Destination Wednesday: Fixing 5 Common Packing Problems

Do you know which of your purchases can be carried in a carryon? If you don't know, you'll find out soon enough.
Do you know which of your purchases can be carried in a carryon? If you don’t know, you’ll find out soon enough.

By Cat Zuniga 

Linda inadvertently tried to take a large, expensive bottle of face wash through airport security. When the TSA threatened to confiscate it, Linda returned to the counter to check her bag, only to find a long line of people waiting to check in. Fearing she would miss her flight, she begged the counter agent to let her skip to the front of the line. Finally, after she began crying, the agent begrudgingly allowed her to pass through. Linda made her flight with minutes to spare – but when she arrived at her destination, she found the airline had lost her luggage. Had Linda known this was going to happen, she would’ve just forfeited the face wash.

How many of you can relate?

With packing, a small mistake like putting a prohibited item in your carry-on bag can snowball into a messy chain of events. Fortunately, travelers don’t have to rely on tears to save their vacations. Here are the five most common packing problems and how you can solve them … and avoid Linda’s experience.

Packing Problem #1: Airport security confiscates your prized possession.

When TSA first introduced its 3-1-1 rules for carry-on liquids, there was a lot of adjusting to do. Today, some people still need to make adjustments. They try to sneak things through, forget the rules, or simply just don’t get it.

It comes down to this: If everything in your carry-on bag is permitted on an airplane (according to TSA requirements), you shouldn’t have any problem getting your luggage through airport security. But if you carelessly pack your bag as the airport van is waiting in your driveway (or, like Linda, you simply forget about the rules), you could be delayed – or worse – by airport security.

According to the TSA website, “If you bring a prohibited item to the checkpoint you may be criminally and/or civilly prosecuted.” The TSA has the right to take and dispose of anything that’s not allowed on a plane, or anything they consider to be dangerous – and it doesn’t have to be listed on the TSA website to be considered dangerous.

So if something gets confiscated, does that mean it’s completely gone? Not always.

If airport security confiscates something you want back, you can politely ask to take the item from the checkpoint. If you’re lucky and the officer says yes, you can go back and check your item, or have it placed in your checked luggage. Remember: You’ll have to wait in line at the counter and the security checkpoint all over again, so allow plenty of time.

So how about preventing that from happening in the first place? If you drove to the airport and have plenty of time before your flight, go through everything one last time in the parking lot. That way, you don’t have to leave the airport and return to your car if you decide to leave a prohibited item item home.

Otherwise, if someone dropped you off and they’re a really good friend (or simply owe you a favor), call them, ask them to turn the car around, give them the item, and promise to bring them a special souvenir from your trip.

Packing Problem #2: Too many souvenirs.

The simple approach is just to leave extra space in your bag for those souvenirs. But let’s be honest: Who really wants to do that? With the current state of baggage fees, you’re paying for that empty space in your suitcase. And if you only brought a carry-on, the TSA may not let you bring home more than a postcard from Sicily. Given that, how do you get those pricey bottles of Italian merlot back to the States?

Consider shipping souvenirs back home — especially expensive, large, fragile, handmade, and/or otherwise irreplaceable things. A reputable shop that caters to tourists and sells big, expensive items will usually offer to ship your items right from the store. Just make sure they offer shipping insurance or a tracking number, so you can keep a little control over the fate of your purchase.

You can also mail the item yourself. I recommend UPS or FedEx as opposed to a local post office, because shipping overseas can be unreliable, especially in smaller towns or developing areas. Get a head start by checking out shipping companies’ websites prior to your vacation. Write down all their information; make sure to look up restrictions, shipping costs, and times. Look into insurance and tracking numbers as well.

A third option is to pack a foldable bag, so if you end up with a bulky souvenir, just unfold the extra bag and check it at the airport, or use it as an additional carry-on. Just make sure you check pricing for extra baggage, and mind your number of carry-ons. Wrap T-shirts or sweaters around fragile or breakable items to keep them more secure.

Packing Problem #3: You left (insert an essential item) at home.

When you pull up to the airport and it hits you that you forgot your car charger, cellphone, passport, guidebook, or other necessary travel thing, don’t worry. If it’s an item of clothing or an electronic device, treat yourself to something new at an airport shop, so you won’t feel so upset. Or, tough it out and go on without your possession. (This can be that break from smartphone addiction you’ve been waiting for.)

If you forgot your passport, I don’t have to tell you to turn the car around, because I know you know that you can’t get on an international flight without a passport. Hopefully, you made sure you had enough time before your flight to allow for mistakes like this, or you were holding your passport in your other hand the entire time, or you packed it in your luggage so you wouldn’t forget it. You’d better hope it’s one of the above, because no passport is a trip-breaker.

Even if a lost essential item causes you to miss your flight, you might still have a chance to save your vacation. Here’s what you do. First, stop crying, so everyone can stop staring at you and wondering why you look so crazy. Then go straight to the airline’s check-in desk and see if there’s any way you can get on the next flight. If you’re already on your way home, pull over the car, and call the airline directly to see what options you might have. Airline policies differ on missed and cancelled flights, so you might be able to catch a break. This would also be a great time to call that travel expert you were smart enough to book your vacation through. 😉

Packing Problem #4: Your luggage breaks or splits open.

Now, I’ve never seen a suitcase explode in the middle of an airport. But I’ve often thought about a super-stuffed bag that couldn’t handle the pressure bursting at the zipper, and underwear streaming through the gaping hole as the bag comes down the baggage claim.

You have that vision too? It might be time to start carrying a suitable suitcase.

If a suitable suitcase is beyond you, travel prepared. Carry a small roll of duct tape – colorful if you want to call attention to yourself, black or silver if you don’t. If you don’t carry tape and your suitcase bursts like a water balloon, ask for tape at the airport shops, the airline check-in counter, the hotel concierge desk, or just from other travelers. Someone will have tape, I assure you!

Spilled lotion is not necessarily a death sentence for your dress. You have options.
Spilled lotion is not necessarily a death sentence for your dress. You have options.

Packing Problem #5: Spillage all over your stuff.

One good thing about the 3-1-1 rule is that it’s forced travelers to store carry-on liquids and items in Ziploc bags. The bad news is that while your carry-on is nearly leakproof, if you don’t pack your checked bag with the same care, you might end up with punctured plastic containers, broken lotion bottles, or shampoo all over your clothing.

If your favorite cashmere sweater now comes with a side of lotion, don’t panic. Depending on how long the spill has been there and the weather in which the luggage has traveled, the lotion might not have settled into your sweater. Take your clothes to a professional cleaner, or your hotel’s professional laundry service, describe the problem, show them the problem area, and cross your fingers.

If you’re in a place that doesn’t have professional cleaners, roll up your sleeves and get to work. If you can’t find stain remover (tip: always pack some with you) or detergent, flush the stain with cold water. Dab, don’t rub, so the stain won’t spread. Dab the stain with white vinegar (if you can find some) or dishwashing soap diluted with water. These will effectively remove most stains. Ask the hotel kitchen for these items if there isn’t a store nearby. Before you submerge any stained item in a basin of water, press a towel against the stain to make sure that it doesn’t easily come up. If it does, it could color the water and bleed onto the fabric. To dry sweaters and other delicate pieces, roll them in clean towels and hang them on hangers or the shower curtain bar.

With these tips in hand, you can pack for your vacation fearlessly and travel freely. And that’s what it’s all about!

Cat Zuniga is an award-winning travel specialist. She specializes in tropical vacations for families, groups, destination weddings, and honeymooners. Visit her today at

Editor’s Note: Dream vacations — and the luggage that goes with them — deserve first-class protection. AirCare and ExactCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection can cover all those amazing memories … . Get them here.