LINK TO THE FULL PRINTABLE PACKING LIST AT THE END.
To see all of my favourite travel packing items, check out my Travel Store on Amazon.
I’ve used this packing list for a 14 day trip and a 14 month trip. The difference: I take my clothes to a laundry service about every 2 weeks when I’m away for longer. And if you’re looking to pack carry-on only, focus on those items with a * next to them.
This list is suitable for a wide variety of destinations. You might want to do a little adaptation – a second base layer instead of a second bikini if you’re packing for a winter trip – but otherwise this checklist is essentially the same regardless of your destination, which is what makes it so useful. And it can even be used whatever your travel style with a few small changes. For example, you’re more likely to need to pack a travel towel if you’re staying in hostels compared to hotels. I originally put this list together for my own purposes and I’ve tweaked it over several years of almost full-time travel. So, you can be confident it’s been tested over and over again.
Below, I’ve also included my packing tips for each category.
Beyond the technical active wear and my cold weather clothes, I usually just pick up pretty cheap clothes that I don’t mind ruining with beer, sweat and hot sauce. By all means, pack your designer clothes but be prepared to say goodbye to them if you’re taking them away to any developing countries or for an extended period of time.
Active Wear – Sporty Trips
Opt for technical active wear and spend a bit more if you can. In return, you’ll get anti-wicking, long lasting, quick drying products, all of which you’ll want while you’re travelling.
- Running shorts – great for hiking and daywear, I pack a pair that can also be used for swimming in case the hike takes me to a waterfall.I love my Nike Dri-Fit running shorts.
- Quick dry t-shirt – same as above. Also great as a cover-up at the beach to protect from sun rays and sand flies.
- Sports bra – horse riding, sky diving, running, hiking or sitting for 6 hours on a bus over broken roads, a sports bra can make the difference between comfort and discomfort. Also doubles as a bra if your others break.
- Sports socks – 1-3 pairs depending how active you plan to be. Can also keep your feet warm in-transit/tents/over air-conditioned spaces. Get a pair with extra material by your ankle to prevent them slipping down.
- Running shoes – essential if you’re going to do any decent hiking or outdoor activities. And, if you don’t care about clashing vivid neons with your everyday clothes, you might be able to also use your running shoes as your everyday shoes. I pack Brooks running shoes for their fit and light weight.
- Hiking boots (optional) I‘ve never packed a pair and I’ve never regretted it. In fact, I’ve walked the Inca Trail and hiked plenty of volcanoes on my travels, all in running shoes. Just pick a pair with good grip.
Cold Weather Trips
Another area of kit where I invest a bit more money for better quality is my cold wear. I survived an arctic snap in the USA a few years ago with just a thin windbreaker and a top quality base layer to supplement my normal winter clothes. If you can’t afford to spend on technical clothing, it can make a great travel gift if you have a birthday or Christmas coming up.
- Windbreaker / jacket – pack one that’s waterproof and windproof with a hood. I pack a light windbreaker by The North Face.
- Base layer top – merino wool, though more expensive, gives the best insulation.
- Base layer bottoms – if your destination isn’t hyper-cold, a pair of leggings and a pair of tights worn together can do the same job.
- Fleece – pack one with a hood for extra warmth. Another The North Face item for me.
- Hat – choose one that’s wool with fleece lining for maximum warmth.
- Gloves – go for function (wool and/or layers of lining that fit snuggly) over beauty/cutie styles (leather/mittens). If you use your phone for photos, get a pair that can go touch screen without having to remove them.
- Scarf – this item could go in lots of places on this list. Get a large, cotton scarf and it will give warmth but also can double as a blanket for flights/buses, sarong, beach cover-up, towel and sleep sheet.
Whether you’re packing for Costa Rica or a weekend beach vacation closer to home, don’t forget to add these essentials.
- Bikini / Swim suit – I can get by with just one in a hot country (wash it and it dries over night) but if you have space, 2 is better.
- Sarong – pick a practical one (cotton) that is bigger than your body but lightweight and quick drying. Test it in the laundry at home and check the colour doesn’t run – if you do laundry while you’re away it will probably go in with all your other items.
- Beach dress / outfit – whether it’s a dress to pop over your bikini or shorts and t-shirt, your beach outfit will end up getting covered in salt, sand and sun cream so you probably won’t want to pop it back on post evening shower. Also think about getting to/from the beach – do you want to wear something sheer to take public transport?
- Sun hat (optional) – I personally hate sun hats – they make my brain feel like it’s about to boil. I prefer shade and hydration. But they definitely can shield you from the sun if you’ve got no escape.
Small smalls are your packing friend. Think: non-padded bras and thongs or at least underwear that was designed after the 1950s. Quick dry synthetic knickers with cotton gusset (wow, I hate that word) is a good compromise. Beware of lace: it doesn’t perform well in industrial washing machines. Also, don’t pack anything white.
- Knickers/Panties – 7 pairs, with sink washing at least once, will get me through 2 weeks until I need to do laundry. Pack 14 pairs and you don’t need to sink wash. Obviously. Also, far be it for me to tell you what underwear to wear but the seamless microfibre knickers by Italian brand Intimissimi are brilliant for travel – quick dry, comfortable and pack small – all without looking ugly.
- Bras – I pack 3 especially if I’m away for more than a couple of weeks because industrial laundry service always cause at least one to break and shopping for your size in foreign countries can be a challenge.
- Pyjamas – a pair of pyjama shorts and vest top works well and packs small. A fleece and leggings will double as PJs in cold weather. Running shorts and your t-shirt: same. For that reason, I only pack one pair.
- Socks – I pack black running socks which also work with boots and everyday shoes.
Think about your colour scheme. The best capsule wardrobe sticks to one or two colours that works together giving you the best number of wardrobe combinations. If you’re going on a longer trip or to a developing country, don’t pack your favourite items. Most travel clothes end up getting ruined whether it’s by a spill, tear or sweat. If you do choose to take your expensive clothes, check your travel insurance. Most policies have a low limit for what they’ll pay out if your case goes missing.
- Jeans or jeggings – jeans are great in cold weather but they suck for laundry because they take forever to dry. Jeggings are a better option. They pack lighter, dry quicker and can be ‘warmed up’ with leggings underneath. Pack a smart colour (black/dark blue) and they can also be dressed for nice bars/restaurants.
- Leggings – as well as being light to pack, it’s nice to have a comfortable option, especially for travel days and night transport.
- Shorts – in a hot country, I usually pack about 3 pair. One denim (robust and versatile), one casual (can be used for sightseeing) and one smarter (e.g. black) that can be dressed up.
- Skirts – A brilliantly versatile item, skirts keep you cool in summer, can be worn with tights to warm up and can be dressed up.
- Dresses – the ‘all in one’ outfit, I travel with about 3 dresses. One jersey/casual for the day, one longer (below the knee) that can be worn to temples, one smarter that can double in cities during the day and dressed up at night.
- Casual tops – I’m messy as hell so I pack about 5 cheap tops (at least one black one is dedicated to noodle slurping) in a range of straps (spaghetti, wider strap etc.).
- Smart tops – I usually pack one or two smart tops for evening wear.
- Shirt or t-shirt with collar – useful to protect against the sun (go for short sleeve) or wind (go for long sleeve). Also great if you’re carrying a backpack – prevents rubbing on skin.
- Long sleeve top – packing a smart, black merino wool base layer, I don’t usually bother with a long sleeve top but it’s a good idea for warmth if you’re without a base layer.
- Cardigan or jumper – because you don’t want to wear your bright pink fleece over your nice evening dress. Pick a versatile style and colour that will work with all of your evening clothes.
- Tights – try to buy technical, high denier tights if you want warmth. Otherwise, tights are usually highly available overseas.
- Belt – unless you need it for function, pack a cute belt that will smarten up your travel wardrobe for evening wear.
Try to commit to just 3 (maximum 4) pairs of shoes otherwise your packing is going to get out of hand pretty quickly. If you pack the right pairs, they’ll double up for different occasions and activities. Just make sure all your shoes have decent arch support if you’re going to walk a lot in them (especially if you’re hefting a backpack) and good grip so you can take them on off-road adventures if you need to.
Whatever you do, make sure you wear your shoes in back home rather than on that 12 hour wander around Hong Kong. You can read my post on the best shoes for travelling.
- Everyday walking shoes – I know this is a bit vague but you’ll need to choose your everyday footwear according to the weather. In warm weather I love my Birkenstocks – fantastically comfy and they look cool. In Spring weather, I wear Vans or Converse, though the grip and arch support isn’t great so any alternative recommendations welcome.
- Boots – If I’m travelling in autumn or winter, I pack boots. Unless you’re specifically going on a snow holiday, I wouldn’t bother with anything more robust than leather boots with a good sole.
- Flip-flops – because of my unwavering commitment to Birkenstock, which come with a suede-style insole, I also have to pack a pair of flip-flops for beach trips and dodgy communal showers. Favourite brand: Havianas or Reef.
- Foldable ballet flats – pick a pair that can fold so you can pop them in your bag for those impromptu fancy bar stops. Butterfly Twists and Silky Toes are perfect.
- Heels (optional) Another item I’ve never travelled with. Sure, if you’re on a 2-week holiday and you’re using your full 25kg luggage allowance, throw in as many pairs as you can fit. If you’re looking to pack light or travel long, skip the heels. As a 5ft tall girl who used to wear heels all the time, trust me: you’ll get used to it.
Health & Beauty
Given half the chance, half of my luggage would be health and beauty items. Usually on a ‘just n case’ basis. I really have to practice some restraint when I pack in this department. Here are my tips.
If you’re the kind of person who never gets sick and prefers not to pop pills, don’t get freaked out into packing a first aid kit. I’ve not been to a destination yet, including many developing countries, where there hasn’t been a pharmacy within easy reach (exception: jungle treks and the like) and in an emergency situation, you’re more likely to head to the pharmacy or hospital – worst case – than run back to your room for your sew-your-own-stitches kit.
However, if you do take medication regularly, pack what you tend to use at home to make sure you have your familiar pills with you. Pick what you think you’ll need from this list. It’s not a suggestion that you’ll need everything.
- Your prescription medicine – pack a couple of day’s dosage into your hand-luggage just in case your main bag goes on a wander for a day or two.
- Anti-malaria pills (if needed) – you can read more about anti-malarials and whether you need them in my related post: Malaria Facts Every Traveller Should Know.
- Headache pills – because, when a headache appears, you probably won’t want to track down a pharmacy.
- Anti-inflammatory pills – if you have a dodgy knee or similar that keeps inflaming (like I do).
- Antihistamines – another item you’re probably going to want to take quickly if a reaction grabs you. Helpful for heat rash and bites/stings as well as minor food reactions and the usual hayfever and dust problems.
- Decongestant – I can’t fly without taking this thanks to sinus problems. Try to find a brand that doesn’t include pain relief unless you need that too. A menthol inhaler is a drug-free alternative.
- Imodium – as a general rule, you should let you body work through it’s problems rather than trapping those problems inside. However, sometimes you just need a dose of imodium (18 hour night bus or to keep antibiotics inside). Make sure you’re using it properly or you’re (literally) storing up stomach problems for the future.
- Motion sickness pills – if you’re going to take transport that makes you feel sick, best to pack your preferred anti-dote.
- Antacid – especially if you suffer from heartburn, new, rich or spicy foods and alcohol can trigger any heartburn problems
- Sleeping pills – go for something herbal like Kalms, especially on a flight or bus, especially if you’re on your own.
- Antiseptic cream – a small tube of this in hot, developing countries can stop those mosquito bites becoming infected.
- Flight Ear Plugs – if you also suffer sinus problems or pain when flying, get a pair of Ear Planes. Best purchase ever.
- Rehydration salts – I pack a small tube of effervescent pills that rehydrate me. Largely for hangovers, I confess. However, most countries have rehydration drinks (or coconuts!) readily available.
- Antibacterial hand gel – Golden Rule: put it on your hands any time you’re about to put your hand into or near your mouth.
- Plasters / Band Aids – pop a couple in your purse in case you forgot to wear your shoes in before you set off.
- Anti-fungal foot cream – hot countries + water based activities can wake up a bout of athlete’s foot.
General Travel Health
- Sunscreen – one small bottle of UVA/UVB 40 or 50 works for me and I replenish as I go. I swear by Clarins. It’s expensive but lasts well and is gentle on my face. And the people in my life who burn fiercely swear by P50.
- Mosquito repellent – I have the type of blood that screams ‘all-you can drink’ to mosquitoes so I’ve tried every repellent going. Here’s my review of the best repellents to use.
- Tiger balm – great for warding off mosquitoes, easing strains, unblocking sinuses, sniffing before entering a foul public toilet, this magical, non-medical balm has a host of uses and is a great addition to your bag. Go for the white tiger balm – the red ointment has a hint of colour to it.
- Foot file (longer trips) – if you are going to be in sandals for a while, your feet will rapidly turn into pig’s trotters, no matter how beautiful they were before they left home. Regular filing with a travel foot file can prevent dry and cracked heels.
- Elizabeth Arden 8-hour cream – another of my favourite non-medicinal products, I’ve used this balm on bites, burns, sunburn, cracked lips, dry skin and more. I don’t know how it works, it just does and it’s worth the price tag because of it.
- Contact lenses – I use Acuvue Oasys fortnightly lenses. They pack smaller than dailies but don’t get as gritty as monthlies. Plus, they have UVA/UVB protection.
- Contact lens solution – if you’re a lens wearer, I’d recommend packing your own saline because I’ve struggled to find it in a few countries. I usually pack 2 small travel size bottles and with conservative use they can last a month each.
- Contact lens cases – I usually pack 2 lens cases because I invariably end up losing one. Most travel packs of lens solution come with free lens cases.
- Glasses – it’s good to have a backup even if you wear lenses all the time. I’ve had more than one eye infection on the road that meant I simply couldn’t get my lenses in.
- Glasses case – try to find something small but with hard sides to give protection in your bag.
- Tweezers – as much for keeping your eyebrows in shape as pulling out splinters. I have a small pair in my Swiss Army knife (see below) so don’t pack a separate pair. If you do want a separate pair, go for travel size.
- Nail scissors – you’ll be surprised how often you use scissors while you’re away. Again, I have a pair in my Swiss Army knife but many people prefer to pack a separate, more robust pair.
- Contraception – you know, in case you fancy some fun in the sun or ‘that’ kind of aprés ski.
- Tampons / sanitary pads – although you can get sanitary pads in most countries, including developing countries, tampons can be much harder to come by and the brands may not be what you’re used to/trust. I tend to carry a month’s worth of tampons and start looking well in advance when I need to replace them. Non-applicator tampons pack smaller.
- Moon cup – they are a great travel option and alternative to tampons or pads. You can read a review of different brands by Jac the Occasional Traveler.
Toiletries are available all over the world so I’d recommend packing on the lighter side and replenishing as you go.
- Shampoo – one bottle of travel shampoo lasts me about a week (long hair, washed daily). On longer trips, I pack a small bottle of normal sized shampoo. I love Kerastase Soleil to protect my hair from the sun and because it’s a premium product (meaning smaller bottle sizes), you don’t have to pack a litre of it.
- Conditioner – a travel size can last me a month if my hair isn’t too dry. For a short trip, I’d always pack a travel size. For longer trips, I stick to my Kerastase Soleil.
- Soap / shower gel – soap is less bulky and better for longer trips, though you can’t beat the lather of shower gel or cream. My favourite soap bar is Dove – it doesn’t get sludgy or dry your skin out.
- Soap holder (optional) – you’re only going to need this if you pack a bar of soap. Obviously.
- Deodorant – roll-on/stick deodorant is smaller to pack through compression deodorant canisters are still pretty small. A travel size stick deodorant will be enough for most trips. Or try a crystal deodorant stick.
- Toothbrush – I pack a sonic toothbrush because I don’t want to revert to a manual brush while I’m away. Plus, those brush head protectors never work whereas my sonic has a full case to keep my toiletry bag clean.
- Toothpaste – travel toothpaste is seldom worth it. Even for a long weekend, I run out long before my trip does. Pack a normal size tube.
- Dental Floss – smaller than more elaborate flossing tools and just as effective.
- Razor because, you know, fuzz. Travel sizes are better and take up less bag space without having to resort to cheap blades that will hurt your skin.
- Shaving foam (optional) – to be honest, I just lather up my soap or shower gel and it works fine. If you do pack a can, make it travel size. Or, consider shaving oil, which packs smaller.
- Hair brush – I travel with a small, compact folding travel brush, which comes with a mirror inside. It works for my long hair even after a trip to a windy beach.
- Hair ties – see aforementioned reference to windy beach. Go for the no-damage kind – I like these hair ties because they are small and pack well.
- Hair styling products (optional) – the last time I put product in my hair was some time in the 90s but if it’s your thing, pack it. However, opt for travel sizes unless you’re likely to chew through a whole can of hairspray in a week.
- Travel hair dryer (optional) – most accommodation includes a hair dryer so I wouldn’t pack one unless you definitely need one and your accommodation has confirmed they don’t have one available.
- Travel hair straighteners (optional) – also not something I travel with but more useful for it’s dual function of drying and straightening in one go if you’re committed to packing some sort of hair styling device.
- Body moisturiser – again, a travel size usually does me even on long trips.
- Cotton buds / Q-tips – if you’ve used one in the last month, pack some for your trip otherwise you’ll end up having to buy 1,000 of the sods whiles you’re away (they are never sold in small numbers these things).
- Travel tissues – just a pack or two for your purse and those public toilet moments when there’s no loo roll.
Remember that make-up moves in heat. So, do you really need to pack your entire make-up kit? Better: pick a couple of items that are more likely to stay on your face.
- Face moisturiser – try to get one with SPF if you’re heading into the sun. Clinique City Block is great if you want a bit of tint in your moisturiser.
- Lip balm – again, one with SPF will work best. Beware of cheap lip balms that will drag you into an addictive loop of drying your lips, requiring constant reapplication. Two brands I like that avoid this are Elizabeth Arden and Burt’s Bees.
- Face make-up – keep in mind that foundation turns into a mud slide in hot weather. Also consider if your face colour will change in the sun and change your shade accordingly.
- Concealer – for those moments when you can’t keep your foundation on your face but you need to cover up the jet-lag that’s evident under your eyes. My favourite is by Christian Dior – small, neat packaging and rich enough to cope with sun and wind drying.
- Mascara – I hate waterproof mascara because you can spend half your life taking it off. Just pack normal mascara and don’t wear it in the ocean. Simple. The travel size Benefit They’re Real mascara is perfect.
- Eye shadow – don’t go crazy. A small palette will usually do for any trip. You might be getting a sense that I like Dior’s make-up and the compact eye shadow palettes are no different.
- Eye liner – I often travel with eye liner instead of eye shadow to give a bit of ‘wake up’ to my face without full on make-up. If you can buy travel size eye liners, you can take more than one colour on your trip.
- Lip / cheek stain – skip the blusher and get a lip and cheek stain which will be hardwearing, even in the heat. Benefit does a brilliant range of lip and cheek stains. My favourite is their Benefit tint travel size. It’s tiny.
- Lipstick – one will usually be enough if you’re trying to pack light. If you want more than one colour, consider travel sized lipsticks. Clinique does a good range of travel lipsticks, which are best picked up at the airport.
- Make-up remover – depending how much make-up you apply, you might be able to get away with using your moisturiser as a cleanser. I do this frequently and it cuts down on a whole extra bottle to pack. Otherwise, take a travel pack of pre-soaked make-up remover wipes – they’re smaller and great for carry-on.
- Nail polish – go for travel size. There is no way you’ll get through a whole bottle, even on a longer trip. O.P.I.’s travel range come in such beautiful colours you’ll struggle to pick which ones to pack.
- Nail polish remover – pre-soaked nail polish remover pads are small, compact, unlikely to spill and therefore perfect for travel.
- Compact mirror – if you don’t have one elsewhere (compact hair brush, eye shadow palette), pack a small, palm sized make-up mirror. Make sure it han a protective cover so you don’t end up with shards in your bag.
- Perfume – travel size perfume is more expensive than diamonds (guestimate) but it saves packing a huge bottle, which you risk smashing. I love Chanel’s twist up range – 3 travel size bottles protected in a metal canister. A travel atomiser is a great alternative to travel sized perfume.
- Jewellery – if you really must pack your favourite Cartier, get it insured and don’t flash it around. Soft material jewellery rolls are perfect for packing.
You’ll want to pick and mix off this list depending on the type of trip you’re taking. For example, you’re not going to need a torch if you’re off on a city-break and pack a smartphone. You might be interested in my related article: Travel Essentials I wouldn’t Travel Without.
Travel Kit Essentials
- Ear plugs because even in the best hotels, thin walls and a loud neighbour can make for a really bad night’s sleep. I’ve tried every brand and Mack’s Dreamgirl are the best (so good, I stock up when I’m in the USA. Please send me some!)
- Eye mask – if you need complete darkness to sleep, pack an eye mask so you won’t be forced to do what I saw one traveller do – stick a sanitary pad over her eyes.
- Umbrella – if I’m off on a city trip to a place that has a reputation for rain, an umbrella is more pleasant than getting wet in my raincoat. Buy a travel umbrella for its light weight and small body.
- Sunglasses – I pick up the cheap ones on the street but if you are packing your Oakleys or Ray Bans, make sure they’re insured.
- Refillable water bottle – perfect for long-haul flights, hikes, beach trips and sightseeing days, collapsible water bottles are a light way to pack your own bottle. If you prefer something more sturdy, I swear by Contigo bottles. Mine last for years despite getting dropped a lot.
- Swiss Army knife – I pack a Swiss Army Knife for so many reasons: tweezers, scissors, corkscrew, bottle opener, can opener, saw (great for picnics involving baguette), knives because…well, I’m a solo female traveller. Obviously, you won’t be able to pack this if you’re going carry-on only.
- Padlock – whether you need it for a hostel lockers your luggage or day packs when you’re leaving them in left luggage, padlocks are a light way to add security. Make sure you get one that’s TSA compliant padlocks with a number combination. Don’t get one with a key because you’ll very probably lose it, requiring a pair of bolt cutters.
- Torch (hiking trips) – most smartphones have a torch light included but if you’re on a hiking trip, a head torch is a must.
- Sewing kit every time I choose not to pack a sewing kit, my favourite top/bag/anything breaks. I love these travel sewing kits because the needles are pre-threaded.
- Sleep sheet (hostels/camping) – I love the soft but light and protective feel of a sleep sheet when I’m camping or in budget beds. Give it a spritz of permethrin and you’ll keep bed bugs away. Also great for an extra lawyer of heat if you’re in a dorm and some fool has put the AC onto 10 degrees. Opt for silk for the best heat and cooling performance.
- Travel towel (hostels/camping) – although you can hire a towel in most places, that dollar here and there adds up over a longer trip. Get a microfibre towel otherwise your bag will smell like wet dog within days.
- Travel bike lock (longer trips) – cable luggage locks (or small bike locks) are ideal for leashing your bag to a bunk if you don’t have a locker in your hostel and also on public transport like night buses and trains if you want to get some sleep without worrying whether your bag will be there when you wake up.
- Spork (longer trips) – if your travel budget means lots of picnic meals and leftovers, a titanium spork means you can spare yourself having to eat with your fingers.
- Ziplock bags (optional) – great for carrying snacks and fruit which might otherwise spill or squash in your daypack.
- Travel chopsticks (Asia trips) – more environmentally friendly than the disposables you get so much. Pick a set that of travel chopsticks that has a travel case so you don’t end up putting used chopsticks back in your bag.
- Travel iron (optional) – most hotels offer an iron so only pack this hot anvil if absolutely necessary.
- Travel pillow (optional) – I personally don’t see the need but I know a lot of people can’t travel without one. If you do like one, there are some great travel pillows with eye mask and ear plugs included.
- Laundry detergent (optional) – I’ve not been to a country where I couldn’t find a travel-size pack of detergent. Only pack this if you have skin sensitivities.
- Travel washing line (optional) – if you are off to a beach location or plan to rinse your panties in the sink, a travel washing line can really help.
- Deck of cards (optional) – someone usually has a pack of cards to loan you or they are cheap to buy if you have a specific urge. However, if you have cool trick, pack a pack because you’ll make instant friends.
- Reading book(s) – for fiction, I do use a Kindle these days. However, that’s mainly because I get through a lot of books and travel for long stretches. Looking for some travel reading? Check out my list of the 50 best travel books of all time.
- Religious items e.g. prayer beads / skullcap.
- Binoculars – travel binoculars a late addition because someone rightly pointed out that I’d forgotten to add it to the list even though it’s on my Safari packing list (oops). Apologies it’s not on the printout (to be added in the next revision!).
Beyond the essentials, where a copy won’t cut it (e.g. passport, driving licence and visas), I take a photo of all the other documents and store it in my Google Photo storage online and also email a copy of the documents to myself, meaning I don’t need to weigh my bag down with paper.
Check out my related post: 12 Holiday Safety Tips With tips for making sure that you’re able to still enjoy your trip even if the worst happens.
- Passport – check you’ve got at least 6 months validity left on your passport – that’s 6 months from the day you get home, not the day you leave. Do this BEFORE you book your trip.
- Driving licence – even if you’re not hiring a car, it’s a good second form of ID if you don’t want to take your passport on a boozy night out.
- Visas – one of the most frequently forgotten yet most essential travel items. Use Visa HQ and it’s quick-check facility to see if you need a visa for your trip.
- Passport photos (optional) – pack at least 4 spares if you’re taking a longer trip and will apply for visas as you go, or you’re going somewhere that has a visa on arrival that requires photos e.g. Cambodia.
- Travel insurance details – I don’t bother packing the policy through I do keep the electronic copy in my emails so I can access it if I need to. Before you book insurance, check out my article 10 Times You’ll Realise The Importance of Travel Insurance.
- Vaccination record – another document I keep a photo of rather than travelling with it. I had cause to look at mine to see whether I needed a tetanus while I was away once.
- Yellow Fever certificate (selected countries only) – there are two things you need to check i) are you going somewhere/have you been somewhere that has a risk of yellow fever; if yes – get vaccinated; ii) are you then going somewhere else that requires you to show a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever? If yes, you’ll need to carry your little Yellow Fever certificate, which you get once you’re vaccinated. In all my years of travel, I’ve never been asked to show this but I still carry it because the second I don’t, I’ll get stopped, for sure. You can check details about yellow fever on Fit For Travel.
- Optician prescription – if you break your glasses or lose your lenses, it’s good to know what prescription you need for your replacement.
- Credit and debit cards – make sure you tell your bank you’re going away so they don’t bock your card, assuming it’s gone to Paris all by itself.
- Currency – I personally pick my currency up as I go but if you change money before you leave, don’t forget it!
- Tickets / booking confirmations – these days an electronic ticket will do but check whether you need to print stuff out and do it before you go. Trust me, it’s easier than locating and grappling with printing facilities in foreign countries.
- Discount / loyalty cards – because why pay more when you don’t have to?
- Contact list (bank, insurance, someone helpful at home) – if you lose your smartphone, all your useful numbers and your ability to access the web go with it. Scratch a few phone numbers down and you’ll at least be able to make a start on fixing things.
My advice is to go light on the gadgets. Not only with it push your travel insurance up, it can make you more appealing to thieves if you’re carrying half of an electronics store around. Also think realistically about connectivity for online gadgets and the amount of downtime you’ll have available. You’ll find you use some items less than you think.
- You might like my related post: 10 Travel Gadgets I Wouldn’t Travel Without.
- Laptop + charger – unless you plan on working while you’re away, I’d recommend leaving the laptop at home. Heavy and incapable of fitting in most hotel safes, do you really want to pack this on your trip? Because I tend to work while I’m away, I travel with a 13″ Macbook Air which is lightweight and the perfect size for travel.
- Tablet + charger – tablets are a much better option if you want to access the web on your own device while you’re away.
- Phone + charger – even lighter and more portable with many more functions (phone, torch, alarm clock, er…phone), most people can get by with just a smartphone for travel planning these days and there are trips where my iPhone 7 is my only camera. Choosing a brand is highly personal – the most vital thing for travel is making sure you phone is not locked to a network.
- eReader + charger – if you’re not a reader, skip down. If you are, consider converting to an eReader if you haven’t already. Lightweight and with the ability to pack an entire library, I thought I’d hate my Kindle but it’s by far the best option for travel.
- Camera + charger – if you want more umph than a smartphone camera can give you, but still want to pack light, Compact System Cameras are just as good as traditional DSLRs without the bulk. I love my Sony Nex (latest version is the Sony Alpha). I get high quality photos from a camera that I can still fit into my handbag/ purse. It’s also less likely to scream ‘rob me’.
- Memory card – if you’re packing a traditional camera, make sure you pack your memory card. With many people using their cameras for video these days, I’d recommend a high-speed, high capacity (64GB or higher) card. If you don’t shoot video, a 32GB card will probably do. In both cases, a back-up card is recommended.
- External hard drive (longer trips) – For any trip longer than 2 weeks, I take an external hard drive to back up my photos. I use the Seagate Backup Plus Slim. My version is 2TB and in years of travel, I still haven’t filled it. But you may as well buy the 4TB version as prices have reduced a lot since I shelled out for mine.
- USB drive (longer trips) – a small pen drive can come in handy if you want to get a document printed or for storing a small number of photos or essential documents.
- Portable battery + charger – if you’re using your smartphone for music plus camera plus social media plus maps, your battery probably won’t last a whole day. I love the Anker Portable Powerbank. I can get 1-2 full charges on my iPhone and it’s smaller than my hand so easy to slip into my bag.
- Plug convertors – although you can pick these up overseas, having watched one fry in a socket in Colombia (with my Mac attached to it). I now buy all my convertors at home where I know they’ve been safety checked. If you’re an Apple fan, the World Traveler Adaptor Kit is perfect. Otherwise, a universal travel adaptor plug is a great purchase – choose one with plenty of USB ports as you’ll find you use these a lot and it saves bulk which can pull some chargers out of the wall.
- Headphones – go small. Yes, your Beats may sound better, but do you really want to drag them around with you?
- SIM card holder – if you plan on buying one or more local SIM cards, pack a holder so you don’t lose the one from your home network.
Travel Packing Organisation
You’re going to want some sort of organisation system for you packing. In this section I’ll cover essential documentation, items for itinerary planning and the best kinds of bags and packing organisers to help you pack for your trip. You might also like my related post: 15 Long Haul Flight Essentials.
- Travel guide books – I remain old school on this topic and still travel with a heavy, paper guide book – they just don’t work on eReaders IMO. My favourite brand: Lonely Planet.
- Diary (optional) – if you’re on a longer trip or working to a detailed itinerary, a paper diary can help you keep organised. I write hotel addresses and directions in mine and use it to show taxi drivers. Saves me handing over my $1000 phone for them to check my emails. I love Moleskine notebooks and diaries because they have a handy blank page next to each week, which is ideal for making travel notes.
- Journal/notebooks (optional) – if you’re the kind who likes to journal, think carefully about what you pack. Moleskine is my notebook of choice for its small size, soft backs and narrow lines (less paper used).
- Pen – you will use this more than you think. Landing and immigration cards, scratching down recommendations, swapping contact details. Pack two. Again, one will always go missing. I love my Swarovski Crystaline Stardust Pen, which has a twist closure meaning no ink spills in your bag.
Keep your packing organised and you won’t spend half your trip looking for that gadget that you’re sure must be in there somewhere. This is even more vital if you’re taking a top-loading backpack.
- Wallet – don’t underestimate your ability to leave your most useful item at home. I don’t pack a special travel wallet but I do make sure my wallet is small (palm sized) and light, carrying only the essential cards I need for my trip.
- Airline liquids bag – pack two. One will break. Guaranteed. Especially if you only pack one.
- Packing cubes – I wouldn’t travel without these little miracles – packing cubes by Eagle Creek. Small, ultra lightweight and with compression function, I can generally get an extra 25% in my case by using these.
- Foldable backpack – market trips, beach days, hiking where I don’t want to empty out my bigger day pack, a folding daypack is one of my most used items.
- Dry sack – for boat trips, beach time and even torrential downpours, I stash my valuable electronics inside a dry sack (by Sea to Summit) and don’t need to worry about the water.
- Toiletries bag – I’ve tried so many of these. In the end, I have settled on a classic drawstring bag that’s thin, light, has a waterproof interior and it big enough for my essentials without the bells and whistles of pockets and dividers. I pack two (different colours). One for my toiletries, the other for medication. You can usually pick them up in the supermarket /drug store for a couple of dollars. If you do want something with compartments, Eagle Creek’s range is light and robust.
- Make-up bag – go for function over style. The Sea to Summit make-up bag is an excellent size and will barely add any bulk or weight to your packing.
- Document organiser – because it’s much easier to put your hand on a travel document wallet than the disparate travel papers you’ll otherwise have floating around your bag.
- Bank bags for currency (optional) – particularly useful if you’re off to several countries – you can keep your currencies separated. These bags are usually freely available from your bank.
- Money belt (optional) – personally, I think nothing screams ‘rob me’ louder than a money belt which, trust me, we can all see, especially when you fiddle in it to pay your bill. Nevertheless, some people swear by them.
You can read my thoughts on the best luggage for travel here.
- Main suitcase or backpack – Stick to one main bag (easier to move around/fit in tiny hire cars/avoid airline excess baggage fees) or backpack and go as small as you can. My favourite backpack is just 55 litres and my biggest suitcase is 48.5 litres.
- Day pack – depending on what you pack, you may be able to get away with just a folding daypack. As I pack a travel office on every trip, I need something bigger. Look for a day pack that has exterior mesh pockets for a water bottle if you plan on doing any hiking.
- Cross-body handbag/purse – cross body bags are so much harder to snatch and I wouldn’t travel with any other kind. Buy one small enough and it can be used for evenings too.
- Evening bag – go for a flat, light structure so your evening bag can fit easily into your luggage.
- Dirty clothes bag – I just use a plastic bag because they’re simple and easily available.
My packing list on Trello: If Trello’s your way to get things done (me too), you might be thrilled to know that I’ve put this packing list onto Trello. All for free. You can access the packing list on Trello here. Save a copy and get packing. Any feedback welcome on whether you find this useful or not.