Travel Checklist: A Packing Guide for Every Kind of Traveler

travel checklistTraveling is awesome. It’s the best way to learn about the world and yourself. St. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page.” Don’t be that person: finish the book! Here is a travel checklist for the family vacationers or the adventure vacationers and everyone in between. If you’re like most of us, you want to know how to travel most and spend less. Now you can in this course: travel hacking for beginners.

The Vacation-Style Trip

The vacation style trip is for those looking to stay at a hotel, with an itinerary; you know, the standard vacation kind of trip. You’re going to Disney World for a week with the fam, or you’re going to London to sightsee for two weeks. Maybe you are going to San Francisco to party on the harbor. Regardless, you’re not going to be wandering around with a backpack looking for food like people on the latter checklist (kidding…kind of). Before you go abroad, try doing a little language training so you can confidently order food, check into your hotel and get around the city. How to learn a language in ten days.

  • Clothes

Yeah, okay, no brainer – you need clothes. But what exactly does that mean? Obviously this totally depends on where you are going. Is it hot? Is it snowing? Is it balmy and rainy like Seattle in the winter? Rule of thumb for each of these? Bring a little bit of everything. I know it seems counterintuitive to bring a jacket if you are going to the Bahamas for a week, but you never know what’s going to happen. I was flying home from Haiti a few years back (where it’s like 100 F everyday) and I had a layover at JFK – where I ended up staying for 20 hours because of plane issues. It was 20 F. I was freezing in my shorts, sandals and tank-top. Just be prepared. Otherwise, pack what makes sense for you. Here are the things to remember for each of these climates, of course, bring things like underwear, shirts, etc., too.





Sunglasses (hey, snow is bright)

Rain jacket

Bathing suit

Bathing suit (hot tubs, remember?)


One pair of sandals

Long johns


Light sweater

Warm, wicking socks

Lots of socks (rain = wet)

Linen (or lightweight) pants

Insulated shoes/boots

Poncho (for you or things)

Gloves, scarves, earmuffs, leg warmers, hat

Long sleeved shirts

  • Electronics

Don’t forget your chargers. Or that cord for your camera. Or your 8GB SD card. Nowadays we all come equipped with somewhere around 6 gadgets. Most of us have personal cell phones, work cell phones, computers, e-readers, IPads, and IPods. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it, but it’s also hard to imagine life without these things. Just make sure you remember to pack all of the accessories for each one of your gadgets so you aren’t scrambling when your cell phone dies in the taxi and you can’t remember the name or address of your hotel. Charge up at the airport while you are waiting for your flight so you don’t have this problem.  Use your IPhone as a digital assistant while you’re traveling. Find out how in this traveling with your iPhone course.

  • Toiletries

This is the fun stuff. Don’t forget If you aren’t checking a bag, you can only bring liquids on the plane that are 3oz or less. Most stores like Target, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. have a travel toiletries section to accommodate the TSA requirements. Security checkpoints want to see all of your 3oz bottles in a bag together. You can use a Ziplock bag for this, or buy one of the little bags they probably have in the same travel toiletries section. Don’t forget to bring deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, body wash, a scrubber, brush, small mirror, cosmetics, razor, lotion, toothbrush/toothpaste and small pack of tissues isn’t a bad idea. Also, bring your perfume, hair accessories and womanly products. Refer to Rule number 6 below for additional tips.

  • Laundry Stuff

Usually, wherever you are going will have a laundry facility of sorts and you’ll be able to purchase detergent and the like on site. However, sometimes life calls and you end up spilling red wine on your shirt before you even get to the hotel. Bring a travel Tide stain remover pen to take care of these accidents on the run. Also, pack some dryer sheets and a plastic bag or canvas bag to act as a laundry basket. That’s certainly not a must, but I like to keep my dirty clothes together and away from the rest of my things. See “dryer sheets” below for more about that packing tip. I’d say this would be the appropriate category to remind you to bring a travel sewing kit. Buttons fall off, it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and sometimes it’s the most important button you’re sporting – the one keeping your pants on. Don’t end up having to gerrymander a belt out of rope to keep those suckers on. Bring a needle and thread and a spare button so you can fix those things right up.

  • Baby Things

If you are bringing your bundle of joy with you, you’re packing list just grew exponentially. Traveling with kids is a great experience, but you have to remember to pack all their goods, too. For the babies, remember to bring your diaper bag. Chances are everything you are going to need is already in there – but don’t leave it on the kitchen table when you walk out the door. Pack formula, bottles, cups, blankets, some toys, diapers, wipes, nursing cover/breast pump, and a baby backpack or carrier to make your life easier.

  • Medicine

Pack all of your prescriptions. Make sure you remember to bring over the counter meds like Advil, TUMS, and so on. I usually just throw a few pills in a Ziplock bag instead of packing the whole container. Bring sunscreen, insect repellant and aloe (in case someone gets a burn). Don’t forget to bring your daily vitamins. I’m not a huge proponent of hand sanitizer, but sometimes you just need it. Bring a little one and pull it out when you see fit. I’d also suggest packing a travel first aid kit. It’s always a good thing to be prepared and it doesn’t take up too much room.

The tips below don’t just pertain to the adventure traveler, but they are more in line with that kind of agenda. There are certainly some tips to consider for the luxury vacation traveler, too. While you’re out on the road you should take a lot of pictures. It’s a great way to relive your vacation or adventure and capture all the moments that time may take from you. If you’re a bit on the artsy side, teach yourself the art of travel photography in this online course.

The Backpacker Style Travel Trip

This checklist is for you if you plan on, one: going abroad for more than a few weeks, two: you plan on bringing only a backpack to wander wherever it is you’re going, or three: you don’t know where you are going or where you may end up – but you know it’s going to be awesome.

  • Bring a “Sleep Kit”

If you are going to be staying at hostels, traveling on trains or planes, or don’t know where you are going to be crashing – pack a small sleep kit. I don’t so much have this problem anymore, but I still always bring my sleep kit in case I get in a sticky situation. The kit consists of: ear plugs, an eye mask and Tylenol PM. That’s it. Those three things and you can nod off just about anywhere you may land without having to worry about crying babies, drunken Germans, flashing lights, or whatever else you may encounter. Part of the sleep kit includes number 4.

  • The Half/Half Rule

Pack half of what you think you need and bring twice as much money as you originally planned. Seriously. I mean, you think that you are going to want to have that cute shirt and those matching shoes as an option while you are partying in Prague, but the reality is: you won’t. And if you must have said cute shirt and shoes, you can buy new ones wherever you are and take them home as a souvenir. Depending on where I am going and why I am going there I will pack two tank tops, three t-shirts, one “nice” shirt, one pair of jeans, one pair of sleep pants and one pair of work pants (I am usually going somewhere to get dirty). One pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers is perfect. When you are on the road you really won’t be changing as much as you think you will, and since you’re on the move, no one is going to notice if you wear the same outfit twice in one week. Trust. As for money? Nothing will go the way you plan it will. Be prepared. Bring what you think you’ll need to scrape by and double it for assurance.

  • Girls: Bring a Scarf

I don’t care if you don’t wear scarves. I also don’t care if you’re going to Bali for three months. Bring a scarf. I’m not talking a hand knit winter scarf, I’m talking one of those really pretty scarfs that open up to be about 6 feet long and 2 feet wide. Why? Because it can be your life line. You can: use it as a scarf, use it as a cover-up on the beach, use it as a skirt, use it as a light blanket on the plane, use it to cover a mysterious pillow that you end up using, use it to carry things by tying it up like a hobo hitchhike bag, use it to cover your head when trying to sleep somewhere with a lot of people, use it to tie something to something else, plus, it can become your comfort zone while traveling. I never leave my house without my scarf. It’s been to a zillion countries with me and has become the best travel companion a girl could ask for.

  • Make Copies of Everything

I mean, everything. Copy your passport, your ID, travel insurance, flight information, visa’s, vaccinations and so on. Keep a set of copies in your carry-on, a set in your checked luggage and give a set to someone back home. I always do this just in case something crazy happens – you’ll be able to prove who you are and where you’re from. It’s just a preventive measure to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

  • Cash Money

Put it on your person. If you have debit cards, cash, travelers checks, whatever, put it on your body somewhere. Personally, I use an ankle strap to keep my important stuff in my sock or under my pants. That way if I ever get mugged they can take my day bag and whatever is in my pockets, but I get to keep the important stuff. Make sure you don’t carry all of your money with you everywhere you go. Keep some in your luggage, keep some on you, keep some in your bag, keep some in the bank. This way if something does happen to one of your items, you always have a plan B, plan C and plan D. Expect the best, prepare for the worst. Check out travel hacking to see how you can travel the world for less money.

  • Four Eyes

If you are blind like me then make sure you bring an extra set (or two, or three) of contacts. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been abroad, got drunk and tried to take my contacts out only to find I missed the case in the morning. Without your eyes you are of no good to anyone, yourself, and your trip will be shot until you figure out how to remedy the situation. This could take a lot longer than you’d like to spend feeling around for your life in a hazy, blind, stupor. Glasses are great to have on hand, but for us contact wearers it can be a hard adjustment to having those things on your face – especially if you’re doing outdoor activities like rafting, climbing, etc. Contacts are small enough to stow away some. Plus, if you are really in a bind, you will know your prescription to give to a doctor wherever you are (it’s written on the case).

  • Dryer Sheets

Sometimes, when you’re traveling, you start to smell. It’s not for your lack of intent to cleanse or do laundry, it’s just not always feasible. I’ve found that in these moments it’s good to have some dryer sheets on you to “freshen up” the scent of your everything. I throw some in my backpack or luggage, I will rub the clothes I’m wearing down with a sheet and things start to feel a lot better – and I get less looks. It will also help if you ever need to build a spoof. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it.

  • The Survival Kit

Ziplock bag, travel sewing kit, lighter, twine, small whistle, small mirror, water purification tablets, and a few Bandaids.

A lot of these things will come in handy when you least expect it. Once of the best things about travel and traveling light is learning to be resourceful. In a world where everything is designed to make life “effortless” and modern conveniences make us forget how to be creative, it’s nice to be reminded that we can use the things we already have to accomplish a task. You may not be venturing off into the Vietnam jungle for two weeks, but even if you are just hotel hopping in Germany, you never know what may happen. The extra 1lb of weight in your pack won’t make that much of a difference but it could be just what you need to get through a tough situation. Check out this travel with confidence course to learn a few tips that can help you courageously travel the world.

  • One Book

Don’t bring your library. I know you think you’re going to relax somewhere with a cup of coffee and your feet kicked up to read, but you probably won’t do this as much as you think. I always pack more than one book and they just become cumbersome to tote around. I end up giving them away to people on the road. Bring one book, read it, or don’t and trade it with someone you meet. This is one of my favorite things to do. You get to check out things you normally wouldn’t and get to learn a bit more about whoever you exchange with.  A lot of hostels have community rooms with a LOTO shelf, too. Along with the book, bring a travel journal. It’s hard to remember all the details of your day and how you were feeling three years from now. Take notes, write down the things that make you smile, piss you off, and make you curious. Learn how to write a travel journal without it being a chore in this globetrotting course.

  • List

Bring a list of what is in your suitcase in your carry on. When (yes, when, if you travel enough the odds are against you) you lose your luggage you are going to want to submit a list of what was in your bag. This will help the reclaiming-your-luggage process go smoother.

  • Carry On

Speaking of carry on. Bring one. Bring a small backpack or bag on board with you and make sure you have a pair of underwear, socks, a clean shirt, and pants if you want. Also carry on copies of your documents, your contacts/glasses, ID’s, visa’s, etc. If your luggage gets lost, make sure you are comfortable enough to be without it for a least two days because that’s approximately how long you’re going to have to wait. If you can avoid checking a bag altogether – do it! I never check a bag anymore and I love knowing that I don’t have to hope my bag will be at the baggage claim after a long flight.

  • Leave the Diamonds at Home

Yes, you have an awesome pearl necklace that you just can’t wait to wear when you’re at dinner in Paris with your friends. Don’t bring it. Find a cheap-o replacement one that you can bring instead. If you wear expensive looking things you are pretty much using a mega phone to say: come get me. When you are visiting foreign countries – the residents know. They can tell by that dopey look on your face when you see a new architectural masterpiece, they can tell by how many pictures of that weird fountain you keep taking, they can tell. Save yourself the unsolicited invite to be robbed or pickpocketed.

  • Headlamp

Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to always be in the dark. Whenever I travel somewhere it’s either a country that doesn’t have electricity (or consistent electricity) or for some reason – the power is out. I’ve learned over the years that having a headlamp at your disposal is a really, really, handy thing. If you’re ever walking somewhere at night – throw it on. If you can’t find something in your bag because it’s too dark – throw it on. If you want to read a book at night and you’re in a hostel with others – throw it on. A lot of head lamps also have red light features for map reading and they have strobe features which can be a lifesaver if you are in danger, trapped, or riding a bike at night…etc.

  • Adapters/Converters

You will need these things if you plan on having any kind of electronics. Seems like something you would never forget, but you will always forget. (Or at least I do.) Make sure that you bring the right adapter too. Also, make sure the adapter isn’t too bulky or heavy, it becomes difficult to keep it in the wall when weight and gravity are working against you.

  • Collapsible tote or day bag

Don’t think you’re going to take your huge stuffed-to-the-brim backpacking pack out with you when you want to go site seeing for the day. It’s a huge pain in the you-know-what. Bring a small day bag that you can throw over your shoulder when you want to head down to the café and people watch with a book. It’ll save you a lot of time and effort.

  • Bring a Lock

When you follow rule 14, it usually means you are leaving your other stuff behind at a hostel or a host family house. If you plan on staying in a community living kind of place during your travels – bring a lock. I just hook the lock on the outside of my pack for safekeeping. Most places will have lockers that you can store your stuff in, but what good is a locker without a lock! If it’s a combo lock make sure you have those three precious numbers memorized or stored in your phone as a contact. If it’s a key lock, I’d wear the key around your neck just so you don’t get the opportunity to lose it.

There are of course other things to consider like, how many pairs of underwear to bring and which pants will suit you the best during your travels, but these are things that vary from person to person. Through trial and error you will learn what works for you and your travel style. Don’t be afraid to get rid of things on the road if you need to, or to pick some more up. It’s your world. Find out what the best countries to live in (and travel in) are in regards to health, happiness and prosperity.