"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money." ~ Susan Heller

Packing for a vacation used to be an ordeal for us (okay, maybe only for the one of us who has the Type A personality). We worried about what clothes we would want to wear and what items we would need to bring to ensure we were prepared for any potential traveling hazard, event, or weather situation. The pressure worsened when we were trying to fit all these items within the limits of a 22" x 14" x 9" carry-on suitcase. Packing seemed impossible - at least for those first few trips.

We now have a fairly complete packing list detailed below that still gets tweaked a bit after each trip abroad. While it's important to consider the destination, how long we're traveling, and the activities we'll be doing, we still tend to pack the same for a 10-day international vacation as we would for a weekend getaway, with minor differences in types of clothes packed. We've found we don't need more than what fits in our carry-on bags, and traveling is much easier and less stressful with less stuff.

Here are the items you might consider packing for your international vacation:

From the closet

  • Lightweight raincoat
  • Comfortable walking/hiking shoes. Note the emphasis on comfortable. This is not the time to break in new shoes. Also, wear your most bulky shoes in transit to save room in your suitcase.
  • A second pair of shoes. Consider sandals/flip-flops and/or a dressy option depending on your planned activities. Ladies, consider packing a pair of flats.
  • Something to keep you warm, regardless of destination (lightweight coat or fleece jacket)
  • Clothes you can layer. The books say to pack clothes in the same color scheme that can be swapped for different outfits. Try everything on before you pack it to ensure the fit. And roll (not fold) clothing into packing cubes to save room in your suitcase.
  • Swimsuit (or two), if appropriate for your destination
  • Sleepwear, or something you can put on in the middle of the night to visit the hotel lobby
  • Underwear and socks (it doesn't hurt to pack 1-2 extra pairs)
  • Hat
  • Scarf (good for the plane or to dress up an outfit)

From the medicine cabinet

  • Mini first aid kit (bandages at minimum). Those advanced healing blister adhesive bandages are must-haves for any trip.
  • Motion sickness relief, if necessary
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Pain relief
  • Antacid
  • Prescription medications, vitamins
  • Contact lenses
  • Tissues
  • Other grooming essentials (toothbrush, dental floss, razor, comb, nail file, tweezers, cotton swabs, etc.)
  • Wash cloth
  • Basic cosmetics

3-1-1 (Liquids)

  • Your essential toiletries in travel size. We tend to leave out the shampoo and soap and use what we find in our hotels along the way. Consider packing toothpaste, face wash, deodorant, moisturizer, and conditioner.
  • Odor eliminator (like Febreze To Go)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen and aloe vera
  • Antibacterial cream
  • Detergent (we like Tide travel sink packets)
  • Insect repellent and anti-itch cream for bites (usually for tropical locations only)
  • Eye drops
  • Lip balm

Important documents
  • Passport and driver's license
  • Credit card and ATM card
  • Copies of all information pertinent to your trip (flight itinerary, hotel phone numbers and addresses, confirmation numbers, vouchers, emergency contacts, etc.)
  • Guidebook with map(s)


  • Camera and accessories (charger, extra battery, extra memory card, etc.)
  • Smartphone and charger. The camera, alarm, wifi connection, and travel apps come in handy. Be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode unless you have an amazing international data plan!
  • External battery pack
  • Electrical adapters (check if you need a voltage converter for any electronics)

For the plane

  • Something to keep you occupied during your flight
  • Snacks and gum
  • Water bottle
  • Earphones
  • Pen


  • Watch
  • Sunglasses
  • Prescription glasses 
  • Small day bag and/or evening bag (pool tote, backpack, wristlet)
  • Laundry bag
  • Plastic storage bags in various sizes
  • TSA approved lock

Other items to consider

  • Packable duffle bag (sometimes necessary to get souvenirs home!)
  • Mini binoculars
  • Mini flashlight
  • Travel towel

Our favorite packing organizers

Remember to pack light and leave any valuables at home.

Updated 5/24/2016


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