Travel Notices

10 items you don’t need when you travel internationally

I recently shared my top 10 must-haves for international travel. In that post, I mentioned that I’d follow it up with a list of items that you might think you need to pack, but aren’t worth the space they take up in your suitcase.

Here’s my list of travel leave-behinds. Keep these items at home, and save some space in your suitcase for souvenirs and travel essentials.

  1. Traveler’s checks. Traveler’s checks used to make it easy to securely travel with a large amount of money. But using traveler’s checks today can be a big, expensive hassle. Even if you don’t pay anything to get them issued, you will definitely pay a hefty service fee when you cash them. Since many establishments no longer want to deal with travelers checks, you may have to fit finding a bank into your itinerary in order to cash them. Stick with your credit/debit card and cash instead.
  2. Devices that keep you connected to work. This is a vacation you’re taking, isn’t it? You’ve worked hard and deserve some time off, so make sure you unplug enough to actually enjoy yourself. If possible, leave the work phone and laptop behind, with instructions to reach you only in an emergency. Give yourself permission to enjoy some much-needed time with loved ones or even all alone. 
  3. Snacks. If you have dietary restrictions, bringing snacks is a great way to ensure there are some foods you know you can enjoy and eat safely. If not, keep the amount of snacks you bring to a bare minimum. Instead, try snacking like the locals, which will save you plenty of money as well as room in your luggage. And who knows, you may discover an amazing treat along the way.  And not to worry if you aren’t up for the local treats. I’ve found potato chips, peanuts, Oreo cookies and plenty of other US-branded snack foods in the most remote corners of the earth.
  4. Shampoo and soap. Every hotel on your itinerary will have these available for you in your room. If not (hard to imagine), it’s easier to pop down to a corner store and pick some up then hefting your own along. Not every hotel will offer conditioner as an amenity, though. I pack a travel-size bottle of conditioner with me, and I’ve never run out, even washing my hair daily.
  5. A hair dryer. Most women and many men rely on their hairdryers on a daily basis, but there’s no reason to pack a full-size dryer in your luggage. Every hotel in today’s world will provide you with a hairdryer. Even if you don’t find one in your room (rare occasion) you’ll be able to borrow one from the front desk. Don’t count on a diffuser, though. If you need one, carry a mesh sack, available in any store that sells beauty supplies, that fits over the top of every dryer.
  6. New shoes. A vacation is no time to break in a new pair of shoes. Instead pack a pair of extremely comfortable walking shoes that you know you can wear to explore your destination pain-free. Unless you know you’re going to need to get very dressed up at some point, try and make due with an extra pair of shoes that can do double duty, for comfort by day and for style by evening. Definitely do not bring stiletto heels with you. You’ll lug them around and probably never wear them.
  7. Denim jeans. Jeans are heavy, take up a lot of space in your suitcase, and can’t be washed and dried in your hotel sink. Opt instead for light, breezy clothing, such as cotton shirts and khaki pants. If you can’t live without at least one pair of denim jeans, wear them on the flights. If they need to be washed, send them to the hotel laundry and accept the charge as a splurge.
  8. Jewelry you would hate to lose. If you would be devastated to lose your grandmother’s antique ring or a necklace you were given for your high school graduation, leave them at home. Travel with a few pieces of costume jewelry that you wouldn’t mind losing. And to perk up your wardrobe, check out the many inexpensive options at local markets. You’ll find lots of great items, often hand made, and help local artisans earn a living from their craft.
  9. An iron. Talk about a space hog. Irons are heavy to carry around (even the travel variety) and will probably require a plug adapter.  For wrinkles that absolutely have to come out, try running the hot water until the bathroom fills with steam. If you hang that garment up in the steamy bathroom, the wrinkles will mostly disappear. If you hate wasting all that water (and electricity) a travel-sized bottle of Downey Wrinkle Releaser will do the same thing, and your clothes will smell lovely, too.
  10. An overabundance of clothes. Take a few comfortable outfits, that you can dress up or down with accessories. A few extra tops can turn two pairs of slacks and a skirt into a whole week’s wardrobe, and if you stick to one color palette, you’ll always match. Bringing less clothes from home will assure you’ll have space in your suitcase for those one-of-a-kind or handmade pieces that you’ll find as you travel.

That’s my list of items you can leave at home when traveling internationally. What do you consider a leave-behind? Let me know in a comment below.


  1. Elaine Seymour

    I suspect you do not want to discuss this with your customers, but it is highly recommended that airline passengers wear cotton clothing while flying. If perchance they were to be in an accident while flying, cotton does not burn as quickly as the synthetics. Also passengers really should be reminded that take-off and landings are the most dangerous times and they should pay special attention to the emergency announcements and placards in the seat pockets. Your list of what NOT to take is very valuable and I would also include panty hose, except for support panty hose to be worn during the flight or long bus trips to prevent blood clots. (They should check with their doctor to see what level of support panty hose women/men should wear.) I also carry several sterile needles to be give to a pharmacist for an antibiotic injection powerful enough to get me home. Safe traveling! Sapodedo

  2. mallthus

    I’d argue that these tips are valid for ALL travel, not just the international variety!

  3. Dian Anderson

    Any bag that is big enough to have to go in the hold, if you need that you are carrying way to much stuff

  4. Steve Phillips

    My sins….

    #2 always my laptop and phone! Gotta be responsible!
    #5 (but, hey, I like my hatchet dryer with a built in comb)
    #10 my biggest sin! I never learn!

    PS: Friendly Planet – You are the best!

    Steve, Debbie and Kasia Phillips

  5. Margery Jones

    That is a great list, with great comments. I bought a travel steamer to replace my travel iron – it is much lighter. But gosh! I will never pack it again. We are travelers. People know we are traveling. So what with a few (or many) wrinkles! It takes a while to learn – so newbies, pay attention to this list — it is great.

    I did want to mention a great item to take along – large Ziplock bags. I pack clean clothes in them at home (squeeze out the air by sitting on them just before closing the last inch) and then use them for the dirty clothes along the way. Keeps everything sorted and needing less space.

    Friendly Planet – you are number one in our book! Keep up the good work. Headed for Patagonia this fall! Can’t wait.

  6. Mary Ann Bell

    This is terrific info and I would add excess credit cards.You need only 1 or 2 ,not the 6 or 7 lots of us have. I like to have a copy of my passport and credit cards in a separate place just in case of an emergency .Can’t wait for my Transatlantic cruise beginning in Rome Dec 1! All your tips will be heeded.Thanks so much.

  7. Pat Burr

    Leave the bulky plastic prescription bottles at home. Put the pills in a snack size zip-lock bag with a copy of the prescription. Even several prescriptions take up a very small amount of space when handled this way.

  8. Pat Burr

    I put my prescription drugs into individual snack size zip-lock bags with a copy of the prescription. This takes up a lot less room.

  9. Stephie

    #5: Seriously? Have you ever tried using a hotel hair dryer? They’re not fit to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, let alone dry my long, thick, curly hair in less than an hour without major frizz. 1875 watts are a must!

  10. I agree regarding traveler’s checks, except for rare situations. For instance, last year I took a cruise. The cost to use the ship’s ATM: $6. The cost to cash traveler’s checks: $0.

  11. Erin

    These are good tips, but I think it’s safe to say you’re referring to travel in developed countries and staying in places with many amenities. I travel to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa for my work and enjoy the sights while I’m there. And that means having a good back pack to travel with and willingness to stay in hostels and in villages. Two things I would say that I definitely would bring are shampoo/conditioner and snacks if you are going to travel in these areas. It’s not as easy as you think it would be to access soaps, as well as you never know how long a flight or bus will take and when you’ll have decent food. I highly recommend Dr. Bronners organic liquid soap which can be for hair, body, and laundry. Small and easy. I’m a big fan of bringing protein bars with me. I buy a box of them, put them in a large ziplok bag and travel with them. On the 7 hour bus ride that turns into 12 hours you’ll be relieved to have them. Or if you stop in an area where the food isn’t safe to eat as a foreigner due to bacteria, you’ll be glad you packed one so it will hold you over.

  12. Peter W.

    These helpful tips seem to assume that you’re traveling in developed countries. If you’re traveling in less developed countries, often even high-end hotels don’t have shampoo, an iron, or a hair dryer; and you may find it difficult to find snacks that you like and that are safe. On the other hand some of these tips are doubly true in many developing countries– for example if you bring new shoes and find them uncomfortable you may not be able to buy ones that are good quality again until you get home (I’ve made that mistake, big time).

  13. Anne Cirelli

    Email yourself copies of any important documents, such as passport pages, drivers license, airline confirmation numbers, and so on. Easy to pull up on your iPod or iPad or smartphone if needed.

  14. kate

    My biggest boo-boo while traveling is bringing too many clothes! I haven’t gotten to travel the past several years, but one thing that always bogged me down were books and cd’s/player. Thankfully, next time I get to go somewhere it will be my Kindle all the way!

    Very helpful list and suggestions from other commenters!

  15. Sherry R.

    I’m an experienced traveler who’s been flying for 47 years. I prefer to travel in developed countries, taking as few clothes as possible. I plan my wardrobe around the color black, wear knit tops 3 times & trousers at least 4 times or more. I never bring skirts, dresses, anything that requires ironing, pantyhose, dressy shoes or most jewelry, only one nice-looking costume jewelry dinner ring for dressy occaisions. I found a brand of lightweight, comfortable plastic clogs called “Sloggers” that I bring (available on the Internet in several colors, similar to Crocs, but less clunky, less holes. They can be washed in the sink.) I also pack a not-too-clunky pair of black sneekers. I choose to bring one pair of black cotton panties & sox for everyday I’m gone plus 2 black bras. (Don’t like washing cotton things out in the sink–takes too long to dry.) I use travel size toiletries. Don’t take many travel guides. Prefer to research things, communicate with friends & relatves & read on my iPad. I bring my cell phone. I’ve made sure in advance that it can be used where I’m going, but I rarely use it. (My husband brings his work cell phone also.) I don’t wear a watch because I can get the time from my cell phone. I bring my medications in their original containers with their prescription lables, so I can try to get a refill if needed, plus my eyeglasses, perscription sunglasses & their prescription on paper. I use my Visa card to pay for nearly everything & bring 2 spare Visa cards & bring a plastic pouch with string closing for travel reservations & other important papers with a business sized envelope inside for receipts, business cards, etc.

  16. Sherry R.

    I use plastic bags to organize packing–mainly Ziplock & grocery store bags. I use the grocery store bags for clothes. I group similar types of clothes such as underwear & sox or T-shirts in one grocery store bag, then I tie up the handles so things don’t fall out when TSA inspects your luggage. I use ziplock bags for small items like toiletries, phone cords, etc. Mesh zipper bags are also useful. I also bring a big sturdy bag such as a plastic hotel laundry bag for my dirty clothes. Also, a folding suitcase or crushable backpack is handy when you’re bringing home souvenirs. I put my dirty clothes in my folding suitcase/backpack & throw it in the luggage rack & my souvenirs go in my small carry-on bag or the bag I check thru, but some airlines limit how many bags you can carry-on.

  17. Pat

    Classic advice for packing: “Bring fewer clothes and more money.”

    For laundry, I save unusual-looking plastic grocery or shopping bags. Rather than put all the dirty clothes in one bag, I separate them out into whites and darks, and use two or more smaller bags. They tuck into corners of the suitcase, and the clothes are all ready to wash when I get the chance. Also, I never wad up clothes that are due to be washed, but place them folded in the laundry bag. You never know when you’ll need one more shirt or pair of slacks in a dire emergency.

    However, I’m a big believer in “last trip ever” clothes. Pants, shirts, underwear, even socks, that are approaching their drop-dead date because of small tears, stains, or general shabbiness are great for wearing one or two more times, then discarding along the way. More room for souvenirs and new clothes from other countries! (You should certainly bring good clothes too, if you’ll need them.)

    In Italy I did have a hard time getting rid of one pair of worn-out black slacks. I tucked them into the hotel wastebasket, but when I returned to the room, there they were on the bed, neatly folded. So I put them back in the wastebasket. They reappeared the next day. Possibly the maid was concerned that I thought the trash basket was a hotel laundry basket. Finally I cobbled together a note in wretched Italian: “Non vuole pantaleones. Arrividerci pantaleones.” That finally did the trick – I never saw them again.

  18. Milla

    This list is great, but I am going to disagree about the shampoo/conditioner.

    Those tiny bottles the hotel provides are of dubious and changeable quality. Sometimes they’re great, most times it’s like washing your hair with dish soap. Whether or not conditioner is even provided is hit and miss, usually miss, which makes the hair situation even worse.

    Having shampoo/conditioner from home is especially important if your hair texture is atypical to the norm of the place you’re visiting. My baby-fine blond hair was sad, limp, and greasy during my Japan vacation because the local products are made for a thicker kind of hair. And my poor friend with curly hair– forget it. Total nightmare.

    Buying travel-sized ones of a favorite brand beforehand is a solution, but they’re more expensive than purchasing full-size and you’ll run out anyways. Especially if you’re traveling with people.

    Instead, bring along regular-sized bottles. They WILL take up extra space in your bag and be heavy. But, abandon those bottles at your last stop (don’t bring your really nice, $30 a bottle stuff on vacation) and you’ll instantly have that extra half a cubic foot of space you really needed for those souvenirs. The space they took up in your bags until then will keep you from buying too many souvenirs before your last stop and dropping the bottles will also lighten your bag up just enough to fit your trinkets without going over weight and incurring fees. (i.e. if you crammed your bag right to the edge of 50 lbs before your flight out, which everyone does, but brought two large bottles of shampoo/conditioner to abandon before coming back, that’s about 3-5lbs and a nice chunk of space for the things you bought.)

  19. Buy nalgene bottles for any liquids – guaranteed not to leak. Also, store up those magazines you have been meanng to read and take them, discard along the way. Travel guides – rip out the pages for the areas you plan to visit. You don’t need Naples info if you are staying in Florence. Better yet, scan and email to yourself. Kindle/nook are great but you need plug adapters and possibily voltage converters.

    Always leave a photocopy of your passport, itinerary, e-ticket, and copies of both sides of credit cards with family or trusted friend. If your purse/wallet is stolen, call them to make calls in US to cancel everything and have new cards fed-exed to you.

    In less developed countries, grab a couple of travel toilet paper rolls just in case. Actually could have used it sitting on tarmac in chicago for 6 hours once, come to think of it.

    I know sneakers are comfy but try for black waking shoes with good dupport. Some places, albeit higher end, won’t let you in with nikes, etc.

  20. melissa miller

    I have been traveling since I was ten-took my first airplane trip to India. I have traveled all over the world since then. here are my suggestions:don’t carry a bulky travel guide,download them on your Ipad,I whatever. same with books,download them.same with music,on an Ipod.
    I always bring an empty bag for souvenirs,lightweight nylon one will work. I agree with not bringing shampoo,half the fun of traveling is to go into a foreign pharmacy and see what they have in the way of need to bring a nightgown,sleep in a T-shirt. as for money,many ATMS overseas do not have letters,only numbers on the keypads,so be sure to change you r PIN BEFORE going overseas! I forgot to do this before going to Turkey and realized it half way across the Atlantic. When I arrived in Istanbul,I had to call my bank and do this over the phone,a very expensive lesson. as for cell phones,sometimes it is cheaper to go buy a throw away phone to make local calls,rather than paying roaming charges.
    If I buy books overseas,I leave them in the hotel room for the next guest to use.

  21. Jean Gruenenfelder

    for those of you traveling overseas with your pills in plastic bags, the regs are for pills to be in the original container with the original label intact. Otherwise the in bound country has no way of knowing what to medication actually is. You may wind up with your medication being confiscated by the authorities if your bag happens to be one that they look at closely. And if you have pain medication in narcotic form, it better be in the original container with label or you chance winding up in jail !


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