Real life one bag travel: 5 Common Packing Mistakes And How to Avoid Them

Hi Frugalistas!

Everyone I know wants to pack less and pack better for their next trip – but so many people think a small, carry on bag as your only luggage is an impossible ask.  Here are 5 of the most common mistakes I see in other people’s bags, and how I avoid them:

1.  Too Many Pairs of Shoes

I recently read a post by a young woman, very proud that she’d managed to “only” take six pairs of shoes on an overseas trip.  In her post she listed the shoes she’d packed into a combination of her suitcase and her carry on luggage:  running shoes, converse sneakers, stilettos, flipflops, ballet flats, and sandals.  Her trip was not an around the world, do it all extravaganza – it was a simple trip to another continent on a guided tour.  Where was she going to put her souvenirs, and how was she going to manage her luggage on her own?

Shoes are the single most space consuming item in your luggage.  It therefore makes sense to try and limit the space they take up in your bag, no?  I lerve my shoes, and own many, many pairs, but when I travel, I restrict myself to 2 pairs – one pair on and one in the bag.  If you make the right choices, it is possible to manage with just 2 pairs.  (If you are staying in accommodation with shared bathrooms, a pair of flipflops is definitely OK though).

Just a part of my shoe collection – that don’t get to travel with me!

2.  Packing half the bathroom

Hairdryers, curling tongs, hair straighteners, and that’s before you even start on your toiletries!  Sound like you?  Forget about it.  Even cheap hotels have hair dryers these days, and do you really need the straighten and/or curl your hair every day while you are away?  Your hair is going to look different regardless – different water, different humidity, and different climate – so why not embrace that and do your hair differently?

With the current restrictions on the packing of liquids it is really easy now to pack light with your toiletries.  It is easy to buy small bottles etc to decant your goodies into, and also easy to buy many popular brands in traveling sizes.  Even if you are planning on checking in your luggage, stick to the international carry on 100ml limits, and see just how much extra room you can give yourself (also how you can limit the damage, if you get a leak or breakage!)

Yes, much of this does come with me when I travel – decanted into much smaller containers, stored in a plastic ziploc bag

3.  “Just in Case” Items

Unless it is just in case you get sick/get into danger/meet someone you want to get closer to (ie completely necessary in case of emergency), you do not need to pack things just in case….just don’t do it.

Yes, I do own a big suitcase! This one is used by our family to take on road trips – we all use it, and just take one bag between the three of us

4.  Separate outfits that can only be worn in very limited circumstances

Unless you are going on a cruise where you are expected to dress for dinner every night, or going on a 3 Michelin star eating tour of Europe where you will need to dress, leave the fancy clothes behind, and stick to sensible separates in plain colours and fabrics that can be dressed up or down with accessories and jewellery.  Think Little Black Dress and you can’t go wrong……

Absolutely everything I take to Europe for a 2 week+ trip…..

5.  Only taking skimpy gear to warmer climates

Unless you are planning on just lying on the beach, and never want to go into a temple, church or want to visit someone’s home you do need something that will cover your shoulders and knees.  I would hate to travel to the other side of the world and not be allowed to visit what I had come to see just because I didn’t have suitable clothing……..Similarly, just because you don’t get sunburn at home, don’t assume that you will be lucky in the tropics.  Regardless of where you are going, make sure you can make at least one outfit where your knees and shoulders will be covered (this applies equally to men).

So, pack light, pack right and have a great trip!

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40 Comments on “Real life one bag travel: 5 Common Packing Mistakes And How to Avoid Them”

  1. Jill 27/05/2012 at 4:41 pm #

    I find I get weighed down by my “just in case” items and my photography gear. I’m pretty good with everything else and usually have plenty of extra space in my bag… it’s a 65 liter though!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/05/2012 at 4:51 pm #

      Photography gear does make it difficult – I’m just a happy snapper so don’t have the problem! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. sarahynz 28/05/2012 at 11:06 am #

    haha i don’t regret any of the shoes I ended up packing.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/05/2012 at 2:36 pm #

      Good for you! Don’t worry, everyone finds the two pairs of shoes a bit confronting!

  3. Monica Stott (@TheTravelHack) 28/05/2012 at 7:41 pm #

    I am guilty of every single one of these, especially the ‘just in case’ packing. I end up wearing/using about a quarter of the stuff in my case but I still can’t bring myself to leave 2/3’s at home!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 28/05/2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Don’t worry I’ve done it too! I forced myself to do it when I decided I was only going to travel with a carry on bag only, and I’ve never looked back – wouldn’t do it any other way now.

      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment

  4. thenorthernist 29/05/2012 at 12:28 am #

    Great advice. We just got back from three months in New Zealand and Australia and I now have a new understanding and appreciation for packing light. I could have easily left at home 1/3 of what went in my 55 liter rucksack and my shoulders & back would have thanked me! I did reach a new milestone in shoe packing though–one pair of sneakers, one pair of flats, and a pair of flip flops (I did bring hiking boots, which I wore while travelling longer distances). *So* proud of that one.

    New rule: a 34 liter backpack is all I’m taking from now on. Which is as much about not carrying too much stuff as it is about avoiding checked baggage fees on short-haul flights.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 29/05/2012 at 8:11 am #

      Well done! It’s taken me 20+ years of trying to get it right to get to the point I’m at now with packing, and even now there are times I know I’ve packed too much – even though I only pack a carry on suitcase. The shoe thing seems to be the most confronting for women – cut back gradually each time till you get there.

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment!

  5. TravelQueenTips 03/06/2012 at 12:31 am #

    One way to wean yourself of over packing is to lay out everything you didn’t use once you return and study it. Why did you take it? What were your thoughts when you put it in the bag. If you packed a swimsuit but it rained the whole time so you didn’t get to use it – that’s different from the “just in case” items. One of my friends was so bad I suggested she lay the extras out on the bed and take a picture. She posted the photo on line and each time she got home she did the same. The pile kept shrinking. Last trip she had one extra tee shirt. That’s over packing I can live with!

    The Travel Queen

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/06/2012 at 6:42 am #

      Your frien has done well. I would regard that as a contingency plan rather than just in case! 🙂 thanks for commenting!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/06/2012 at 8:24 am #

      Just had another look at your blog and realized your header photo is of the bridge climb in Sydney! Nice! 🙂

  6. Lyra 06/06/2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Great list. I tried to hard to pare it down on my recent European trip, I got everything into one carry-on size suitcase but still ended up with things I didn’t wear. Now I’ve got to pack for rainy and chilly Seattle followed by potentially baking Northern California. And I am determined not to increase the size of my suitcase.

  7. Browsing the Atlas 23/06/2012 at 6:08 am #

    I’m going to put this plan into action. I’m packing right now for a trip to Europe. Part business/part pleasure. I’m going to try to contain things to one suitcase. Wish me luck!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 23/06/2012 at 9:15 am #

      If you haven’t already read my other posts on packing. I’ve written quite a lot on packing and one bag travel because it seems to be the thing that most people struggle with. Make sure you get whoever you are traveling with to do the same so you’re not standing round all day for them to get organized!

      Thanks dropping by and commenting!

  8. Geek Goddess 27/06/2012 at 8:29 pm #

    I was on a Mediterranean cruise with extra days in Istanbul up front – two weeks away from home. I took two pair of nice Ecco flats, one which I wore on the flight, and one very skimpy pair of high heeled sandals for formal nights. That was it. And I have lots of shoes (Fluevogs are my latest passion). You know what? I was fine!

  9. Dianne W 16/06/2013 at 4:57 am #

    For each trip I make a detailed list (computer WP doc) of everything packed. I take a copy which I keep with me at all times in case of disaster like a bag going missing. When I return I make notes about what worked, what didn’t, what I never wore. Over time I’ve cut down on everything and now seldom have “didn’t wear” notes. Before the next trip to a similar climate I re-read the notes to prevent overpacking and mistakes.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 16/06/2013 at 7:15 am #

      Wow, that’s organised! I think about what worked and didn’t and make mental notes. A detailed typed list with notes – I’m impressed! Thanks for dropping by!

  10. The Anxious Traveler 02/08/2013 at 5:40 am #

    Great post. To get myself onto an airplane with just one carry-on and one checked bag, I always tell myself that I can buy whatever I need abroad in case I really, really needed it. Any premium I spend on occasionally buying something abroad is offset by all the money I save avoiding extra baggage fees.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 02/08/2013 at 6:17 am #

      That is precisely the point! Paying excess baggage is the most blatant waste of money that is entirely avoidable.

      Personally I don’t check bags and just take one carry on bag, but that’s taken years of practice to get to that point.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

  11. buildingmybento 10/11/2013 at 3:41 pm #

    I once read that ICN (Seoul Incheon), to take advantage of those traveling to warmer climes, opened a storage area for bulky clothes. I can’t find the link now, but it’s a good idea nonetheless.

  12. Doreen Pendgracs 11/11/2013 at 6:04 am #

    Good post! I could really relate to your point # 5 as it’s happened to me several times where I brought only clothes that fit the forecast for the region I was visiting. But with weather systems being so volatile these days, weather is changing and we really have to be prepared for cooler and warmer than the norm for any region. Plus, what happened to me on my fist visit to South America: I got bitten by sand flies and had dreadful bites all over my legs that looked like lepracy! I had to keep my legs covered so people wouldnt’ be afraid of me, so the sundresses I’d brought did me no good.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 11/11/2013 at 6:19 am #

      Thanks for your comment! While I don’t like packing for ‘just in case’ I do think it is important to pack a variety of clothes, so you’re covered if anything unforeseen happens.

  13. Karisa 12/11/2013 at 12:47 pm #

    I usually do a good job with clothes and shoes but it’s the hair/makeup/beauty products and appliances that I can’t seem to leave at home. My thought is that I will cherish my travel photos for my whole life and I want to look as good as I can in the pics. Maybe a little silly! Oh well!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 12/11/2013 at 8:42 pm #

      I also take my hair/make up and beauty products – don’t worry about that! I just make sure I pack them in small containers, and stick to the 3-1-1 rule. Appliances I don’t bother with – I find my hair is disastrous when I travel, no matter what I do!

  14. nicoleconnolly 07/02/2014 at 6:04 am #

    Great tips! Packing was always hard for me, until I had to carry everything I owned in one suitcase – I learned to travel light very quick!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 07/02/2014 at 6:15 am #

      Thanks Nicole! There’s nothing like having to lug your own luggage to focus the mind

      • Judy 09/04/2014 at 11:42 pm #

        For me, the problem is not volume, but weight. I pack reasonably light and I haven’t checked baggage in years (not even for a cruise). You can stuff too much into a carryon for comfort as I found in a trip to Europe last year, especially when I added gifts and a purse and shoes I couldn’t live without. My carry on duffle became very uncomfortable to lug around. This time, I’m going to try to limit my bag to less than 8 kilos, ideally 15 lbs. My main sticking points are tops (I currently have a short list of 10!) and shoes. We are going to be hiking and doing a lot of urban walking. I’ve got it down to four, must pare it down to 3. Thanks for the tips!

      • frugalfirstclasstravel 10/04/2014 at 1:44 am #

        With the tops, work out which ones will match your bottoms best, and that you can make the most outfits from. Dark rather than light colours are also helpful as they obviously don’t show the dirt as badly.

        Thanks for sharing your experience so everyone else can learn from them too.

  15. Judy 10/04/2014 at 2:20 am #

    Yes, I will get there eventually. My color palette is black/gray/blue/white for the most part; everything goes together. Just need a good mix of hiking appropriate and city appropriate as we’ll be doing some of each (that goes for the shoes as well). Ditching the white/lighter tops is a good suggestion, thanks!

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