July 28, 2007
When it comes to packing, everyone has their own method and checklist. Some people try to take their entire home with them. Other people try to live for a month using only the items they can fit in their backpack. I suggest doing whatever works best for you, but here are a few of the things I try to do/bring when I travel. Not all of the items are necessary for every trip, but consider whether or not you'll need them whenever you travel.
For all luggage
Make sure your luggage can withstand abuse.
It will most likely be thrown around, crushed, and dragged at some point. Make sure it is sturdy enough to handle it. If it has broken zippers or fasteners, don't use it. If it isn't specifically designed for commercial travel, don't use it. Also, don't over pack your bag because doing so could stretch it beyond its ability to withstand abuse.
Don't pack wrapped gifts.
Security at checkpoints may unwrap them.
For luggage you won't open until you get to your destination
Put your destination address on your luggage.
First of all, if your luggage gets lost while you're traveling, gets found, and is sent to your home address while you've just arrived at your hotel 500 miles away, you'll still be without your luggage. Plus, thieves may see your home address on your luggage and assume that your home will be empty for awhile, giving them a great opportunity to rob your house.
Put a couple fabric softener dryer sheets in your luggage to keep things smelling fresh.
This is especially a good idea if you will be going on a long trip and won't be able to wash your clothes frequently.
Store shampoo bottles, soap, or anything else that can leak in re-sealable plastic bags.
If any of these items happen to leak, at least they won't leak all over your clothes.
Don't use locks on your luggage
Most airlines and airports are now scanning all checked baggage. This means that there will be times when they may need to open bags. If your luggage is locked, they will cut through the lock to open your bag. If your bag is opened, most airlines will put a tag on and/or in your luggage to let you know that it was opened by security.
Wrap your luggage with packing tape or close it with a plastic electrician zip ties if you must be separated from it (i.e on a plane, bus, etc.).
This creates a tamper-proof seal. If the tape or ties are ripped apart or cut, you'll know that somebody was looking at the contents of your luggage. If your bag was opened by security, you will usually (but not always) find a tag in and/or on your bag letting you know that security opened the bag. If you don't find such a tag but notice that your tamper-proof seal is broken, your bags may have been opened by a thief, so check through it immediately to make sure nothing is missing.
Decorate your luggage or attach something bright and noticeable to it (e.g. stick a big neon sticker it or attach colorful zip ties to the handles) to make your luggage stand out.
When you pick up your luggage from baggage claim, it will be easy to spot, so you won't have to stare at every piece of luggage on the conveyor belt, wondering if it's yours. Don't forget to still check the luggage tags to make sure that it's yours ... just in case.
What to pack:
Large re-sealable plastic bags
You can use the bags to keep dirty shoes off your clothes, store wet bathing suits, etc.
Lightweight duffle bag
It never fails that you always end up coming home with more stuff than you left with. If you can fit everything in your luggage, you can always use the duffle bag to carry the overflow.
Make sure that all of your clothes coordinate, so you can mix and match to expand your traveling wardrobe. Do a little research to find out what the normal weather conditions are like for your destination, and look at weather forecasts too. Make sure that you pack clothes appropriate to the weather conditions. Also consider what you will be wearing while you travel. If you wear your jeans, walking shoes, reversible belt, hair clips, casual shirt, jacket, and hat while you are on the plane, you don't have to put it in your luggage; just make sure that you're wearing everything that you don't pack..
- sleepwear (I don't recommend sleeping in your underwear in case you need to leave your room in a hurry. Comfortable sweats or a t-shirt and shorts usually do fine, and they can be worn in public without embarrassment.)
- 1 pair jeans
- 1 pair nice khakis (can double as casual pants to wear around town and dressy pants when you go out to dinner for men and women)
- 1 long skirt (for women, especially if you plan on going to a foreign country or religious site because some customs require women to wear dresses)
- 4 casual shirts, less if your trip is very short (at least one very big t-shirt to use as a cover-up for bathing suit if necessary)
- 1 dressy shirt that matches skirt and/or khakis
- 1 business outfit (if going on a business trip)
- 1 sweater (should match most outfits)
- 1 jacket (designed for use in wind and rain)
- underwear for each day
- bras for each day (or for the time period you normally wear your bra)
- socks for each day
- 1 set of long underwear (if expecting cold weather)
- 1 swimsuit (because you never know if you will end up at a pool or on the beach, and it can be used as underwear in a pinch)
- 1 pair of thong sandals (for pool and beach use)
- 1 pair of dressy shoes
- 1 pair of walking or cross-training shoes
- 1 reversible belt
- 1 pair of gloves (thickness depends on the weather you expect)
- 1 hat (to block out the sun or keep head warm)
- hair clips and pony tail holders
- 1 tie that matches dressy shirt (for men)
- 1 scarf (which can be used to dress up any woman's outfit, used as a makeshift belt, used to cover your head at a religious site or in cultures that require it, used to cover up a bad hair day, etc.)
- soap (store in a travel container or in a small plastic bag)
- small towel and washcloth (just in case)
- razor w/ extra blades or electric shaver
- shaving cream, mineral oil, or other similar product for shaving
- conditioner (shampoo with conditioner takes up less space)
- hair brush and comb
- nail clippers
- nail file
- travel mirror
- menstrual pads and tampons
- cotton swabs (Qtips)
- any special lotions, toners, etc. that you must use
Travel alarm clock
This can be an actual travel alarm clock or a watch with an alarm or even a cell phone, pager, or PDA with an alarm.
You must have one of these, so you don't miss your flights, reservations, etc. Some people prefer to use the clock on their cell phone, pager, PDA, etc., but I personally feel that it's too cumbersome to try to put down anything I may be holding, take out my cell phone, turn it on, wait for it to go through the welcome screens and power up, look at the time, turn it off, put it away, and pick up whatever I just put down. Taking a quick glance at your risk is so much easier and faster, and you won't get in trouble for having it "turned on" while flying on a plane.
Flashlight, batteries, and extra bulb
This is important if you are staying in a hotel and there's a power outage.
Use a quality Swiss Army Knife, Gerber, or Leatherman. You don't want to find out that the cheap army knife you bought for $5.00 isn't able to stand up to the tasks you may need it for. There's nothing worse than having it break when you need it. The multipurpose tool should have at least a small knife, file, bottle opener, can opener, screw driver (Phillips and flathead), scissors, and corkscrew. Of course, the more functions it has, the better. If you aren't traveling via a commercial service such as an airline and plan to drive yourself to your destination, keep this in your carry bag. If you are traveling with a commercial service, you need to put it in your checked luggage.
This stuff can be used for everything from taping up an injured finger or pushing up your boobs to fixing your car. Clothing designers have even made outfits out of the stuff. It never fails to come in handy.
Eventually you'll decide that you don't need a travel sewing kit, and as soon as you go on your trip without one you get a tear in the butt of the only pair of pants that you brought. It takes up so little room, you might as well just bring it. You can purchase these ready to go or quickly make your own out of an empty Altoids tin or 35 mm film case. All you need is a couple of needles, black thread, white thread, a few extra buttons and hooks, and a thimble if you need it.
Individual laundry detergent packs
You can make your own by pre-measuring detergent into small re-sealable plastic bags or buy them ready to go at the store. Bring them even if your hotel has laundry service. You can usually buy laundry soap at hotel laundry rooms from vending machines, but it's expensive.
Yes, you can use it to dry your clothes that you just washed in the sink, but it can also be used whenever you need a bit of rope for whatever purpose may arise. Try to purchase the nylon ones because they're stronger, but don't expose them to extreme heat or they will melt.
Copies of important documents (not the originals)
If your important documents are stolen, having copies is helpful when you need to cancel credit cards or prove who you are. The only problem is that if someone steals your luggage, they have the information you've copied, so try to store it in a hidden compartment. (You can find a hidden place in every piece of luggage if you look hard enough. If you can't find one, make one by sewing one in; get creative.)
- Credit cards
Electricity converters / adaptors
For foreign travel only.
Scented candle and matches
This is a big help if you get stuck in a stinky hotel room or when the power goes out. You can even use it for cooking. (Note: Strike-anywhere matches are not allowed on planes and some other forms of commercial transportation.)
You can hang this on your hotel door, and it will definitely let you know if someone comes in.
Wedge door stop
You can use this with a door alarm, without a door alarm, as a means to keep a door from being opened, as a means to keep a door from being closed, and whatever other creative use you come up with on the spot. It's really quite useful.
Fork and spoon
These are one of those things you bring just in case you want to eat away from restaurants and room service.
Electric tea kettle
Some places don't offer coffee makers and such in your room. By having an electric tea kettle, you can be assured that you'll have hot water for tea (which means you'll need to bring tea bags and sweetener), coffee (which means you'll need to bring ground coffee, sweetener, and a French press coffee maker), instant hot cocoa, soup, etc. A small kettle is best; no need to get the industrial size. (Of course, you can always skip this if you call ahead to confirm that you'll have a coffee maker in your room.)
Insulated travel mug
You'll be needing this to hold the coffee, tea, soup, etc. that you'll be making in your room. It also comes in handy when you want to take along your cold drink from a cafe that doesn't serve it's drinks in disposable cups.
For bags you will carry around with you:
Remove unnecessary cards, photos, etc. from your wallet.
Having items that are lost or stolen is bad enough. Keep the number of things that are lost or stolen to a minimum by not bringing unnecessary items in the first place. If you really want to carry around pictures with you, carry copies of pictures.
Use a backpack instead of a purse or travel bag.
Backpacks are less likely to get stolen because you rarely have to put them down. Wear it around both arms for even additional protection. They hold lots of stuff and let you keep your hands free.
Carry valuable items on you physically.
This includes passports, identification cards, money, traveler checks, credit cards, medication, etc. Your safest way to carry important items is in a money belt underneath your shirt. If you don't have one, try a waist pack that you can shove into your backpack if necessary. If you don't have a waist pack, keep them in your front or inside pockets. If you don't have pockets, or your pockets aren't big enough, put them in your backpack, and wear the backpack on both shoulders. You can even wear your backpack backwards so that it's in front of you. Be aware of crowds. If you are cramped in with a bunch of other people, it's easier to be pick pocketed.
Make a list of the contents of your luggage and keep it in your carry bag.
If your luggage is lost, you'll know exactly what was in it when you need to fill out claim forms with the airlines and other carriers.
What to bring:
Re-sealable plastic bags
One large one and a couple of small ones (sandwich size) are all you should need. They can be used to keep trash in, messy items, and even if you get motion sickness.
Personal first aid and emergency kit
These are very simple to make, or you can buy them ready to go.
- adhesive bandages (Band-Aids)
- sterile gauze pads (menstrual sanitary pads work great)
- antiseptic wipes
- triple anti-biotic ointment (Neosporin)
- non-aspirin pain killers (Tylenol, Advil)
- aspirin (to use if someone is having a heart attack)
- anti-diarrhea medication (Imodium)
- anti-acid tablets (Tums)
- anti-histamine (Benedryl)
- motion sickness medication (Dramamine)
- menstrual pads and tampons
- some safety pins
- condoms / contraception
Medication and vitamins
Try to get a backup prescription of necessary medication from your doctor, so you'll have two prescription bottles. Keep one bottle in your carry bag and one in your luggage. That way if one gets lots or stolen, you'll still have the other, and you won't have to worry about getting questioned about having prescription medication without a prescription because it's not in a prescription bottle.
You never know when you'll need it. The smaller the better, but make sure it's durable. If you're one of those people who absolutely don't mind being in the rain, or if you will be wearing a waterproof jacket with a hood, you can do without this.
Even if it's cloudy you can get a sunburn. A small bottle is all you need. Keep it in a plastic bag in case it leaks.
Sun glasses and case
This is especially necessary if you have sensitive eyes. If you don't normally wear sunglasses, you can probably get away with not having them.
Prescription glasses and case and contacts, cleaning solution, saline solution, and case.
You don't want to get stuck without these things if you really need them.
This is usually only necessary if you're going to a location where there are mosquitoes or other annoying little creatures. Keep it in a plastic bag in case it leaks.
Just a small bottle should be all you need until you get to your destination. Keep it in a plastic bag in case it leaks.
This is a must-have item. You'll thank yourself for it. This is especially important if you travel by plane because the air is so dry.
This is great if you're hungry but don't have anything to eat or thirsty without anything to drink. It's also great if you can't brush your teeth.
These are best kept in a money belt or hip / waist pack and taken with you wherever you go or left in your hotel safe. Don't bring anything you don't absolutely need.
- driver's license
- identification card
- health insurance card
- auto insurance card
- roadside assistance card
- vaccination certificate
- itinerary and confirmation numbers
- membership cards (if needed for the trip)
- frequent flyer / customer cards
Money in various forms
Keep these in your money belt or hip / waist pack and take it with you wherever you go, or just take what you need and leave the rest in your hotel safe.
- cash (small bills are best for tipping)
- credit card
- atm card
- traveler's checks
- a few personal checks (not too many)
- prepaid gift certificates (if you'll be using them on your trip)
- discount / upgrade certificates and coupons
- phone / calling cards
Camera, film, and batteries / battery charger
Unless you enjoy lugging around expensive photography equipment to take artistic shots, an inexpensive camera or disposable camera will do just fine. Digital cameras are great too because you can upload them to the Internet and share them with your friends and family before you even come home. Don't put film in any luggage that you must check in (such as when you use an airline) because it will be scanned by damaging rays, causing exposure and destroying your photos. You can put developed pictures in your checked luggage, though, if you need to make more room in your carry bag.
Video camera and tapes
This can get a bit bulky, so try to purchase a compact video camera that uses compact tapes, or buy a digital camera with a video feature.
Can easily be kept in a personal organizer / day planner. You'll be surprised by how often you need them.
- pens / pencils
- small notebook for misc. notes
- long envelopes (just a few)
- stamps (just a few)
- address book (just the addresses you need, not your whole phone book)
- reading material (one paperback book or a couple magazine only because it can get heavy and takes up too much space)
- standard headphones (You need them to watch movies, tv, etc. on a plain and even on some trains or buses, and if you don't have your own you will have to rent them. The cost was $5 the last time I flew.)
- portable music player, headphones, batteries, a few CDs, tapes, etc.
- deck of cards (try to learn some new card games before you leave)
- coloring books and crayons
- paper and pencils or pens for drawing, playing games, writing letters, etc.
- journal for writing about your experiences
- driving directions
- language translation book / electronic translator
There's nothing like looking at directions that tell you to go north or east and not knowing which way that is.
Ear plugs and shade mask
These are great if you're trying to sleep on the plane. You can also put these in your luggage and use them when you have noisy hotel neighbors. If you can sleep through noise and don't need a completely dark room, you'll do fine without these.
Sports bottle w/ something to drink
Make sure it doesn't leak! If you have one that has a straw or spout, twist open the cap first to let the pressure inside and outside equalize before you flip open the spout or nozzle; otherwise, it will squirt everywhere. Air pressure changes can occur if you change elevation, such as by going up a mountain or flying in a plane. Fill it with water, sports drinks, or juice. Avoid anything carbonated or caffeinated because caffeine will just make you pee a lot, dehydrate you, and screw up your sleep.
Energy bars are great to have. Also don't forget about trail mix, sandwiches, and other foods you can easily carry. Don't assume that you'll be fed on the plane or that the dining car on the train will have something for you. Sometimes they don't give you enough food or have something that fits your taste.
This is one of those million-and-one uses items. You can use it as a headband. It can be a fashionable way to hold back your hair. If you're going to a building (or even a country) that requires you to have your head covered, this will do the trick. You can also use it to wipe your nose, pat your sweaty forehead, cover your mouth and nose to filter out smoke (best when soaked in water), or clean a table. If you get a bleeding injury, it can even be used as a tourniquet.
Cell phone, extra batteries, and battery charger
You can pack your battery charger in your luggage if you don't think you'll need it.
PDA, extra batteries, memory cards, charger, and any other accessories you wish to bring
This is a handy device, but you must still carry items such as pen, paper, important phone numbers, etc. in case your battery dies or you drop it and heaven-forbid it breaks.
If you have a backpack designed to hold a notebook computer, great! If you don't you may have to consider getting such a backpack or leaving the computer at home. Most airlines won't let you bring on two carry on items, so you'll have to choose between the computer case and your carry bag. Make sure that your batteries are well charged because you may need to show security at checkpoints that it works be turning it on, and if it doesn't turn on, it doesn't get passed the checkpoint.
I take one with me wherever I go. I have one that fits nicely into my personal organizer / day planner. It's great for doing currency conversion or just figuring out if your budget can handle that last $5 purchase.
This can also go into your personal organizer. It's just another way to figure out what's happening when and for reference when needed.
Important contact information for
- the your transportation provider: airline, bus, train, etc.
- your travel agent
- the hotel you are staying at (be sure to also have the address)
- the car rental agency you wish to use
- your emergency contacts
If you are traveling with other people, you can communicate with each other even if you're going in separate directions. They're great if you have teenage kids who want to go off on their own because you can still boss them around from afar. You can even use them if you and your friends are driving separate cars to the same location, so you can tell each other where to turn when to stop, etc.
Cable bike chain with combination lock
This is a good idea for locking your bag to things, so it's incredibly difficult for someone to snag without your knowing about it. You can lock your bag to the overhead shelf on a train, to your belt loop, or anywhere else that has a place to thread the chain/cable through.
Inflatable neck support pillow
This is great for long plane trips, train trips, car trips, etc. It's perfect for giving you a chance to comfortably sleep while sitting.