The Ultimate Packing List

Every item I myself pack for a trip to Italy
This is every single item I take when I travel. (Keep in mind I am actually wearing one set of clothes, including hat, belt, jacket, shoes, etc.). And it all fits into a carry-on sized bag and daypack (to prove it, see a picture of it all packed in the "How to pack it all into a carry-on" tip near the bottom of the page).

 

What to pack for a trip, how much to bring on your travels, and how to fit it all in a single carry-on with room left over for souvenirs

Every item I myself pack for a trip to Europe
Just before leaving on a trip, I snapped this photo of every single item I take with me when I travel to Italy (minus the bag and daypack of course)—and it all fits into a carry-on size bag.
This is the very same packing list I use before setting off on a trip (well, not the skirt or feminine hygiene stuff), whether it's a six-night jaunt or a six-month research trip. The only thing extra I bring is a laptop for work purposes.

The Clothes Make the Traveler

The five cardinal rules of traveling clothes: 1) Nothing white; 2) Nothing that wrinkles; 3) Clothes you can layer; 4) lots of pockets; and 5) Very few. Clothes take up the most space in your luggage, so don’t pack many. Just get used to doing a bit of laundry each night or two in your room.

Packing/shopping list
This page has proven so popular, I've decided to expand it. For a much more in-depth packing list, complete with photos and links to several hand-picked options for each item on the list, check out my experimental new site WhatDoIPack.net, optimized for mobile. Full Story
Urban Europeans dress pretty snappily—not necessarily in the latest Armani suit, but well nonetheless. While you should travel in whatever wardrobe makes you feel comfortable, you’ll probably be happier fitting in, so save the Bermuda shorts and sleeveless T-shirt for that trip to Hawaii.

Note: In the churches of some Catholic countries—Italy, Spain, France—and the mosques of Muslim countries there is a strict dress code that forbids shorts, skirts above the knee, and bare shoulders (and, in mosques, bare heads for women). Pack accordingly. (A silk shawl packs tiny, works as an emergency skirt or head-and-shoulder coverup, and doubles as an extra blanket during the plane ride and when evenings out turn cool).

2 pairs of pants (men/women)—Take quick-dry travel slacks (with secret pockets), not heavy, never-dry jeans; I always make one a pair convertible pantslink ( menlink/women) so I don't need to bring extra shorts.
1 pair of shortslink with pockets or convertible pantsREI (menREI/women)— Adults don’t often wear shorts in much fo the world (& most churches won't let you in with bare knees), but they’re good for hiking and, for men, as swimsuits (women: buy a swimsuit there if you find you need one—a great souvenir!).
1 long skirtLink or dresslink—The skimpiness at which your respectability will be questioned varies with the country, so hedge your bets with something long.
4 pairs of underwear (men/women)—They even make disposable underwear now.
4 bras or camisoles
4 pairs of socks (men/women)
3 T-Shirts (men/women)—Wear under long sleeves so the easily washed T-shirt will soak up all the sweat. Get quick-drying tops, not cotton.

2 long-sleeve shirts (men/women)—Button-down collared shirts are respectable for all occasions; travel ones have hidden pockets, sunblock, and easy washability.
SweaterLink (menLink/women)—Warm and dressy. Or you can do a...:
Jacket (men/women)—Only for fall to early spring (though a light rain jacket is always wise).
Wrap/Shawl—For covering bare shoulders (or improvising a below-knee skirt over shorts) to visit churches and mosques (it's a rule); also, for warmth on planes and cool evenings, and sun protection.
Long UnderwearLink (menLink/women)—Only for winter trips to colder climes.
Good walking shoes (men/women)—No dress shoes, heels, flip-flops, or anything you can’t walk in all day for two weeks. (STURDY hiking or travel sandalsmenLink/women—are also OK.)
Hat (men/women)—An all-around brim offers sun protection and rain protection (also: stylish). The Tilley Hat is the ultimate travel topper.
Belt—Those with a hidden zipper let you hide your passport photocopy and some emergency cash.

Keeping Clean

Minimize toiletries spillage disasters by storing everything in resealable plastic baggies. Maximize the tiny space inside a bathroom bag/toiletry kit with sample sizes and by putting shampoo and detergent into small, screw-top plastic bottles—bonus, this makes them TSA safe.

Keep toiletries and cosmetics to a minimum. Perfume or cologne on the road become vain deadweights and spills waiting to happen (imagine everything in your bag drenched with Chanel no. 5). And for women, trust a touch of red lipstick to be formal enough for any occasion.

Toothbrush & small tube of toothpaste
Small soap & small shampoo—Bring the soap sliver from your bathtub to start; filch more from hotels as you go.
RazorPartner & shaving cream—(Battery-op shaversPartner are OK (electric razors just bring the hassle of electrical converters and adaptors).
Medicines—Prescriptions should be written in generic, chemical form (not brand name). Pill orginizers are handy.
Extra glasses/contacts— Count on losing them, and bring a hard glasses case. Also, bring enough saline solution to last (parts of the world sell it only in glass bottles).
First-aid kit—Take at least: a few Band-Aids, antiseptic ointment, moleskin (for blisters), aspirin, Dramamine or motion-sickness wristbands (I swear by Relief BandsLink, worth the outrageous price) hand lotion and lip balm (traveling promotes chapping), sunscreen, Pepto-Bismol (for indigestion and diarrhea; chewable, not liquid), and decongestant and antihistamines (for colds and unexpected allergies to local allergens).

Comb or flat brush
Laundry kit—To wash clothes on the go in your bathroom sink, you need travel detergent (biodegradable), a braided clothesline (the twists act as clothespins), and I suggest the truly remarkable stain eraserLink (perhaps I'm a slob, but I need them at least once per trip).
Towel—HG2G fans don't need to be told this, but a shammy-style camping towel or even small terrycloth towel is a lifesaver when confronted with Europe’s nonabsorbent, waffle-pressed jobbers.
Feminine hygiene products—You can buy tampons abroad, but take what you need with you, especially if you’re brand-loyal.
Condoms—US brands are safer.
Pocket-sized tissue packs—Invaluable for sudden spills, substitute napkins, bathroom emergencies, signaling surrender, and, if still clean enough, runny noses.

Documents & Sundries

Don’t forget to carry your most important documents—passport, plane tickets, railpass, traveler’s checks, driver’s license, and credit cards—in a moneybelt.

Carry your daily needs items in a small backpack or security purse (designed to foil pickpockets and purse snatchers).

IN YOUR DAYPACK
Guidebooks and phrase books
Journal and pens—You won’t remember it half as well as you think.
Camera — Bring extra batteries. Tote it in a purse or mild-mannered daypack, not a “steal-me” professional camera bag. I like the new waterproof pocket cameras.
Memory CardsLink—Very expensive abroad (and you will fill them up fast!)
Tripod—I like the GorillaPod, with flexible legs so you you can wrap it around tree branches and other impromptu supports.
Tiny flashlight (I prefer a hands-free headlamp).
Tiny folding umbrella
SunglassesLink
Cell phone Partner—Only bother bringing yours if a tri– or quad-band world phone with AT&T or T-Mobile (on the GSM standard used in most of the world). Otherwise, rent a cellphone. » more
Swiss Army KnifePartner or Leatherman/multitoolPartner—Most useful features: screwdriver, can opener, blade, corkscrew (for picnics), tweezers, scissors, nail file. Note: The TSA is debating once again allowing small knives in carry-ons, but HAS NOT YET CHANGED the rules. For now, pack any knife in your checked luggage. Official TSA regs)
Small bottle of water—Buy them as you go, but always have one. Outside of Europe and the North America (or in the backcountry), carry a bottle with a built-in purifier or get a UV sterilizer.
Sunscreen
Bug spray—Much of the world has yet to discover window screens. Also useful: After Bite for the itch.
Teensy binoculars—Maybe I'm getting old, but increasingly I find these useful for admiring distant frescoes, wildlife, landscapes, popes, etc.

PLANE/TRAIN COMFORT
Neck pillow - For the plane; long train rides. Some prefer the all-around-the neck style to the old horseshoe collar (this nifty model also converts to a small rectangular pillow).
Eye mask - Some love 'em; some don't. I find every bit of help sleeping helps (and always pack one for summer trips to high latitudes—Alaska, the Arctic, Antarctica—where the sun rarely sets).
Noise-canceling headphones - The one silly travel gadget I actually use (it makes flying less stressful, even if you don't sleep; also: easier to hear the movie). There are tons of models. I currently rock a JVC HANC250Link—1/3 the price of Bose; just as good. Or go super low-tech with earplugs (sadly, I'm one of those people who cannot tolerate wearing them).
Book or e-Reader—For long plane and train trips. If an e-Readerlink, load up on titles before you leave, or get one with WiFi (so you can download outside the U.S) or a Kindle 3G (which connects for free in 100 countries).

IN YOUR MONEYBELT/WALLET
Moneybelt—The flat, under-the-clothes "safe" everybody hates to wear but is the best protection for your passport and other crucial documents.
Passport—You won't get very far without it.
Airline tickets—Crucial.
Wallet—But keep important stuff in the moneybelt.
MoneyCredit cards, ATM bankcard, traveler’s checks, and cash (euros if you got 'em and some emergency dollars).
Driver’s license/International Permit—If you plan to rent a car.

IN YOUR MAIN BAG
Luggage locks—Get enough for every zipper; make sure they're the kind approved for TSA use.
Sleep sack—An ultra-thin sleeping bag made of cotton or silk (sometimes called a "liner"); you'll need one if you'll be camping or staying in hostels.
Travel alarm clock
Plug adaptors—For charging your digital camera, cell phone, etc.
Chargers/cables—I carry all my plugs, cables, and adaptors in a small toiletry bag.
Pocket Sewing KitLink—Trust me.
Duct TapeLink—Ditto.
Address list—Friends appreciate postcards at the time more than a slide show afterward.

Tips & links

Useful links & resources

GEAR, CLOTHES, & BAGS

Gear & clothing: Magellans.com, REI.com, eBags.com, Travelsmith.com, LLBean.com

Luggage: eBags.com, Magellans.com, REI.com

Electonic converters: Magellans.com, REI.com, Travelsmith.com
How to pack it all into a carry-on
  1. Lay out everything you think you’ll need to take and consider the pile.
  2. Put away any item that’s not really necessary.
  3. Take what remains, pack half of it, and leave the rest at home—you won’t need it.

Fully packed bag
Everything from the photo at the top of the page packed into a carry-on and a daypack (all the clothes are in that pale gray stuffsack).
Pack for ultimate mobility, versatility, and necessity. Make travel an exercise in simplifying your material needs.

When in doubt, leave it at home. Whatever you forgot, or discover on the road you need (sunscreen, bathing suit, sandals), you can always simply buy it in Italy—and have a nifty extra souvenir of daily life to bring home. (I often return with odd, foreign brands of toothpaste.)

Speaking of which: you should leave a little space in your pack for accumulating souvenirs.

If, as you travel, you find yourself running out of room, stop at any post office to ship home the personal items you've found you didn't need—or just before flying home, mail your dirty laundry to yourself. This way, you can carry your new purchases instead of entrusting them to the local postal system.

» more

How to tell if you've overpacked
  • If it doesn’t all fit in one carry-on sized bag plus a daypack, you have overpacked.
  • If you can't lift your bag over your head and hold it there for 10 seconds, you have overpacked.
  • If you can't shoulder your load and walk five times around the block without breaking a sweat, you have overpacked (and should probably also hit the gym—all the walking you'll do makes travel in Italy an aerobic workout and you need to be ready).

Trust me, you'll be thankful later when you easily shoulder you bag and zip off to your hotel while the guy who sat next to you on the plane gets a hernia just trying to get his luggage out of the airport.

Make sure you use a moneybelt

Undercover Money BeltKeep your all valuables in a moneybelt: one of these large, flat, zippered pouched you wear under your clothes.

A moneybelt is like a wearable safe for your passport, credit cards, bank/ATM cards, driver's license, plane tickets, railpass, extra cash, and other important documents.

In your wallet, carry only a single day's spending money—maybe $50–$80. (Replenish this as needed from your stash in the moneybelt.) » more

Assorted packing tips
  • Some bags have zip-away straps and waist belts that convert the pack into a more respectable soft-sided suitcase for waltzing into your hotel lobby.
  • To keep the bulk of your bag under the carry-on requirements, layer any thick sweaters and coats and such to wear on the plane (you can strip down once seated).
  • Label your bag: Whatever sort of pack or suitcase you choose, be sure to put a slip of paper with your name, home address, and destination inside each piece of luggage as well as attaching a sturdy luggage tag with a concealed address window to the outside (some criminals peruse visible luggage tags at the airport, collecting the addresses of people leaving on vacation).
  • TSA-approved travel locksGet as many tiny travel locks you have zippered compartments on your pack and daypack. Make sure it is one of the special combination locks that have a red diamond-like symbol meaning they're TSA-friendly (baggage screeners carry a secret code and a special back-door key so they can open the lock if they feel the need to paw through your valuables and dirty undies).
  • Note that the TSA is considering once again will allow you carry small knives in your carry-on bag. However THIS RULE HAS NOT YET BEEN PUT INTO EFFECT (despite some early news reports to the contrary). For now, you will still need to pack any knife in your checked luggage. Here are the official TSA regulations.
  • Split up your stuff. If you're traveling with others and plan to check your luggage, distribute everybody's stuff throughout all the bags. Have your traveling companion pack some of your clothes and you pack some of his. That way, if the airline loses just one bag, both of you will have something to wear until it turns up.
  • Many bags come with zip-off daypacks, which is an excellent idea (or bring a small backpack). Keep in it your first-aid kit, sections of your guidebooks you stripped out for the day's use, tissue packs, water bottle, journal and pen, Pocket knife, and umbrella.
  • Let's see. Besides a waterproof bathroom bag for the toiletries I think that's it.

Guided tour of Tuscany



Tours Under $995 G Adventures


Section Index

 

Related Partners


This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in March 2013.
All information was accurate at the time.


about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.