines. But when I arrive in the country, I’m almost always embarrassed by the amount of stuff I have, even if I think I need it. I try to avert this crisis by carefully thinking ahead, layering everything on my bed, then whittling away at clothing piece by piece, but it’s inevitable that I overpack and feel like an Ugly American. The one item I will not compromise on, ever, is my running shoes. I must have them at all times.”
Christopher Elliott, columnist for National Geographic Travel, agrees that packing too much is definitely the worst. “Almost everyone I know overpacks, forgetting that they can buy almost anything they need at their destination. As a result, you normally have the last few rows of a flight in economy class, where passengers are forced to gate check their bags.”
Freelance travel writer Diana Lambdin Meyer says, “Packing too many shoes is always the biggest mistake,” and recommends that you pack a pair and wear a pair, unless unique events require otherwise.
Larry Bleiberg is a freelance writer for USA Today and travel editor and founder of civilrightstravel.com. He posits the worst packing mistake one could make would be failure to check the weather in your destination or failure to believe it. “I’m a reasonably bright person, but for some reason I can never truly accept that it will be warm somewhere when I’m wearing a sweater at home, or vice versa. So I end up packing all the wrong clothes. More than once I’ve had to buy a sweatshirt or bathing suit at my destination because I couldn’t quite comprehend that the weather is different at different places. Duh.”
Miriam Weiner, product manager at U.S. News & World Report, shared similar sentiments. “Not packing layers is the worst packing mistake. Even if you have checked the weather for your destination and packed plenty of sweaters for a cold-weather destination or T-shirts for warm-weather destinations, you also have to account for those places offsetting their weather with climate control.”
“Forgetting to pack your sense of humor,” says Shelly Rivoli, author at travelswithbaby.com and founder of Family Travel 411. “Most everything else can be found locally or improvised.” Responding members of the North American Travel Journalists Association overwhelmingly agreed with Rivoli.
As for me, I’ve learned most of these lessons the hard way, and now my biggest problem is that I can’t seem to cure myself of optimistic views on just how much I can fit into my suitcase. A wrestling match ensues each time I have to pack for the journey home. Good thing my luggage is constructed from ballistic nylon and strands of Superman’s hair. I think someone should congratulate me each time I get the zippers to meet in time to leave for the airport.
After a hard-fought battle of squeezing my opponent into submission, I like to hold my arms over my head, pivot, and smile in presentation for the “judges” who are always generous with my scores based on difficulty value and artistry of execution—extra points given for dismount excellence.
Readers, what’s the single worst packing mistake you’ve ever made? And how did you correct it?
More from SmarterTravel:
- How Much Extra Space Do Compression Cubes Actually Buy You?
- 16 Packing Hacks That Will Change the Way You Travel
- Packing Hacks: 31 Steps to a Perfect Suitcase
Melissa McGibbon’s travel accomplishments include circumnavigating the globe on a ship, having dinner at Fidel Castro’s house in Havana, skiing steep chutes in Canada, and downhill mountain biking in Peru. Follow her on Twitter @ambitadventure or on Google+.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.