A simple vacation packing list

vacation packing list

Not knowing what they’ll need on vacation, most people pack everything and the kitchen sink. But all travel essentials for up to 10 days worth of travel fit neatly into a carry on and a small personal item, the allowable cabin allowance for most airlines. Here is a simple checklist for all your vacation packing needs.

For the flight

A vacation packing list has to include the most tedious part of vacation: the flight. These things are best tucked into whatever small bag or purse you can put under your seat. That way, they’re accessible to you during any part of the flight, without having to dig through your carry on in the overhead bin.

  • Earplugs
  • An eye mask to help you sleep
  • A neck pillow, either inflatable or one that can attach easily to one of your bags
  • All your important personal documents: passport, boarding passes, visa, vaccination card (if necessary)
  • A pen for filling out immigration forms before you land.
  • Entertainment – whether it’s headphones for music, a book, or an e-reader
  • Any medication you may need. I recommend at least a painkiller in case you get a headache.
  • Gum to help with the cabin pressure
  • A phone charger
  • The necessary power adapter for your destination
  • A water bottle. You can’t bring liquids through security but you can bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at the airport, saving yourself $2-5 at every stop.
  • Compression socks if you’re prone to swelling

For the trip

Of course, this list varies depending on where you’re going and the time of year. But a simple packing list should include at least the following:

  • One pair of underwear per day + 2/3 in case of emergency. (For intercontinental flights I recommend tucking a pair of underwear and change of socks into your personal item to make it easily accessible either on the plane or at your connecting airport.)
  • Three to four bras. Make sure you have any necessary bras for certain tops (strapless, racerback).
  • One daywear top per day
  • Three to four evening-appropriate tops for 7-10 days of travel. You probably won’t go out every single night and you don’t need to have two outfits every single day.
  • Three to four bottoms (jeans, shorts, pants, skirts, leggings). Bottoms are versatile and reusable, especially jeans.
  • If you bring one dress, it should be in place of a top. If you bring two dresses, you should replace two tops and consider leaving home one of your bottoms.
  • A bathing suit, regardless of the time of year or destination. Relax a little, it’s never a bad time of year to take a dip in the hotel pool. If you’re going on a beach vacation, take 2 bathing suits.
  • An extra pair of shoes. Depending on your travel style, this could be going out shoes or hiking boots. (Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane).
  • A pair of flip flops or sandals. These are lightweight and good for tropical/beachy vacations and also useful for the shower in the hotel or to lounge around the room in so you don’t have to be barefoot.
  • A light sweater. Even in warm destinations, this is good for the plane, or for chilly evenings.
  • One set of pajamas/sleeping clothes
  • A small pouch for jewelry. Take basic things, something that doesn’t scream “Rob me. I have a lot of money.”

For winter

  • A heavy outer coat, preferably weatherproof. You’ll have to wear it to the airport.
  • A solid hat to keep your head and ears warm.
  • Gloves that you can keep in a purse or jacket pockets.
  • One to two scarves. You can’t mix and match every day if you’re carrying on. Go for basic colors that go with everything.
  • Insulated winter boots for snow and cold

Non-wearable essentials

  • An umbrella
  • A good razor
  • Sunglasses
  • Band aids, especially those designed for blisters
  • Medication for upset stomach
  • Travel antibiotics, if you’re traveling anywhere where traveler’s diarrhea is likely.
  • Small beauty appliances like electric razors and hair irons/curler. (Check the voltage on those before traveling so you don’t fry them/your hair.)
  • Q Tips
  • Nail care kit and tweezers. Trust me, you don’t want to spend a week with a hangnail.

Toiletries (note that liquids must be in 3 oz. sizes)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash (optional since most hotels provide this)
  • Face wash
  • Makeup essentials for one week of use. You don’t need to bring all the eye shadow palettes you own.
  • Makeup remover
  • Toothpaste and brush
  • Floss
  • One travel size perfume. Pick a scent and stick with it.
  • Sunscreen
  • Moisturizer
  • Body lotion
  • Travel packet of tissues which can double as toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hair brush and/or comb
  • Baby wipes

Optional but useful extras

  • A rechargeable power bank for charging on the go
  • Camera and accessories. Most people take photos with their phones, but if you do bring a camera, make sure you pack the battery charger and an extra memory card if necessary.
  • Sleeping pills to help you rest on the plane and when you’re jet lagged.
  • Luggage tag. I always have a luggage tag even for my carry on, because you never know when they’ll make you check it.

All the items on this vacation packing list can fit in a standard carry on and if you’re choosy can easily weigh in under 10 kg. If you’re worried about weight, put the heaviest things in your personal item or your coat, which aren’t usually weighed when you check in.

A final tip. Don’t overstuff your carry on bag on the way to your vacation. It’s likely you’ll want to buy things to take home and even if you don’t, your bag will become more unruly as the trip progresses. No one repacks with the same patience on the way home as they did on the way there. So your stuff will magically expand by the end of the trip. Leave a little room for that.

With just 30 minutes of packing, you’ll have enough of everything you need for a full 7-10 days in a small and light enough bag to satisfy even the most stringent airline baggage policies. It’s simple. And at least you‘re not bringing a 16-inch gnome everywhere you go.

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