17 Must-have International Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring

Do you have a vacation coming up, or maybe you’re just thinking about planning one? Either way, you might be wondering what to pack for a trip, especially if you’re a first-time traveler. The ideal packing list for travel will obviously depend on factors like where you’re going, what season you’re traveling in, what you plan to do during your trip, how you prefer to travel, and how long you’ll be traveling.

That said, there are lots of things I almost never leave home without, so I put together this travel packing checklist to help make sure you’llhave the basics covered. Whether you need to know how to pack for a week trip or for long-term travel, these are the packing essentials. Below the packing list, you’ll find a list of things NOT to bring, as well as tips about what to wear while traveling and some FAQs on traveling internationally.

Of course, no matter what gear you have, any trip will be better with a healthy dose of patience, humility, and adventure, so consider them part of the ultimate packing list!

17 things to pack for a trip


1) Packing cubes – Packing cubes are high on my list of what to pack when traveling, because they really help with staying organized on the road. Instead of constantly digging to the bottom of your bag in search of that missing sock or the one clean shirt you have left, you can just pull out the appropriate cube. Packing with cubes means you won’t be able to cram quite as much into your luggage, but it’s well worth it for the convenience.
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2) Stainless steel water bottle – Whether it’s at a beach, on a hike, or just walking around town, most people tend to spend a lot of time outside while traveling. Especially in warmer climates, staying hydrated can be a challenge for travelers. While bottled water is available almost everywhere, relying on it gets pricey and creates a ton of plastic waste. Instead, bring a water bottle to refill with tap water – or use your LifeStraw (see #1 in the next section) in places where the tap water isn’t potable. Pro tip: since airplanes are also extremely dehydrating, take the bottle in your carry-on and fill it up after passing through security.
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3) Sarong – A sarong might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about what to pack on a trip, but they’re actually a great travel item. Sarongs are lightweight, they dry quickly, and they can be used for tons of things: scarf, sheet, towel, curtain, picnic blanket, swimsuit cover-up, the list goes on.
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4) Flip-flops: Women’s and Men’s – Whether you’re staying at a five-star resort with a pool or a grungy hostel with shared bathrooms, flip-flops are packing essentials for most any trip. And even if you don’t have many occasions to wear a pair, they won’t take up much space in your bag.
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5) Walking shoes: Women’s and Men’s – Most travel plans include lots of walking, and wearing that pair of cute-but-less-than-practical shoes will inevitably leave you miserable by the end of the day. Bring a pair of shoes that are decent-looking but comfortable for walking, and your feet will thank you.
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6) Quick-dry towel – In some parts of the world, hostels and guesthouses don’t necessarily provide towels, so you’ll want to bring your own. Regular bath towels are super bulky and take forever to dry, though, so leave them at home, and bring a quick-drying towel instead. They may not be as plush, but they’re much more practical for travel.
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7) Solid shampoo – On any flights you take, you’ll have to measure your liquid products and pack them in a littlebag, so bringingsolid shampoo instead ofthe regular kind is more convenient. Even if you’re checking luggage, fewer bottles of liquids means less chance of something leaking and making a mess in your bag.
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8) Camera – No matter where in the world you’re traveling or what you’re doing, you’ll almost certainly want to document it. Even if you’re not an avid photographer, you may appreciate having something more than iPhone pictures, and the Canon Powershot is a quality camera that’s relatively compact and affordable.
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9) Kindle – Whether it’s during long train rides or lazy days at the beach, most people read more on vacation than they do at home, making e-readers a lifesaver. A Kindle is smaller and lighter weight than a single physical book, and you can put unlimited reading material on it. Technically, you could read books on a laptop or smartphone if you’re bringing one, but a Kindle is more convenient and gives your eyes a break from the blue light emitted by computer screens, too.
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10) Flash drive – At some point, you’ll probably want to be able to share photos with your travel companions, or even trade movies and music for long flights or bus rides. Especially in places without consistent Wi-Fi, a flash drive makes transferring documents much easier and faster. And these days, even cheap ones have enough space for lots of large files.
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11) Power adapter – Especially if you’re coming from North America, you’ll need a power adapter almost anywhere in the world. You should still check the exact type of outlets used in the places you’ll be visiting, but this one covers most countries.
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12) Sunscreen – In some parts of the world, sunscreen is notoriously hard to come by and extremely expensive when it’s available. But it’s really not something you want to skimp on, so make sure to bring some with you, regardless of where you’re going.
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13) Travel insurance – While insurance isn’t terribly exciting, it should be considered a travel necessity. Though it’s unlikely, you don’t want to get stuck shelling out money to replace items that got stolen or struggling to get home in an emergency. Plus, knowing that you’re covered in those situations should give you some peace of mind while you’re traveling. I’ve purchased plans from World Nomads in the past, and they’re an extremely popular company among frequent travelers.


14) Passport holder – You’ll obviously need your passport no matter where you’re going, and it’s one thing you really don’t want to lose. A passport holder like this one will protect it, and keep other valuables organized, too. They’re much less likely to get stolen than a regular wallet, and you can also carry cash, credit cards, and even a cell phone in this one.
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15) First-Aid kit – Bringing a first-aid kit when you travel is a good way to be prepared forminor problems. If you’re planning on hiking or spending time in the water, it’s especially important be able to care for things like cuts, scrapes, and blisters. This kit is small and lightweight, but will keep you more than covered, with gauze pads, adhesive tape, various bandages, and other basics.
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16) Electrolytes – If you get sick while traveling, you’ll lose a lot of liquids and couldend up at risk of dehydration, so mix these tablets with (clean!) water to replenish your electrolytes. In tropical environments, it can be hard to stay hydrated even if you’re not sick, so using them on a regular basis isn’t a bad idea. Electrolyte tablets are available in many places, but unless you enjoy the flavor of chalk, this kind tastes much better than most.
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17) Activated charcoal – You might be surprised to see charcoal on a packing list for vacation, but it’s great to have on hand in case you get sick. Taking the tablets when you start to feel sick will absorb the toxins in your system and help stop the dreaded diarrhea.
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Other packing list items to consider


What should I wear for traveling?


The best things to wear while traveling will obviously vary based on where you’re going, as well as what you’ll be doing and which season you’re traveling in. But there are a few good rules of thumb to keep in mind for any trip. Regardless of your destination, a pair of good walking shoes will make your trip much more comfortable. Bringing clothes you can easily layer is another good idea, and fabrics that dry quickly are almost preferable for traveling. For any tropical climate, you’ll definitely be more comfortable in lightweight fabrics, but mightneed a light sweater or jacket for evenings (and for those buses and shopping malls that crank the air conditioning to frigid levels). In environments that are dusty or muddy, you’ll probably just want to avoid wearing white, since it always seems impossible to keep white clothes clean.

If you’re visiting conservative countries – especially in Africa,the Middle East, and Central Asia – it’s important to dress modestly. Appropriate dress for women usually means covering the shoulders, cleavage, thighs, and knees. In the most conservative areas, women should also avoid tight-fitting fabrics and choose tops that fall below the hips. Foreign women are really only expected to wear a headscarf in a few countries, although wearing one may help you feel more comfortable.

What NOT to bring when you travel


1) 🚫 DON’T TAKE unnecessary electronics: Beyond the things you know you’ll be using, like a camera or Kindle, it’s a good idea to leave expensive electronics at home. Things can get lost or stolen on the road, and there’s no reason to risk it.

2) 🚫 DON’T BRING lots of cash: You’ll find ATMs almost everywhere, so there’s no need to bring a ton of cash with you. You don’t want to have to carry it around all the time, and you’ll likely get a better exchange rate by using an ATM anyway.

3) 🚫 DON’T PACK heavy books: Books are one of the heaviest things you could pack, and even just one or two will take up significant space in your bag. Instead of bringing physical books, invest in a Kindle – your back will thank you.

4) 🚫 DON’T BRING too many clothes: Most people tend to overestimate the amount of clothes they need for a trip (and end up with heavy bags to lug around). Try to limit yourself to a few outfits, and know that you can always do laundry if you need to.

5) 🚫 DON’T TAKE a sleeping bag: Sleeping bags are huge and heavy, and there’s rarely a real need for them. Unless you’re planning on doing extensive camping and know that you’ll need your own gear, a travel sheet is probably a better option.

6) 🚫 DON’T PACK amosquito net: Some travel packing lists fordeveloping countries include mosquito nets, but it’s really not worth bringing one. Most accommodations provide nets if they’re needed, and it’s generally not feasible to hang up your own anyway.

7) 🚫 DON’T BRING expensive jewelry: Wearing flashy jewelry, especially in places where you stick out as a foreigner, can make you a target for thievery. If you have jewelry that’s expensive or sentimental, it’s not worth the risk of it getting stolen or lost on the road.

8) 🚫 DON’T TAKE a bath towel: Regular towels are bulky and slow to dry, which makes them less than ideal for travel. Leave them at home, and bring a quick-dry towel on your trip instead.

FAQs about travel


1) Is it safe for women to travel alone?

Yes! The idea that “women shouldn’t travel alone” is nothing but an old myth. Plenty of women travel solo all over the world with no problems – and many even say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. Of course, both men and women inevitably encounter risks on the road (and at home, for that matter), and you should always use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.

2) How can I contact friends and family at home while I’m abroad?

In most places, Wi-Fi is increasingly available in hotels and cafes, giving travelers regular access to email, social media, and Skype. Travelers can often purchase a local SIM card and pre-paid phone credit upon arrival, allowing for phone calls, texting, and smartphone apps as well. Friends and family who want to call your local phone number should use Skype or purchase an international calling card for your destination.

3) Can I travel abroad if I only speak English?

Absolutely. Many people who travel abroad only speak English; in fact, with the exception of countries that use romance languages, very few people speak the local language in places they visit. In most countries, at least some people working in the tourism and hospitality industry speak English, and gesturing will get you further than you might think otherwise. That said, learning at least a few basic phrases in the language will earn you favor with local people in most places.

4) How can I avoid getting sickwhile traveling?

Make sure youget any vaccines that are needed for the countries you’ll be visiting, and pick up a malaria prophylaxis if it’s recommended. If you’re traveling in places where mosquito-borne illnesses are prevalent, you’ll want to use insect repellent and sleep under a mosquito net whenever possible. You’ll also need to check to see if the tap water in your destination is potable; if not, be careful to drink only treated water and avoid other drinks made with tap water (or ice made from tap water), as well as raw fruits and vegetables that can’t be peeled.

5) What are the cheapest places to travel?

The cost of different countries depends on your travel style and what kinds of activities you plan to do while traveling. For the most part, though, developing countries are cheaper than developed ones, andSouth and Southeast Asia are generally the cheapest regions, followed by Central America and Eastern Europe.

6) How can I save money when traveling?

In addition to frequenting budget-friendly destinations, a good way to save money on the road is to live at the typical local standard – use public transportation instead of taxis or car rentals, stay in guesthouses instead of resorts or international hotels, and eat at local restaurants instead of touristy ones. To save more on accommodations, you can also look into alternative options, like CouchSurfing, Airbnb, homestays, hostels, and camping. And to further cut down on food expenses, one option is to purchase groceries for some of your meals instead of eating out three times a day. If you’re going to be traveling extensively, it’s also worth opening an account at a bank that doesn’t charge ATM or currency conversion fees, like Charles Schwab or Capital One.

7) What should I tell my parents who are worried about me traveling?

What aspiring traveler hasn’t dealt witha worried parent, convinced their child will be afflicted by disease, terrorism, or murder if they dare to cross the border? It’s true that some parents will grasp onto this belief no matter what, but others maybe consoled by some facts and precautions. For example, over 70 million Americans travel abroad every year –about a quarter of the country’s population. Announcing your travel plans is also a good time to remind your parents that most places are very different in reality than they appear in the media. It might help to direct them to first-hand accounts of travel in the countries you’re planning to visit, especially if they’re ones that don’t have a great reputation at home. Taking precautions like purchasing travel insurance, sharing a copy of your itinerary, and showing that you’ve done some research on your destination might allay their concerns as well.

8) How can I meet people on the road?

Fortunately, in most cases, it’s not nearly as hard to meet people while traveling as you might think. One of the easiest ways to meet people is to stay at a hostel, which are social by nature. Even if a bunk in a shared dorm doesn’t appeal to you, most hostels also have private rooms, which still allow you to take advantage of the common spaces where people hang out. Participating in activities – like hikes, walking tours, day trips, classes, orpub crawls – isanother very easy way to meet fellow travelers. There are also an increasing number of apps that exist to connect travelers with each other and with locals:MeetUp,Couchsurfing, WithLocals, EatWith, TravBuddy, and Bumble BFF, just to name a few. And don’t forget the power of social media. Joining travel-focused Facebook groups, asking your own network if they have friends in the places you’re visiting, and searching hashtags on Twitter and Instagram can all lead to new connections on the road.

9) Will my cell phone work abroad?

Depending on your company and plan, as well as where you’re from, your cell phone from home may work in other countries, but will likely charge huge fees for calls, texts, anddata use. A better option is to put a local SIM card in your phone when you arrive, or keep your smartphone on airplane mode and only use it on Wi-Fi.

10) How can I find cheap flights?

The One of the most common pieces of advice is to set your browser to private or incognito mode before searching for tickets. If you repeatedly search the same route in your browser’s regular mode, you’ll likely see the price go up. It’s also a good idea to check multiple search engines and compare their prices; Skyscanner, Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, and CheapOair are good places to start. If your travel dates aren’t set in stone, use the “flexible dates” feature to compare prices for a week’s worth of flights.Many search engines don’t include budget carriers, though, so if they’re not showing up, check their websites separately. Low-cost airlines to keep in mind include JetBlue, Frontier, and Spirit in the U.S.; Ryanair, EasyJet, and Wizz Air in Europe; and Air Asia, Tiger Air, and Spice Jet in Asia. For long-haul trips, check before you book to see if it’s cheaper to buy separatelegs of the trip individually (but do be aware that you’re unlikely to receive assistance from the airline in the event of a missed connection). Similarly, always check to see if buying two one-way tickets is cheaper than a round trip. Finally, if you’re not pressed to book right away, set up a fare alert on Skyscanner or Airfare Watchdog to keep you up-to-date on the price of flights you’re interested in.

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