Packing is probably my least favorite activity. Here you are, all ready for your vacation, but this Herculean task stands firmly in the way. So many tiny decisions: what to bring, what to leave, what fits, what doesn’t… it’s exhausting. I almost always travel with just a carry-on sized backpack, so space is definitely an issue. And there’s nothing worse than deciding against bringing something, only to end up needing it. This is why I’ve created a super-comprehensive ultimate international travel packing list.
This is basically just a packing checklist of anything I have ever needed, or conceivably could need, on any trip of any kind. No need to make separate packing lists for every vacation; this one list works for cities in Europe, for the Amazon rain forest, for the Mongolian desert, for futuristic cities in Asia. It works for overnight stays, for weekends, and for two-month holidays. Trust me, this is a solid travel list no matter where you’re going.
How do I use it? I go through my list item by item, checking off things I definitely won’t need for this trip or things that I’ve already packed. When the list is fully checked off, I’m done, with zero chance of having forgotten something important! So, without further ado, here’s the ultimate travel packing list, with a few handy packing tips along the way!
(Bear in mind, this is a carry-on packing list, mostly geared towards women. If you’re checking a bag, by all means bring more clothes, more shoes, and more toiletries, as needed!)
Without further ado:
The Ultimate Packing List!
This looks like a lot, but it really all fits in a backpack! (This great backpack is the one I use.) I bring enough clothes for up to ten days. If my trip is much longer than a week, I’ll plan on just doing laundry weekly throughout the trip, which is almost always very cheap and easy.
- Enough shirts/dresses for the whole trip, or about a week, whichever is shorter
- For summer: one skirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of jeans that go with everything (because if there’s ever a moment for a capsule wardrobe, it’s when your closet is your backpack)
- For winter: two pairs of jeans that go with everything
- One or two light hoodies or cardigans (even for summer – airports and other places often have cold air conditioner!).
- One pair of leggings (I often wear a dress to the airport. If I get cold, I just throw on my leggings and sweatshirt, and voila, comfy, cozy airport/airplane outfit!)
- Quick-dry pants, shirts, and socks (if I’m visiting somewhere wet, like the Amazon)
- Underwear and bras for the whole trip, or a week, whichever is shorter
- Socks for approximately the number of times I think I’ll need them in a week (e.g., 7 pairs in winter, 3-4 in summer)
- Sports bras if I’ll be doing anything sporty
- Running clothes if I anticipate I’ll be running (this happened approximately one time ever)
- Swimsuit as needed
- Coat/jacket, scarf, hat, and mittens depending on the trip and season
- Small jewelry or accessories if I’m feeling unusually fancy
Easily the bulkiest item to pack. NEVER BRING MORE THAN TWO PAIRS (plus shower flip-flops, if necessary). Wear your bulkier pair on travel days, that way you never have to pack it. I choose two pairs from this list, depending on where I’m going, what time of year it is, and what I plan to do there.
- Sandals. Just cheap ones that I don’t mind destroying, but that look cute enough to wear in the world’s cities.
- Vessi waterproof sneakers. I love ’em. They keep my feet dry even in rainy season. Read my review here.
- Running shoes
- Ankle boots
- Cute flats. Only for that rare trip that’s neither in summer nor winter, or if I’ll be going somewhere too formal for sandals/sneakers/booties.
- Flip-flops for any potential gross shower scenarios (Old Navy for a dollar, yes?)
- ONLY PICK TWO OF THE ABOVE!!!
I tend to bring these in large quantities, because toiletries can be the hardest thing to find abroad. Even some countries in Western Europe, which are otherwise very similar to home, sell wildly different versions of conditioner, deodorant, tampons, and similar items. Not what you want to be spending your trip searching for.
- Clear zippered toiletry bag with toiletry bottles that fit perfectly. (Pro tip: you can actually fit six of these bottles in this bag). This is the best way to get through TSA with the maximum maximum number of toiletries; so much better than a quart-sized Ziploc! I also bring a second toiletries bag to hold everything that’s not a liquid or a gel.
- Shampoo and body wash. I bring these in small quantities. Most hostels, hotels, and Airbnbs provide these for free.
- Conditioner. This can be notoriously difficult to find, so I pack plenty.
- Face wash
- Chapstick. Airplanes dry out my lips – anyone else?
- Sunscreen. This can be soooooo expensive abroad!
- Bug spray. I use 99% DEET if I’m going anywhere with malaria or other mosquito-borne illnesses. It’s pretty gross, but I figure I’d rather wear icky bug spray than come down with some debilitating/deadly illness.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste. I buy my travel size toothpastes in bulk so that I always have a couple to throw in my toiletry bag when a trip rolls around!
- Hair brush/comb
- Hair ties
- Small tissue packs. Particularly useful in countries without guaranteed toilet paper in public bathrooms.
- Body/hand lotion if for any odd reason I have extra space left in my toiletries bag
- Hand sanitizer
Don’t want to be without these things if they’re needed, and who knows what will be available in pharmacies in any given country. I prefer to pack my own necessities rather than buying a pre-made first aid kit so that I know I have exactly what I need and nothing more.
- Band aids
- Anti-itch cream. I usually don’t actually bring this because my DEET is very powerful and prevents and all bug bites. But to each her own!
- Pepto Bismol. A MUST if you’re traveling somewhere where food poisoning is a risk.
- Anti-malarials and any other travel medications my doctor prescribes
- Any other regular prescriptions or vitamins
Documents and cards
- Photocopy of passport
- Immunization records
- Travel insurance card if provided – sometimes it’s just sent electronically. Please, please make sure you always get travel insurance! It’s cheap and easy!
- Regular health insurance card, because you never know
- Driver’s license, particularly if we’ll be renting a car. Be sure to check in advance if you’ll need an international version, which is cheap and easy to acquire.
- Any boarding pass or ticket or other printable travel document that I may need
- Two credit cards with no international fees; one to bring with me each day and one to leave in my lodging just in case the other gets lost or stolen. Make sure to fill out international travel notifications for all relevant credit card companies before leaving.
- Two debit cards. My default travel debit card is this one from Charles Schwab, because it refunds ATM fees all over the world! So handy! I usually leave a smallish amount of cash in that account, just in case I’m ever mugged at an ATM or something. I leave my other debit card, tied to my regular checking account, in my lodging to use in case of emergency. Again, don’t forget to set the international travel notifications!
- Priority Pass lounge access card. Airport lounges are great for free coffee, wifi, snacks, and drinks. You can get this access card free with certain travel credit cards.
- iPhone and charger
- Travel phone and charger. A travel phone has changed the game for me when I travel. You should have one too! Skeptical? Read our post about why.
- Camera, charger, and memory card
- Laptop and charger (for blogging)
- Power converters. If you don’t travel often, you can just buy cheap ones for your particular destination (to find out what you need, go to this website and scroll down to find your destination). If you go on many trips, it’s worth getting one or two universal ones – this is the one we use.
- One or two books. You can usually find English bookstores abroad, with a little research. I’ll leave finished books in hostels or coffee shops so that I’m not weighed down if I buy new ones.
- A few magazines. The New Yorker is great for trips! Lots of reading, not very heavy!
- Netflix downloads for airports, trains, planes, and buses
Miscellaneous but important travel gear!
- Over-the-shoulder purse – it’s a little harder to snatch
- Daypack for outdoorsy activities for which a purse isn’t gonna cut it. Make sure to get one that’s super packable and light! Mine, the Matador Freerain24, is light and packable and fully waterproof, so I love it. Ethan’s, the Hikpro 20L, is also light, packable, and very very cheap.
- Travel towel. I won’t bring this if I’m staying at Airbnbs exclusively, but some hostels don’t provide them free, and it’s annoying to pay for them. Mine is really light and packable, so it’s not much of a hassle to bring just in case.
- Beach towel if I’m going to be doing a lot of beaching, which usually I’m not
- Plastic bags. Just regular supermarket plastic bags for dirty laundry, shoes, or anything else that might wish to be bagged up! They’re hard to come by in some countries.
- Padlock if I’ll be staying in a lot of hostel dorms
- A pen or two
- Luggage scale. Very handy when flying discount airlines with strict baggage restrictions.
- Snacks for the plane and airport
- A water bottle if I’ll be somewhere with drinkable tap water
- An umbrella or a packable rain jacket
- Sometimes I bring Washeze sheets. They’re laundry detergent in non-liquid form, handy if regular laundry won’t be available.
And that’s it! My whole travel checklist! Is there something that you love to bring that I missed? Tell me about it in the comments!
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