Traveling internationally can seem daunting, especially if it’s your first time, or perhaps a country that you haven’t previously visited. Maybe you feel like you didn’t do your research enough, so you don’t want to feel unprepared. I get that. I really do.
Comparing my first international trip in 2006, to my most recent international trip last April (2019), I can definitely say I have learned from trial and error on the way, and become a much better and more efficient packer.
When I think back on my first international trip when I had two checked bags for a three week trip… it gives me anxiety just thinking about it. Wheeling your giant luggage through the cobblestone streets and up the steep hills of Switzerland is not a very fun thing to do and could have totally been prevented if I had even an ounce of a clue about packing efficiently.
But hey, I cut myself some slack. I was a teenager then, and things like Pinterest weren’t widely spread, even video how-to’s were scarce. Nobody in my family, including my extended family that lived nearby, had ever traveled internationally. I didn’t have much to go on at all. So I packed way too much clothing and toiletries, extra shoes, hair straightener etc. If I could somehow see a picture of those packed bags… Anyway, moving on!
I have since become quite good at it with 10+ years of experience under my belt (which I do not wear through security at the airport). Nowadays, the only reason I ever have a checked bag is on the way home, when I buy too much in the country that I’m visiting. There’s always going to be exceptions to my packing ways, depending where I am headed and the weather that will meet me when I get there. But in general, these are the things that I always pack with me. If you’re looking for a packing list, I have one of those, too.
This includes GLASSES or CONTACTS. If I were to forget my glasses, I would be in so much trouble. It might also be good to check if your medications are allowed in the country you’re going to ahead of time, so that you can talk with your doctor in case you need an alternative.
On average for a two week trip; 2 undershirts, 2 bras, 3-5 pairs of socks, 3-5 underwear. If I take three socks/underwear, it’s because I have access to a washer. If I take more, I probably have to find a laundromat to do it elsewhere. I always do laundry on my trips to save packing space. Plus, washing the day before you head back home, means less dirty clothes when you return home, exhausted.
As far as clothing goes, for a two week trip, I’ll usually pack 2-3 bottoms and 4-5 shirts. If I know I’ll want to buy clothing there, I might even take less. Again, I do laundry at my destination, so it’s not a huge deal.
Dirty laundry bag.
Trust me, you’ll want to keep that stuff separate from the clean clothes, and try to limit the smell. I use the pouch that came with my packing cube set. I also follow the advice of packing a few fresh dryer sheets in my luggage to help things smell nicer.
No brainer, but I’ve really almost forgotten them before. I keep paper copies in a large envelope, as well as digital versions on my phone. If my phone broke, or the papers somehow got damaged, I can always use the other. Maybe I’m a little paranoid but that’s okay, I haven’t had any problems thus far, doing it this way.
I honestly don’t bring too many of these. My hair and scalp thankfully are not picky, so I can use any shampoo/conditioner that’s at the hotel. I bring my deodorant, face cream, lotion, toothbrush/paste (because I sometimes use this at the airport, otherwise I would probably buy it once there), and my menstrual cup with a few pads (even if I’m not due to start, traveling sometimes just… pushes it to). Sometimes I’ll pack along fingernail clippers and q-tips, but sometimes a girl forgets. I would only pack the things you deem necessary, remembering you can get most of these things once you’ve reached your destination, so as not to take up packing space.
I take this every trip that I go on, and this is what it consists of: Tablet, headphones, portable USB charger, all phone/tablet cords for charging, and sometimes my Polaroid camera gear goes in as well (just depends on the trip and if I have film). It’s big enough that it holds it all comfortably, and small enough that it slips into my carry on bag.
*UPDATE 2020: They’ve changed the design on this, it doesn’t look as big/roomy as the model I have.
Having a quick drying travel towel always comes in handy. If you’re staying at a place where towels cost extra, or if you want to go to the pool or beach, or maybe an unexpected dip while hiking. This thing has served me well, and I never leave it behind.
Some people feel the one that I have is too bulky, but I quite like it. It has an external pocket that I can put documents I need in a pinch. When I have paper boarding passes, they go in that pocket. When I was in Japan, I kept my Japan Rail Pass in it. It’s roomy enough inside that you can keep (from personal experience) two passports, four credit/debit cards, bills and a zipper pouch for coinage. There’s also additional slots where I would keep things like train tickets, concert tickets etc. And it has a spot for a pen, which I always recommend bringing a pen. I love this guy.
If you’re planning on buying a lot of things at your destination, it’s best to pack your own extra luggage, so that you’re not stuck buying some that might be more expensive, once you’re there (I didn’t bring one my last trip to Japan… had to buy two extra duffels…). I recommend getting one that folds down small, so that it doesn’t take up much of your valuable luggage space. Especially if you’re carry on only, when flying out.
A water bottle.
Duh. I am such a water drinker, I can’t imagine going anywhere without my reusable water bottle. I generally take my metal one because it keeps it cold for 8+ hours. But I’ve been looking into getting one more travel friendly, like this. If you have a collapsible water bottle that you love, please drop it in the comments! The good thing about bringing your own is you can fill it up once you get through security, and not have to pay a fortune for bottled water at the airport. If you’re staying somewhere with safe tap water, you can fill it as often as you please at your destination.
I’ve switched to the Wandrd because it seriously makes trip planning so easy. I have a list with all things I want to do, addresses of places I’ll be staying, flight times etc. All in this one book to rule them all. But really, I love it and I’m glad I made the purchase. If you don’t have one, that’s totally fine, as long as you have something with all of your plans in it.
Mini first aid kit.
I bought one of those travel section ones at Walmart and just replenish it every trip. I usually keep in there a few bandaids, alcohol wipes, some kind of pain reliever, and something like Neosporin. You know those little soap sheets you can buy in the camping section? Yeah, I like sticking those in there as well. Just in case there isn’t soap where you’re going and you might need some. I usually keep a pack of travel tissues on me as well.
If anyone is interested, this backpack is what I take for my carry on personal item. I like it because it folds down small when in storage, and I can also take it with me as I venture out every day at my destination. I would rather have a backpack than a purse, just a personal preference.
These packing cubes are what I’ve been using the last few years. They’re definitely not the best on the market, but they serve their purpose and I have no complaints.
As for luggage, I use a carry on size one with wheels, but am definitely upgrading to a spinner, because it’s so much easier to travel with.
That about wraps it up for me, as far as basics go. Of course I will tailor this as needed, depending on both my destination and length of time that I’ll be there. Is your list similar? What are some of the things you always take with you?