Even the most experienced travellers tend to leave something they need behind every trip. 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.
When you make your packing list, 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 any reason, 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 luggage 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, lay out your clothes and money. 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, 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 luggage 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.
Use waterproof sacks 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 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. Three to five-gallon sized zip lock bags 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).
Tickets and itinerary
If you're traveling by plane, train, etc., 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.
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. Business travelers 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, don't take copies of your resume, leave your tools of trade at home, and 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/or written permission from any other legal guardians may help you avoid a hassle. See also Traveling with families for children's documentation requirements.
Membership cards can be useful: e.g. International Student Identification Card, Hosteling International, Hertz/Avis/AAA, frequent-flyer or other "affinity" 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.
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 on a cheap mp3 player or an iPod. 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.
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 guide. Downloading the Wikivoyage offline app avoids the weight; printing off needed pages from Wikivoyage is another option. 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. Alternately, just read it as needed in Internet cafés, and perhaps add your new discoveries while you're there. An even lighter-weight option is to use the web browser on your mobile phone, if you have one that works in the location you are visiting. Most smartphones include some form of GPS and enough space to download some form of map (such as an OpenStreetMap-based app). Loading the information onto the device before departure saves on mobile data use while travelling and avoids the map going blank on some remote and desolate stretch of Trans-Labrador Highway with no 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 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 just 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 including 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. For example, a compass designed for North America will not give accurate readings in Australia and vice versa. There are also more expensive multi-zone or global compasses that function correctly everywhere.
A keychain-size flashlight can be handy, or there are similar apps that turn your smartphone into a flashlight. However, these apps can drain your battery rapidly.
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.
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 will need money, so the main question is what kind and how much. The four main alternatives are cash, travelers cheques, credit cards, ATM cards. 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.
Some countries – China and India, for example – have government controls on foreign exchange transactions, and in some places it is difficult to use bank cards or to exchange travellers' cheques. Check the entry for your destination(s) for details before deciding what to carry. If you're relying primarily on cards, having at least two, each on different networks, is extremely useful.
Having at least two credit cards and keeping them separate, say, with one tucked away in your first aid kit, toiletry bag or in a hidden pocket in your backpack/luggage, will prove incredibly useful if you have your wallet stolen.
See Money for more tips on accessing and using money while travelling.
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.
Don't forget to leave some room and weight allowance for things you buy when abroad. If you contemplate significant shopping, consider packing one or two folding duffels. You can then put purchases in returning, checked luggage, and soft items displaced by purchases in duffel(s) for carry-on.
- See also: Clothes
What clothes to bring is a big question, both in terms of its importance and percentage of your luggage. 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.
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 tux 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.
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. 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.
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.
Consider applying waterproofing compound to clothing or luggage before you leave. In general, you should not carry it; aerosols are not allowed on planes, and you don't want extra weight. However, blasting your hat, jacket or canvas luggage before going may be quite helpful.
Packing too much could ruin your trip. But packing too little could have the same effect. Make sure you double, triple check the weather, hotel services (i.e. washing clothes, free clothing per room like bathrobe, etc.) and your list.
Start making 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 travelers carry not only all essential medications but also a T-shirt and underwear in their carry-on luggage, 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.
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 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. Deodorant is available in pocket-size packs.
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.
A money belt or passport pouch to protect your valuables is a very good idea. 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 luggage 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 luggage without a bolt-cutter or your keys. These are good for when you have to leave your bags unattended. i.e. in bus luggage 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. It is a common myth that they weigh a lot (in actuality they are a little over a pound) and that they can get tangled (they can't because of their design). 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, but if you do, 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 travellers 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 travellers 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 etc. (or a travel toothbrush), deodorant, shaving gear (if applicable), tampons/pads (if applicable), etc., but it may be easier to purchase some of these at your destination, especially if your trip is a long one. 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 aerosol cans are often restricted or banned. Put larger cosmetics in your checked luggage; 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.
Consider a small first-aid 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.
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.
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.
If you are going to the tropics, see also tropical diseases.
See and Do
You'll probably want to bring a camera, along with sufficient storage and batteries. See Travel photography for more on this topic.
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.
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.
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 luggage, 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 luggage 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.
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.
For suggestions about packing food for places where you have to bring your own breakfast, see Packing for a week of hiking.
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.
- 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.
- Flashlight – Blackouts may be more common than you're used to. In some regions they are virtually guaranteed. Flashlights can also be useful for camping or exploring [[caves][
- 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 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). Even if you don't intend roaming, you can usually use your phone for emergency calls should the need arise. Phone cards and/or numbers for "collect" calling may be more practical. If you bring your mobile phone, don't forget your charger. See also Telephone service for travel.
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. 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. A PDA or smartphone offers the additional advantage that 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. Internet cafés are increasingly common throughout the world, especially in areas where home internet service is less common, so you may prefer to use them instead of lugging your own system around. However, wireless (wi-fi) connections in Europe and other localities often have fees associated with them, whereas in the USA a free wi-fi connection may often be found, particularly in restaurants and hotels.