Packing your bag seems like a simple task at first, but once you start doing it, you’ll be left scratching your head wondering if you’ve forgotten anything important and how everything is going to fit into your bag.
In this guide, you will get all the information you need to be able to pack your bags quickly and efficiently while also making sure you packed everything for your trip, no matter where you’re going.
So without further ado, here is the ultimate 5-step travel packing guide:
1. Choose the right travel bag for your trip
There are several different types of bags you can travel with and each one serves its own purpose. Most of the time, they can all get the job done and whichever one you pick is simply up to your personal preference, but it’s good to know what your options are because one might be better suited for your trip than the others.
The most common bag used when traveling, you can’t go wrong with a suitcase. They come in many different styles and they usually give you a choice between a soft or hard shell and 2 or 4 wheels.
There are even smart suitcases coming out that can follow you around the airport, charge your devices like a power bank, tell you how much they weigh, and lock themselves remotely! A good overall choice for any trip, smart or not.
If you’re planning to do some long-term or budget traveling, then a travel backpack might be the right choice for you. They achieve what the suitcase cannot and that’s traverse unpaved, uneven, and unusual terrain without any problems.
This is because as the name implies, they are worn on your back, meaning that as long as it’s not too heavy, you can take it anywhere you go! They are usually bigger than a standard backpack and come with many other additional features to distinguish them as well.
If you’re only planning a short weekend trip or you just want to fit within an airline’s carry-on limits, then a duffel bag would be a good choice.
The way they’re built means that they can be squished smaller if needed and since you have to carry them by hand, you are subconsciously convinced to pack less since you don’t want to have to carry a heavy bag which also means you won’t go over any weight limits!
The size of your bag depends on your method of transportation
Your method of transportation is an important thing to consider when choosing the size of your bag.
If you’re flying, you are restricted to bags of a certain size and weight (depending on the airline) and if you go over those restrictions, you typically have to pay excess baggage fees. Review the baggage limits for the airline and ticket class that you paid for and choose the size of your bag accordingly.
In addition, many airlines these days (especially budget airlines) charge for checked luggage meaning that it might be more beneficial to travel with a smaller-sized bag to be able to take it on board with you for free. However, if you’ve already paid for checked luggage, then you might as well use a larger bag to make the most of it!
When it comes to other methods of transportation, you typically have less restrictions for the size and weight of your bags meaning that you could theoretically bring any sized bag you want with you. However, you should not go overboard with it either because otherwise you’ll just be lugging around a large bag which can get uncomfortable over time.
2. Start preparing the basics
There are a few things that you should prepare for your trip no matter where you’re going. Here’s a list of the basics for each part of your luggage:
- Socks & underwear – a good rule of thumb is to bring one pair of each for every day of your trip. For example, if your trip is 7 days long, bring 7 pairs of each.
- Pyjamas – even if you don’t typically wear pyjamas, it’s still a good idea to bring a pair in case your accommodation has super strong AC or you’re couchsurfing/staying in a hostel.
- T-shirts, tank tops, & other shirts – bring a few different options so that you aren’t wearing the same shirt every day, but you don’t need to bring more than one per day because you can also mix and match.
- Pants, shorts, and/or skirts – you don’t need to pack as many since you can typically get away with wearing the same pants, shorts, and/or skirt more than once.
- Extra pairs of shoes – you want to bring at least one extra pair of shoes to give yourself more outfit options. Your main pair of shoes (which you wear on the plane) should be comfortable enough to walk around in whereas your second pair of shoes should be for dressier occasions. And if you want to bring a third pair to have even more outfit options, then go for it, but try not to go overboard with the shoes as they can take up a lot of space in your bag. Keep your shoes in plastic bags to avoid getting your other clothes dirty.
- A jacket – even if you’re going to a warm destination, having a jacket in your bag is handy in case there’s a sudden change in the weather. If it takes up a lot of space in your bag, carry it with you on the plane.
- Dresses, dress shirts, and/or a suit – maybe you want to go to a fancy restaurant or for a night out on the town. Having some fancy outfit options means you’ll be prepared.
- Belts & ties (if needed)
- Jewelry & accessories – separate them into small bags so they don’t get tangled and store them all together so they don’t get lost in your clothes.
- Bag for dirty & wet clothes – you can use a simple plastic bag to store dirty clothes in or use a nicer laundry bag. If you have any wet clothes or swimwear, put them in bags as well.
- Other travel accessories – check out my Guide to the Top Travel Accessories for a list.
Toiletry Bag (Toiletries & Medication)
If you have checked luggage, then you should pack your toiletry bag there, otherwise make sure your toiletries don’t go over the maximum limit for liquids (3.4oz/100ml per bottle) if you’re bringing it with your carry-on.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, & mouthwash
- Hair brush/comb, hair ties, & bobby pins
- Body wash, shampoo, & conditioner
- Makeup, brushes, makeup mirror, & makeup remover
- Hair gel, wax, clay, paste, mousse, spray, pomade, cream, putty, and/or oil
- Razors, shaving cream, and/or hair trimmer
- Travel-sized tissue paper
- Nail clippers, tweezers, and/or scissors
- Lip balm, skin moisturizer, & deodorant
- Male/female hygiene products
- Extra contacts, solution, & contact case
You should also keep your medication in your toiletry bag so you can find it easily:
- Pain, cold, & fever medication (ibuprofen, tylenol, advil, etc)
- Diarrhea medication
- Personal medication/prescriptions
- Allergy medication
- Other medications you rely on
There are a few things that you should be taking with you in your carry-on bag no matter what and others that are good to have in case you make it to your destination, but your checked luggage doesn’t.
- Extra pair of socks & underwear
- Extra shirt & shorts
- Extra swimsuit (if you’re planning on going to a pool/beach on your trip)
- Extra toothbrush, toothpaste, & important medicine – if you are putting your toiletry bag in your checked luggage, it’s a good idea to keep extras of these with you
- Phone, laptop, tablet, camera, and/or other electronic devices + their chargers, cables, & other accessories – it’s safer to store them with you and having their chargers & cables on you means you can charge them anytime
- Travel adapters & power banks – in case you need to charge your devices and can’t find a power outlet or your chargers won’t fit them
- Earphones/headphones – for watching movies or listening to music on the plane
- A Pen – always useful to have with you
- A book – good for keeping yourself entertained if movies don’t do it for you
- A card game – good to have even if you’re traveling solo as you never know when you’ll make friends to play card games with
- Travel pillow, blanket, sleep mask, and ear plugs – very useful if your flight is a long one and you want to catch some shut-eye
- Passport, visas, IDs, cash, debit/credit cards, & other important travel documents – safer to keep with you and you’ll need most of them on the go anyways
- Copies of your passport, visas, IDs, & other important documents
- Your house keys and any other specific valuables that you don’t want to lose
- Glasses and your glasses case (if you wear glasses)
Your plane outfit
It’s a good idea to prepare and set aside your outfit for the flight beforehand, especially if you have to depart super early in the morning. You don’t want to be figuring out what to wear when you’ve just woken up at 4 AM!
Luckily it’s pretty simple:
- One of your shirts
- A sweater or hoodie – even if you’re traveling to a warm place, you should still bring a sweater or hoodie for the flight since the AC in the plane can sometimes get chilly.
- Your main pair of shoes – there’s no need to dress up for the plane so some standard running shoes will do fine.
- Jeans – you can never go wrong with a pair of jeans. Super versatile and perfect for the plane since it can get chilly in there. And if you’re traveling to a warm destination, just change into shorts at the airport when you arrive.
3. Take the weather into account
Before starting to pack, look up what the weather forecast for your destination is going to be when you’re there. Will it be cold, rainy, or even snowy? Or will it be hot and sunny?
There are a few other things you should be packing depending on the weather.
If it will be cold, rainy, and/or snowy:
- Less shirts, more sweaters
- A warm, waterproof jacket/coat
- Warm, waterproof boots
- Warm scarves, gloves, and socks
- Thermal pants & shirt
- A hat or beanie
- No shorts/skirts, more pants
If it will be hot and/or sunny:
- Mosquito repellant
- Less pants, more shorts/skirts
- Extra swimsuit
- Pool/beach toys and accessories
- Sun hat (if you wear one)
- Beach towel
- Beach blanket
4. Pack for specific activities
If you plan to do any specific activities on your trip that require you to bring certain items or equipment, make sure you consider that and pack for them. Make a list of the activities you plan to do and what clothing or other accessories you need to bring to be able to do them.
That being said, if the items you need to bring are quite large, see if you can rent them in your destination instead. The cost of renting certain equipment might be cheaper than the excess baggage fees you’d have to pay to bring them.
Also, take a look at what your accommodation provides for you. Sometimes they will have certain things available for their guests to use such as beach towels and pool equipment meaning that you don’t have to bring them with you.
Conversely, if they don’t offer some of the basic necessities, make sure to pack them. Some hotels won’t offer towels or hair dryers and if that’s the case, you’ll need to bring them with you. If you do, make sure that any hair dryers that you travel with are dual-voltage! (You can learn more about this in my Guide to the Top Travel Accessories).
5. Use efficient packing strategies to get more space in your bags
- Instead of folding your clothes, roll them – they’ll take up less space that way
- Stuff socks, underwear and other small clothing items in your shoes
- Use packing cubes to keep things organized
- Lay out everything you are planning to pack on your bed before putting it in your bag and think twice about everything. Do you really need that top? That 4th pair of shoes?
- Remember that you can also buy many things in your destination – so if it’s taking up space and you don’t need it, leave it behind and buy it there
- Put any and all liquids that you plan to bring in your carry-on in a clear ziploc bag and place it at the top of your carry-on bag so that you can pull it out quickly and easily when you have to go through security
- Also keep any tablets and laptops at the top of your carry-on bag for the same reason
- Plan to wear the same flight outfit on the way back so that you’re covered for 2 days’ worth of clothes
- Position any shoes that you’re packing from heel to toe to save space
- Make the last things you pack the first things you’ll need when you arrive so that you don’t have to dig through your bag to get them. This could be a specific outfit, a swimsuit, or your pyjamas, for example.
- Choose to pack neutral-coloured clothes instead of bright-coloured ones since you will be able to pair them with more outfits, letting you bring less of them overall
- Leave room for souvenirs in case you plan to buy any
And that’s all you need to know!
Packing doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you know what you’re doing. Follow this guide and you’ll have so much space in your luggage that you’ll be able to bring back extra souvenirs for everyone!
If this guide helped you out, let me know in the comments below. And if you want to make sure you’re prepared for your destination, make sure to read the Destination Guide for the country you’re visiting!