You probably have your own personal list of travel musts-haves — items that you always want with you when going on a trip. Mine include a travel packet of wipes, moisturizer with sun screen, essential meds plus prescriptions just in case, and my international service-enabled cell phone plus charger. There are other items on my list, but these items always go into my carry-on bag first.
But there are also items that should be included on every traveler’s list, no matter who you are or where you’re going. Similarly, there are certain items that, for the most part, aren’t worth the space they take up in your suitcase.
Today I want to share my list of top 10 must-haves for international travel, and I’ll follow it up shortly with items that you can afford to leave at home.
- Medication. You should always carry all of your prescription medication in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage. I find the containers that are marked with the days of the week to be the most helpful. Fill them up so that you have all the pills you need per day in each little container. If you need more than a week’s worth, fill up a second container. Ziplock bags make for perfect storage for these handy containers. If one of the compartments should open, the pills fall harmlessly into the plastic bag, safe and clean. Also, I recommend carrying a small assortment of other medication, including those to treat a cold, sore throat, or upset stomach. Even if you’re not sick when you leave, it’s better to have medication with you should something happen while away.
- Photocopies of your passport. It’s never fun to lose your passport, but the experience can be somewhat less frustrating if you keep a paper copy of it with you. You won’t be able to use the copy to get through security, but it will be very helpful when you go to the closest U.S. consulate to get a new one. Just be sure to keep the copy somewhere separate from your real passport, so you have less of a chance of losing both!
- Eyewear. Here is where it pays to exaggerate. If you wear contacts, remember contact lens solution, a case or two, and plenty of spare lenses should you rip or lose your primary pair. If you wear glasses, pack a back-up pair as well as a small eyeglass repair kit, which can be found in most drugstores and supermarkets. Finally, even if you have perfect vision, be sure to pack sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Phone charger. Unless you have an international plan for your cell phone, you probably won’t be able to make calls for the majority of your trip. But many of us use our phones as our camera or music player, so be sure to bring along your charger. Even if your family and friends are already on your phone contact list, it’s helpful to tuck a paper list of family and friends’ telephone numbers in with your other travel documents so you (or others) can contact them if necessary.
- Inflatable neck pillow. Inflatable neck pillows are handy to have on a long flight or bus rides. Just blow them up and settle in for a light snooze, then deflate them for easy transportation in your purse or bag. They can help you feel refreshed and avoid neck pain that can put a damper on your vacation.
- Space-saver bags. These bags can help you better organize and pack your suitcase. However, I don’t recommend purchasing bags that require a vacuum (who wants to lug a vacuum on vacation?!). Instead stick to the ones that let you roll the air out of them. Also, being able to fit more in your suitcase doesn’t necessarily mean you can pack more because you still have to comply with airline weight limits. The idea of these ingenious little bags is to conserve space so you can carry a smaller suitcase or even get away with just a carry-on bag. If you’re taking a piece of luggage that will be checked, be sure to throw your suitcase on the scale before you leave for the airport to ensure you won’t have to pay extra fees for an overweight bag.
- Ear plugs. Who would guess that these small items would be such a lifesaver while traveling? They’re an absolute must-have and can be used almost anywhere – from the plane to the hotel to the bus you’ll probably be traveling on. I always carry extra earplugs as well in case my seatmate needs a pair — it’s a great way to make friends on a noisy plane or bus ride.
- Your camera and accessories. Toting your camera, charger or batteries, and extra memory cards is necessary for collecting ample photo documentation of your trip. The extra memory cards are an absolute must, because they take up very little space physically, yet allow you to capture so many memories that you’ll treasure for years to come.
- Voltage converter and plug adapter. To plug your phone or camera charger in overseas, you’ll need a voltage converter and plug adapter to work in their outlets. You can pick up a good converter kit at an electronics store or on Amazon.com. A good model will cost about $25 or less, so it’s definitely worth the investment, and new versions are compact and easy to pack.
- Poncho or travel umbrella. This suggestion is especially relevant for those who plan on taking excursions, such as sightseeing, hiking, or biking, during their trip. Packing a poncho or travel umbrella could end up being a lifesaver if you encounter bad weather but still want to enjoy the great outdoors. You can pick up a very lightweight but effective plastic poncho at any dollar store for, you guessed it, a dollar!
We hope you keep this packing list handy for your next international vacation. By the same token, there are also some items that are unnecessary to take with you when traveling overseas. I’ll be following up with my list of travel leave-behinds in an upcoming post. Keep your eyes on the blog for that.
ZIPLOCK bags in at least 3 sizes. They are good for everything. Keep some in your carryon luggage and put the rest in the bags you check. I take my meds in them, peeling off the med label and putting it on the ziplock bag. You can also use the daily med boxes but what i do is easier saves lots of space.
Use them for electronics, chargers, converters, jewelry, snacks, etc. so you do not have to dig around looking for these essential things
Either take a pic or copy any visa you need, tickets, prescription or license.
Thank you so much for the travel tips, I am getting ready for my first trip to Europe n your tips are great!
I always take a 6″ or 8″ square Rubbermaid or Tupperware container, for any small or breakable souvenirs. I take it over packed with socks/underclothes, in my checked luggage, and bring it back, in my carry-on packed with souvenir jewelry/breakables. Nothing gets lost/broken or just plain “disappears.” I’ve brought back Murano picture frames, ceramic tiles, etc. I also spread out a roll of bubble wrap (Dollar Store), on the bottom of my suitcase to wrap olive oil/pesto/wine to bring back. If I don’t end up using it, I throw it away before packing to return home.
1. Store copies of all documents, pass ports etc on line in for example, google drive, plus the copies mentioned
2. Depending on country, time of year, latitude, a good breathing rain jacket is your friend. Of course above mentioned items as well. The good, notice good, light weight rain coat can easily become a light weight ski jacket with some layers. I learned this the hard way.
3. A small roll of duct tape, and mini travel tool, with sizzors and pliers, in checked luggage.
1. When traveling, I too, always pack Ziploc bags in various sizes, but also take some 13 gallon trash bags for dirty or wet clothes.
2. When taking along medications, I always pack enough for a few extra days for those unexpected times, like when a flight is cancelled because of the weather, a loved one becomes ill and you need to stay in the country a few extra days before traveling, etc.
3. I am also careful to pack any cable connection that I may possibly need to download photos, hook up to a printer, or charge my electronics. They are not heavy and you sure wish you had them when they are not there.
4. If you are headed to any type of organizational conference, it is also advantageous to have business cards along, as well as pre-made return address labels for easily signing up with a vendor to receive mailings or raffle prizes without wasting your time filling out your information.
(1) Eyeshades. I use silk shades, with the color black on the inside. (2) Earplugs: take at least three as one in a pair is inevitably lost along the way. (3) Band-aids and cold medicine, in case you need them in the middle of the night on a Saturday–many pharmacies and stores are not open on Sundays. (4) Small foreign language dictionary.
I make photo copies of my credit cards, drivers licence, passport. Copy both sides so the #800 is showing, keep a copy on you and at home with a loved one.
I pack and wear older jeans and some tops that are out-dated. Find a goodwill – type
organization or ask hotel workers where you can donate clothing- then unload old stuff
as i go- and have space for new purchases and/or souveniers. several times the hotel
staff have said they would be happy to take to a shelter- be respectful of these emplyees-
i don’t know if the clothes made it to a shelter- but i know someone got some use out of
them. recycling at its best!
Prescription medication must be in its original container and not a ‘day of the week’ container.
When traveling to china does narcotic medicine need to be just in the bottle it comes in or there any more restrictions. Thank you
A best practice is to keep medication in its original container and also bring a copy of the prescription. Hope that helps!
When travelling, I always bring a water bottle with me and a few healthy snacks like oat crackers or nuts to help with hunger pangs if I’m still on the way to my hotel or destination. You can refill your bottle anytime and anywhere where there is potable water and it’s free.
And I do agree with the Ziploc. It secures the liquids in my stuff because there may be a chance that it opens while the luggage is jostled around and the Ziploc contains them perfectly.
Great tips, thanks!
Don’t forget comfortable walking shoes. When your feet feel good the rest of you feels good.
Thank you for th
e travel suggestions….I am traveling with you to Cuba 2/16
I always travel with instant oatmeal or grits. good for a light dinner after a big lunch or just anytime. I also carry crystallized ginger. excellent for upset stomach or indigestion – and great tasting.
Thanks for all the tips..one more for the ladies …Tuck a scarf into your purse there are many churches that require your shoulders and head to be covered..especially in Italy…Also I’ve used those plastic folding bottles that you can hang on your bag or belt..there great…
consider adding the following to your bag: ind tubs of peanut butter ( every place has some kind of bread/cracker) Crystal Light or other flavor packs for water bottle ( many places don’t have diet soda!)
Cup of soup for those nights you don’t want to eat out…or when you are feeling yucky!
When I travel, I carry 2 wallets. One real wallet in my front pocket and a second fake wallet in my back pocket. If I ever get mugged, I give them my fake wallet containing fake credit cards and some canadian tire money. ( I am from Canada). Also if pick pocket occurs, they usually grab the wallet from the back pocket. Hope this comment helps.
I have plans to tour to Dubai. I hear that antidepressant medication is controlled medication ???? Do you have any suggestions what I (or my doctor) need to do to avoid possible penalties or problems there because of bringing in antidepressant medication which I need.
When you travel to any country, including Dubai, just bring your meds with you in your carryon luggage or purse and carry your prescription (your pharmacy can give you a copy or even the original upon request) with your other important papers. You won’t have any problem, in the event anyone asks you about your meds. As a rule of thumb, when I travel, I carry my meds for the entire duration of my trip in one of those pill containers with little sections for each day of the week. The pills, including vitamins and supplements, are all portioned out for each day, and in all the years I’ve been traveling (including to Dubai) I’ve never even been asked to produce a prescription (which I faithfully do carry with me just in case). Enjoy your trip. Peggy G.
Re medications: Using my iPhone, I take a photo of the original container showing the Rx, with a pill from the bottle alongside the container for identification purposes. Then I carry my meds in the weekly containers. That way, if there are any questions what the pills are, I can show the original bottle label with the pill for identification. This said, I have always carried my meds in the weekly containers and have never been asked for the original prescriptions – throughout Europe, Central & South America, Asia, Africa and the Mid-East.
My husband take Tylenol 3 for intense pain of neuropathy. We want to go to Africa but to go into Dubai, the airlines say even with a prescription, possession of codeine is a four year stint in a prison. So… have to find some other way to get into Cape Town since I don’t want to chance problems.
If you take these meds regularly, why not put them into another “regular” Tylenol container. When I travel, I actually carry all my meds in those plastic pill dispensers that have a section for each day. None of the meds is identified in this container, and I’ve never been questioned about the meds upon entering either Dubai or South Africa.
Why not consider our “Taste of South Africa” tour, which flies via South African Airlines and does not stop in Dubai. Take a look and see if this tour might be a better fit for you. https://www.friendlyplanet.com/taste-of-south-africa.html. Or, check out “Best of South Africa” which also flies via South African Airlines. https://www.friendlyplanet.com/best-south-africa.html.
You can definitely enjoy a tour to South Africa without worry. If you have questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to call us. If you book today, November 29th, before midnight EST, you’ll enjoy extra savings thanks to our extended CyberMonday sale. 800-555-5765.
Anyone been on the Puskin camel fair/India trip know if hairdryers are in each hotel? In the information I have seen they mention hairdryer in the amenities for only one of the hotels but not the other or the tent. I would rather not have to deal with it or the converter if possible.
Hi Donna! Hair dryers are available at all the hotels. At the Pushkar Camel Fair camp, hair dryers are available upon request at reception and not supplied in each individual room. However, if you want to bring your own hairdryer the power outlets provide 220V so you’ll need to bring the applicable converter. Let us know if you have any additional questions!
Comments/suggestions – great! I will be traveling for 2+ months – any tips for
longer trips eagerly sought! Thanks.
Hi Elaine! None of our tours are nearly that long – but some ideas that immediately come to mind are making a comprehensive check list before you leave, packing light (with the idea of doing laundry regularly), making sure visas and vaccinations are completed and in order, and making sure your home (did you pause your mail and newspaper?) is prepared for you to be gone for an extended period of time. Good luck in your research and travels!
Good comments all. A couple of things to add for women – I pack a mirror (in bubble wrap) that I use on a desk or table to put on my make-up or do my hair while my husband is using the bathroom. I also pack a larger scarf (pashmina) which I use on the plane, as a wrap going out, in cathedrals, etc. I’ve even seen young ladies wrap them over shorts (that were too short) to pass as a skirt to get into cathedrals. I use 2 gallon zip lock bags for packing shirts as they keep them from wrinkling. And always a good raincoat and umbrella.
Most informative! Thank you all
Glad the information was helpful, Gloria! Happy Travels!
Bring a reusable water bottle on the plane-you can fill it up on the plane & many International airports have water dispensers for that-avoid deydration. Make sure you read about toiler paper situation. I didn’t realize that you had to bring your own when I went to China which taught me to check every time. Go to doctor & get a travel prescription kit like a Zpac in case you get sick, there is something for severe diarrhea, etc. Think beyond your daily prescriptions so that you can enjoy every day-best to have & not use instead of need & not have. You can buy zipper travel bags on Amazon. On these trips you change hotels often, makes packing & unpacking a breeze. Bring your ATM card & get cash at airport. All of the hotels charge a fee to cash travelers check but your bank most likely charges a fee so just get the cash. Bring US $ as well, you can always tip the tour guides with it & good to have as back up. Take pictures of you bank cards incase they get lost-I had an ATM eat one. The tour guide was able to get it back from the bank for me but of course on that trip I had limited cash. Check with your bank to see if they have a credit card that doesn’t charge the standard 3-5% fee on charges-all banks have them & those fees add up. Invest in Global Entry if you can to get out of customs in 10 minutes instead of 2 hours. Most importantly, have a great time & when you get back keep everything you didn’t use together & start planning your next vacation.
Great suggestions, Cari!
I agree with all who have posted about the weekly med containers, plus taking photos of the med bottles. I, however, carry an extra weekly med container to hold all of the earrings that I want for my trip. Granted, you can’t fit big hoops, but LOTS of little ones do fit.
Travel clothing: I bought clothing designed for travel and was able to carry everything I needed in a carry-on back pack. Everything is designed to weigh little, pack small and are hand washable with shampoo with a short drying time. North Face is an excellent high class travel clothing brand. Adidas and other sportswear manufacturers make excellent underwear and shoes that can be packed down for travelling.
A pair of skimpy, thin material shorts with pockets to wear under your clothing. I found this to be the safest and most comfortable way to carry wallets, money, cell phones and other valuables with no fear of pickpockets. They will be unable to reach into any pocket and take something. I also wear a stretchable belt to make it easy to reach the items I am carrying.
Tiny 1″ square ziplock bags for medications: I take a lot of medications. I used these to divide dosages and put them all into a larger ziplock along with Rx copies. I had no problems with authorities in packing medications this way.
A cloud drive, like Google Drive: Not only to store copies of important documents ) in a folder labeled ‘travel’, but also a folder for uploading photos and videos taken during travel – After uploading, delete from your phone memory to make room for more photos.
An inexpensive unlocked GSM android cell phone that has a good camera and connectivity (eg: Moto G5 Plus International Version): You can buy an international sim card and use your phone as you would normally while travelling.
Rather than an umbrella, I brought a thin waterproof nylon (?) hooded jacket in a tie pouch that I carried in my pocket during rainy days. Get one that can be packed down to the size of an avocado and that comes with a tie bag.
Clothing layers: rather than bringing coats, sweaters, etc … use layering on chilly days and wear the rain jacket to block the wind.
I always carry toilet paper with me. If you remove the cardboard roll inside the toilet paper it takes up very little room . Particularly in middle & far eastern countries you’ll be glad you have it (and your fellow travelers will too if you give them some when they need it)
I always put a piece of plastic wrap (saran wrap or press n’ seal) between the lids and bottle openings of creams and liquids it helps prevents leaks and spills. Also I didn’t see it mentioned but a small sewing kit with an extra button and a few safety pins.
I suggest always carrying an over the counter medicine for travelers diarrhea and rehydration packages
Print out some business cards that have your picture on them. Place in every suitcase, whether checked or carryon and use them as inserts in the luggage tag holders. Easy to do and if your tags get lost, you have your picture inside your luggage to prove it’s yours.
My pocket got picked in Turkey on the tram. My Zipper on my jacket got stuck when riding the crowded tram in Istanbul Don’t look distracted. I was an easy target 2 women sandwiched me in luckily all they got was a credit card & $10 they did not get my cell phone. I was only on for 2 stops.