If you’re anything like me – which is prone to packing mishaps and having holidays go wrong – it’s safe to say that you’ll find good use of the following article.
Packing is the least fun part of traveling, and it’s best you come to terms with it as soon as possible. Finding excitement in it can, of course, be done if you apply enough willpower, but the reality is – there’s always something that you’ll get wrong.
That’s why it’s better to have a guide and a checklist you can refer to multiple times during the heinous process that is packing. After a myriad of mishaps and misfortunes (both minor and major) I experienced on my travels, I’ve finally managed to come up with the ultimate travel packing checklist suitable for all kinds of weather, terrain, and activities.
Use it as your packing bible, because you won’t find a better way to learn something than from someone else’s mistakes.
Let’s get started.
Whether you’re leaving just for the weekend, or you’re planning to spend more than a few weeks abroad, there should always be at least some prep work involved.
As I’ve probably said a million times before – a good trip is a well thought-out one. Make sure you cross all of these items off your to-do list to avoid any unpleasant surprises that might await around the corner.
Pay your bills
Nothing makes you snap out of that vacay-bliss faster than overdue bills. Make sure you got the month’s rent covered before you leave, and don’t forget to get up to date on your carrier fees.
Take care of your pets and plants
If you’re a wannabe gardener, ensure that your plants receive proper care and watering. It’s not that important of a step if you’ll be gone for just a few days, but anything longer than a week will take a toll on your plants.
Pets are a bit trickier, though. If you’re not sure any of your friends share the same love for your grumpy cat, you can always check out a pet hotel or daycare.
Take out an insurance policy
Don’t take any chances when it comes to your health. Also, don’t take any chances when it comes to preserving the rock-solid budget you planned for this trip. When a minor injury such as a sprained ankle or a cut sets you back hundreds or even thousands of dollars abroad, you’ll be cursing the day you didn’t want to spend $50 on insurance.
Get a carry-on
Because there’s a huge possibility that the one you do have doesn’t comply with the newest airline sizing standards.
Check the sizing limit for your chart and make sure your bag is at least a quarter of an inch below the requirements.
Get a haircut
Okay, this might not be that strict of a requirement, but nothing beats the feeling you have when you’ve got a fresh cut. I just think feeling good when you start your trip is a very underrated thing.
Get travel sized everything
If you’re a frequent traveler, saying this sure seems redundant. But you won’t believe the number of women I know that pack full-sized cosmetics and toiletries. Get at least half a dozen 3.4oz or 100ml clear bottles, and make sure at least a few of them come with a pump.
Check the weather
Weather forecasts are your best friend when it comes to traveling, and I’m not sure why I haven’t put this further up the list. I suggest you find last year’s forecast and see the average temperature for the time of year you’ll be visiting. It’s not the most exact science, but it will save you the surprise of a sudden rainfall.
Get a rental car/bike/ski equipment/boat in advance
Renting stuff on site is more expensive and much less convenient that doing it online. It takes less than five minutes, and you’ll be able to find much better deals than if you were to just come into a bike shop.
Also, most rental companies offer complimentary insurance if you pay with a credit card, which is a very, very useful and convenient thing if you wreck a bike on cobblestones and a goat breaks your windshield. Don’t laugh, because it happened to me there’s a huge possibility it also might happen to you.
Once you’ve gotten a haircut and all of your affairs in order (priorities!), it’s time to start packing.
I’ve found that the best way to pack is to start with the essentials that will remain more or less unchanged despite the kind of trip you’ll be taking. So, we’re talking toiletries, underwear, socks, makeup and medication. Tweak the lists a bit so they can suit your current travel arrangement better.
- Shower gel
- Body lotion
- Face moisturizer
- Dental floss
- Cotton pads
- Makeup remover or cleansing wipes
- Dry shampoo
- Hair ties
- Bobby pins
- Foldable detangling brush
- Styling brush
- Feminine hygiene products
- Sun protection
Pro tip: If you’re going on a beach trip, make sure you bring a UV hair protection spray. They’re usually a bit pricey but easily last a year and a half. Doesn’t matter which brand you choose – it will keep your hair hydrated and shiny, and prevent any split ends and sun damage.
First aid and prescriptions
- Water-proof Band-Aids
- Antiseptic spray
- Mild pain reliever such as aspirin
- Ibuprofen (use it both for pain and fever)
- Allergy medication
- Gas relief tablets
- Mild laxative
- Anti-diarrheal medicine
- Insect spray
- Contact lens solution
- Extra pair of contacts
- After sun care (panthenol or aloe)
Pro tip: If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a longer period, I recommend getting a shower head filter. You can get a universal plastic filter with removable pads for less than $15. A lot of countries put chlorine in their water or have tap water that is rich in calcium, all of which can damage your skin and hair. A shower filter is light and small and can be a life savior in situations like that.
If you’re taking an active trip, you’ll want to keep your makeup to a minimum. However, skipping it altogether is something I honestly can’t imagine, even on a beach vacation. So, make sure you’ve got a few essential items with you at all times, so you can always look your best.
- Mascara (get a waterproof mascara if you’re expecting humidity)
Pro tip: These few pieces of makeup are as light as a feather, so put them in a tiny makeup bag you’ll carry around in your purse. Put a pack of wet wipes there also, because there’s nothing worse than having your mascara smudged and your recent breakout showing on all of your holiday photos.
- Panties (one for each day of the trip, plus two additional pairs)
- Bras (choose unpadded or lace bras if you’re going somewhere hot and humid)
- Sheer stockings (or thicker tights if you’re going somewhere cold)
- Undershirts or camis
Pro tip: Bring thermal undergarments (the kind you wear under ski pants) if you’ll be facing temperatures below 30F. A thermal shirt will keep you as warm as two sweaters without the limited movement due to bulkiness.
The kind of trip you’ll be taking will determine what kind of clothes to pack. An action packed camping trip certainly won’t require a little black dress, but trekking shoes are an absolute no-no if you’re going to Milan on a shopping trip.
The best way not to overpack is to choose outfits for each day of the trip. It will make packing easier and save you the trouble of picking and matching outfits while on the road.
Keep the colors neutral so you can go wild on the accessories, and remember not to go overboard with bulky items such as sweaters, chunky-knit dresses, and coats. Make sure all of your clothes are thin and light so they can be layered – it will keep you warmer and enable more outfits.
- Casual T-shirts and tank tops (you can skip on those if it’s going to be chilly)
- Long-sleeved T–shirts
- Crepe top
- Dressy blouse
- Lightweight sweater
- Dark wash skinny jeans
- Pants or capris
- Mini skirt
- Flowy midi skirt (not suitable for colder weather)
- A little black dress
- Casual day dresses
- Maxi dress (for a summer trip)
- A packable down jacket (wear it as is or layer it under a coat)
- Leather or denim jacket
- A coat or a parka (make sure you wear it when you travel as it’s bulky and heavy)
Pro tip: if you’re going on a ski trip and have your own skis or a snowboard, you can put all of your equipment in the ski bag and check it separately. Most airlines don’t charge extra for sports equipment, and you’ll be able to fit your ski jacket and pants into the bag with ease, saving space in your suitcase.
Packing shoes is the worst. That’s why you must have a clear idea of all the places you’ll be going to and the activities you’ll be participating in.
It sucks to be the only one wearing walking shoes at a fancy restaurant, but you also don’t want your feet freezing and covered in blisters because you brought the wrong kind of boots.
If you’re expecting warm and dry weather, travel in a pair of fashionable sneakers that you can wear with a dress and a leather jacket for a more dressier look. Bring a pair of loafers or moccasins along with flip-flops, and you’re all set.
For a bit more disappointing weather (cold winds and rain), switch the loafers for a pair of leather boots. If there’s going to be snow, make sure the boots have a rubber sole or bring a pair of snow boots.
- A pair of comfortable designer sneakers
- Leather loafers or moccasins
- Chelsea or knee-length boots (if you’re not going to get all that lucky with the weather)
- A pair of heels (go with a closed-toe shoe with a block heel that’s dressy but still comfortable for walking)
- Flat sandals (for summer)
- Flip-flops or jelly slides (ideal for pools and beaches, also double as house shoes)
Pro tip: Don’t let blisters ruin your holiday and only pack trusty, well worn-out shoes.
Another, better pro tip: Never leave without insoles. Get a pair of silicone ones for your heels, a pair of leather ones for your sneakers, and a sheepskin pair if you want to winterfy your thin leather boots.
- A colorful silk or satin scarf
- A wide woven or pashmina scarf (use it to cover up at religious sights)
- A wide brimmed had (for the beach)
- A baseball cap
- A packable tote or a shopper bag (perfect for impromptu shopping sprees and days at the beach)
- A small, cross body bag
- A foldable umbrella (never ever skip on this one)
- A beanie or a cap (for cold weather and snow)
- Gloves (a pair of thin knitted ones if it’s chilly, and a pair of thick leather ones for extreme cold)
- An infinity scarf (does the same job as a shawl while being three times shorter)
Feel free to cross out some of the items on the list that aren’t weather or season appropriate, like for example a straw hat for a rainy November weekend in London.
Put all of your electronics in your carry-on to keep them safe and sound. Group similar items together in small zip bags – chargers, batteries, external power supplies, etc.
- Phone charger
- Tablet or Kindle
- Tablet or Kindle charger
- Camera battery
- External battery
- Outlet adapter
Pro tip: Make sure you download everything you need on your phone, tablet or Kindle before you leave. Not all apps and books are available everywhere, so stock up on your favorite content while you’re still on your home wi-fi.
Yes, there’s one more thing you need to pack. It might seem like a hassle, but a well-prepared handbag will help you get places, and get there on time looking fresh.
Always keep these items in your bag, so you’ve got everything you need for a carefree trip at your fingertips.
- Small makeup bag
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Small roll-on bottle of perfume
- Chewing gum
- Foldable detangling brush
- External power supply
- Phone charger
- Wallet with ID, cash and credit cards
The final pro tip: Never, ever underestimate the power of a good old paper map. Get one from your hotel’s reception or an information counter at the airport and keep it with you at all times. Sure, your phone has a better, faster one installed, but at one point phones will fail, wi-fi signals break, external batteries stop working, and the electricity will go out. When all of this happens, what remains is a simple paper tourist brochure with a map of the city on it. If you’re feeling crafty, you can also mark where your hotel is and the bus or subway line that goes there.