These days, almost everyone is (and can be) a professional traveler, photographer and do-er. After just only a couple trips across the pond to see those big stones everyone’s talking about, exploring other cultures while trying not to insult by throwing a peace sign to the wrong one or simply venturing to another part of your own country because you need that giant donut, we get the hang of what we need to bring and what needs to stay home in order to have the ideal experience. Being weighed down by that extra pair of boots and forgetting your converter can both cause unpleasantries.
This is for all of you soon-to-be adventurers and to help you get a jump start, because one of the best damn things I’ve learned since being a flight attendant (besides smiling through the constant bull shit) is how to pack a suitcase/backpack like a BOSS.
Regardless of how many places I’d traveled before becoming an FA, I still sucked at packing. Y’all… it was bad. I now have a way different meaning to the word “necessity” than I did before. So believe me when I say I know this can be a struggle. I really do, because what if it decides to snow during the summer? What if a dolphin eats your sunglasses? What if you need those fancy earrings because you run into Gerard Butler, and you were right, he does want to marry you? It’s difficult.
The main things to take into consideration are the weather (Summer is the USA is Winter in Argentina) and what you’ll be doing (you don’t need a beach hat for the mountains).
So grab a pen and piece of paper or open up notes on your phone and get ready to make your travel packing list!
Passport: Just making sure, y’all. It’s, also, very smart to bring a photocopy of your passport with you wherever you go, and carry it separately from your passport. Find a scanner and print one out; if you don’t have a printer/scanner, UPS, FedEx and many other places provide these services for a few cents.
Jewelry: Have a favorite, charm, necklace, studs? Fine, but that’s it! You don’t need all that metal weighing your bag down, plus wearing too much bling can point you out as a tourist, making you a target for pickpockets. Subtle is best if you really feel naked without that silver around your neck. It’s even smart to buy a cheap watch that looks cheap when you’re traveling as opposed to wearing that Fossil watch your grandma gave you for Christmas.
Shoes: You don’t need an extra pair of sandals in case those break because guess what? Other countries actually sell the same basic shit we have at home. If worse comes to worse, get another cheap pair to get you through. I bring flip flops OR sandals (not both), tennis shoes and a pair of flexible, all-weather boots that don’t go past the knees. If I have room at the end, I might add a pair of flats (no suede or other material that gets ruined when wet). Unless you have actual plans to go to a fancy restaurant, leave the heels and fancy loafers at home; you don’t need them to party, that’s what new friends and booze are for, people.
Quick air travel tip: wear shoes that slip on and off easily to ease the security process; another good reason to wear slip on shoes is for inflight. This way you can take them off while seated but slip them on easily when using the bathroom – please DO NOT go to the lavatory without shoes on; even if you’re wearing socks. You think little boys that use it on their own are that skilled? Think again.
Hats: I love my hats, y’all, fedoras, Panama hats, maybe a nice cloche every now and then when I’m feeling moody, and they sure are great when you haven’t washed your hair in 4 days. However, they are not easy to keep nice and in tact when traveling. If you want to bring a hat, stick to a old baseball cap, beret or beanie, if it’s cold, since they all pack pretty well (those little headband ear warmers pack well, too, for chilly weather).
Scarves/Gloves: Speaking of cold weather, don’t forget about that biting wind and frosty air. If you’re going to a chilly place, I don’t bring more than two scarves (so if one gets wet, it has time to dry while you wear the other). For gloves, bringing one pair of leather gloves should suffice, unless you’re adding a snowboarding day then bring a pair you can wear on the slopes and on the sidewalks.
Make-up/Hair: Personally, I don’t like using much, so there are four items I generally use – concealer stick, powder, blush, mascara. I am aware there are people out there who like having their many products in their routine (like my amazing sister – Love ya, sis!), but when traveling, it is really best to keep it to a minimum – I think I’m just jealous because I don’t know how to use the majority of makeup products out there…
Also, as nice as it is to have big bottles of shampoo/conditioner/dry shampoo/hairspray to last you the whole time, take small bottles to save room, and buy more as needed. This not only makes your bag lighter, but helps when you air travel and are forced to fit ALL of your liquids in a clear, quart-sized, plastic bag (including liquid lipsticks, moisturizer, mascara, gel deodorant, everything). Make some cuts, and travelers, make it work! *Tim Gunn reference*
In the comfort of my home, I use body wash, but when I’m roughin’ it, I just bring a bar of soap in one of those reusable soap containers, like this. Bonus: It’s not a liquid, so you don’t have to worry about spills and taking it through security!
Don’t forget your hairbrush if you need one! I, also, carry a small, compact hairbrush like this in my bag when travelling.
Sunglasses: Don’t bring those Ray Bans if you don’t want to lose them, break them or have them stolen. Stick to some Fay Bans, so your heart isn’t broken. Again, you can buy more wherever you go 🙂
Entertainment: Computers, iPads, books, PSPs, games, over-the-ear headphones and so forth can take up a lot of space, and bringing expensive items always leads to a possibility of theft. Unless you have somewhere secure to put them while you’re out and about, leave the electronics at home. Yes. That includes your beats; I know some good quality headphones can be compacted, but it really is best to just stick with a pair that can be coiled up and put in your pocket. Don’t forget your chargers for what you do bring!
Books can take up a lot of space, so it is nice to have a nook or kindle of some sort, but you’re not going to be doing much reading with all the activities you’ll find. I prefer tangible books that have that awesome book smell and show me the satisfaction of progress (a bit old-fashioned here), but I don’t usually bring more than two, as I stay rather busy performing various shenanigans. Alternatively, I do bring a deck of cards which has come in handy many times under a plethora of circumstances! – Cough, cough, “drinking games” cough.
Eye mask/ Ear plugs/ Neck pillow: These are really just for the plane; although, I use an eye mask anytime light will bother me which is all the time since I’m one-third vampire, and I use earphones instead of earplugs because I don’t feel like they work on me; plus earplugs don’t play my beloved Vivaldi or soothing ocean sounds while I sleep. Sometimes, I bring a neck pillow, sometimes I don’t. If you go pro pillow, be sure to get one that snaps together into a circle, so you can hook it onto your bag without it falling off. That way, it’s not too much of a pain to carry it around, and it may also come in handy if you find yourself a hobo for the night, sleeping in a train station or airport, just don’t forget to put out your paper cup in case someone thinks you really are homeless.
Undies: Bras, bandeaus, socks and underwear… don’t bring more than a few days worth. “What? Ew.” Calm ya tits. They have washers in other countries, if not, they have soap and water.
Swimming: Two suits MAX. Again, one’s dirty or drying, you have the other. I bring one swimsuit wrap, IF I have room, at the end. Otherwise, you can just use shorts and a tank or a dress that you wear for roaming to cover up. Don’t forget to bring a tiny bottle of sunscreen or just buy a big bottle when you arrive to your destination. Last time I even brought a decently big towel with me when traveling – it didn’t go in my bag, rather strapped on top of my canvas bag. A towel can be used as a blanket or even a scarf – OR a scarf can double as a towel and a blanket – speaking from experience here 😂
If you’re part mermaid and love taking pictures underwater like myself, you can bring something like this for your phone. I bought one for $5US for a river float and it works like a charm!
Pajamas: Okay. Let’s be honest. I rarely wear pjs, so I forget to pack them quite often. Most of the time, I’ll just wear a dress or pair of leggings and a tank to bed, that way I’m not packing some useless outfit I wear for a few hours at night.
Satchel/purse/drawstring bag: Sometimes I bring my Nikon camera with me, and he (AKA Raul) needs a safe place to chill while not in my hands, and I don’t like wearing him on my shoulder because he just screams “Tourist! Come pick my pockets and try to sell me cheap shit for a lot of money!” Bringing a little side bag is perfect to hold my camera and other things like a small bottle of water, wallet and chapstick. Always ensure it can go over the shoulder and is secure! No wide open bags without a zipper or anything, please, for me, bae.
Pants: Packing just two pairs of jeans is plenty, no matter where you’re going. If it’s colder, I add a pair of thick, warm tights or thermals and fluffy socks. If it’s warm, I’ll throw in two pairs of shorts. Also, I don’t believe more than two pairs of leggings is necessary for any temperature; I don’t believe leggings are pants either, but I have categorized this by public opinion.
Dresses: No matter if it’s cold or hot, I wear dresses, sometimes with leggings and sometimes without. I usually bring three since they pack easily. Be sure to think about versatility such as wearing it over a swimsuit, if it’ll be windy and what circumstances I’d wear it.
Shirts/Coats/Cardigans: Remember dressing in layers can be very handy, especially on an airplane as you can’t control the temperature for 200 plus people. I love traveling in the black skirt in the pic to the left because it doubles as a blanket. Haha.
Hot >>> two tees, four tanks, one long sleeve, one cardigan. Cold >>> Three sweaters, two long sleeves, one cardigan, one undershirt. Even if you’re spending a month or two somewhere, it’s all you need. Don’t forget you’ll want to buy that cozy sweatshirt from the street vendor, and you’ll find you just can’t live without those fab sandals in the corner shop.
For all clothing items, remember to ROLL and NOT fold them when putting them in your bags. You’ll find you can fit more clothes this way.
Souvenirs: Since we’re on the subject of shopping, don’t forget what you think you’ll buy for yourself and others. “Oh great! I got it all to fit. Time to go.” Nope. Unless you plan on buying another bag at your destination for your shopaholic self or not buying anything at all, take some shit out. On that topic, you don’t need to buy a keychain for everyone you know. A cool way to let them know you didn’t forget them is to send them a fancy postcard. It’s easy, and who doesn’t love getting mail?!
I used to do shot glasses as my souvenirs, but they’re rather bulky, and I couldn’t get one in Morocco for cultural reasons. Now I do patches, and laboriously apply them to my canvas backpack that’s been my travel buddy since 2012.
Workout clothes: Running is my thing, and I like doing it when I travel since it helps me see more, faster, and stay in shape! If I bring running clothes, I make sure they’re items I’ll wear just while wondering around, too. Like pants and a tank. Gotsta learn how to multi-purpose!
Umbrella: Oh, how it has come in handy to have one of those tiny umbrellas that fits almost anywhere, not just for the obvious reason but for shade, too (this is really for people like me who blend into the white beaches and turn into ripe tomatoes, but your skin will appreciate the shade nonetheless). They’re not expensive, and are easy to pick up along your travels if you forget to bring one.
Converter: This you DO need. Some hotels, especially chains, do have versatile outlets, but it’s always smart to bring a converter. There are a bunch out there that have multiple country plugs in one, so figure out what you need and get it! Click here for a helpful guide.
Medicines: This is as a preferential or as-needed basis. I’m a super blessed to not need any medications, but I understand others aren’t as lucky. Whatever your situation is, it may be best to research what medications are allowed in which countries you visit (particularly the mid-east), and be sure to carry your prescription meds in the appropriate bottles with your name and the name of medication.
Other less severe meds such as headache medicine or nausea medicine may be good to take along with you. I always carry Aleve. Even if you’re not a believer of taking meds or don’t like to, do you really want your mountain hike ruined or that bike tour abandoned because you feel like shit? Speaking of feeling like shit, I try to avoid such situations by regularly taking vitamin C tablets, and I haven’t been sick since the summer of 2017, but maybe I’m just super human, who knows? Being a flight attendant and a traveler, I’m around thousands of different people every month, so staying healthy is essential.
One thing everyone needs to take, unless told otherwise by your doctor, is baby aspirin, especially on flights over 4 hours. This is to reduce the risk of blood clots. Your body is just not meant to be stagnant for so long. I usually take mine the night before a long-haul flight, but again, please ask your doctor if your body is apt to take baby aspirin (as it is a blood thinner) or not, if you don’t already know.
- A pen – Always have a pen! It’ll already be helpful on entrance of the countries where you have to fill out the customs and immigrations forms.
- Hand sanitizer – adds to your liquids, but definitely comes in handy (pun not intended but welcome).
- Coin purse – Many countries use coins, A LOT, for their currencies, like the Euro; the €1 and €2 are coins, and it’s the same for Australian Dollar. In Ecuador, they use the American Dollar coin everywhere.
- Student ID – If you got it, bring it; this baby will open many discounted doors for you in regards to museums and other educational sites. ALWAYS ASK for a student discount; mine has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.
- Cash – It is super helpful to have a little cash on you in the country’s currency! Not everywhere you can pay with a card, you can get this currency from your bank if you call and have them to order it for you (as long as it’s not a credit union) or the kiosks at the airports.
- Selfie stick – very helpful for my fellow solo travelers
- A plastic bag or two – for dirty clothing
- Portable charger – I use mine all the time, because my cell phone is my camera, gps, guide, memory, planner, booker, messenger, etc. You juuuuust might need one of your own.
- Bandaids! I include an antibiotic ointment, too. I know me, and me is a klutz, so you may not require these items.
- Hair ties – for my long haired peeps; they have even been useful as tools for various circumstances. Haha.
I hope I covered all the bases and that this prepares you for your adventures to come! I went through literally every single things I bring with me on a trip.
In case you are curious as to which canvas backpack I use, it’s this one. It’s been quite the trooper for me, and I’ve stuffed it to the brim. The only thing is it’s not the most comfortable as there is no back support whatsoever, but still a good bag that I don’t have to check when getting on the plane.
Through your travels I’m sure you’ll learn a bunch of great packing techniques of your own, so feel free to share in the comments below 🙂
May the travel gods be with you and mother nature ever so in your favor!
*Still not feeling prepared? See my article “Hostelling – What You Need To Know” to see if these accommodations are right for you!*