Even the most experienced travellers tend to leave something they need behind every trip. On the other hand, people often carry too much. A packing list can help make sure you have everything you will need while you are travelling and at your destination. It can also be a reassuring checklist just prior to departing, and if you are missing anything you will need, you can figure that out while you still have time to buy it.
A single list can apply to many trips; when you make one, keep a copy of it for your next trip. Add the stuff you forgot when you get home, and delete the stuff that you took and never used. You can end up with a useful personalized document that will save you time and stress when you need it most.
If you need to make an insurance claim for lost luggage, then the packing list can remind you of what you took, and what you need to claim for.
This article will walk through the process of building your own packing lists for your own travel plans, hopefully with useful suggestions for things you might not have thought of.
Understand your destination, and focus on what you will need and what not to take. Do you really need an umbrella? Would a broad-brimmed hat do as well? What does the umbrella weigh, how much space does it take up, will it be a problem at airport security, and could you just buy one at your destination if it rains?
Will you be shopping? If it's likely, consider packing a duffel or folding bag. Use it as carry-on on your return flight for purchases or for holding what's displaced in your checked baggage by purchases. You might also want a compact, re-usable shopping bag, as shopping bags are not free in many places, and may not be available at all in some settings.
It can also help to specify which bag each item will go in, to better judge whether you'll be able to pack everything in the bags you plan to use. If you're traveling by air, this will also help you think about what you want to carry on board and what you want to check.
It's easy to overpack and lug around items you don't need, while underestimating how much money it takes to live, shop, and eat away from home. One common bit of advice, perhaps a bit over-stated but with at least a grain of truth:
- When packing, figure out what clothes and money you expect to need.
- Then take half the clothes and twice the money.
If you're planning a major trip, especially one a bit off the beaten path, it's worth taking an hour or two to browse at an expedition store or website, just seeing what's available. Even though their main goal is to sell you things whether you need them or not, it will at least give you some idea of what (some) others are buying for their travels.
Understand the weight and size restrictions on the various forms of transport you are using. Trains, buses and ships are usually more generous than aircraft (see flight baggage), but they may still charge fees based on weight or size. Plane excess baggage fees can be very steep, or they can even refuse to carry your baggage on that flight. If you have to pack wet towels or jeans and you are on the weight threshold, these can easily push you over the limit. Allow just a little headroom.
If you have your own car or boat, their luggage capacity may seem nearly limitless, but depending on the size of your party and the length of your trip, you might in fact need every cubic inch of space you can get and you might wish to consider whether space to stretch out or more luggage is more of a priority for you. Limiting yourself also forces you to think about every item, which often means you know what you have and where to find it; packing anything you might need may result in your not using half of them and your using more time to search for things packed away somewhere.
Many consumables are sold at sizes much larger than you'd need on a one-week voyage. Reserve a toothpaste tube, a toilet paper roll, etc., that have a suitable amount left, instead of buying and packing a full one. You may have travel-sized bottles and boxes for shampoo, soap and detergent, which may come handy if you aren't staying in proper hotels and using laundry services.
- Main article: Baggage
Choosing a suitcase, backpack or some other bag is a decision in itself, see Baggage for a discussion.
Adding labels inside and outside of luggage can help you identify your luggage at baggage claim and can help if the luggage is lost in transit. Adding something unique to the outside of the bag (e.g. an accessory) can help distinguish common looking luggage when retrieving it from baggage claim.
Organizing items in baggage
Use packing cubes or bags to make packing easier, especially if you are backpacking or going to multiple destinations, and have to re-pack constantly. They can be labeled, and they are often color-coded, so different items can go in and out of different sacks (sleepwear, hiking boots, swimwear, or clothes for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday). Packing in cubes or bags is easier and more organized than stuffing everything into your main bag. Also on a long trip, these sacks will keep odor, dust, and damp from spreading to all your stuff. 3–5 plastic bags that hold about 4 L (1 US gallon) each typify what's usable. Another version of these is the compressible air-tight sacks, from which one can squeeze all the air from clothing items. These use less space (not less weight).
Pack expecting complications
Recognize that if you take transport and have to check baggage in, it may be delayed or may not reach your destination at all. Identify what you can least afford to lose or not have when you arrive, and carry that with you on rather than checking it in. Things that are high priority to keep with you include:
- Means of purchasing (cash, credit card)
- Medicines and medical devices (including corrective eyewear)
- Clothing you need before you can reach a shop (especially if going to a climate where what you are wearing isn't adequate)
Tickets and itinerary
If you're traveling by plane, train, bus or ferry, then don't forget to bring your tickets, or organize e-tickets.
A printed copy of your itinerary is useful both for your personal reference and to confirm to officials that your stated travel plans are legit.
- See also: Border crossing
If you're leaving your home country, there's a good chance you'll need to bring your passport or at least some government-issued proof of your identity and citizenship. For some countries, you will need to obtain a visa in advance. Extra passport-style photos may come in handy for documents or passes you may purchase along the way.
If you are younger and planning to go into clubs or bars or to buy tobacco, then ID may be required in some countries. Bringing your driver's license minimizes the need to carry your passport, and therefore reduces the potential for theft or loss. Beware that in some countries, such as New Zealand, only specified forms of ID can be used as proof of age, and your international driver's license may not cut it.
If you are travelling internationally, immigration officials will sometimes want to check the legitimacy of your plans. If you're paying for accommodation, make sure you have made a reservation for at least your first night and carry contact details for your place of accommodation. If staying in a private home, have the name, address and phone number of your hosts, and make sure that they are aware of your name and your exact date of arrival, because immigration officials may call them if they doubt your plans. If you can't provide details of where you're staying or your host isn't aware that you're coming, you may be refused entry to some countries. Some travellers may also need a letter of invitation to present to officials; check with the issuer of your visa, if any.
If you are entering another country as a visitor on a visa that forbids you to seek employment, then leave out anything that might make it look like you want to find a new job. For example, leave your appointment diary at home if you would be embarrassed for the immigration authorities to read it. If you are traveling for business purposes, then take what you need for work, but be prepared to explain that you are traveling for your existing job (e.g., for a sales meeting) rather than seeking work.
If you are traveling with a child, you may need additional documentation to prove that you're their legal guardian, such as their birth certificate. If the other parent isn't traveling with you (and especially if you and the child have different last names), authorities might suspect that you're trying to take the child out of the country without authorization; proof of custody and written permission from any other legal guardians may help you avoid a hassle. See also Travelling with children for children's documentation requirements.
Membership cards can be useful: e.g. International Student Identification Card, Hosteling International, your automobile club; frequent-flyer, hotel, car rental or other "loyalty" cards.
It's a good idea to have copies of all important documents in case of loss. You can carry photocopies (separately of course) and/or keep electronic copies in your webmail account inbox, in an online storage folder, or in a pocket memory stick, to print if needed. It is also advisable to leave copies with someone responsible at home, just in case you lose everything.
If you're planning to drive at your destination, a driver's license will be needed and you may need an international driving permit as well. If you are bringing your own vehicle, you may need a Carnet de Passage to get it through customs. Both the IDP and the carnet are obtained from the automobile association in your own country.
The most adventurous free spirits may eschew them, but odds are if you're reading this, you're the sort who values a guidebook. To bring down the weight, instead of carrying dead tree, you might want to download digital versions. Wikivoyage articles can be downloaded as such, as PDF, combined to a PDF book or downloaded through a tailored app. Options for the latter include the Kiwix's free Wikivoyage offline app or the paid OsmAnd app.
A less storage intensive option is to use the web browser on your smartphone, but this means you have downloaded the pages in advance, have access to Wi-Fi or can afford using mobile data. Some web browsers (including Firefox) can be used in off-line mode, still giving access to pages in the cache when tell them not to fetch anything.
If you're already bringing a laptop, saving pages and maps to your hard drive (in case you lose power) won't add any weight, but can be a convenient way to find pre-screened attractions and services on the fly. Alternatively, just read it as needed in Internet cafés, and perhaps add your new discoveries to Wikivoyage while you're there.
Being able to determine where you are and where you are going are critical when traveling somewhere that you are not very familiar with. It can also help to verify that a hired ride is taking you in the most efficient way to your destination.
Most smartphones include some form of GPS and enough space to download some form of map (options include an OpenStreetMap-based app, such as the free Maps.me app or the paid OsmAnd app, or an app such as Google Maps). Saving an offline copy of maps on the device before departure saves on mobile data use while traveling and avoids losing map access in areas without mobile coverage. Be sure to review your data plan before you leave (in case you need to change it to avoid ridiculous pricing), and be aware of the limitations of the web browsers in non-smartphones: some feature phones are pretty much limited to "mobile" versions of web sites, and might not display graphics.
If you're using a commercially printed book, cutting out the pages for the places you'll be going cuts down on the size and weight. You may be able to buy maps more easily when you get to your destination, but if you don't read the local script, it's probably best to buy one at home.
Consider bringing a compass, or even a GPS receiver, especially if you're going someplace without a grid of city streets. Find a compass suitable to your destination's latitude. Most manufacturers balance their compass needles for one of five zones (ranging from Zone 1, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, to Zone 5, covering Australia and the southern oceans). The needle may drag or stick on other zones. There are also more expensive multi-zone or global compasses that function correctly everywhere.
If you plan on using ride hailing services, identify which apps service your destination, and download those before traveling to that destination. Check for updates shortly before departure.
A keychain-size flashlight (torch) can be handy, or an app that turns your smartphone into a surrogate. Flashlights can also be useful when camping – or just to find your bed: blackouts may be more common than you're used to. In some regions, they are virtually guaranteed.
However, your smartphone battery isn't made to provide flashlight power and may be drained rapidly. If you need the light more than sporadically, a real flashlight may be better.
if you expect to be heavily using your smartphone during your trip without being able to regularly plug it in to an electrical outlet, consider bringing a power bank that will allow you to charge your smartphone and other devices. For extended voyages, you may want to also consider solar power or a dynamo. Check the capacity (not only nominal numbers); most easily carried ones will not keep you happy. If you are planning to fly with one or more of these, make sure that none of them exceed battery capacity limits (usually around 100 Watt-hours) and only pack them into carry-ons. An overheating battery that catches fire may be terrifying in the cabin, but even more so when it is out of sight in the baggage hold. Remember where you put them, in case you're asked to gate-check that bag.
- See also: Talk
Being able to communicate is critical when you are in foreign language where the locals do not speak you language, whether it is to ask for directions, to ask for something, or to make a booking.
Studying the language can be a great use of your time during transportation and may attract the sympathy of local passengers. Popular flashcards apps have decks for all major languages, including pronunciation. You may also want to bring physical flashcards, a travel dictionary or whatever helps you. If you know the basics, comics or an easily-read (light) book may be useful. The Adventures of Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the most widely translated comic book, is available in more than 100 languages. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, and many fairy tales are also widely available and don't use too many specialized words (unlike, say, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which is also available in dozens of languages).
Learning in advance
If you know that the trip is coming up months before your departure, try to learn a little of the local language. Even as little as being able to say "thank you" and to read simple signs saying "enter" or "exit" will help. You may be able to find a class at your local college or community program. Your local public library should either have books and other resources, especially if you are interested in a popular language like Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, or German, or they should be able to tell you where to look next.
Apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone are popular, and some are free. They may be easier for people who are brushing up on a rusty language than for someone starting on their first-ever foreign language.
If you have a smartphone, downloading a translation app will likely be the easiest way to overcome communication challenges, unless you start to learn the local language. As you may be roaming with your smartphone, before traveling to your destination, it is best to download an offline copy of the local language(s), if available for your app. Google Translate and Apple's Translate (iOS only) for some languages, allow downloading options to allow offline translation of some language (Google Translate for many more languages than Apple's Translate). With a translate app, you can enter in what you want to say, and as necessary, you can arrange for whom you are speaking to provide more complex replies by typing in their response in your smartphone.
Another useful feature is integration with your phone's camera: When you encounter a sign, menu, train ticket, label, or other thing that you can't read, you just open the translation app, click the button to tell the app to use your camera, and point your camera at it. The app will scan the image for text and translate it on the spot.
The quality of the translation varies between languages, and even for well-supported languages, the translation is sometimes messed up. At times it will just be funny or unintelligible, but sometimes it may be seriously misleading. You can reduce this problem by using short, simple sentences. Make sure that the other person understands the context and try to confirm critical answers by using different synonymous wordings.
If you do not speak the language, a phrasebook may range from essential to a nice courtesy. Even if you're sure that someone there will understand you, they'll appreciate you if you take the trouble to use some of their language. The pronunciation of some languages can also be learned pretty fast, and will help you understand whether you are in the right bus, or whether that dish is the one you ordered. If the language is in an unfamiliar script or if pronunciation follows some logic notably different from the one you are used to (highly likely if you are an English speaker), try to at least learn the basic rules for the most critical elements. In many languages that would be vowels and most common consonants, but e.g. for Arabic, the consonants matter more, and for Chinese you should learn the tones. Having a clearer relation between what is on paper and what can be heard not only eases understanding and communication, it is also inherently satisfying. Unfortunately, for many languages, phrasebooks aren't readily available.
- See also: Money
The four main options for carrying money are cash, credit cards, ATM cards, and travelers cheques. The best way to access cash is through an ATM with a travel account that won't charge you to get money abroad. Make sure to take some spare cash though. These are useful for taxis to leave the airport, on-the-spot visas, and large purchases abroad, such as resorts.
If planning to use cash, ensure that your cash bills are in great shape. Inspect your change to avoid accepting cash bills that are in poor shape. While you should not have trouble making payment with cash in the local currency even with creases and tears, you may have significant problems try to spend or convert any other currencies. For instance, merchants in Cambodia readily accept US currency, but may refuse to accept US dollar bills with small tears.
If converting cash, try to obtain significant amounts of small bills if possible. If you expect to use vending machines or if you are planning to wash laundry at a coin-operated laundromat, you may also wish to ask for a reasonable number of coins. It is very common in developing countries to have challenges with merchants and restaurants refusing to accept large bills in the local currency because they do not have change, thus forcing you to go up an down the street, in search of a merchant willing to make change. In such countries, you may also have this problem of unwillingness to accept large bills even at government-operated places such as museums.
In many countries, you will only be able to spend in the local currency, while in others, the local currency and another currency will be generally accepted, such as Costa Rica, where merchants accept the Costa Rican Colon and the US Dollar. In rare cases, such as Cuba, there may be multiple local currencies, which you need to understand. In the case of Cuba, the valuation of its two currencies are completely different, one of the currencies is ineligible for currency conversion, and some merchants may not accept payment in one of the currencies.
For a number of countries, it may be extremely difficult to convert the local currency outside of that country including nearby countries, resulting in not being able to convert out of the currency or taking a massive loss relative to the conversion rate available in the country. In such cases, you will get the best rates and have the greatest flexibility by converting to and from a well recognized currency, such as the United States Dollar, the European Union's Euro, and the British Pound, while within the country with the difficult to convert currency.
For some currencies, such as Argentina's Peso, due to repeated significant collapses of the currency valuation, it is important to minimize the how much currency you hold and monitor the currency regularly to determine the current exchange rate.
Some countries – China and India, for example – have government controls on foreign exchange transactions. In some countries, such as Venezuela, due to government controls, black market currency conversion may exist in which the conversion rates are significantly superior to the official posted government rates.
A general good practice is to count received cash after making a transaction. Especially in developing countries, it is common for some merchants to short-change people who appear to be foreigners.
Before leaving a country or group of countries using a specific currency, convert as much of your currency to bills rather than coins. Currency converters will generally not accept coins, except for the local country's currency.
Credit card considerations
While credit cards are accepted almost anywhere in some countries, such as the United Kingdom, there are many countries where this is not the case. Some industrialized countries and most developing countries will likely not accept credit cards at many or most retailers. Further, few places that accept credit card will accept less common credit cards such as American Express.
Keep in mind that credit card issuers may charge extra rates for purchases in foreign currencies over and above the rates offered by the networks that they are part of such as MasterCard and Visa.
In addition, some merchants, such as in Ecuador, may add high single digit percentage premiums to your bill, if you choose to pay by credit card.
If it is offered by your credit card issuer, contact the credit card issuer to add a travel notification, as this may decrease the likelihood of the credit card being frozen due to the foreign transactions.
ATM card considerations
Minimizing the cash your carry may seem like a great idea to mitigate risk in the event of theft, but you may have challenges withdrawing money because the ATM processing networks between countries are not compatible. For instance, Canadians may have challenges being able to withdraw money in India. To reduce potential headaches, before traveling, verify what card processing networks your bank is part of and consider getting additional banks' ATM cards if they support processing networks that your normal bank does not.
Many banks in foreign countries, especially in developing countries, impose maximum withdrawal limit per transaction. Those per transaction withdrawal limits may also vary significantly between banks within a country. These maximum withdrawal limits can potentially significantly add to your costs, as you may need to pay withdrawal service charges multiple times in order to be able to withdraw the daily limit allowed by your bank.
Keep in mind that ATM card issuers may charge extra rates over an above their official conversion rate.
In addition, some merchants, such as in Ecuador, may add high single digit percentage premiums to your bill, if you choose to pay by credit card.
If it is offered by your ATM card issuer, contact the credit card issuer to add a travel notification, as this may decrease the likelihood of the ATM card being frozen due to the foreign transactions.
Travellers cheques are not common to see in use. They offer protection in case of theft, as they cannot be used without your signature. However, in some places it is difficult to use to exchange travellers' cheques. In addition, some places may also charge processing fees to be able to cash travellers' cheques. For instance, in France, it may be challenging to cash travellers' cheques and those places that do may charge processing fees.
In some situations, gifts, especially gifts that are characteristic of your home, may be more useful than money. In some cultures, the exchange of gifts is an important part of business relationships. Small gifts or candy may be a good way to show your appreciation to a host, or as a friendly overture to the locals.
Helpful smartphone apps
If traveling in a foreign country using a different currency, having a currency conversion smartphone app is help to get a sense of whether a quoted price is reasonable and within your budget, or if you decide to convert cash between currencies. Typical features found in many apps include automatic synchronization when loading an app, retention of rates offline, and currency conversion calculator functionality. Some apps provide graphs showing the conversion rate trend of a period of days, months, or years. There are numerous smartphone apps on Google Play and Apple's App Store, including XE. While you should not expect the be able to get a rate as good as those posted on a currency conversion app due to currency service providers adjusting their rates in order to make a profit, you should expect that the currency conversion rate will be usually be a low single digit percentage difference from what is quoted by currency converter apps.
If you live a country that primarily relies on paying by ATM card or credit card, or if doing math in your head is not your strength, consider having a calculator app, if traveling to countries where you will need to pay in cash, such as in developing countries. A calculator app will help you to determine how much change you should get, to prevent from being cheated.
If using credit cards or ATM cards, bring two or more of these (i.e. at least two credit card and/or at least two ATM cards, and preferably even more than that). In case a card is lost or stolen, it may be complicated and time consuming to receive replacement cards.
Bring and hide separate from other methods of payment cash in a commonly accepted currency, such as US dollars, euros, or British pounds. In a worse case, should robbery involve loss of most of your methods of payment and your passport, this emergency cash can help you travel to your country's nearest embassy or consulate to be able to start the process of getting identification needed to cross borders and board flights.
Storage and segregation of methods of payment
Segregating your methods of payment will protect you should you be robbed. The bulk of your cash and methods of payment should be stored in a concealed, safe location, such as a money belt tucked fully underneath your pants, or tucked away in your first aid kit, toiletry bag or in a hidden pocket in your backpack/baggage.
Keep a credit card, ATM card, and/or sufficient cash readily accessible to perform the transactions you plan on doing. A readily accessible place to store your method(s) of payment would be a front pocket, which is closed by button or preferably with a closed zipper. Your means of payment should be kept small to avoid potential thieves from seeing a bulge showing where your currency is.
Be alert and adopt defensive habits if distracted in public
Be sure to pay attention and if distracted in public, adopt the habit of immediately covering the pocket. For instance, in some countries, groups of thieves may fabricate attention drawing distractions and solicit for assistance, while some go after valuables on those who are distracted. Be wary about a getting involved in should a distracting incident occur, especially if you are in a crowded area.
Luggage allowance considerations
Leave some room and weight allowance for things you buy when abroad. If you plan a lot of shopping, consider packing one or two folding duffels. You can then put purchases in returning, checked baggage, and soft items displaced by purchases in duffels for carry-on.
- See also: Clothes
Clothes typically make up most of travellers' baggage. Your strategy depends upon your method of travel. If you're going car camping in a large caravan, then you probably have room to take a few extras; if you're hitchhiking or backpacking, then you need to be ruthless about eliminating unnecessary items of clothing. Your purpose in travelling also matters. A business traveller to Asia will probably need multiple dressy outfits, but a young person with the cheapest European train pass and a list of hostels probably won't need any.
The strategies of layering and versatility are essential for wilderness travel, and they're useful for other kinds as well. Items that you can mix and match and wear in various combinations for various levels of formality and/or warmth are best. For example, khaki slacks can be worn with a dress shirt and jacket for semi-formal situations, or with a t-shirt for sightseeing. A t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and a sweater can be worn individually for hot-to-cool situations, or combined for cold weather. Especially for women, accessories such as scarves or wraps can turn one outfit into two or three. A sarong can do multiple duties as clothing, beach towel, extra blanket, etc.
What you wear may also have an impact on how readily thieves may target you for pick pocketing, which is a consideration in higher crime areas. For instance, if you have pockets that are button closed, or preferably zipper closed, this can make it more challenging for thieves to retrieve valuables from your pockets.
The question of "how many?" is a complex formula of how much you want to be prepared vs. how much you want to carry. The more you can determine ahead of time what the weather will be like, where you'll be going, and what you'll be doing, the less "just in case" packing you'll be inclined to do. Factor in (air) travel time and time zones when calculating how much to carry on shorter trips. Packing a tuxedo or gown because you're not sure if you'll be going to a formal dinner or not, generally signals that you're over-packing. On the other hand, if there's a pool or beach, you may end up kicking yourself for not bringing a swimsuit.
Shoes are a bulky nuisance to pack, but make sure you bring at least one pair that you'd be comfortable walking around in all day. A pair of slippers, sandals or flip-flops provide something else to wear if your shoes start to hurt or get wet. They can also be quite useful for going to and from shared showers, or shared bathrooms in the middle of the night in cheaper accommodation.
Tips for packing clothes
Both packing too much, and packing too little, can ruin your trip. Make sure you double, triple check the weather, hotel services (i.e. washing clothes, free clothing per room like bathrobe) and your list.
Make a list about two weeks in advance because then you have a set plan instead of last-minute frantic packing. If you will have more than one bag, then think about what items will go in which bags. For example, many experienced air travellers carry all essential medications and also a T-shirt and underwear in their carry-on baggage, in case their checked baggage gets delayed or a cup of coffee gets spilled on the clothes they're wearing during an unexpected moment of air turbulence.
Consider whether you'll be able to do laundry while there. This can save you from the urge to pack 14 sets of underwear and socks for a two-week trip. Bring a universal sink stopper, for using sinks that don't have one. Keep in mind the type of clothing material you wear can also affect frequency of washes. For instance, wool socks are resistant to developing odours, which makes it possible to wear clothes such as socks and shirts for two days without laundering being needed to control odour. Airing wool clothes also does wonders.
If you have sensitive skin and expect to find a coin-operated washing machine, then consider taking a few portions of your favorite laundry detergent. Liquid and powder detergents can be sealed in bottles like other toiletries, and laundry pods can be secured in a rigid container, such as a screw-top jar or a box inside a zip lock bag. Laundry detergent sheets are a very compact and light way of washing small amounts of laundry, such as in a sink or during camping.
Consider applying waterproofing compound, and/or permethrin against insects and ticks, to clothing or baggage before you leave. In general, you should not carry these; aerosols are not allowed on planes, and you don't want extra weight. However, blasting your hat, jacket or canvas baggage before going may be quite helpful.
Sometimes buying new clothes can be cheaper and easier than laundry. Find any clothing you have that is almost worn out, wear it to start your journey, and discard it when it gets dirty.
If you don't need to look nice or plan to do anything wet or dirty, then a four-week trip can be managed with two pairs of jeans, discarding the old pair and wearing the new after two weeks. If the climate isn't too muggy, then T-shirts, thin socks, and underwear can be rinsed at night and put back on just slightly damp the next morning. Some companies make extended-wear underwear, which is good for the long-term traveller. You only have to buy one or two, and then wash them in the sink every night – they are quick to dry and antimicrobial, so you'll save a lot of room and stench. Put socks on around 20 minutes before your shoes to give them a chance to dry fully from body heat. Pajamas are optional if you're not staying in dorm rooms. Even if you need clothes to sleep in for warmth or modesty, you can sleep in a T-shirt and comfortable shorts or pants, rather than bringing something that can only be worn to bed (in cold climates with cool bedrooms, use long underwear instead). It really is possible to travel with nothing but the clothes on your back if you want, and it opens up a whole new world of travel, particularly at a destination where it isn't too cold. No need to find lockers, and sightseeing right from the bus station or airport. Walking and the local bus become easy options. Just be prepared for some quizzical looks at customs and immigration.
If you travel for work and will be wearing (something akin to) a uniform, ask yourself how much time you'll actually spend out of uniform and limit your personal clothes accordingly.
See and do
Take battery chargers and travel power adapters for any electrical device you may use. Be sure to check the correct voltage and frequency is available in your destination. If you are driving, an adapter to charge devices from the vehicle's battery can provide power for a mobile telephone call to your automobile association at roadside.
Photography and videos
You'll probably want to bring a camera, along with sufficient storage and batteries. See Travel photography for more on this topic.
Consider whether you are willing to take the risk losing your photos and videos, such as due to theft or damage to electronics. Risk of losing these recordings of your trip can be reduce by bringing backup up storage media or setting up for your photos and videos to be automatically uploaded to a cloud service.
Other gear to pack
Beyond that, what other kind of gear you'll need to pack depends on where you're going and what you're doing there. Snorkel and flippers? Caribiners and rope? Golf clubs? Snow skis? If your trip is focused on an equipment heavy activity like skiing or scuba diving, you may want to take your own equipment along, or depending on your destination and facilities there, have no choice about bringing it along. Finding an activity specific packing list and using it as a reference is a good way to make sure that you don't forget something crucial. For some activities you may even want to pack spares of some equipment: scuba divers sometimes prepare a "save a dive" kit with spare masks and fin straps so that the failure of a small bit of equipment doesn't mean skipping a day's diving.
Pack gear or rent it?
Depending on the activity and your destination, the alternative may be to use hire equipment. The decision to hire or buy depends partly on your activity: hiking boots and wetsuits, for example, often need to fit their wearer well to be effective. It's also partly based on expense and convenience. Buying equipment is typically a big one-off cost and ongoing maintenance might be required. However, renting is usually more expensive over the long run if you are a regular participant. The final consideration is the size and weight of your baggage, particularly if you are flying. Packing both your equipment and day-to-day essentials might put you over the airlines' free baggage limit, fragile equipment can be damaged when transported in baggage holds and sometimes there is a separate surcharge for either sporting equipment or large and difficult to handle baggage.
See the various articles under Travel activities for more about this.
Bring some amusements for long waits and journeys. Bring stuff you enjoy, that passes the time, or that helps you get to sleep.
Hours of music can be held your smartphone, if you have one, on a cheap mp3 player. Load up some spoken books. Give some thought to loading up your mp3 player with everything you need before you go. Trying to rip a CD to an mp3 player in an internet cafe somewhere is a frustration you don't need.
Books and magazines never run out of batteries, and are great entertainment on buses, planes, boats and lazy days. But they are heavier than an mp3 player. For long trips, pick ones you won't mind giving away when you finish them. You can swap them with other travellers, "leave one, take one" at a hostel or B&B, or even stop by a used book store along the way.
An e-book reader (e.g. Kindle, Nook) lets you bring your entire library, provided you can charge it every other week.
Electronic games, can amuse kids or adults for hours. Bring along a pack of cards for when the batteries are dead, and all else fails. Some board games are available in special travel editions adapted to be played in close quarters or on moving vehicles.
Eat and drink
Traveling usually involves a fair amount of sitting and waiting and time spent in transit. Packing water and some snacks will make those times go more comfortably. Even if refreshments will be available, they're often overpriced for travelers.
But beware security restrictions on more than 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.) of any liquid at most airports; you'll just need to empty the bottle outside the security checkpoint, then fill it back up again at a water fountain or sink inside the secure zone. A foldable waterbottle with a hoser is efficient if you are going to pump your own water with a water filter. The hoser is especially useful for couples who are on the go, as it is more efficient than pulling out a huge plastic bottle.
Some travelers carry a kettle and tea or coffee. You can also get a compact water heater that boils a glass or mug of water. Be aware of electrical requirements where you are going.
Keep in mind that if traveling internationally, some snacks may not be permitted by the country that you are entering, such as fruits, seeds, and meats. In some countries, such as Australia there are also restrictions on taking certain types of foods such a produce between regions within the country.
Utensils and other supplies
If traveling to developing countries, consider bringing re-usable utensils, as those might not be provided at some places, such as if you are buying street food.
If you pack some utensils, such as bottles, cups, bowls, spoons and knives, you will much easier be able to make your snacks and even some meals yourself, instead of always resorting to restaurants and ready-made packages. This will be cheaper and easier on the environment. Aim for light but reusable equipment. Sometimes washing the dishes may be awkward or impossible, so some disposable ones can still come handy.
A money belt or passport pouch to protect your valuables is a very good idea, ideally with RFID blocking built in to prevent identify theft. See destination articles for information on local risks, and the pickpockets and crime articles for more on avoiding thefts. Don't be lazy and wear your money belt outside of your clothing. In some areas it will get stolen.
A baggage lock to seal checked bags may be a good idea. But for travel in the US, use a lock approved by TSA; they have master keys for these locks, and with any other lock, airport security will cut it off if they decide to look in your bag.
A number of companies make Pack Safes, which are basically a wire mesh, secured by a padlock, that can enclose your backpack or suitcase and attach it to a solid object (chair, bed, etc) so that prying eyes and fingers cannot remove items from your baggage without a bolt-cutter or your keys. Their weight is not insignificant (about half a kilogram) but worth it on some voyages. They are good for when you have to leave your bags unattended, i.e. in bus baggage holds, dormitory rooms, ferries and when you need to go to the bathroom. Don't leave your bag locked up and unattended in a bus stop or a train station, or airport where security is high, as it may be opened with an explosive charge by the local bomb disposal unit. They are efficient, if you keep them on throughout your journey, as opposed to taking them on and off. They are designed not to get tangled. Make sure they fit well, try it on to your bag before purchase, and put on a waterproof underneath for extra protection.
You probably won't ever need the address and phone number for your embassy or consulate, but if you do — for example, if your passport is stolen or you are arrested for some real or bogus offense — you'll be glad you had them with you. Phone numbers for family at home are also good to have, just in case. The numbers of your charge cards and travellers cheques, stored separately from the cheques themselves, can be vital if you need to phone the issuer to report a theft.
Most travelers will sensibly avoid areas where armed conflicts are in progress. For those who must go, see War zone safety. It is a good idea to check with your local foreign affairs department for any travel warnings to areas you may be visiting. Things may have changed since you were last there.
If you have travel insurance — and travel insurance covering at least medical expenses and evacuation home is highly recommended for travelers who are going to be outside the realm of their country of residence's healthcare and insurance arrangements — you should carry a copy of your policy details and the insurer's contact details with you. In some countries, it is difficult to obtain medical care without being able to demonstrate adequate insurance.
You don't want to sacrifice personal hygiene, but some compromises from your usual assortment of personal care products might help. Your hotel may provide soap and shampoo (or they may not, this is worth researching about your destination). The fact that they're not your usual brand probably won't matter. Minimal use of make-up is expected of non-business travelers. Of course you'll probably want to have your own toothbrush (or a travel toothbrush), deodorant, shaving gear (if applicable), and tampons/pads (if applicable), but it may be easier to purchase some of these at your destination, especially if your trip is a long one. Deodorant is available in pocket-size packs. If you bring toothpaste, shampoo etc., bring a smaller package or one half-empty. Think about what items can be shared within your party.
Women may want to consider a reusable alternative to tampons, such as a menstrual cup or sponge. Tampons can be scarce outside of shops catering to tourists in countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. Some public toilets do not supply toilet paper, so it's a good idea to bring a roll of your own.
Beware that you cannot carry on containers larger than 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.) of any gel or liquid on many airlines and there is a limit to the total volume of those containers that are allowed, such as in Canada, where all of those gels and liquid containers must fit in a single transparent bag capable of holding 1 litre size bag (such bags will are unable to hold anywhere near 10 items of 100 ml size). Aerosol cans are often restricted or banned. Put larger cosmetics in your checked baggage; get travel-sized versions of anything you actually intend to use while on a plane, inside the airport's secure zone, or would miss if you were delayed overnight, such as saline solution for contact lenses. Consider whether it would be more convenient to buy cosmetics after you arrive, versus spending more time enjoying your destination.
A bottle of no-wash hand sanitizer or wipes can come in handy, no matter where you travel. If you're going to be outdoors much, sunglasses, sun-screen, lip balm, and other skin-care products are important in more places than not. Insect repellent is very handy in many places, especially tropical countries with mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and zika.
Some countries require masks to be worn when traveling on some modes of transportation within the country or internationally.
A copy of your eyeglasses prescription might come in handy should you break or lose your glasses or contacts, but a backup pair would be faster, and there's no better way to ruin a trip than not being able to see anything. If your destination is a low-cost country, then it may make sense to bring the prescription and buy a new pair there. In particular, a pair of prescription sunglasses are useful on many holiday trips.
Consider a small travel health kit with adhesive bandages, anti-bacterial cream, etc. In some countries it may be advisable to carry a more comprehensive first aid kit, including hypodermic needles, wound dressings, etc. Ideally talk to your local travel doctor or family doctor about what you may or may not need before you go.
- See also: Medications
If you take any medications, take personal supplies of them, as they may be in short supply or difficult to obtain during certain hours, but resist the urge to re-package them for travel across borders; keeping them in their original packages, with copies of prescriptions, will save you from hassles (or worse) from customs & immigration. (Also, make sure they're legal where you're going.) Pain relievers, anti-diarrheal medicines, etc. may come in handy, but keep in mind that they can also be purchased most places during normal store hours. If you have any medical conditions, including allergies, then keep that information on you; med-alert tags will be recognized in most places.
If you are traveling to any developing countries, obtaining antibiotics to take with you on the trip may be helpful in the event you develop significant food poisoning.
If you are going to the tropics, see also tropical diseases.
- Odor eliminator – for long trips, if laundry will just not be all that convenient
- S hook – for hanging clothes in bathrooms
- Good quality sports bra – even designer stores in third-world countries often have export surplus and thereby bad quality. Considering the number of potholes you'll encounter, it is a good idea to have one.
- Powerbars – especially useful for hikes and as backup. Did your flight get delayed for hours? Are you jet-lagged and hungry in the middle of the night, with no restaurants open? Food, especially substantial food, is not always available when you want it, especially when you're on foot.
- Toilet paper – if toilets at your destination might not provide it. Alternatively, a travel-size pack of tissues may be handy for many things, including as an emergency substitute for toilet paper.
- Batteries – ones bought abroad can be fake, or last a day in a high power device like a digital camera.
- Mosquito repellent with DEET – over 30% DEET is poisonous and not needed, as the effect against mosquitoes does not increase after that.
- Sunscreen – Good quality sunscreen should have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in the ingredients. Paradoxically it can be next to impossible to get, of low quality and/or expensive in many tropical and subtropical countries in addition to sometimes being past the best before date.
- Carabiners – Metal loops with a sprung or screwed gate. Often useful for clipping things together. The cheapest ones cost about a dollar. If you intend to use them for climbing or any other essential high performance use do invest more in them.
- Anti-itch cream – often not available except in herbal form.
- Ear plugs are useful when you're trying to sleep in a very noisy location, e.g., flying. If you fly often, consider buying good, noise-canceling headphones. Note that using ear plugs can be dangerous in some circumstances, e.g., if a fire alarm goes off and everyone except you evacuates the building.
- An eye cover is good if you're someone who can only sleep when it's dark.
- Alarm clocks are perhaps less necessary these days as cell phones and watches tend to have built-in alarms. But don't rely on early morning calls from your hotel to make that unmissable flight.
- A utility knife for outdoor life; not recommended for city-life, though.
Bringing a mobile phone along makes perfect sense, but check to see whether the place you're going has a compatible network, and that either your service provider offers roaming there or that your phone would be compatible with a local prepaid service. Obtaining a local mobile phone plan in the country where you are traveling may save you for exorbitant charges that may be charged for roaming using your country's mobile phone service provider. Even if you don't intend roaming, you can usually use your phone for emergency calls should the need arise – if it is compatible. Phone cards and/or numbers for "collect" calling may be more practical, or even buying a local phone along with a prepaid service. If you bring your own phone, don't forget your charger and checking its electric compatibility. See also Telephone service.
You may want to bring along a laptop, netbook, tablet or PDA/smartphone to get online. Remember to carry a plug adapter if you need one. You can carry travel guides, maps, phrasebooks, and books for general reading in digital form, allowing you to save plenty of weight. GPS-enabled PDAs are a wonderful tool for navigating cities. Make sure you have maps loaded for your destination. In the USA a free Wi-Fi connection can often be found, particularly in restaurants and hotels, while connections in Europe and some other areas more often have fees. If you use the mobile phone network to reach the Internet, check the data fees. Leave some charge in your devices, as you may be required to turn them on at security checkpoints in order to demonstrate that they are what they seem to be.
Internet cafés are still common in areas where home internet service is not, so you may prefer to use them instead of lugging your own system around – if going somewhere with adequate such services and you just need Internet now and then.