While you won’t be seeing anything about it at the Met or the Louvre anytime soon, packing a suitcase is a true art form. Mastering any skill requires practice and a lot of trial and error—not to mention plenty of mistakes. Unfortunately, when you’re learning the correct way to pack a suitcase—and what to pack in it—it can mean spending your Aspen ski vacation wearing shorts. Luckily, unlike photo-realistic painting or textile sculpting, everyone can learn to pack a bag properly.
1. Forgetting TSA Guidelines for Carry-On Liquids
There’s nothing more disheartening than reaching the airport’s TSA checkpoint and realizing you packed a full bottle of your favorite shampoo that measures in way over the limit for liquids. As evidenced by the large bin of full-sized hairspray, perfume, and cleansers at every TSA checkpoint, this is a common occurrence. Before you head to the airport, double check that your liquids are under the 3.4 ounces (100mL) limit and fit into a one-quart plastic bag—or, better yet, are checked into your luggage.
Read more: How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling
2. Not Properly Wrapping Containers of Liquids
As an airplane takes off and lands, altitude and air pressure changes at a rapid clip. That variance in pressure makes the air in your bottle of sunblock or lotion expand and contract, too, which can lead to a major mess. Don’t let a leaking bottle of shampoo ruin your vacation (and your cashmere sweater). Plan ahead by making sure your liquids, whether in carry-on or checked luggage, are tucked into zip-top bags, wrapped in plastic, or otherwise kept separate from your clothes.
As any Boy Scout can tell you, it’s good to be prepared. That doesn’t extend to bringing a ball gown to a camping trip, though. There’s no need to pack for every situation when you travel. To avoid over-packing, pre-plan outfits, don’t give yourself a choice as to what to wear each day, and stick to a basic color palette where everything works with everything else. Try sticking to the general rules of three tops for every bottom, and if you wear your basics—jeans, sweaters, shorts—a few times on the same trip, no one will notice. Also, think about what clothing can be layered, such as tank tops and long sleeve shirts to help your wardrobe adapt to changing weather. For more ways to avoid over-packing, use a packing checklist.
4. Packing an Oversize or Overweight Bag
If you’re planning on only bringing a carry-on, pay attention to your airline’s size restrictions. It’s frustrating for travelers and flight attendants—and can hold up the boarding line—if your bag doesn’t fit in the overhead bin. While some airlines are forgiving about over-sized bags, others are not and will make you check the bag at the gate. Similarly, there’s nothing more humiliating than having to open your overweight bag at the check-in counter to shuffle belongings between bags. Save yourself the headache and make sure your bag is under the airline’s luggage weight limit before you hit the airport.
5. Not Checking the Weather
Nothing spoils a vacation faster than being stuck in a tank top during a snowstorm. While we’ve all done it—packed shorts when we needed trousers, or sweaters when we needed t-shirts—it’s an easy problem to fix— if you remember to check the weather while you’re packing. Luckily most weather apps make it very easy to check the forecast whether you are heading to Helsinki, Helena or Honolulu. That said, it never hurts to add one sweater or light jacket to your bag even if you’re headed to the beach, or throwing a sundress or shorts for a trip to a colder climate. Unless you want to spend your vacation at the mall blowing your vacation budget on off-season cardigans or emergency shorts, check the weather before you go.
6. Failing to Maximize Bag Space
Rolling your clothes is a great way to maximize space in a suitcase. Follow the steps that T+L shares in a step-by-step guide to rolling your clothes: Fold the article of clothing lengthwise. Roll tightly as you would a sleeping bag. Lay the piece of clothing in your bag with heavier items like jeans or sweaters along the bottom and near the wheels for balance. If you’re headed on a business trip or a wedding, and don’t want to roll your fancier items, place a piece of dry-cleaner plastic or tissue between each layer to prevent wrinkles. (Get detailed instructions here.)
Also, consider leaving fancier items on hangers, and popping them in the closet as soon as you arrive. If you’re an inveterate and unapologetic over packer, consider investing in compression bags, (like Ziploc Space Bags) which let you vacuum out excess air, saving space along the way. Just remember that compression bags save space, but don’t cut down on a bag’s weight.
7. Packing Shoes Incorrectly
The best way to protect your nice clean clothes from your dirty shoes is to use shoe bags. If you don’t have shoe bags handy, though, pack your shoes with the soles facing away from your clothes. As shoes are some of the heavy items in your bag, pack them toward the wheel end of your bag. Also, because footwear is heavy, don’t bring too many options. Instead, choose versatile pairs that will work for a variety of occasions. Sneakers, one casual pair, and one formal pair of shoes should work for most trips.
8. Skipping A Smaller Bag
Tote bags are small, lightweight, easy to throw into a pocket of your suitcase, and serve a myriad of purposes. Grab your tote while sightseeing to hold water bottles, sunblock, and souvenirs, use it as an impromptu beach bag, or fill it with snacks for the plane. At the end of the trip, use the tote to hold your dirty laundry to make it easy to pop into the washer when you get home.
9. Waiting Until the Last Minute
Avoiding packing mistakes involves a little advance planning, which is why waiting until the last minute can lead to a crammed bag filled with nothing much at all. Give yourself time to think about what activities you’ll be doing and what clothing and shoes you’ll need by starting to pack at least a day in advance. This will give you time to re-think outfits—or check the weather—without feeling stressed out about cramming one more thing in your bag as you’re running to the airport.