PACKING FOR A TRIP
A COMPREHENSIVE CHECKLIST
Explore the world with an open mind, a sturdy carry-on, and clothes that don’t wrinkle!Madeleine K. Albright
Packing For A trip is the second in my Plan With Elan series. Do be sure to check out all the travel planning tools in this section.
Packing is one of the least favourite part of travel for me, second only to the visa application process. We’ve both gotten better and better at it, however, and our suitcases have gotten progressively smaller and lighter. But unlike so many nomad bloggers we know who make a virtue of carry-on only, I doubt we can ever go completely without checked-in luggage.
The lightest we’ve travelled is with two duffels each on our African safari. We were strictly adhering to our transport provider’s dire warnings of leaving bags that do not conform on the tarmac, only to find giant bags being loaded onto the 12 seater aircraft transporting us across the Savannah. The amused pilot quipped that they manage to scare just enough people for the plane to be able to take off!
Listed below is a comprehensive packing list of essential items. It will need to be filtered based on weather and destination norms.
Let’s get packing.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ITEMS
Having tried a variety of backpacks and suitcases we have now settled on a reasonable (for us) combination of 2 wheeled medium suitcases + 1 wheeled cabin bag + 1 camera backpack + 1 messenger between us for trips up to a month long.
When I travel solo I ditch the cabin sized trolley and stick with the medium suitcase and the backpack/messenger. We never cross 20kgs per person ever. And cutting down to 15 kgs if flying domestic airlines with lower allowances has never been an issue.
- One medium ( H 68 x L 44 x D 26.5cm ) double wheeled trolley case per person. We are Samsonite loyalists but their medium range is now very limited so I opted for a Delsey when I needed to downsize. It has stood up two journeys well so far.
- A cabin sized trolley case (Samsonite) with a lockable laptop pocket. This holds our chargers, meds, one set of clothes and my laptop.
- One medium Lewepro camera back pack (also with a laptop pocket) holds most of my photography gear.
- A cross-body messenger bag with multiple pockets (TUMI Voyageur currently out of stock) for my personal items. It doubles as a city camera bag with a padded insert. These Travelon bags are a great (and more reasonable) alternatives.
- We sometimes pack a soft nylon (also Tumi) travel satchel into the bottom of one of the suitcases so we have a bit of leeway on the return journey. It also comes in handy for short excursions when we leave our larger pieces behind.
- Packing cubes: Must have to keep everything organised. We did separate our stuff into large ziplock bags earlier, but these re-usable cubes are roomier and so much more environment friendly.
Ensure your passport is valid for six months from the date of travel and has at least two unused pages.
Cross-check all expiry dates (Before finalising bookings would be good!)
Carry physical and digital copies of all important documents.
Most countries will require proof of return/onward travel in the form of flight tickets.
Save screenshots of boarding passes and hotel addresses just in case connectivity is an issue.
Have everything easily accessible so you don’t hold up other passengers in line.
- Passports, Visas
- Tickets, Boarding Passes
- Hotel Reservation Details and Addresses (in Apps, email and/or screenshots)
- Health Certificates, Proof of Vaccination (where prescribed.)
- Small Notebooks, Pens.
CASH & CREDIT CARDS
There was a time when gathering enough foreign exchange for a trip abroad was as stressful (for Indian travellers) as getting a visa. It is always a source of wonder to me, therefore, that it is possible now to travel across much of the world without carrying any hard cash.
Remember, travellers cheques are nearly obsolete now and involve a lot of wasted time to encash (only in banks)
- Cash: We carry enough to see us through a couple of days. More, if we are going to remote areas where ATMs might be harder to locate. Airports usually have the worst exchange rates, so wait until you get into town if you can. (Goes without saying that it isn’t always worth going cross-country to save a few dollars if it isn’t the most convenient thing to do.)
- Credit Cards: One for use, one spare kept in two separate places, preferably in separate bags. I lock one in with my passports and documents once I reach.
- Forex Travel Card: Only if we are able to load it with the relevant currency or can confirm in advance that some establishments will accept payments in the loaded currency. If not, cross-currency charges will be equal to or higher than a regular card and minus its miles/rewards benefit.
I cover credit cards in a bit more detail in the How I Plan My Trip page.
Important: The medicine kit should always be in your carry on. If you need a lot of prescription drugs, it is advisable to carry a doctor’s prescription. We’ve never been asked to show one but we know people who have.
Information on serious allergies or other health conditions should be kept handy in the document file/wallet and fed into your phone.
- Prescription Meds – spread across more than one bag.
- Vitamin Supplements
- Antihistamine/ Anti Allergic tabs (We are both mildly allergic to a couple of things and prone to sinusitis)
- Antibiotics – One complete dose for each (Ravi is allergic to both Penicillin and Sulpha.)
- Pain Killers: Paracetamol/ Ibuprofen
- Small tube antiseptic cream
- Eye drops/ Nasal drops
- Immodium (Temporary control of diarrhoea)
- Antacid: Gelusil
- Petroleum jelly
- A 1 inch roll of 3M Transpore Clear Plastic Tape (For splinting toe fractures/minor sprains, to protect from toe blisters and a host of other uses.)
If you don’t need to work on the go you could make do with a tablet or even just a smartphone.
- My ageing 13″ Macbook Air comes with me even when my large cameras don’t.
- Apple iPhone Xs Max: An all-in-one travel companion that holds my ids, docs, Apps, bookings and can substitute DSLRs at a pinch.
- I usually activate an international roaming package from my local service provider (Airtel) or pick-up cheap data + voice sim cards once I reach my destination.
- READING MATERIAL
- Kindle White. We are old-fashioned book readers but the convenience of Kindle has made us reluctant converts.
- POWER BANK
- Belkin Portable Charger -It gives me nearly two extra charges on my power guzzling iPhone.
- CHARGERS & ADAPTERS
- Belkin 3 Socket Surge Protector (powerstrip) lets us charge all our gadgets at once even where power outlets are limited or hard to reach. I prefer the one with a long cord so my gadgets are within reach as they charge. Imp! Don’t forget an universal adapter for the three pin (Indian) plug.
- A couple of dual USB Chargers. (If the powerstrip does not have built in USB outlets. )
- Assorted chargers/cords for cameras/phones
- Cord Organisers.
- BACK-UP DRIVE
- Seagate External Hard Drive. I back up every night to my Seagate portable back -up. I clear out much of my Macbook’s storage before I depart so I can retain one set of copies on the laptop as well.
- My DSLR has twin card slots so I only format one card every time I download and retain the second so I have a third set of originals.
With the quality of smartphone cameras improving by the day, the following list is overkill for the average traveler. Much of my early images were shot with very basic Point & Shoots. Photography began gaining priority as the blog evolved and necessitated investment in more expensive gear.
While I enjoyed figuring out the nuances of aperture, focal length and shutter speed, I am now back to prioritising my travel experiences over lugging around heavy equipment in the quest for that perfect shot.
I have been using my iPhone a lot more of late and am seriously considering switching to a lighter mirrorless system. Do check back here if you are curious about what I eventually settle on.
Here’s what’s currently in my camera bag:
- Nikon D750 with AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens attached is my current standard kit. The full frame D750 is a workhorse of a camera, sturdy and reliable and favoured by wedding photographers for a reason. But I find it way too heavy and in-your-face for street photography.
- The telephoto zoom is complemented by two fixed prime lenses: AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D for people photos and low light conditions and a wide AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED for landscape and interiors.
- Vanguard Carbon Travel Tripod
- For photo intensive tours I carry an older (cropped sensor) Nikon D5100 with a fixed 35mm lens attached as a spare camera. It’s a solid choice at the entry level, now discontinued (the latest version is the D5600) and available at great discounts.
- Plenty of memory cards. The D750 has dual slots. I load two 64GB cards and carry four extra 32GB cards.
COMING SOON: TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM A PHOTO TOUR MENTOR
Weather and cultural norms determine the clothes that go into our bags. Here too, we prefer a via media between fashion and comfort, although I think we err more toward casual comfort.
I generally carry 4 bottoms – max – apart from what I’m wearing. Two sets max for short city breaks. Stick to a colour palette that can be easily mixed and matched.
Warmer destinations will require more number of light cotton shirts/tops while you’ll only need 4 -5 for a place where they’ll be layered beneath jackets mostly.
Experience has taught us to carry a reasonable mix of clothes. I packed only knit tops for Belgium once, and landed in the middle of a heatwave that even I, a resident of the furnace of India, found hard to cope with. I ended up having to buy a couple of cotton outfits there. Made in India! Ladakh, on the other hand, was T-shirt weather in September!
Do remember that absorbent cotton inners will not work for very cold destinations like Iceland. You’ll need moisture wicking wool or synthetic thermal and fleece layers beneath waterproof jackets. Also quick drying – water resistant or waterproof – trousers layered over thermal bottoms are preferable to heavy trousers like jeans.
- Cotton trousers and Tshirts/tanktops.
- Dark jeans/ nicer tunics/shirts for cities.
- Light jacket/Sweater/A couple of full sleeved knit tops.
- A dress or dressy tunic, usually black.
- Scarves/stoles to dress up a casual outfit and/or to enter religious places that mandate head covering.
- Underclothes – We take plenty to last us for a week, at least. More if space permits. Doing laundry everyday is not my thing.
- Flat, rubber soled (Ecco) leather sneakers for me. Dark tan (Clark’s) nubuck shoes for Ravi. Very rarely does he feel the need for formal shoes.
- A pair of sandals (in addition to the shoes) for warmer weather or leather ankle boots for not so warm cities.
- Socks, shoe liners.
- Wide-brimmed hats and dark glasses are necessary items. I confess I try to avoid both. Switching between spectacles and dark glasses is a pain (I gave up contact lenses a long time ago) and hat brims somehow manage to get into my photographs.
- A pair of flip-flops. I never get into a hotel shower without them on. And it is handy for the pool or beach.
- Swimwear, a sarong for the pool/beach. Occasionally, one quick-dry towel, each, depending on the destination/hotel.
- Thermal inners (Uniqlo), Merino middle layers (Uniqlo), gloves, beanies, wool scarves and hand warming pads for very cold destinations.
- For our occasional hiking needs, Columbia or Quechua jackets, water-resistant trousers and waterproof shoes are the best among the limited options available in stores where I live.
- For my Iceland trip, I ordered a Columbia Midcalf Boot and it fit brilliantly (I ordered 2 sizes up based on reviews!). I was dry and comfortable even at below zero temperatures while waiting to photograph auroras at 2 AM.
- I also ordered a pair of fleece lined waterproof hiking pants that I wore over jeggings with a Uniqlo thermal inner layer.
- Jewellery (optional)- Earrings mostly, never very valuable.
TOILETRIES & MAKE-UP
Important: All liquids in cabin luggage – never more than 100ml each – go into a single zip-lock bag in an easy to access compartment. Anything over 100ml will need to be checked in.
- Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss, Mouthwash.
- Razor, Shaving cream Shower gel, Shampoo, Conditioner, Hair product all in re-usable travel sized silicon screw top containers. Brittle plastic will crack under pressure, so ensure it is malleable material and the seal is tight. And re-seal in a zip-lock pouch.
- Moisturiser/hand creams, lip balm.
- Deodorant and my 20 ml bottle of Issey Miyake eue de toilette.
- Hand Sanitisers
- Make-up: Small tube of foundation, Kohl pencil, Mascara, Lipsticks.
- Sunblock – SP 30 or higher. I use Kiehl’s or Neutrogena
- Personal Hygiene – Sanitary Pads/ Tampons
- A mini sewing kit, Tiny scissors, Nailcutter/file.
- Hairclips and bands, Hairbrush/Comb.
- Epilator/Styling iron
- Tissues/ Toilet Paper in ziplock bags (depending on destination)
- Baby Wipes, Dettol or similar antiseptic wipes.
- Swiss Army Knife (or similar) with corkscrew.
- Small folding umbrella.
- Couple of small locks.
- Luggage straps in case of issues with zippers.
- Snacks: Usually assorted protein bars,nuts (masala coated cashews for when we miss spice…its fabulous with cheese & wine!) and chocolate. Warning! Many countries like Chile have strict regulations on plant and animal based products and require all foodstuff to be declared at customs. Check banned lists beforehand.
- Wide mouthed stainless steel water bottle per person.
- Portable water filter – Lifestraw for destinations where water quality is suspect and you want to avoid plastic. Very handy in India.
- Sleep sheet if we expect linen to be dodgy.
- Sleeping bag for very cold destinations. I carried a sleeping bag to Ladakh. It did fill up half my suitcase and might be considered overkill but I was snug and toasty in Pangong.
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