Your Professional Guide to Travel Packing

I know the drill.  A couple of days before we’re scheduled to leave on vacation we quickly do a bunch of laundry and haphazardly pack what we think we’ll need, hoping we haven’t forgotten everything (or at least that we can inexpensively buy whatever we did forget).  Of course it would be better to plan what we need beforehand, but who has time for that? I have decided to take it upon myself to create my ultimate list of what everybody ought to know about effective travel packing.  This has saved me a bunch of time and money since now I only need to worry about matching clothes rather that over or under-packing!


  • Luggage: Choose luggage that matches your travel style and fits within your airline’s luggage rules, and make sure it has lockable zippers.
  • Personal Item: Your personal item can be a messenger bag, duffel bag, purse, or small daypack. Most airlines don’t publish specific size rules for personal items, but they must be carried (no wheeled bags) and need to fit under the seat in front of you. Don’t be that selfish person who takes up 2 spaces in the overhead bin!
  • Luggage Lock: A small, TSA-approved padlock is a great theft-deterrent, and can put your mind at ease if you will be traveling on trains or buses or staying in hostels.
  • Pen: For filling out customs forms, preferably in black or blue ink.
  • Notebook: For documenting your trip, taking notes, or getting addresses written in the local language. I recommend this travel journal with magnetic closure for its size and style.
  • Journal: An empty book to be filled with the experiences of your trip will be your most treasured souvenir. Attach a photocopied calendar page of your itinerary.
  • Small day pack: A lightweight pack is great for carrying your sweater, camera, guidebook, and picnic goodies while you leave your large bag at the hotel or train station. Don’t use a fanny pack — they’re magnets for pickpockets.
  • Money belt (or neck wallet): A flat, hidden, zippered pouch that is worn around your waist or like a necklace, and tucked under your clothes. For those times when you are concerned about pickpockets, this will bring peace of mind. Get a lightweight one with a low-profile color.


  • Passport: Vital while traveling. Passport requirements vary by country, but to be safe make sure that your passport is valid for six months beyond the end of your trip.
  • ID: A form of identification from your home country, like a driver’s license, that can serve as extra proof of your identity.
  • Boarding pass: After your passport, your boarding pass is your most important document. Mobile boarding passes are convenient, but make sure that you’ll have internet access via your phone if you plan to use one.
  • Itinerary: Some countries won’t let you in without a guarantee of when you’ll leave. Pack a copy of your complete itinerary, including evidence of when you’ll leave the country, to appease border security. For your own convenience, print or write down  out the address of where you’re staying, and bring confirmation of any necessary travel visa.
  • Copy of important documents: Make copies of your passport, ID, credit cards, and debit cards. If your passport is stolen, you’ll have an easier time getting another one if you have a copy of the information page from your original. If your wallet is stolen, you can reference the copies of your cards to quickly find the phone numbers to call for cancellation.
  • Extra passport pics: Pack a few extras as some countries, like Vietnam, require passport photos on entry.
  • Money: Bring your preferred mix of a debit card, a credit card, and some emergency US cash (preferably in $20 bills).
  • Documents: Bring your plane, train, and rental car documents or vouchers; and any other useful cards (student ID, hostel membership card, etc.). In your luggage, pack a record of all reservations (bring your hotel confirmation emails). Bring any necessary health/travel insurance contact info.
  • Guidebooks and maps: Pack or download the travel info you’ll need on the ground.
  • Passport Wallet: I highly recommend having a passport wallet to store all of these items in 1 secure place.  You will want enough space for your passport and whatever important cards you wish to bring.  I also prefer a large pocket for cash and plane/train ticket storage.


  • Toiletries kit: Sinks in many hotels come with less than ideal counter-top space, so I prefer a kit that can hang on a hook or a towel bar.
  • Medicine and vitamins: Always carry on essential toiletries, including any prescription medications in you carry-on or personal item.
  • Glasses/contacts/sunglasses: Contact-lens solution is generally available at most destinations. Carry your lens prescription, as well as extra glasses, in a solid case. Always pack sunglasses, especially if they’re prescription – you never know when the sun will make a surprise appearance.
  • Small tissue packet: Stick one of these in your day pack, in case you wind up at a bathroom with no toilet paper.
  • Travel alarm: Make sure you have an alarm to wake yourself up (your smartphone, wristwatch, a little clock, etc.). At budget hotels, wake-up calls are particularly unreliable.


  • Up to 5 short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirts or blouses: Exact number of each will depend on season of travel and destination.
  • 2 pairs pants/shorts: Again depending on season and destination, Button-down wallet pockets are safest.
  • 5 sets of underwear and socks.
  • 1 pair of shoes: comfortable walking shoes with good traction. For a second pair, I’d recommend sandals in summer for beach access or if using bathrooms down the hall. Make sure your shoes are well broken in before you leave home.
  • 1 light and water-resistant windbreaker or jacket with a hood.
  • 1 swimsuit.
  • 1 set of comfy street-wear/pajamas/cover-up: such as shorts, leggings, T-shirts, tank tops, yoga pants, and other lightweight athletic gear.


  • Smartphone/mobile phone: Bring your smartphone to keep in touch with people back home and for accessing important info on the road such as email, travel apps, and GPS.  Make sure you read up on Tips for Using Your Smartphone for Free While Traveling to avoid unnecessary charges when you return home.
  • Digital camera: Always remember to bring an extra memory card and battery, and don’t forget the charger and a cable for downloading images.
  • Laptop: If you’ve got a lot of work to do, or want to keep your blog updated, a laptop can be worth the extra weight.
  • USB flash drive: If you’re traveling with a laptop, you may want a flash drive for backing up files and photos. I generally prefer free cloud storage sites like Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud, or Dropbox.
  • GPS device: If you’ll be doing a lot of driving and have a portable GPS device at home, you could buy local map data to use on vacation.  This is especially handy if you are not using your smartphone for data while away (and easier than reading maps).
  • Headphones/earbuds: These are a must for listening to music, tuning in to audio tours, or simply drowning out noise on planes or trains. You can use the Apple earbuds that came with your iPhone, or upgrade to something like Beats by Dre Solo 2.0 that are fold-able for better storage.
  • Chargers and batteries. Bring each device’s charger, or look into getting a charger capable of charging multiple devices.  If you need to take batteries, I’d recommend taking rechargeable batteries to cut down on the number you need.
  • Travel Adapter: Pick one with dongles to fit plugs in any region of the world, like this one from Orei Mate(M8).
  • Portable Media Storage: if you are not taking a laptop, it’s often worthwhile to bring along portable media storage. This can act as both a backup and a way to empty filled memory cards. Note that it is possible to use adapters for iPods or other devices to turn them into media storage.
  • Portable Power: Nobody wants to be restricted by battery life while exploring the sights on your bucket list.  Be sure to bring a mobile power bank so you never have to worry about an uncharged phone or table.

Optional items

  • Water bottle: Carrying your own water bottle can help you stay hydrated without going through too many disposable plastic bottles. Just make sure it’s empty before going through airport security, then fill it at a drinking fountain.
  • Fold-up tote bag: Look for a large-capacity tote bag that rolls up into a pocket-size pouch.  These bags are ideal for laundry, beach necessities, and those extra souvenirs you want to take back home.
  • Small flashlight: Handy for exploring castles, evening walks, and reading on late-night train rides. Small, powerful LED flashlights are bright, compact, and lightweight.
  • Small binoculars: Compact, lightweight binoculars are very handy for scenery or church interiors.
  • A good book: Popular paperbacks are often available in airports and major train stations. An e-reader can carry a number of books without the additional weight.

Now that you know exactly what you need to pack, you’ll never again have to worry about forgetting something vital at home.  For your convenience, enter your info below to download my free travel packing checklist in the Traveller’s Handbook!

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