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I’ve done a few packing guides over the years (road trip guide; enviro guide; honeymoon guide), but this Packing Guide is for all of you just starting out on your travels. It’ll explain why you need certain items, what you can live without, and what you can’t. It’s the Ultimate Packing Guide and can serve as your packing reminder even if you’ve flown all over the world. Buckle in, because this is a long one.
First things first, let’s start with the luggage. You can’t start packing unless you’ve something to put it all into! And, with so many choices out there, it may get a little confusing.
I always, always, take a carry-on bag AND my purse when traveling. I know of a lot of people who try to only fly with carry-on luggage, but that’s not my style. If that’s your goal, then you’ll have to be very specific in what type of carry-on you will be bringing with you on all trips.
Will it be the classic roller bag that comes with a luggage set? Annoying to jam into overhead compartments, but fits the sizing requirements for planes?
Will it be a backpack that you will be living out of for months on end?
Will it be a smaller backpack that you’ll use as your pack while exploring?
Will it be a duffel bag, jammed full of items you don’t trust in your checked baggage?
Will it be chic and leather and all things beautiful that you won’t want to jam into an overhead compartment?
Mainly, I use the last one for my own carry-on. It took me months to find what I wanted in my price range and I finally settled on a Pan-Am-esque bag from Marshall’s. It works best for me because it opens up easily so you can view everything inside. It fits my tablet, a book or two, a water bottle, ear plugs, and the rest of my plane travel necessities.
When picking a carry-on, you have to think further than the price tag or the look of the bag. How much stuff will you be wanting with you on the plane? Will you want to use it during tours? Will it be the only bag you’ll have for the entire trip? My carry-on, though chic and perfect for my items, works horribly as a bag during tours. It’s a bit bulky and annoying to sit on your shoulder for hours and looks absolutely ridiculous sitting on a beach.
Check out my skincare must-haves for your carry-on here. Anything of value that I don’t want to be accidentally lost with my checked bag? That also gets thrown into here, like jewlery. It’s also smart to keep your deodorant and a spare pair of undies in there, as well. Just in case.
The Checked Behemoth
Depending on how you pack, and maybe you don’t know how you do until you hit the end of this post, your checked baggage will reflect the sizing you will need.
I have a quite large suitcase that works well for me. It’s large enough to pack clothes for 3 weeks and has enough room for shopping sprees. Shopping is a big part of why I travel, but if it isn’t for you and you don’t plan on buying much while away, then why buy a huge suitcase?
The big question: Soft or hard? heh.
Personally, I use soft suitcases as they have more give to them and bounce around a lot easier than hard-shelled suitcases. While investing in good luggage is a smart idea, spending your savings on a piece isn’t necessarily going to do you any good. I once saw the back ripped off of someone’s suitcase in an airport in Brazil.
Trusted luggage brands:
You’ll want to pack different types of clothing for options. The amount listed will be for a two week vacation. While your style will vary and the amount of clothing can change for your own needs (i.e. gym clothes if you plan on running every day or visiting the hotels’ gym), this list will give you guidance on how much to pack. Think about how often you will wear an item at home. I’ll wear jeans up to 5 times before I’ll want to throw them in the wash. If you don’t see yourself wearing a lot of jeans, only pack one pair!
Remember that you may get caught in a downpour, or you may end up ripping your pants or shirt or whatever on anything, you may end up spilling on yourself. Packing an extra or two of your most-used items will help you from feeling stressed when these things happen. Instead of having to rush out to a store to buy something to wear, you can pursue leisurely and bring home what you want instead of what you need.
If you’re planning on traveling for long periods of time during your trip, remember to pack a comfortable outfit that will get you through it. This can be similar to the one you wore on the airplane. Need airport outfit ideas? Check out my styling guide here.
After sitting in an airport and a metal tube for hours upon hours, you start to feel a little…gross. This means that you won’t be reusing that outfit you flew here in (except maybe the jacket) and unless you have a washing machine in your humble abode for the next few days, packing a second (or third if 14+ hours of travel is in the future) set of travel clothes that will keep you comfortable is damn–near mandatory.
- underwewar (20x….because sometimes you get sweaty)
- socks (if you’re wearing shoes that require socks every day of your trip: 16x just in case you get a couple wet. If you’re mainly going to be sock-free, but havae some hikes planned out, pack one pair of socks for each day you will need them, plus a couple extras, just in case)
- bras (as needed. These are the most annoying things to buy abroad, so make sure you pack all styles you will need!)
- pantyhose/tights, as needed plus an extra in case you get a snag
- pajamas (3-5x. Enough to sleep in at night and an extra to change into to lounge in)
- sweatpants (1x for lounging)
- yoga pants/leggings (1x/2x depending on how often you will be going for hikes or runs). These aren’t to be confused with actual leggings that people wear because they think they’re pants.
- light jacket
Packing for the everyday can be more of a nightmare than packing for special nights out on the town. You know how to dress for fancy nights out! But, how do you dress while exploring a new city? You don’t want to pack only cargo shorts, T-shirts, pulled right up to the knee tube socks and runners (or *shudder* sandals) and a fanny pack, sticking out in the crowd as that tourist…or maybe you do. Do you, but know I’m juding you from afar.
My packing style leaves you with a couple of extras just in case something happens (honestly, I’m always ready to shit myself or spill sauce all down my front on every trip). If you’re the type of person to only wear dresses, scrap the pants and only pack the dresses you’ll need! Same goes for those who hate dresses. Leave those behind, or for fancy nights. For those who are in the middle and love everything, pack the following:
- jeans (1x)
- dresses/skirts, casual (5x+ depending on your style)
- pants, casual (2x)
- tops, casual (10x. Think Tshirts and the like)
- tops, nicer (5x. Think respectable polos or casual dress-shirts and blouses. Nothing too fancy, but a little nicer and more put-together when needed for specific tours or restaurants or anywhere else that may have a dress code in effect)
- sweaters/jackets (1-3x)
The going out
- dresses/skirts, fancier (2x for night’s out in nicer restaurants or bars)
- pants, fanicer (2x)
- tops, fancier (2-3x depending on how often you think you’ll end up in nicer restaurants)
Deciding on the type of footwear to bring on vacation is very important, especially if you have sensitive feet. Bring whatever feels comfortable for you and NO CROCS. Leave those disgusting things behind in North America.
I’m a lover of shoes and often have 10 pairs in my suitcase before I can pare them down. If you’re the same way, try to keep them to a minimum of 3-4 pairs. I know, it sounds hard, but they take up A LOT of space.
Try going for those that work well with nearly every type of outfit. You can dress down a nicer dress with a pair of converse or keds or dress up jeans with a pair of heels.
- 1x good runners (if no intense walking/light hikes will be taking place and you can’t stand the thought of wearing runners in chic cities, leave these off the list)
- 1x goes-with-everything converse or keds. They will be comfortable to walk in all day and will look much better than chunky runners.
- 1x loafers/mules/nice sandals. Something that looks a little better than your runners and that is easier to walk in than heels or dress shoes. These will be perfect for nicer night’s out that don’t require full primping.
- 1x flip flops for shower stalls in hostels or for walking around in your hotel or apartment. If you have to jaunt down to the front desk or take out the garbage in your apartment, you may not want to have to tie your shoes every time. #laziness
- 1x heels/dress shoes (optional, totally dependent on your style)
If you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping, pack the basics that you’ll neeed and then only 3-4 outfits! That way you can enjoy your new goodies on your trip.
This is less of a list as it is to remember to bring some, but don’t go crazy. Pick pieces that are versatile and you are happy with. My go-to? 1 soft gold necklace I love, one statement necklace, 2-3 pairs of stud pearls, watch, 1-2 scarves.
Remember, you can always buy more on your vacation!
I also pack these on my carry-on because I don’t want it getting lost.
Go green and take up way less space in your suitcase with bar soaps. If you haven’t made the switch over in your house, using them on your next trip may change your mind! I love, love, love bar soaps.
- 1 bar shampoo (you can grab these and the next 3-4 items at Lush)
- 1 bar soap
- 1 bar face soap (or bottle)
- 1 bottle of conditioner. I’ve set to find a good bar conditioner, so a bottle is the way I go.
- face lotion
- perfume, if applicable
- sunscreen (reef-safe, non-nano)
- hair styling products. If you style your hair every single day, bring on the products. If you’re more of a wash and go kinda gal or pal, tone down the products. Remember that everything you pack adds weight to your suitcase.
- toothbrush (love these environmentally friendly ones) and toothbrush case (these are durable, eco-friendly and cute to boot)
- toothpaste. I used to just bring in a regular tube, not wanting to spend money on a travel tube of toothpaste. But, I recently added toothpaste to a tiny travel jar and it worked perfectly, just dunking your toothbrush in and away you go!
There are a few things you’ll need to bring with you as just in case protection.
- your medicine. If you have any prescriptions, don’t forget these! Also make sure that you’ve enough to get you through the trip.
- your vitamins. Again, if you take vitamins every day, bring them!
- contact solution and eye drops
- allergy meds, if applicable
- cold, cough, sinus (unless you’re going to Switzerland. Then, damn, they got you covered with the meds!)
These are items that aren’t needed, but will definitely make your trip more enjoyable. Like, ear plugs for noisy neighbours or when you’re on the plane.
- book(s). I usually bring 2-3 books. Or, download a few onto my tablet because books are frickin’ heavy
- deck of cards
- ear plugs
- eye mask
- travel pillow/blanket (keep in your carry-on for a better rest on the plane)
- camera if you have one that isn’t from the early 2000s and is better than your phone
- notebook and pen/pencil
- Wet Ones/hand wipes
- Water bottle
- Coffee mug
- laundry detergent. Throw a little detergent into a small travel tube and bring with you to wash delicates in the sink, if your place has a hotel, or if you’ve a stain you need to get out