What I Pack When I Travel

As you may remember, at the end of this month I’m leading a group trip to London, one which I hope is the start to many more trips over the upcoming years (!).

Its focus is literary-themed, which means while we have more options than we can possibly check off the list just in the London and surrounding areas, we will be doing a ton of walking. We’ll be out and about as a group, exploring both internally and externally what it means to create stories with our lives and work.

I recently shared my own packing list for London with the women attending, and as I sketched it out, I realized something:

This is more or less what I pack anytime I travel anywhere for a week (and even up to about a month — I simply do laundry and re-wear my clothes). I’d perhaps exchange a thing or two based on the destination’s weather, but otherwise, I keep things pretty simple.

Since I get asked all the time for a good master packing list for women, I thought I’d share with you my own personal list. I simply tweak the list based on what I know about where I’m headed.

But first, a few notes…

1. Pack light.

Truly, in all my travels, I can’t think of one time when my not bringing something made the experience worse — I either forgot about whatever it was I was debating about bringing the second I arrived, or I was easily able to find what I needed on location.

There’s nothing you’ll need you can’t find there in a pinch almost anywhere in the world. And if you can pack everything in a carry-on, you won’t need to check in anything, and the trade-off is a lighter state of mind while you travel.

Part of travel is to temporarily leave your state of normal and engage in a bit of new, right? Packing light will help you do that.

2. Don’t pack to be a cartoon of yourself.

Sometimes we act as though we’d suddenly want to dress differently once we’re in [insert new location here]. Sure, it’s nice to wear a thick wool coat when we normally live in the desert, or to toss on a hat for the beach we’d look ridiculous in at home, but we’ll still be ourselves.

Wear clothes that help you feel most like you. This way, you won’t feel frustrated when you go through your bag and can’t find anything to wear when all you want to be is comfortable.

Acknowledge the customs of your destination, but do so in a way that’s you.

3. Go capsule, but don’t be rigid about it.

Everyone says to create a capsule wardrobe when you travel, and I say that, too. But don’t be such a stickler that you end up buying things just for your trip because they “go,” or that you feel like every possible combination has to be an Amazing Outfit.

Stick with some classic basics that layer, and you should be set.

4. Check the weather.

This is such a big fat duh, I hate even putting it here. But sometimes it feels out of sorts to pack for cool weather when it’s 100 degrees at home, so you underestimate what highs in the 60s really feels like (especially when lows are also in the 30s!).

Go with layers, particularly if temps fluctuate throughout the day, and if in doubt, check the internet for go-to local advice. Google ‘what to wear + [city name] + [month of travel]’ and you should find what you need.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of good shoes.

If you’re traveling outside North America (aside from a resort or a destination specifically for relaxing), assume you’ll do more walking than in your daily life. It’s normal to walk miles simply getting around for life, not to mention taking in the sites.

Strong, comfortable shoes are essential. If you ignore everything else on this list but this, you’ll be in good shape.

Now, this is important: don’t get shoes you’d wear for exercise, because there’s nothing else that screams tourist! any louder. But, tennies are okay if they’ve got a modern, non-gym look to them (a good test: would you feel okay wearing them with a casual skirt?).

I’m personally a fan of a good slip-on that doesn’t feel sneaker-ish but is still casual, as well as packing a good walking sandal and/or ballet flat. Booties can be cute, too, if it’s a little cooler. Examples are linked in the packing list below.

If you aim for smaller, lightweight shoes, you can even pack an extra pair in your bag when you go out for the day, which means you can swap out mid-day if you feel the need.

6. Consider a wearable souvenir.

Some of my favorite souvenirs are things to wear, so consider leaving your bag on the lighter side and buying an item on location.

Locally-made jewelry, a dress, hat, shoes, or a bag all make fantastic memorabilia from your travels, and they can be surprisingly affordable if you shop markets familiar to the locals.

Some of my favorite bags, scarves, and dresses in my closet have come from Italy — I know to leave extra room in my bag when I travel there. I still wear my winter hat from the French village market where we lived for 6 weeks. And I still wear the blue sandals I bought in Thailand, the necklace from Australia, and even the socks from New Zealand.

7. Don’t forget your adapter.

Many counties outside North America run on a 220 or 230-volt electrical system, which means your American 120-volt small appliances won’t work (hair dryers, curling irons, toasters). Leave them at home.

But, you should bring an adapter for things like your laptop, phone chargers, Kindle, and the like. Something small is fine — I’ve got an example linked in the packing list below.

8. Pack in the right gear.

You can do either a travel pack you wear, like a backpack, or a small carry-on suitcase with wheels. I adore this Tom Bihn carry-on because it converts easily from shoulder strap to comfortable backpack, and mine still looks brand new after years of use to several countries.

But, small rolled luggage also works well in places where you won’t be carrying around your main pack much once you reach your guesthouse or hotel (remember, suitcase wheels can be a total pain on European cobblestoned roads). I love my Away carry-on (use my code SIMPLE to get $20 off).

(Also, these types of bags I’m mentioning are great for trips under a month or so. For our year-long trip, I used a 55L backpack for all my belongings, and it was perfect.)

You’ll also need a day bag for going out for the day. It can be a backpack, but it can also be more like a larger purse, so long as it’s comfortable and big enough to hold everything you’d need for the day.

I recommend making sure it has a zipper that fully closes the bag, especially if you’ll be on crowded subways and streets.

The Packing List

Finally, here’s my basic, master go-to packing list when I’m traveling for 1-4(ish) weeks, especially to a modern city like London.

And if you’d also like a free printable download of this packing list, I’ll be happy to email it to you:

p.s. Want a slightly cleaner visual of this packing list? Head here.


Documents & Bags


Tech


Personal Items

Just bring your usual toiletries; there’s no need to bring anything “extra.” Keep in mind that if you carry on, everything needs to be TSA-approved (that means liquids and gels are 3.4 ounces or smaller, then collectively put in a bag one quart or smaller).


Clothing


Other

A few final tips…

Phones:

Check with your phone carrier and see if you can use your phone in your destination with minimal (or no) extra charges. If you can, it’s a godsend to use it out and about. (Sometimes you can add an extra international plan just for one month.)

Banks:

A few days before you leave, call your bank (and/or credit cards) and let them know where you’ll be. They should put a note in your account, which means charges abroad won’t be marked as suspicious. (Trust me, it’s much easier to do this proactively ahead of time instead of reactively while you’re trying to make a late-night purchase with your card in another country. Ask me how I know.)

Apps:

If you’re going to a major city (even in North America), download the Citymapper app — this is a great go-to public transportation app that also connects with your Uber and Lyft accounts, should you ever get stuck in a bind and need to hitch a ride.

Download a converter app so you can quickly convert money when you’re shopping — I like the app simply called Currency.

Also, the TripAdvisor app is great for ideas for places to eat and things to see when you’re out and about. They’ve got some great location-specific guides you can download straight to your phone, no internet signal needed.

Every place is different, of course, so ask around and check the internet about location-specific tips before heading out. But, this is my foundational packing and checklist before leaving the country, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Going anywhere soon? What are your packing essentials?

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(Photos, from the top: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Roman Holiday, Before Sunrise, Eat Pray LoveSisterhood of the Traveling Pants, & Under the Tuscan Sun)

Reading Time:

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26 Comments

  1. Emily

    Great advice. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’re welcome!

      Reply
  2. Brie

    I love packing lists – and mine is pretty much identical to yours – I find the 5,4,3,2,1 rule really helpful.

    Hope you have a wonderful time here in London – the weather so far this summer has been unseasonably HOT! And if course, most places do not have A/C!!

    Are you doing any meet ups while you’re here?

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hey Brie! You’re about the 4,296th person to ask, so I think we might have to! Something simple and easy… Any suggestions on where to meet? A park or a pub, perhaps? Nothing big or fancy, for sure.

      Reply
      • Rachel Nordgren

        I second this! I’ll be in London around that time and would adore a meetup. Postman’s Park is small and lovely, or Host Cafe at St Mary Aldermary (it’s in a gorgeous old church that they have converted into a cafe/community space) in the City of London is wonderful!

        Reply
        • Tsh Oxenreider

          Ooh, thanks for the specific ideas! I’ll look into them and let you guys know!

          Reply
          • Tsh Oxenreider

            Okay, it’s official: we’ll have a quick reader/listener meet-up from 10-11 am on July 31, 2018 at Host Cafe in St. Mary Aldermary Church (thanks for the rec, Rachel!). All are welcome.

            I’ll include this in this week’s (and probably next week’s) 5 Quick Things email, so be looking for that reminder, too! Otherwise, mark your calendars, Londoners. 🙂

      • Brie

        Hi Tsh – the southbank (Royal Festival Hall) gets great evening light and is v central. Hyde Park Serpentine Cafe is always lovely. The bar at the top of the portrait gallery is fab, as is the bar at the top of Waterstones on Piccadilly (a bar on top of a bookshop, what’s not to love!!!). Hope that helps!

        Reply
  3. Karen

    Heading to Ireland at the end of this week. I have to change up my packages not slightly because it’s been uncharacteristicly warm and dry. Instead of mostly long sleeves and rain gear, it will be short sleeves, capris, sandals, and sunscreen. That’s ok!!

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That sounds delightful, Karen; I love Ireland! Have so much fun.

      Reply
  4. Pamela

    Do you have a bra recommendation for travel (or just in general)? For pajamas, do you wear something that you could wear out if need be? This is so helpful – thank you!

    Reply
    • Rachel Nordgren

      For travel, I personally love Knixwear because their bras fold down to basically nothing, and then I have two ThirdLove bras as well. They’re super comfy!

      Reply
      • Tsh Oxenreider

        Same, actually! I even shared this in the FB group when someone asked me specifically about bras. I like Knixwear because they’re wireless, which is great for long-term travel — nothing worse than a bra with a broken wire.

        Reply
  5. Kristy

    I love this list! Have you heard of or tried American Giant? They’re made inn America. I have 2 v-neck T-shirt’s and they fit great and are washing well. Just thought I’d pass on a company I think you might like!

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I haven’t but I’ll look into them! Thanks, Kristy.

      Reply
  6. Sarah

    I always pack a travel size Fabreeze. It works for clothes and can also be used as air freshener. For areas where the hotels are a little questionable, I have a light weight sleep sack.

    Reply
  7. Linda Sand

    For our first trip to London I went to a good shoe store at home and asked for a pair of tourist shoes. The guy came up with a pair of leather shoes with gum soles I loved. I wore them for years then bought a second pair just like them.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ooh, nice! Happen to remember the brand name?

      Reply
  8. Rachel Nordgren

    My husband and I been housesitting our way through Europe since November (with our dog!) and we sent so much stuff home because we overpacked! But a few of our “must haves” are…

    – PACKING CUBES forever and ever amen
    – heavy duty rubberized twist ties to keep tech cords from becoming a tangled mess
    – a small folding grocery bag or two, since lots of places in Europe charge for carrier bags (plus it’s better for the environment!)
    – little packets of instant coffee for emergencies (learned that one from a Simple Show episode!)
    – small clip-on book lights
    – a USB with copies and/or scans of all our important documents…wills, power of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, medical records, EVERYTHING…just in case something happens to us while we’re abroad
    – a small first aid kit
    – dry shampoo for me

    I also packed a couple small personal items (a tiny jewelry dish for my rings, a favorite magnet, and couple physical photos of loved ones) to help myself feel “at home” wherever we are. They’re small things, but they really help! We also keep a bit of stationery on hand to write notes for particularly lovely AirBnB or housesitting hosts.

    Reply
    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Great ideas, all! Yes to packing cubes, and YES to instant coffee, especially when traveling long-term! Completely forgot about that one; thanks for reminding me. 🙂

      And yes, I always carry around reusable bags; so often I forgot that was even a thing. I’ll go up and add it to the post here. Thanks, Rachel!

      Reply
      • Rachel Nordgren

        Yes, instant coffee has definitely saved our sanity a time or two 😉 Our reusable bags are getting a little beat up, so I might have to check out the ones you suggested! Thanks!

        Reply
        • Brittany

          Just wanted to mention that I also love the flip and tumble bags Tsh recommends. Stronger than a lot of other options and they roll up tiny-perfect to throw in a purse or backpack.

          Reply
  9. Beth

    I don’t think I saw this mentioned but if you’re traveling to China and maybe other developing countries you should pack travel tissues and hand sanitizer because the public bathrooms often have neither toilet paper nor soap. The travel tissues are easy to buy in country but hand sanitizer is harder to find. As mentioned, OTC meds are a must – plan to catch a cold on the flight and have digestive issues from the different foods. And then be thankful if you don’t get sick ;). We’ve had good experiences with taking probiotics before and during our travels and also taking immune boosting supplements. I’d recommend those for any travel to another country.

    Reply
  10. ann

    Sierra Trading post often has ExOfficio underware or something similar for steal prices. I got some when I moved from north to deep south….. love, love! (I remember ironing underware in Italy to get it dry enough to wear…. quick dry is soooooo much better.)

    Reply

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