The Art of Packing!
Please don’t look at this list and have a heart attack. Part of its length has to do with my adding explanations after most items along with comments on how I pack something in some instances. Plus, many of these things are very small. Two paper clips and a rubber band take up no room but you might be extremely glad that you tucked them into a baggie with a small notebook. And no, you will not pack everything on it. Every trip is different; you will not need all of these items. For instance, you do not need a corkscrew and a swiss army knife and a glasses repair kit. Pick one that fits your needs best. You also don’t need a sweater and a blazer and a jacket. You choose one or two and layer your clothes. The idea with clothing is to make sure every item coordinates with every other. This way you have a variety of outfits without overpacking. The hardest part will be resisting the “I might need this!” syndrome and converting to the “I can live without this!” syndrome.
Pick and choose from this list those things that meet your needs and that you can pack in a bag you are able to handle alone. Copy and paste those items on a new sheet and print it out. Pack from this list, marking out items as they are tucked away.
Once you have gone through this list and made note of what you need to pack, you should then practice pack. Use one suitcase and one tote bag/backpack and carry it up and down stairs, around the block, lift it over your head, etc. The point is to be sure you can handle your luggage alone in various situations. Chances are that even after your practice pack you will have to go home and unpack some of it. Just keep practice packing until you are satisfied with your suitcase. Then come back and tell us about your struggles and successes. Good luck!
For the longest trip, you should be able to get along quite well with no more than 4-5 shirts/blouses, mixing long-sleeve and short-sleeve. Remember even in summer, there may be instances you’d want at least one long-sleeve. I use sleeveless tank tops or camis to wear under open shirts or jackets to add a lot of variety and take little space. These I roll up and pack in a clear space bag so they’re easy to find.
I like to pack two pairs in addition to what I wear. Jeans are too hot in summer, too bulky and hard to dry. Khakis are always good and appropriate, as well as at least one pair of dark pants for a dressier look. Look for pockets that zip or button down. Those lightweight pants/shorts with zip-off legs are especially good for hiking but not such a good look for the city.
In summer, these are much cooler and more comfortable than pants and stylish as well. The fabrics today allow you to roll them up, stuff them in the corner of a suitcase and they come out totally wrinkle-free.
Depending on location and season. Shorts are not appropriate everywhere or on every body. I might take one pair during warm weather but I’m very sensitive about where I wear them. They can, however, double as a swimsuit for men.
Bring 3-5 sets depending on how often you want to wash them out. Choose lightweight items that dry quickly.
I do not advocate having only one pair of shoes with you. It’s not good to wear the same pair day in and day out and the possibility of your only pair getting wet and uncomfortable can be great. For winter months, make sure whatever you choose is warm and preferably waterproof. Sandals and (cute) flip flops are perfect in summer. I usually sneak in a pair of high heel sandals for dressy. Make sure the shoes you take are broken in and have good traction. The choices for walking shoes are great. It’s especially easy for men to find walking shoes that will pass for dressy, but there are better options for women these days, too. We choose dark colors that go with all our clothing. Choose a brand with good arch support made for walking on uneven surfaces. Just make sure you can walk long distances in whatever you take and wear them frequently before leaving.
Bring 3-4 pairs, depending on how often you plan to wear them (as opposed to wearing sandals). CoolMax and PolarTec are just two of the acrylics that keep your feet comfortable and dry and rinse out well. Cotton absorbs the moisture, which isn’t good for your feet, and it’s too hard to dry when rinsing out. Socks can also double as slippers in order to save room.
Choose lightweight, dark colors, which don’t show dirt or wrinkles and are easier to dress up.
Especially good for the city. Dresses up jeans or khakis for men and women and gives you the option to dine in nicer restaurants. Travel Smith (www.travelsmith.com ) makes some great ones that wrinkles just fall out of and have zippered pockets for security.
Lightweight and water-resistant and preferably of a dark color.
Something to slip on easily when necessary or in case of emergency. My beach cover-up doubles as a robe. Long t-shirts work well, too. Men could just use a pair of shorts.
Depends on destination, season and facilities of your accommodation. A pair of shorts can double as swimsuit for men, or visa versa.
These are so multi-purpose. It’s a robe, a beach/pool cover-up, skirt, dress or shawl. You can also use it as a picnic tablecloth or blanket.
Collapsible umbrella/raincoat/rain hat
My personal preference is the coat and hat, which leaves my hands free for other things. Dale prefers an umbrella
A necessity for men and for the ladies, good for dressing up a casual outfit.
Costume jewelry can make the same outfit look totally different. I travel with quite a bit because it takes little space. I have yet to find a bag with a design I like so I put sets together in small snack baggies and then all of it in one cute soft-sided bag. Easy to find what I want and doesn’t take up much room. But never travel with anything that’s valuable or important to you unless you never take it off (as in wedding rings).
These take up so little room and yet add a touch of class to an outfit for a special evening out, and they are multi-purpose, too. I like to buy a scarf at my first destination, tie it on my handbag strap and use it not only for dressing up, but to spread out when I want to perch on cathedral steps, as a picnic cloth or, in an emergency, wiping my “glistening” brow. Easy to rinse out and dry quickly. And then I have a great souvenir, complete with memories, of my trip.
Something soft and foldable for packing is best. I prefer visors because hats hold in heat. Dale has a packable safari-style hat that he travels with and then usually picks up a baseball-style with local slogans as we travel.
Never travel abroad without a security pouch that fits around your waist under your clothing and always have your passport, the majority of your money, ATM card and credit cards here. And never access it in public; instead, use restrooms or fitting rooms. Carry enough cash for your day’s needs in a pocket (preferably one with a zipper) or handbag (which must zip closed).
We strongly advocate their use, though some people think it’s rather an insult to their host country, saying they don’t wear one at home, why wear one abroad. I can only say, speaking from personal experience, that it’s a whole lot easier to replace driver’s license, credit cards, etc.. from home than overseas and I’m of the better-safe-than-sorry crowd.
Find a bag that works for you. Dale is happy with his small Dop Kit but he carries minimal toiletries, leaving me to carry the “ours” stuff. I have a fairly large bag that hangs from a hook with see-through plastic compartments. My first bag didn’t have the hook, so I attached a ring from the hardware department that opens making it easy to hang on towel bars. I never carry the full size bottles of liquids. I fill small plastic bottles with my favorite brands if they don’t come in travel sizes.
My shower bag holds:
Shampoo- which I also use for laundry in the sink
Shower gel/soap (all of the above in a sealable plastic bag in case of leaks)
Wonder Cloth https://www.wondercloth.com/ (an amazing product we found necessary for travel abroad because hotels and B&Bs in Europe haven’t all caught on to providing wash cloths!)
Toothbrush/toothpaste- I use a simple cap for my toothbrush instead of a bulky holder.
Dental floss- which can be used in any number of emergencies
Clear nail polish
Nail polish remover—individually wrapped wipes
Disposable face cloths
Small sewing kit
Small pair of scissors
Rubber door stopper
Round rubber sink stopper (for doing laundry)
Small magnified mirror—I’m finding I can’t put my makeup on without one these days!
Feminine needs– Though these are available everywhere so it depends on how particular you are about brands.
Hair dryer, etc. We have not found it necessary in years to carry our own hair dryer. Every hotel and B&B we have used provide one. If you want/need a curling iron or straightener, you will want to take your own.
US electric current is different from European. And the outlet plugs have different configuration. You may need a converter that changes the electric current from 110 to 220. Many appliances today are made to convert, though, so check what you plan to bring. Nothing we travel with these days requires a converter. Even then, you will need the adapter plugs to be able to plug any of it in. There are products on the market that have a combination of the adapter plugs for 150 countries, plus a UBS port. It’s handy if you are visiting multiple countries with different outlet configurations. Otherwise, it’s easier and lighter to just take for the country you plan to visit.
Too often there are too few outlets, or the outlets are located in unreachable spots. I pack a power strip which I plug into my adapter for the outlet and then I have 3-4 places, plus a UBS port for plugging in multiple electronics.
Frankly, the means of calling home from abroad change so rapidly, I hesitate to even try to advise here. It’s better for us to post as methods develop. We have done everything over the years from calling cards purchased at newsstands, to purchasing a Mobal phone, to most recently just taking my own smart phone and switching out the sim card in whatever country we happen to be in. You can pay to switch to International calling with your provider. We use Skype a lot to communicate with family.
Probably like me, you take your photos on your smart phone. They are such high quality now! But maybe you are a true photography but. Either way, aren’t the digitals great! I remember carrying 50 rolls of film home from my first trip to Europe. And then the developing costs! Ouch! If you do use a camera, I highly recommend taking along the instruction book, too, unless you have used the camera a lot and are totally comfortable with all the settings. A small (emphasis on this word small) tripod is useful for steadying and, in spite of the controversy surrounding it, I do take a selfie stick. I just try to be super considerate about where and how I use it.
These are for much more than music. You can download walking and museum tours. Bring a Y-jack cord for two sets of earphones and two people can share one player on your tour!
Travel alarm clock
Only if you don’t like using your smart phone. Just keep in mind that wake-up calls can be unreliable.
Immersion heater/mug/tea bags, etc.
I have to admit that I never travel anywhere without this handy little item, a mug and tea bags. I don’t drink coffee, and the hot water I make in the coffee pots provided in hotel rooms almost everywhere these days always still tastes like coffee. Now I can sip my tea late night as I read or early morning as I dress. Packing a couple of soup or cocoa packets can make it extra handy if you just get too tired to go out or want a late night something. My coil is dual voltage too.
For some, the whole idea of going away is to get away. For some, they can only get away if they can also work. If you do take your laptop, don’t forget your power cord.
All you really need are credit and ATM cards, taking the maximum amount of cash each time you use an ATM in order to limit bank charges. Make sure your ATM card has a 4-digit PIN. We have made it a habit to bring back about 50 Euros from each trip so we have something when we arrive abroad. Though there are ATMs in every airport, some people worry about the machine not working or being out of money and needing local currency for transportation into the city. You may feel more comfortable getting a few of whatever the local currency will be from your bank before you leave, but don’t get a lot, no more than a taxi rides’ worth. It will be a lot more expensive here and you won’t need much, if any, before you run across ATMs.
Check with your bank and credit card companies about their charges for international use. It seems every company does it differently. You would do well to shop around for minimal- or no-charge cards.
Make copies of the front page of your passport, one to leave with a trusted someone at home and at least one to carry. Dale and I carry copies of each other’s passport. This, plus a couple of passport pictures, will make replacement much easier should you lose your passport. (Which you won’t, of course, because you’re carrying it in a zippered pocket or your money belt around your waist! But things happen.) Also, make sure your passport will still be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you return home. Otherwise some countries will not allow you to enter.
For ID even if you aren’t planning to drive
International driver’s license
In theory some countries require them and they are easy to acquire through AAA, but they really don’t seem necessary. We’ve never needed it to rent a car and the one time we were stopped, the officer didn’t ask for it before issuing a ticket.
Copy of airline e-ticket
I know it’s terribly old-school, but I still feel better when I have a hard copy of all our reservations from flights, to hotels, to retail cars. And if we have made theater or tour reservations, we have often printed off our tickets ahead of time. I put all these, in the order in which they will happen, in a clear plastic envelop that stays in my carry-on case. Easy access for reference when we need to confirm something or get the address for the taxi driver.
Business cards/address labels
In the days when I didn’t have a business, I got tired of using one of my husband’s cards or writing my name and other information on scraps of paper for new acquaintances so I had what used to be called ‘calling cards’ made up. Free cards are available online. You can also use address labels. (These are especially good at exhibit booths at conventions. Just slap a label on all those cards for the drawings they hold.)
Small notepad and pen.
I use a small, pocket-sized spiral notebook for jotting down words and phrases during the day that will jog my memory as I fill in my journal that night. It’s especially handy for communicating in a foreign language. When making train reservations, I write down my destination for the agent who then writes times and connections for me. Saves lots of misunderstandings.
I love shopping for that special book for writing in each night on a trip. Again, old-school, but I love it. And when we’re home again, we refer to it often to recall that special restaurant or the name of that shop that made the gorgeous glass. Make sure it lies flat enough to write on both sides of the page. One with a penholder is especially handy.
I use this to attach such things as business cards from restaurants and shops where I especially like their merchandise or maybe a ticket stub from a favorite show. This way I don’t lose these little bits of cardboard and it’s easy to find the address and phone number for that place we loved so much and want to go back to or contact.
One for receipts, one for keeping reservations and confirmations, one for all those brochures and flyers from the places you visit and you want to remember. And if you accumulate too much, you can mail it home to yourself.
Tuck one or two of these, a couple of rubber bands, the glue stick, etc into a small baggie.
Prescription medicines and vitamins
Some people use those pill containers that let you sort the pills by the day and they are handy for short trips. But for long trips or when traveling by airplane when I have to go through security, I prefer the better-safe-than-sorry attitude of taking my medications in the original bottles with the prescription information. Be sure to also take along copies of your prescriptions with the generic name included.
Depending on the season and your destination, but unless you’re going to be indoors the majority of the time, you probably should have a small container.
Keep a small bottle in your purse or day bag. Avoiding germs and staying healthy should be a priority. Did you also know that this also makes a good deodorant for those with allergies to other deodorants as well as handy for those packing light? We’re all in favor of things that do double duty.
If you plan to travel where sanitation is questionable and bottled water may not be available. Definitely not necessary in Western Europe. If you think this will be an issue, be sure to study all the most recent methods and products available.
Depending on the season and your destination, this may be vital, but in any instance, a few of the individually packaged repellant wipes in your bag is a good idea.
No need to take a boxful; just stick a couple in your bag. You can always buy more if you run out.
I’m an insatiable reader. I welcomed the Kindle! I no longer need a separate suitcase for reading material. I think my book count on it right now runs something over 1000! But you can get the app on your smart phone or your iPad/Notebook or laptop. You might want to investigate www.bookbub.com It’s a great site for free and inexpensive reading!
You can find them online. I have some. I used to pack them. Now they stay home in my travel drawer!
Small day bag (backpack style or tote)
You’ll want something for carrying odds and ends as you go about your day—jacket or sweater, camera, water bottles, guidebook and map. Handy for toting around those small souvenirs too. Great for packing a picnic lunch, too.
I just buy a bottle of water once every few days and refill it unless I’m in a country where the water is unsafe for me. When you do buy water, make very sure that the seal breaks when you open it. Some unscrupulous venders have been known to be the ones to refill a bottle!
Corkscrew/vacuum pump and stoppers
Now you can have a bottle of wine with your picnic in the countryside or on the train. Put it in your checked bag.
Swiss Army knife
The tools can come in very handy. This will have to be in your checked bag and if you travel from country to country using planes or ferries, be aware that it may well be confiscated. Check the laws for each country you plan to visit.Sunglasses
I found a rubber braided one that doesn’t require clothespins. It’s so handy I even use it at home. Make sure it stretches. If it has loops on both ends (don’t bother with one with suction cups because it won’t stay up), put one of those rings from the hardware department that opens on one end. That way you can loop one end of the clothesline around the shower head and attach the line to a towel bar with the ring.
Universal sink stopper
This is invaluable for rinsing things out in the sink or tub. It also works as a jar opener on picnics!
I have taken a microfiber towel on trips, the kind that dries super fast. But I’ve never used it and quit packing it. Up to you.
Keep some in your handbag or day bag.
Travel space bags
These bags allow you to squeeze out the air thus condensing the amount of space required for bulky items. I always pack a couple of extra. We use one for dirty clothes. It seals the odors in, not infecting the clean clothing. Be aware, though, that even though it creates more space in your suitcase which allows you to pack more, you are also packing more weight! Remember, you should be able to handle the bags on your own if it becomes necessary.
I found one that folds up into itself and is so very handy. I don’t care what others say, I can’t stand the thought of my dirty clothes mixing with the clean ones in my bag. It also is sometimes used as an extra bag on the trip home when we acquire a few too many souvenirs!
Inflatable pillow /earplugs/eye mask
I don’t use them, but lots of folks do for flights and bright or noisy hotel rooms.
This is the easiest, cheapest security device I know of. Just stick it under your room door at night.
Eyeglass repair kit
Even if you don’t wear glasses, get a kit and pack the tiny screwdriver and magnifying glass that comes with it. They can come in extremely handy.
Odds are great that your luggage will be inspected by someone, so if you want to lock your bags (I like to) buy one approved by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). The security agents can open the lock without damaging it. Any other kind and the lock will just be broken for inspections.
Keep one of the tiny LED lights handy for things like reading menus in dark restaurants, getting the key into lock of your room when the hall lights are dim, and so on. And you’ll be really glad to have it should the power fail. I actually have one clipped to the handle of my purse so it’s always handy.
It does hold the world together, right? Invariably, something will need patching. You can buy mini rolls, or you can just roll some onto a pencil for travel.
The lack of toilet paper in some restrooms is universal. I have a small black pouch that I keep in my purse or our day bag with a travel size roll of toilet paper or small Kleenex packet and a couple of toilet seat covers. Both can be found online and sometimes at Walmart in the section with the bins of travel size shampoo, deodorant, etc.
Something that will pack flat at the outset of the trip but will come in very handy for bringing home souvenirs when your suitcase is bulging. I learned to do this after buying a new bag at the end of our first couple of trips. These days, our folding dirty clothes bag fits the bill.
This list doesn’t attempt to cover seasonal travel or special event trips. You know if you’re going skiing in January, you’ll want a heavy coat, mittens, your skis and so forth. If you’ll be at the beach, you might want to pack your own beach towel. And if you’re headed off to a wedding, don’t forget the gift and your bridesmaids dress! You get the idea.