Now it is time to pack, you are almost ready to leave. Now the question is, what do you bring? Of course, you have to pack what you need to not only protect yourself in a comfortable manner from the elements. You also need to be able to do your planned activities in a safe, decent and socially acceptable manner for the region that you are visiting. Certain regions require a woman to cover her hair when out in public, while you might get away without wearing the appropriate scarf, do you really want that headache. Remember, the goal is to blend in so that you do not make yourself a target.
I used to subscribe to the practice of packing everything but the kitchen sink. This is OK if you are going on a road trip or own the means of transportation, i.e. boat or plane. But for most forms of travel, it means that you have to be circumspect in your decision making. No where is this more evident than in backpack travel, where you carry everything you need for survival on your back. On my first backpack trip, my backpack weighed over 80 pounds, and I nearly died of heat exhaustion on the trail. I have since learned how to reduce my backpack weight, though I am still too heavy at around 50 pounds. My goal weight is around 40 pounds. Don’t forget this has to include food, water, shelter, clothes and cooking implements.
There are several things that come into play when you are packing:
- What is the climate and weather of where you are traveling to? (Winter travel is the most difficult to pack for, also will you be doing outdoor activities, i.e. snowshoeing?)
- How long will you be going for, will you have a way to clean your clothes?
- What events will you be going to if any, i.e. formal events?
- What is your itinerary?
- What type of extra activities will you be participating in, i.e. swimming, running and scuba diving?
- Do you want to record your trip, i.e. video or still photography, and what quality will the end product be?
- Will you have to carry all of your travel items for any distance? This is by far the most important determinant.
- Will you be allowed check-in or only carry-on luggage? What is the weight restrictions for your luggage?
If you are going to be involved in equipment intensive activities you have two options…bring your own gear or rent it when you arrive at the destination. This may be problematic if the quality of the available equipment is questionable. You really should not compromise your safety or life with poor quality scuba equipment. Poor quality winter gear like snowshoes might cause some discomfort, but you will hardly be in danger if your snowshoe breaks and you are just out stomping around somewhere close to a civilized area. However, if your going out on a survival like expedition, you will need to bring your own equipment. You will simply have to bear the extra expense for the transportation of your special activity items.
Photography can mean a lot of different things. Will your photography require a tripod, or supplementary lighting, or are you using it for underwater photographical purposes? Will a point-and-shoot suffice or do you need a DSLR for your underwater shooting?
To go on a dive trip to the islands I have taken as much as four suitcases which weighed in excess of 160 pounds for me and a matching outfit for my wife. This obviously goes way past what you can carry by yourself. It also is going to cost extra money for luggage costs, plus you will need a larger taxi to transport you and your gear. This is one reason that I have stopped diving on my international travels. I have tried snorkeling instead, if the diving was shallow enough. I have also scaled back on my photography gear to mirrorless equipment and a very lightweight travel tripod or even a gorilla pod, if acceptable. A good tripod can reduce the need for a lot of heavy and fast glass. I also use a small tablet instead of a laptop computer. If I decide to bring my laptop, I have a 15-inch one that is several pounds lighter than my old 17-inch laptop. I even have a small portable thermal printer for printing tickets and such for travel engagements and a booster antenna for getting more wi-fi reach.
When you are traveling to inclement travel locations your most important items are your clothes. These clothes have to be adequate enough to protects you from the elements. All else is secondary. You can always sleep in your underwear or in the nude if need be and if you have a private location to sleep in. If you are in a hostel where you are sleeping in communal rooms, sleep in your clothes. So what you bring is the bear necessity which is two outfits and several pairs of underwear and socks. You wash your underwear and hang it to dry while you are sleeping from either your bunk or in your bathroom, if you have your own room. If there is a washer and dryer available, use it whenever you can. This becomes more important in warm climates than cold climates.
I will discuss what we packed for our trip to France. We spent nine days and nights in France and all we had were two small carry on suit cases each. We each had our camera with my wife having two lenses and me having three lenses. We had one travel tripod between us and a charger for the camera batteries. We also had a European power strip and a tablet to look at our travel photos each night. We had travel books and maps and books for me to read. We each brought three outfits, one of which we were wearing. One outfit was a comfortable outfit fit for walking and touring sites. A second outfit that was a little nicer that would do in more formal settings and our third outfit was another comfortable outfit. Our jackets were water repellent and doubled as a windbreakers. They also came with hoods, so our heads were protected when it rained. Since it was winter, we also brought each a pair of long john underwear. I brought five pairs of underwear and socks. Our Airbnb in Paris had a small washer and dryer so we were able to keep our clothes fresh. I bought waterproof and insulated shoes in case there was a lot of rainfall in France which kept my feet warm and dry. Our luggage was water repellent against even the heaviest of deluges, so we pretty much had all the bases covered. We were also able to carry all of our luggage with us, if need be. This was by far the lightest I had ever traveled on an international trip.
14 Genius Packing Tips to Help You Travel Like a Pro
Roll clothes and pack them first.
The best way to prevent creases and make the most of your space is to use the roll method. Lay tops facedown, fold in the sleeves and roll from the bottom up. For pants, put the legs together and roll from the waist down. Once you’ve rolled everything, place pants and tops in your suitcase before shoes and accessories; then, fit in other oddly shaped items like hair tools.
Choose travel-friendly fabrics.
Our Textiles Lab pros always recommend opting for knits and stretchy fabrics. Even when these fabrics wrinkle, the creases will fall out when you hang them up. Woven fabrics are more prone to wrinkling.
Pack the first outfit you’ll want to wear on top.
If you know you’re getting off the plane and going straight to dinner or a meeting, plan your outfit and put it into your suitcase last. That way, when you arrive, you won’t have to dig through everything else to find it (plus, it will be less likely to wrinkle). This strategy is a great excuse to think about what you’ll wear in advance so you don’t make one of the biggest packing mistakes: waiting until the last minute to pack. Have trouble making a packing list and sticking to it? Check out this useful planner from Erin Condren.
Place heavy items at the base.
Keep weightier things like shoes and books by the wheeled end of your suitcase. This placement helps your bag stay stable when upright, and stops other items from getting smushed.
Layer plastic dry cleaning bags between clothes.
The next time you pick up your dry cleaning, save the plastic bags. You can use them to protect delicate items from accidental pulls by layering them between your clothes. They help your clothing slide (not snag) when your bag gets jostled (and they help reduce wrinkling!).
Use packing cubes.
Our pros like Eagle Creek’s set. These blocks keep your suitcase organized and stack together easily — no more trying to fit in oddly shaped items like a puzzle. Plus, the durable cubes are lightweight and thin so you won’t lose any precious suitcase space.
Avoid over or under-packing.
While you might be tempted to leave space for souvenirs, extra room means items can shift and crumple or break. Fill empty spaces with dry cleaner bags (and fill them later with mementos from your trip). It’s important not to over-pack either (especially if you’re only bringing a carry-on), since that’s a surefire way to create crease marks and can make it extra tricky to repack when you’re going home — or heading off to another spot.
Get an extra tote for souvenirs.
You’re going to want to shop so bring a foldable bag like this cute backpack from Baggu. It won’t take up much space on the way to your destination (it folds into a small pouch!) and you can fill it with (almost) anything you buy on your travels.
Take a mini iron.
Despite your best packing efforts, some wrinkles and creases are inevitable. That’s where Reliable’s pint-size steam iron comes in. At only 1.6 pounds, it takes up very little space and is perfect for quick touch-ups anywhere (it works as an iron and steamer). It performed well in our Cleaning Lab tests (just don’t expect it to de-wrinkle a full garment in record time).
Bring two small laundry bags.
Use one for lights and one for darks. If you forget, grab plastic bags from your hotel room’s closet. When you get home, throw the presorted loads in the wash. Other Cleaning Lab must-haves: two-gallon resealable bags for wet bathing suits and an instant stain remover like.
Organize your liquids bags.
You know the drill: Stash any liquids you want to keep in your carry-on bag in a separate, clear bag so you can easily pass through security. Our beauty director’s must-haves: a do-it-all hydrating balm, cleansing wipes for your face or hands (or the seat), and a lightly scented hand sanitizer. Not sure which liquids you can bring on the plane? Remember TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule: Products must be 3.4 ounces or less and they all must fit in a one quart-size bag.
Keep important medication in your purse.
Even if you plan to carry on your bag, there’s still a risk you could have to check it at the gate. If your meds are in your purse, you’ll have what you need even if the overhead bin space fills up and you end up having to check your bag.
Bring a scarf for the plane in your carry-on.
No matter what season it is, planes are often on the chilly side. Bring a pretty, warm wrap that you can bundle up in if the temp doesn’t feel comfortable. Bonus: You can also fold it and use it as a pillow.
Carry a reusable water bottle.
As long as it’s empty, it’s okay to bring a water bottle through airport security. Once you’re inside the terminal, fill it up at an airport cafe or water station. You’ll stay hydrated, and it’s greener than having to buy plastic water bottles while site-seeing. Our Kitchen Appliances Lab experts like S’well’s newly-designed bottles. They’ll still keep your hot drinks hot and your cold drinks cold without spilling, but now have a wider mouth so you can even add ice cubes.
The Ultimate Packing Checklist
The Essential Guide to Packing Like a Pro
Every experienced traveler knows that traveling by its very nature demands simplicity.
Can you pack your entire apartment into your backpack or suitcase? Of course not!
You have to keep it simple and stick to your essentials. Save yourself the stress of dragging a suitcase full of unnecessary stuff around places you are trying to freely explore.
Everyone has different needs and this list is my attempt to provide you with a general guideline on what to pack and stick to the essentials. Ultimately, you can tailor this list to suit your travels.
Here’s my suggested packing list for a one-week trip…
What to Pack for an International Trip
The first step to packing effectively (and the most important) is to buy a small backpack so you aren’t tempted to fill empty space and overpack.
Backpacks are also more comfortable and give you greater mobility when traveling.
After you get your backpack, it’s time to start putting your stuff in it.
As a general rule for clothing, always go for quick dry, wicking, and cool fabrics.
This allows you to do laundry by hand in the sink as needed to reduce the amount of clothes you need to carry.
Clothing for Tropical Climates
- 3 t-shirts
- 4 shirts
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 3 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of compression pants/yoga pants
- 1 bathing suit
- 1 dress shirt
- 1 pair of running shorts, can double as your bathing suit
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 long sleeve t-shirt
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 pair of sandals/flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 microfiber towel
Clothing for Cold Climates
- 3 long-sleeved shirts
- 1 pair of rain pants
- 1 pair of compression pants
- 5 pairs of wool socks
- 5 pairs of underwear
- 1 waterproof winter coat
- 1 pair of gloves
- 1 beanie
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of hiking/snow boots
Layering is key to keep warm in cold weather.
Layering basically means just what it sounds like: wearing multiple layers of garments, one on top of the other. For a more in-depth explanation on layering, check out this article by REI on layering basics.
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 pack of disposable razors
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 bar of soap
- 1 deodorant stick
- 1 small bottle of sunscreen
2. Small Medical Kit
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Neosporin cream
- Doctor-prescribed medicine
- Antiseptic hand-wipes
3. Travel Tech
4. Miscellaneous Items
- Packing cubes: Packing cubes have changed my life forever. They are like individual drawers. All your underwear and socks in one container, all your shirts in another, and another for toiletries. They make packing and re-packing stupid simple.
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Combination lock
Rick’s Packing List
By Rick Steves
- Here’s a rundown of what should go in your suitcase:
Documents, Money, and Travel Info
Toiletries and Personal Items
Note that many of these things are high-ticket items; guard them carefully or consider insuring them.
I don’t advocate bringing everything listed here. Choose the items that fit with your travel style and needs.