You’ve planned the perfect vacation to another country, but what do you need to bring along with you? Of course, your packing will be dependent on the weather and culture at your destination, but some things are always a must. We’ve put together the perfect list of items to bring with you on your big trip!
First thing’s first — you’ll need to decide on a suitcase to take along with you. We aim to stick with carry-ons for all of our trips to make traveling between cities and getting on and off of transportation as easy as possible. However, if you’ll be gone for more than two weeks (and don’t plan on having access to a laundromat), you may want to venture into the larger suitcase realm. We don’t usually do anything smaller like duffel bags, just in case the bags have to be checked unexpectedly or in case of rain while traveling (nothing is worse than arriving to your destination and having a bag full of sopping wet clothes!). The bags we swear by are Away bags. We both travel with “The Bigger Carry-On” and find it to be the perfect size and have the best storage options within.
Before we even put a single thing in our suitcases, we lay everything that’s going in them out. We recommend taking a second look at everything you’re wanting to bring to ensure it’ll all fit, and if not you’ll want to go ahead and make necessary cuts. We like to be sure that we have a good mix of tops, pants, and shoes (all dependent on the weather), and that we’ve got enough room for the extras like undergarments, toiletry bags, and any outer layers like scarves and sweaters. If you’re packing for the cold, we recommend wearing your biggest items (coat, boots, etc.) on the plane with you, even if it’s not cold in your departure city, rather than trying to pack them.
Depending on the type and duration of the trip, we use packing cubes to separate things like undergarments, tops, pants, etc. These cubes make it easy to grab the items you need quickly and to not have a messy bag while you’re traveling, and they’re also really good for separating clean and dirty clothes. Another helpful packing tool are compressed bags. These bags don’t require any type of vacuum but help shrink bigger sweaters, scarves, etc. to fit into smaller spaces and can reduce the volume of your clothes by 80%.
Usually, we plan to take 1 carry-on and 1 personal item each, so we divvy up the items into both of those, with the majority going into the carry-on. We like to bring 1 change of clothes in our personal item in case our bag unexpectedly has to be checked. We also bring our technology items and some of our toiletries like toothbrush and paste and medications in our personal bag. It’s important to be sure your items are TSA compliant if you’re carrying them on the plane with you. We almost always buy travel size toiletries and medications no matter the duration of our trips because of the ease of packing. Unless you’re going to a third-world country, you should be able to buy any items you forget or need more of while you’re abroad.
As far as actually getting your items in the suitcase, ROLL. Rolling the items up as small and tight as possible is key to fitting more in the bag. We always put our shoes in first and make sure that the soles won’t be directly touching out clean clothes. Then, once you’ve worn the items you can roll them back up with any undergarments on the inside of the roll, so no remaining clean clothes are getting dirty.
3. The Ultimate Packing List
We’ve broken out all the categories of packing that we go through when planning for a trip abroad. If we have a favorite product within the category, we’ve linked it so be sure to check out our favorite and trusted products.
- Underwear & socks
- Belt (a money belt is a good option if you’re traveling in high pick-pocketing risk areas like Europe)
- Rain jacket or umbrella – This umbrella is our favorite because it literally fits in the palm of your hand.
- Hat + sunglasses
Clothing + Shoes
- Tops – Layering is key! You’ll want tops that match different bottoms and can be worn both day and night.
- Bottoms – We try to pack a mix. Kevin always brings at least 1 pair of pants (no matter the weather) in case we decide to go to a nicer dinner. Lucy brings a mix of jeans, skirts, and comfortable pants.
- Outerwear – Layering is still important with outerwear. Because outerwear takes a lot of space, you’ll want to pick only a couple pieces that will match anything. Scarves are a great way to mix up your looks!
- Shoes – Again, we like to bring a variety and ones that can be used in different circumstances. Usually we focus on comfortable walking shoes and one pair of nicer shoes. We usually limit ourselves to 3 or 4 pairs and include sandals for easy walking around the hotel, pool, and/or beach.
Toiletries + Health Items
For her toiletry bag, Lucy uses this one that’s compact yet still has plenty of storage. She also loves that it has a built in hanger, so it’ll easily hang in the hotel or Airbnb bathroom. She also carries a travel jewelry organizer and swears by it. It’s the same brand as the toiletry bag and comes in multiple sizes to fit your needs.
- Hair care (shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, elastics, brush, heat tools) — Be sure your heat tools are dual wattage if you plan to use them without a power converter. Lucy’s favorite heat tool is a combination straightener and curling iron, which saves space in your suitcase!
- Body care (body wash, bar of soap, lotion, sunscreen, perfume, deodorant, shaving supplies)
- Mouth care (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss)
- Laundry care (stain remover, detergent)
- Medications (prescription, over-the-counter medicines for pain/fever, digestion, multi-vitamins, motion sickness, sleeping)
- Hand sanitizer and/or wet wipes
- Compression socks – Lucy gets extremely swollen when flying, so she recommends bringing some compression socks to wear while in the air. Be sure not to forget to hydrate too!
Technology + Entertainment
- Cell phone and charger
- Camera with memory card and charger
- Laptop and charger – We try to leave ours at home, but sometimes it’s nice to have just in case we have Airbnb issues, etc.
- iPad and charger – Lucy prefers to read on her iPad versus carrying books around, so she always has hers close by when traveling.
- Portable charger
- Portable speaker – Pro tip: Get a waterproof one like we linked that can be taken to the pool or beach.
- Selfie stick and tripod – Yes, we use a selfie stick sometimes! 🙂 We also have use a tripod for photos. When we came across a combo of the two, we couldn’t resist buying!
- Power converters and adapters – Most complex products like laptops, iPhones, and camera chargers are dual wattage as it is, but products like hair dryers and electric razors will need a power converter. We try to only take items that simply need an adapter. Our favorite converter is this one, and our favorite adapter is this one.
- Travel pillow, earplugs, and eye mask
- Deck of cards
- Travel journal and pen
- Reusable water bottle – We like this one because it folds down to take up much less space, and the mouthpiece is covered, so no need to worry about germs when throwing it around.
- Guidebooks, maps, and language guides – We live by Rick Steves! My parents have followed him for decades and now we have too. Find his videos on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video, and find his books online and in bookstores. His luggage and travel accessories are also made of great quality and we couldn’t recommend them enough!
- Passport and/or government-issued ID
- Cash (both from your current country and destination country)
- Credit cards – Be sure to call your bank ahead of time so you don’t encounter any issues.
- Health insurance cards
- Reservations and tickets – We like to print the important ones just in case we have any issues with the electronic versions.
4. Final Preparations
If you’re traveling to a destination that has issues with pick-pocketing, we recommend taking extra security measures by using items like the following:
- Money belt – pro tip: put this under your pants (not visible!)
- Neck wallet – pro tip: put this under your shirt (not visible!)
- Travel lock
Prepare your home by postponing mail/newspaper/packaging deliveries. Be sure to account for your air conditioning/heat and water pump. Ensure all doors and windows are locked, and leave a key with a neighbor in case of an emergency.
And last, but definitely not least, prepare for all the fun you’ll have on your trip! Adhere to local laws and customs and you’re sure to have a safe and relaxing trip abroad. Be sure to let us know if these tips are useful or if you have any travel products you don’t leave home without!