What to Pack When Travelling: The Ultimate Guide

The typical packing routine in films (and sometimes in real life) is more than simple: 1/ stuff your suitcase; 2/ sit on top of it; 3/ manage to close the latches; 4/ grab a beer to reward yourself  for a job well done!

Yet, this simple scenario may have its complicated consequences. And if it’s only the inconvenience of ‘Where’s my swimsuit’, then you’re in luck - you can simply buy a new one upon arrival. But if you find yourself at the airport without a passport, the fallout may be disastrous.

So, whether you are a first time flyer or an experienced traveller, a good bag packing checklist can do wonders. Read our guide to find out how to prepare well and avoid miscellaneous mishaps on the road.


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How to choose the right luggage?

The first question you have to answer (while buying your plane ticket) is: How many bags do I need?


Carry on luggage

If you’re simply going to Nuremberg for the weekend to experience the fabulous Christmas market, then you’re OK with a carry on bag.

A backpack will also fit your belongings for a week-long trip, including your eye mask and travel pillow. You are typically also allowed to carry a small food bag (with your lunchbox for example - we like to stay healthy while on the road).

Note that airlines have different size and weight limits for your carry-on and these are enforced quite strictly today. Also, if you put your toiletry bag and medical kit in your carry on, you must follow the 3-1-1 rule (no liquids above 100ml allowed through security check).

If a carry on is your luggage of choice, check out what you can or cannot take on a plane and how to pack your carry-on.

If you don’t think you’ll fit all you need in a single (relatively) small bag, read on!


Checked luggage

Although most of us like to travel light, sometimes it’s hard to avoid the suitcase. And as this is too bulky to fit under the seat, you’ll have to check it.


When do you need checked luggage?

Checked luggage is usually needed if you are:

  • Travelling for more than a week - say a summer job in Spain/ Asia, etc;

  • Travelling to multiple destinations and climates - lucky you!

  • Travelling with a toddler/ infant (don’t you wish you could take your home along);

  • Carrying special gear - for example sports or camera/ video equipment;

  • Carrying gifts (sometimes TSA may unwrap your presents if they’re in your carry-on);


What are the size and weight restrictions for checked luggage?

The answer will depend on your airline of choice and your airfare. Low-cost-carriers have their own rules, and business travellers are allowed more luggage than economy. This is why the rule of thumb is: always check before you pack!


What to pack for a trip: the ultimate travel packing list

To avoid the film scenario, we should to try to pack light (and maybe save space for some souvenirs). At the same time we don’t want to forget something important, so we'll have to keep things organised.

Let’s start with the most obvious:

Clothing

What you need will naturally depend on the length and type of journey you’ve planned. No list can be universal but we can cover the basics to avoid mishaps.


The countdown rule

I love the 5-4-3-2-1 rule as it’s easy to remember and keeps things simple. It basically states that for a 1-week trip you need to pack:

  • 5 pairs of socks and underwear (including the ones you’re wearing for the trip, this roughly means a pair a day, so you’re all set)

  • 4 tops - whether you choose short sleeves or long sleeves, or a combination of the two will depend on the weather you expect at your destination. Yet remember that even if you’re at the seaside, nights can be quite chilly, so you should at least take one sweatshirt/cardigan.

  • 3 bottoms - jeans, trousers, shorts or skirts for girls, it’s your choice depending on your trip. Just make sure they match your tops and you’ve got all you need for different occasions.

  • 2 pairs of shoes - you always need a spare pair so you’ll have to pack this with your garments. Make sure the pair of shoes you’re travelling with is comfortable enough for walking and lugging a suitcase. If you think you’ll need fancy shoes, pack your favourite pair by all means. If you’re headed for the beach, don’t forget to pack your flip-flops.

  • 1 hat - depending on the season you may need to either take your beautiful straw hat, your favourite baseball cap or your beanie/ pom pom/ trapper for the winter.


As these are the bare essentials, it may be a good idea to add to the above: a jacket, a change of clothes for a more formal occasion or a sports outfit for your training, and your pajamas, of course!

You may have to double these numbers for a 2 or 3-week trip. However, if you’re staying for 3 months, do not multiply by 12 - you’ll have to do some laundry instead.


The ‘remove half’ rule

Overpacking is a common mistake so a lot of people follow a simple routine. They lay out all their favourite and ‘just in case’ clothes on the bed and then remove half of them. Yes, you need to - if you’ve ever tried it, you know that the amount is staggering and definitely can’t fit in your suitcase.
So take a good look at what you’ve prepared - think about the numbers above, they’ll give you an idea of what you actually need - and pack only half of what you’ve laid out.

You can even give the popular KonMari method a try. If you’ve never heard of the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by tiny japanese master-organiser Marie Kondo, the most revolutionary idea here in a nutshell is: Keep only items that spark joy!

When choosing what to leave behind and what to take, you should think layers. And also mix and match - choose the tops and bottoms you usually wear together.


Pack in outfits

Another way to go about this is: Think about the activities you’ve planned for the trip and pack your favourite outfits for each. Some travellers actually lay out their jeans or trousers and a top that goes with them, and then roll these together to pack a ready-to-wear outfit.

Others like to prepare tops and bottoms in three basic / contrasting colours and then mix and match. It’s all up to you, really, just try to keep things simple.


Sleepwear

For some travellers, this is simply a T-shirt and shorts, but depending on the climate at your destination, you might want to take your favourite fluffy warm pajamas. You don’t want to freeze at night if staying at a mountain hut.

Shoes

The basic rule here is: wear comfortable shoes for your journey and always pack at least 1 spare pair.

If your trip involves a more formal occasion, you should pack a suitable dressier pair. It all depends on the kind of journey, really - hiking boots for the mountains, flip-flops for the beach, high-heels for a flashy ceremony.
Yet if you want to pack light, you might want to leave your favourite wedges behind and pack the sandals instead.


A shoe packing tip

An important note about packing shoes: it makes sense to place these in plastic bags and at the bottom of your suitcase. Usually heavier and bulkier items should be placed right above the wheels, and lighter items - on top.


Accessories

You’ll probably remember the belts while packing the trousers but what I usually forget is may small day bag. And it’s really handy if you’ve planned a sightseeing trip - your backpack may be too bulky to carry around, especially in crowded touristy places.


How to pack jewelry

If you want to take some jewelry too, you should remember that all valuables should go in your carry-on. Rings, necklaces and earrings are also hard to pack so here are a few tricks you can use:

  • The straw trick - you unclasp the necklace, you string it through the straw and you clasp it again. It’s quite easy and it’s tangle-free, you can also wrap it in a tissue or packing paper for extra protection. You may need to cut the straw to adjust the length.

  • The kitchen wrap trick - you lay out a piece of re-sealable kitchen wrap, and lay your jewelry out on half of it. Then you fold and press the wrap to hold the items in place.

  • The medicine box - this can turn into a great container for your rings and earrings.


For your convenience, here’s a list you can tick off while packing (think lightweight clothing that can be layered):


Clothing packing list

  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Short-sleeved tops
  • Long-sleeved tops
  • Jeans/ trousers/skirts or shorts
  • Shoes
  • Hat
  • Sleepwear
  • Belt
  • Handbag
  • Jewelry
  • Sweatshirt / fleece
  • Coat/ rain jacket / windbreaker

Toiletries packing list

It’s usually a good idea to leave the big shampoo and conditioner bottles at home. Most travellers use samples or get small containers for their basic toiletries. Remember that only liquids and gels up to 100 ml are allowed in your carry-on. Meanwhile, your checked luggage will probably be tossed around so you’ll have to pack your cosmetics well to avoid spills.

  • Soap
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Skin care products (with SPF)
  • Toothbrush/ toothpaste/ floss
  • Q-tips
  • Comb or brush
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving supplies
  • Feminine products
  • Scissors/ nail clippers
  • Glasses & eye glasses case or contact lenses, solution and case
  • Laundry detergent - if you’re planning to do some laundry (you may also buy this at arrival, of course)

Travel health packing list

If you’ve planned a journey to a town you know well, you can buy these once you arrive at your destination (in case you need to). Yet if you’re travelling to an exotic location and are not sure about hygiene, running water and mosquito issues, it’s a good idea to prepare well - better safe than sorry!

So here is a list of the basics to help you stay healthy on the road:

  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellent & sting reliever
  • Sunscreen & sunburn relief
  • Diarrhea and laxative medicines
  • Allergy medication
  • Motion sickness pills or bands

Electronics

In this day and age we hardly ever leave our phones behind, we can’t even imagine being ‘’disconnected’. Yet what we usually overlook is chargers, cables, and paraphernalia. I have to be honest - I have a collection of adapters at home, I tend to forget these and always have to buy new ones!

So it is always a good idea to include these in your list:

  • Cellphone
  • Charger
  • Adapters & converters
  • Camera, memory card
  • Laptop and cable

How to pack your checked luggage

All of the above can be organised neatly, believe it or not. If you’re wondering how, here are a few ideas you may want to explore:

  • Use packing cubes - these are zipped bags that come in different sizes, so you can organise your luggage in categories and easily find all you need.

  • Roll your clothes - this one we already mentioned. It’s a good idea if you’re travelling with a huge backpack and you’ve prepared outfits. Travellers say this method actually saves a lot of space.

  • Use the KonMari method. Marie Kodno uses a special method for folding clothes that can help you arrange them vertically in your suitcase. This actually makes unpacking quite unnecessary - you can find everything easily as it’s neatly ordered.


Travel security

When we pack our checked luggage,we tend to think about the activities at our destination and not about the journey itself. Yet if you’re in for a long-haul flight, travelling with kids or on a red-eye flight, you should also prepare for the trip.

Basic rules dictate that you keep your valuables in your carry on. Your passport, tickets, wallet, and jewelry should be with you at all times. The airline’s contract of carriage usually states the carrier is not liable for these and in most large cities you should be aware of pickpockets. So many travellers like to prepare:

  • Money belt - quite practical as you can keep your passport and money inside
  • Hidden pocket - same as above
  • Neck wallet - some travellers keep their passports and tickets inside for easy access during the journey
  • Undercover bra stash - a great solution for solo female travelers

Your travel gear should also be with you for the flight - your shawl, your eye mask and your ear plugs. Don’t forget your reading materials, your camera and your water bottle. And if you’re in for a long flight, remember there are lots of fun things to do on a plane.


Never pack in your checked luggage

All travellers usually know there are items you cannot take in your carry-on. However this does not mean that you should randomly stack things in your checked luggage. Firstly, because there are certain TSA restrictions and secondly - because your bags may get delayed or lost. Luckily you are protected in case of luggage loss or delay but you should also think about this worst case scenario when packing.

  1. Your laptop/ computer or video equipment

  2. Cash and jewelry

  3. Matches, e-cigarettes or vaping pens

  4. Documents

  5. Lithium-ion batteries (these made the news after exploding mid-flight)

  6. Food considered agricultural risk (like pineapples or coconuts in Hawaii) or certain meats and cheeses

  7. Alcohol (over 140 proof)

  8. Medication - you don’t want this to get lost, you may need it.

  9. All your clothes - keep a change of clothes in your carry-on just in case.


Feeling ready for your next adventure? I’m sure your bags will be neatly organised. Bon voyage!

Happy Travels!