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July 28th, 2015

What to Pack: The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist

Whether this is your first trip or your hundredth trip, it’s always helpful to have a rundown of what items you may want to pack so you have a travel checklist. Bookmark this packing list, because you'll want to refer back to it to make sure you've thought of everything you might want to pack. We even have trip-specific resources at the end.

Step 1: Collect Important Travel Documents, Cash, and Credit Cards

Start by collecting all of your important documents in a travel document organizer (this travel organizer holds a passport, ID, seven credit cards, coins, documents, a boarding pass, and a pen!). This will help ensure everything you need to get from one place to the next is all in one place. Think about including the following documents:

  • Passport/visa(s)
  • Personal ID, including a student ID card if you have one
  • Frequent flyer card(s) and other loyalty program cards such as a hotel or hostel
  • Cash and credit card(s)
  • Health insurance cards/document(s)
  • Travel insurance info
  • Reservations and itineraries
  • Hotel and/or tour contact information
  • Transportation tickets (plane, train, bus, car, etc.)
  • Emergency contacts and important addresses

It’s a good idea to double-check your passports and IDs aren’t expired. You’ll also want to inform your bank if you’re traveling abroad so they don’t assume fraudulent activity and freeze your card. You may also want to email yourself a copy of your passport, driver’s license, medical cards and itinerary, so if anything happens to them you’ll be able to access them online.

Step 2: Prepare Your Personal Item Carry-On Bag

The next thing you’ll want to do is prepare your personal item carry-on bag with anything you’ll want with you on the flight. It’s always a good idea to make sure you have an outfit (or two) and a few essential toiletries in your personal item just in case your luggage is lost. If you’ll be traveling around to multiple destinations, make sure this bag has items to keep you cozy on any train, boat or bus rides. It's always nice to have a bag that's easy to access so you don't have to get in your main travel bag each time you need your eye mask. But remember, you’ll be carrying all of this, so keep it light.

We recommend you consider using a small daypack or backpack as your personal item. Here are some good things to include:

Technology

  • Mobile device and charger
  • iPad or e-reader and charger
  • Headphones (consider noise-reducing headphones if you're sensitive to sound) 
  • Camera and/or a video camera, memory card, and charger
  • Electrical converters and adapters

Travel Comfort, Entertainment, and Information

  • ​​Travel pillow, blanket, eye mask, and ear plugs
  • Travel journal and pen
  • Books and magazines
  • Games
  • Guide books, travel guides, maps, language guides, etc. (if you will need any of these upon arrival at your destination, put it in your carry-on)

Health Items

  • ​​Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
  • Prescriptions in original packaging (you’ll want to make sure you have these in your carry-on bag just in case something were to happen to your checked luggage)
  • Glasses and case
For more inspiration about what to bring with you in your airplane personal item, read this post from travel writer Kelly O’Reilly.

Step 3: Choose Your Main Bag

Whatever you're planning, we recommend luggage that is versatile, lightweight and big enough to hold all your essentials. The most important decision you'll make as far as luggage is finding a piece that's versatile and can fit lots of gear while also being easy to carry. If you’ll be going through different types of terrain, or switching from airports to cobblestones, having a bag with the option to roll it or carry it like a backpack or duffel is handy.

For more information about how to pick the right bag, read our buying guide for for luggage, travel packs, carry-ons and duffel bags.

Step 4: Organize Your Stuff

When you have many different types of activities and a variety of gear to pack in your suitcase, keeping everything organized can be a challenge. One of the best things you can do when you're packing for any trip, especially one that requires you to pack lots of layers, is to make sure you use packing organizers. Keeping your suitcase organized with packing organizers will make it easy to get from one place to the next without having to rearrange your entire bag every time you reach a new destination.

You can keep clothing organized in compartments based on outfit type or activity type using packing cubes. These are zippered organizers that make it easy to keep your bag organized and neat and provide quick access to all the different things you'll need during your trip. You can use Pack-It™ Compression Sacs or Pack-It™ Specter Compression Cubes to reduce the volume of your clothes by up to 80%. This is especially convenient for bulky items such as sweaters and jackets.

Here are items you don’t want to forget:

The Basics

 You’ll want to pack lots of clothing options if your trip will take you to a variety of places. Having options doesn’t mean you’ll need to over-pack. Just pack smart. Include clothing that can be worn on your adventures and then dressed up slightly with a different pair of shoes and a scarf. You may want to try creating a capsule wardrobe – Lady Light Travel has some great tips for how to plan a travel capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe allows you to pick versatile clothing pieces to mix and match so you don’t have to bring separate pieces for each outfit.

Learn more about choosing the right packing organizers.

Step 4: Pack Your Toiletry Bag

If you’re carrying on, keep your toiletry bag light and TSA-compliant. The TSA’s 3-1-1 rule makes it easy to remember: liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less per container and they must be in a 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag. To make this as easy as possible for you, we have a set that includes four 3-ounce silicone bottles in a quart-sized clear pouch that’s wipeable and has a water resistant zipper. Click here for more info about TSA rules regarding what you can pack.

Don’t forget the following for your toiletry case:

The Toiletry Bag Basics

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash
  • Hair brush or comb, hair ties, barrettes/bobby pins Deodorant
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Sunscreen
  • Make up
  • Face wash and/or makeup remover wipes Moisturizer
  • Lotion
  • Lip balm
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Extra contacts, solution, and case

Toiletry Bag Extras

  • ​​Mirror
  • Cologne/perfume
  • Hair products
  • Clothesline and detergent
  • Shaving kit and extra razors
  • Sewing kit/clothing care kit
  • Facial tissues
  • Scissors, nail clippers, and tweezers (must be in checked luggage)

Travel Health

  • First aid kit (bandages, gauze, adhesives, etc.)
  • Personal prescriptions (copies of scripts)
  • Pain and fever relievers (also children’s strength if you are traveling with kids)
  • Thermometer
  • Cold medicines and throat lozenges
  • Diarrhea/laxative medicines
  • Allergy medicines
  • Hydrocortisone cream/antibacterial ointment
  • Multivitamins
  • Sunburn relief
  • Insect repellent/mosquito net/sting reliever
  • Motion sickness pills or bands
  • Eye drops
  • Moleskin
  • Medicines and vaccinations specific to the region/activity

Step 5: Pack Your Day Bag

A lightweight, versatile day bag can be used in a variety of ways and help you stay comfortable and prepared.

Step 6: Consider Travel Security

In most large cities, travelers should always be on the lookout for pickpockets. The easiest way to keep your belongings safe is to keep them hidden and close to you. One way to do this is to stash your valuables underneath your clothing. You can do this with a money belt, hidden pocket, neck wallet, undercover bra stash, leg wallet, or holster. All of these options let you keep your valuables, such as passports, credit cards, and cash, close to your body and away from prying hands. You can review the different styles here to choose one (or more) that works best for you and the type of travel you’ll be doing. You may also want to consider choosing one that has RFID protection. RFID protection keeps your passports (issued after 2006) and credit cards/debit cards safe while travelling. Identity theft can occur when someone is able to “read” through your purse or pocket, because these items contain microchips with information stored on them. You can learn more about RFID safety from Scott Shelter, freelance journalist and frequent traveler.

Step 7: Prepare Your Home

  • Have post office hold mail
  • Stop newspaper delivery
  • Set up an email autoresponder
  • Arrange care of pets, lawn, and plants
  • Pre-pay bills
  • Prearrange school absences for children
  • Empty refrigerator
  • Unplug appliances
  • Turn off heater/air conditioner
  • Turn down water heater
  • Turn off washing machine taps
  • Lock all doors and windows
  • Set up timed light system
  • Store valuables in a safe place
  • Leave house key and trip itinerary with a trusted friend Leave flight and hotel itineraries with a relative
  • Reconfirm/check-in online with airline

If you will be gone for more than 30 days check, it’s a good idea to check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance for specific instructions.

GET MORE PACKING ADVICE!

Want to learn more about how to pack for a specific type of trip? We’ve got more packing advice from travel experts:

Packing Lists by Location:

What to Pack for Europe: The 5 Step System
The Ultimate New Zealand Packing List
How to Pack for Argentina
The Ultimate Australia Packing List

Packing Lists by Activity:

The Perfect Packing List for a Mountain Biking Trip
Your Ultimate Camping Packing List: Mountain Camping
What to Pack for a Beach Vacation
Packing for a Ski Trip

More Travel Checklists

Packing Light for a Cold Weather Getaway
How To Pack the Ultimate Gym Bag

Go to Packing Organization for more packing advice and expert tips! 

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