Pack these tips for a better holiday trip

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By Christopher Elliott

Have you forgotten anything for your trip?

If you have to ask, chances are you did. Leaving something at home is the number one mistake holiday travelers make, according to a new poll. And it’s not just essential items, such as passports, wallets or undies, but also essential skills that could help you travel smarter.

An online survey conducted on behalf of my newspaper syndicate found almost half of travelers (46%) said they left something behind when they traveled for the holidays. It’s followed closely by booking the wrong days and forgetting to take a picture of your rental car.

What you forget is important, but nowhere as important as what it can do to your trip. There are ways, however, to prevent a travel meltdown.

What do you neglect to pack?

Almost everything. The most common forgotten item is a toothbrush or other toiletries. Nearly a quarter of travelers left those items at home, according to a survey by the travel site About 1 in 10 admitted they left their underwear and about the same number forgot their camera. Some even say they’ve left money or passports at home (about 1 in 20), which can end a trip before it begins.

That survey wasn’t tied to a specific holiday, but the dynamic changes during periods of peak demand, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. A rush of travelers ratchets up the stress for everyone. Even if you remembered to pack everything, you may be traveling with others who have overlooked something. As a result, they’re going out of their minds.

Comprehensive lists are key

Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler, says comprehensive lists are key. “Without a list, you are sure to forget an important item either at home or along the way,” says Foster, who is known to pack three weeks of clothes into a 22-inch roll-aboard. She offers several ready-made lists on her site,

Packing less can be helpful, too, because there’s less to remember. That’s the advice of Tamela Rich, a frequent traveler and author based in Charlotte.

Allianz Travel Insurance has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

“Cumbersome, overstuffed luggage and extra baggage fees can be stressors,” she says. “Do you really need an outfit for every day that you’re gone?”

And with the possible exception of a passport or visa, you can replace items.

Alas, that’s not all many holiday travelers leave behind. They also don’t pack essentials such as basic travel skills and common sense. Even a minimal amount of travel literacy can help during the holidays.

For example, what does an airline owe you if it sells too many tickets on a flight and you’re denied boarding? Answer: Cold hard cash, usually. Look it up.

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw these skills into a backpack and drive to grandma’s house, but you can get close to it. Check out my friends’ Chris McGinnis and John DiScala’s #Travelskills Twitter chat every Friday afternoon. It often dispenses indispensable information.

My latest book

How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler, is meant to bridge the gap as well. I tackle the biggest travel problems you can encounter and tell you how to fix them. Even if you only travel on occasion, you’ll want to know this stuff. Makes a great holiday gift, too (hint, hint).

Do I really need to remind you what happens when you forget to pack your common sense for your holiday trip? I’m on record as confessing I’ve forgotten my underpants. I’ve left my wallet and ID at home and missed my plane. I’m embarrassed by some of the dumb things I’ve done. My favorite: Leaving my laptop in the trunk of the car, where it froze. Literally. Fortunately, it thawed out and continued to operate as normal.

The best travel advice is also the best packing advice. Give yourself extra time so you don’t forget anything. And don’t be put off by the other frazzled travelers. My colleague Kim Orlando, who writes the blog, summarizes this useful advice: Go early — and go anyway.

“All the imperfections in a trip add up to a wonderful, memorable story that will live on long after the trip is over,” she says. “So when you are faced with a travel challenge you can think of it as great story fodder rather than a personal failure.”

Have you ever made a packing mistake before a holiday trip?

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How to survive a holiday road trip

Don’t panic. You can purchase at your destination most of the items commonly forgotten. Many hotels also offer a toiletry kit for guests who forget theirs.

Take a deep breath. The fixes to most major travel problems are easily found online. Whip out your smartphone and you’ll have a fix.

Get plenty of rest. A deficit of sleep can lead to bad decisions when you’re on the road. Go easy on grandma’s eggnog and get enough sleep to avoid major travel disasters.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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