We started travelling in 2007 and, since then, we’ve gone on at least two trips every year, and sometimes more. Along the way, we’ve picked up some useful tricks for packing well. Some we’ve learned from other travellers, and some we’ve learned the hard way. But every one of them is rooted in a real travel experience, and could help you travel more comfortably.
So here are 17 packing tips that you might find useful the next time you travel.
In this post
Check the luggage rules of the airline you’re travelling with
Airlines have different rules for the size, weight and number of pieces of luggage you can take. Some set a weight limit, regardless of how many pieces you carry. Some have a limit on the number of pieces. And some have a combination. So it’s a good idea to read their luggage rules carefully before you pack. Otherwise, you might just end up having to re-pack your stuff at the airport, and nobody wants that!
Research the weather carefully
Very often, our idea of the weather in a particular place is formed by the pictures we see online. Chances are the pictures you’ve seen were taken at a different time—or even a different place—from where you’re going. Checking on the overall climate, monthly temperature and rainfall of the place you’re visiting will help you decide what to pack. Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up wearing light clothes in cold, rainy weather. Or heavy, warm clothes in blistering heat.
Pack clothes that can be used in layers
Whether you’re travelling to a hot or cold place, the weather can sometimes be unpredictable (especially nowadays). So rather than carrying one heavy jacket or only tee shirts, pack clothes that can be worn both singly or on top of each other. That way, you can wear or take off layers, depending on the weather. For example, a light sweater and jacket instead of a heavy jacket, or a light tee shirt and a long-sleeved top, instead of just a tee shirt.
Think of a back-up for single items
Besides a bunch of tee shirts, socks and underwear, you’ll probably need single items like a jacket, a pair of shoes or even a pair of glasses. But what if your jacket tears, your shoes get wet, or you break your glasses? It’s good to have a backup plan for these things. I’m not saying you should pack two of everything. But think about packing things that can be used as a back-up in case of emergencies. Like a pair of shades that you can use instead of your glasses. Or a pair of sandals in case your shoes get wet.
Pack a change of clothes and a small towel in your hand baggage
We’ve all heard stories of travellers left high and dry because the airline lost their luggage. Pack a change of clothes and a small towel in your cabin baggage in case that ever happens to you. It’s also great to have a change handy during a long journey. A quick wipe and a change of clothes in the middle of that 24-hour haul can make you feel almost human again.
Consider sharing packing space
If you’re not travelling alone, consider sharing packing space with whoever you’re travelling with. For example, if you each have a suitcase, pack some of your stuff in the other’s suitcase and vice versa. That way, if one of your suitcases gets lost, then you’re not left completely helpless. Of course, if you don’t know the other person too well, it might feel weird. But it’s still a good idea.
Pack some laundry detergent
Even if you’re not planning a long trip, packing some laundry detergent sometimes comes in very handy. If you get muddy during an impromptu walk, or someone spills their drink on you, you’ll quickly be able to wash it out back at your hotel. And many hotels have a washing line or rack that you can use to dry your laundry on. It makes even more sense during a long vacation. You can pack light, and wash your clothes as you go. Just make sure you do so at the right place and time, like not immediately before your next journey, or in the local well.
Distribute your money
Because of the lost luggage scenario—and because thieves and pickpockets love tourists—don’t keep your cash and cards in one place. Keep some on you (in different pockets), and some in different pieces of luggage. That way, if you lose one set, you always have something to fall back on. If it seems like too much trouble, remember that it’s far more trouble to be stranded somewhere without any money.
Wear easily-removable shoes while flying
This isn’t technically packing, but shoes are something you’ll take on your journey, so I’m including this tip anyway.
Airports nowadays are getting stricter with their security checks, and some even have more than one check. You have to take off your shoes at many of these, and having to hop around undoing and redoing your laces is very frustrating. It becomes a nightmare when you have connecting flights, so it goes a lot easier if you wear loafers, sandals, slippers or anything else that’s easy to take off and put on.
Also read: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller
Pack small items into shoes to save space
While on the topic of shoes, they tend to take up a lot of space when packed in your luggage. This may seem obvious, but you can save on space (and keep your shoes in shape) by stuffing them with things like socks or underwear. You could also give small, breakable items like souvenir liquor bottles an extra layer of protection by putting them inside the shoes.
Consider packing daily bundles
If the schedule for your trip is reasonably fixed, you could consider dividing your clothes into daily bundles. For example, you could roll together one tee shirt, one pair of underwear and one pair of socks for each day of your trip. That way, you don’t have to pull everything out individually, messing up your packing. It also saves a lot of space. Some people like using packing cubes to keep things neat, but I think making tight rolls works just as well.
Pack liquids in something waterproof
You might want to consider packing liquids like shampoo or insect repellent in a waterproof bag. Differences in air pressure on your flight, or just being squashed by other luggage, could cause them to leak. And you don’t want shampoo all over your clothes, right? You could even use a water-tight box for all your liquids, to give them more protection from being squeezed. If you’re using shampoo bars (like these from Earth Rhythm), on the other hand, you can just carry them in your hand luggage.
Keep your hand luggage light in case of long layovers
If you have a long layover as part of your journey (or you have a long way to walk during your layover), try and keep your hand luggage light. Carrying a heavy bag or backpack around can be really tiring, especially if you’re already tired from your journey. Just pack the essentials, and you won’t find yourself bowed under your bag’s weight while trudging endlessly through airports like Dubai or Frankfurt.
Keep a copy of your passport in your luggage
Losing your passport abroad is a huge pain, and will throw your entire trip out the window. To make it easier to deal with in case it happens, keep a copy in a separate piece of luggage. Having a copy will save you a lot of time when you apply for a temporary travel permit at your local embassy or consulate. If you don’t like printing, you could email it to yourself to download later, or save a copy on your phone. But remember that you might not be able to access your email when you need it.
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Carry copies of your tickets
At most airports nowadays, having your ticket on your phone or tablet is fine. But at some airports, you need to show your ticket to security personnel before they even let you into the airport. And they sometimes refuse to recognize digital versions of tickets, weird as it sounds. So if you’re sure that carrying your ticket in digital form works at the airport you’re travelling through, then fine. If you’re not sure, it’s probably better to print a copy. And if you’re eco-conscious, you could always print on used paper.
Pack a travel adaptor
If you’re carrying any electrical appliances on an international trip (think mobile phone, hair dryer or shaver) you should probably carry a travel adaptor, too. The plug points and power outlets could be different where you’re going, not to mention the voltage. So rather than having to hunt for an adaptor when you get there, it’s a good idea to pack one by default.
Keep some cash in USD or Euro handy
When travelling abroad, keep some of your cash in US dollars or Euros, if you can. It can save a lot of space in your wallet, and they make for a handy backup in case you run out of local currency. They can be exchanged quite easily in most places, and locals sometimes accept them in place of local currency. It’s usually more economical to pay by cash than by card anyway—especially at airports. So if you have any spare US dollars or Euros hanging around, take them with you.
Do you have any packing tips you’ve learned on your travels? Leave a comment and let me know!