Nothing can ruin a trip quicker than making a major mistake with baggage. Whether you forget something you need, don’t comply with airline baggage regulations, or run into a situation of lost or damaged luggage, these issues can put a major damper on any trip.
I travel an average of 10 times a year, so I have quite a bit of experience packing a suitcase and carry-on bag. Despite this experience, I still make the occasional mistake in packing every once in a while. Reading about other people’s experiences over the years has helped me avoid some of the bigger mistakes, which I am thankful for.
I am writing this article in hopes that some of my experience and advice might help you down the line as you pack for some important trips. If you have any tips that you care to share so that it may benefit other travelers, I would love for you to leave them in the comment section!
Understand the weather where you are traveling
One of the first things you need to consider when packing is what the weather will be like where you are traveling to. Are you traveling to the arctic or are you traveling to a tropical destination? The answer to that question will significantly alter the way you pack for your trip.
Before I travel anywhere, I spend a bit of time researching that location to see what the weather is like. I take a look at the average high and low temperatures for the location in the time of the year when I will be traveling. In many destinations the weather will differ at different times of the year. The same can be said for the average precipitation levels. In some parts of the year the weather may be much wetter than during other parts of the year.
Know what type of weather you should expect at the location you will be traveling will allow you to focus your packing on which articles of clothing you will need and which you will not. In fact, you may find that you need to go out an purchase a few new pieces of clothing as you don’t have the necessary gear for the weather you will be facing. That is why it is good to be prepared.
Pack Layers of Clothing
Another really great tip that I can give you for packing is to always pack layers. This is especially important for destinations where the weather can be unpredictable. For instance, if you are traveling to a mountainous location at high elevation, the weather can differ significantly from hour-to-hour, let alone from day-to-day. Even in the American Midwest, where I am from, it can be 90 degrees Fahrenheit on one day and then 40 degrees the next day at certain times of year.
Whether you are traveling somewhere that has large variances in weather, or if you are traveling somewhere where weather is mainly either consistently hot or cold, it is always smart to pack layers of clothing. By packing layers, you can be assured that you will always be prepared for variances in the weather.
For instance, when I travel I like to pack t-shirts, some long-sleeve shirts, and a fleece or two. That way, when I am out-and-about at my destination I can wear a t-shirt under a long-sleeve shirt when it is chilly in the morning. And when it gets warmer at mid-day, I just take the long-sleeve t-shirt off. Should it be especially cold on a given day, I can wear the fleece on top of the t-shirt and be prepared for that. No matter what, I am covered. Again, it is always important to be prepared.
Take Advantage of Multi-Use Clothing
The single best way to both maximize your packing space and make sure you are prepared for whatever weather you encounter at your destination is to take advantage of multi-use clothing as much as possible. Multi-use clothing, often referred to as convertible clothing, is clothing that can be modified to adapt to different weather conditions. For instance, pants that zip off into shorts or a jacket that zips off into a vest are both great examples of multi-use clothing.
I rarely, if ever, travel without at least one pair of convertible pants. Typically, I will bring two or three pairs of these pants as they are so economical from a packing standpoint and they are so convenient to have when traveling. Instead of having to pack multiple pairs of pants and multiple pairs of shorts, I can just pack multiple convertible pants. This saves me a lot of space when packing and it gives me the ability to adjust what I am wearing when I am out-and-about when traveling.
Know the Airline’s Baggage Policies
This is an extremely important tip to consider. When traveling, it is essential to understand what the baggage policies are for all of the airlines you will be using on your trip. This includes any weight limits on checked baggage that they have, the number of carry-on items you are allowed to bring on the plane, and how many bags you can check and\or carry-on. This will give you an idea of how big of a bag or bags you are going to want to bring and how much you can pack in those bags.
When researching airline baggage policies for your trip, it is important to do this research for all of the airlines you will be using. A common mistake people make is to do this research just for the flight from home to their destination. They fail to do any research on the baggage policies of the airlines they are going to be using in-country or in-trip.
For instance, when I travelled to Tanzania a few years back, I had to understand KLM’s baggage policies because I flew KLM from home to Tanzania and back. However, I also had to understand Precision Air’s baggage policies as I flew with Precision Air from Arusha to Zanzibar during my trip.
In this case, Precision Air’s baggage policies for checked and carry-on luggage were much more restrictive (in terms of weight and total items allowed) than KLM’s baggage policies. If I had only done the research on KLM’s baggage policies before my trip, and not considered Precision Air’s policies, it would have been a costly mistake.
Don’t Over Pack
If you haven’t noticed a common theme with these tips, this tip should make that theme fairly obvious. One of the most important things to remember when you are packing for any trip is to just bring what you are going to need. It is pretty pointless to bring items that you never use. In other words, it is important to never over-pack for your trips. Over-packing can mean more baggage fees, more effort and trouble to lug your bags around while you travel, and more likelihood you will run into luggage-related delays.
This is why multi-use clothing is so valuable. It significantly reduces the amount of clothing that you will need to pack and helps you avoid over-packing. If you don’t have any multi-use clothing, plan out what you are going to wear before you pack. There are apps and other tools that you can use to assist you in planning your packing needs. This way, you will minimize the amount of items you pack, but never use.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Pack
One of the worst mistakes you can make when packing for a trip is to start packing at the last minute. Nothing good has ever resulted in waiting to pack until the last minute. On the contrary, waiting until the last minute will typically lead to making mistakes in your packing. You might forget to pack something that you really need, or end up over-packing significantly.
When I am packing for a trip, I will typically start my packing a week before I leave. I will set out my suitcase and pack things throughout the week. This gives me plenty of opportunities to maximize the use of space in my suitcase, check the weight of my baggage, and ensure that I am not forgetting anything that I really need. If you are going to follow just one of the tips in this article, it should be this tip. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack.
Put Change of Clothes and Toiletries in Carry-On Bag
There are few things worse when traveling than having your bag get lost and being left without a toothbrush and toothpaste. Yes, most of the time you can find a replacement, but it is a hassle that can add some unneeded stress to your travels. This can be easily avoided by packing your key toiletry items and a change of clothes in your carry-on bag.
That way, even if your bag gets temporarily lost by the airline, you will have a change of clothes and your necessary toiletry items to get you by until your baggage is returned to you. This can be a huge morale boost knowing that you can get by for a few days if you do get stuck without your bags for that time.
Don’t Use a Cheap Suitcase
A few years back, I made the mistake of purchasing a suitcase that wasn’t very high quality when I needed to replace a bag. The suitcase got me by for several trips, but then I had some significant issues with this bag when traveling internationally. The zipper on the bag began to fail and I couldn’t keep the bag closed properly. It ended up getting so bad that I had to have them wrap my bag at the airports before each of my flights. It was added stress that I could have easily avoided by purchasing a quality suitcase.
Before purchasing any luggage, make sure you research the luggage options. I would strongly suggest you read luggage reviews and read about the experiences of other travelers with the luggage. You can end up avoiding a lot of unnecessary stress just by doing some research up-front.
Roll Clothes Instead of Folding Them
One of the most tried-and-true methods for maximizing the space in your luggage is to roll your clothing instead of folding them. Rolling your clothing reduces wasted space in your bag and helps you take advantage of every inch of space. Less wasted space means that you can use a smaller bag, which can mean the difference between carrying your bag on a plane and having to check your luggage. In other words, rolling your clothes instead of folding them can actually save you money in some instances. In all instances, it is just smart packing that can help you fit everything you need into your luggage.
Wear Heaviest Clothes on Plane
A tried-and-true method that I have repeatedly used to get around the baggage weight limits that airlines impose is to wear my heaviest clothing on the plane. For instance, if I am going on a long national parks expedition, I will often wear my heavy hiking boats and my heaviest fleece on the plane with me. That has consistently allowed me to pack more weight with me when I fly.
Now, of course you want to balance this with the concept of not over-packing. Just because you can adjust what you wear on the plane in order to pack more weight, than doesn’t mean that you should do that. It is all a balance. Determine what you are really going to need on your trip and then pack accordingly. And if you are bumping up against that weight limit, this can be a good trick to get around that.