Travel Talk #6: Intro to Packing

We leave for Europe in nine days! Nine! Time to pack.

Let’s start this post with two statements.

First, I adore packing. For each and every trip the packing process is something I look forward to with glee. I really enjoy getting all my things together and organizing them for my next adventure. So if I seem a bit too enthusiastic here, don’t mind me. I just really love packing.

Second, as with all these posts, this is just what works for me. Packing, like everything else with travel, is personal. Do what makes you happy. If that means high heels and a checked roller bag, go for it! But this is what works for me, and I love it. I’m on a constant mission to pack as little as possible and be as mobile and agile as possible – and this is how I do it.

This “intro to packing” will cover what you need to do before you start collecting ALL THE THINGS from around your house. Let’s go.


1) Gather Your Essentials. These are the handful of things that are one-hundred percent required for an overseas trip. Passport, wallet (with $), and plane confirmation. These are the things that even if you forget absolutely everything else, you can still get on your plane and make it to your destination. Obviously it’s not ideal to have to buy everything once you arrive, but these three things will ensure that you will arrive in the first place and will be able to pay for food and a place to stay along the way.

If you’ve got a trip coming up within the next few weeks, go find those things now. I would add accommodation/rental car/transit confirmations to that list as well, though they are secondary to the plane ones. I find it best to have everything printed in advance, and copies made to put in a second bag, just in case. Make copies of your passport and put them in a secure place, separate from your passport.

For me, my camera is close to being an essential, because photography is such a big part of what I do while traveling. So I’ve put it in the essentials pile as well. But it’s really not an essential, since I could get on the plane without it.

Double, triple, quadruple check these items before you leave for the airport. Double check them before you leave the car or the public transit to the airport. Keep tabs on them at all times, and remember that everything else is, in the grand scheme of things, nonessential.

2) Choose Your Luggage. You probably need, at minimum, one main bag and one day bag. I also typically bring a camera case, my wallet, and an expandable duffle bag that I use on the way back to hold any overseas purchases. Consider whether you’ll be checking a bag (see below), and what you carry with you on a daily basis, as well as how much you intend to shop.


Pictured above are all the bags we are taking on our two-person, two-week Europe trip, with the exception of our camera bags and my wallet. Starting in the bottom right corner is my backpack, which will serve as our main bag and hold all our clothing. It’s a Gregory Z40 that Eric’s mother bought me as a graduation present last year. (It’s an older model that I got on clearance – and yes it is technically a men’s pack, but it was the most comfortable one I tried on, so I went for it.) I love it! To the left of that backpack is a second, smaller backpack, a Jansport that was a Goodwill find 5+ years ago. We’ll be using it for our toiletries and cords for our electronics.

I enjoy using a backpack while traveling for several reasons. First, it means never having to lug a suitcase up an escalator or a set of stairs. A well-fitting pack with waist straps distributes the weight, though I used the smaller Jansport for my last backpacking trip and it worked fine for me. A backpack is quieter and smoother than dragging suitcase wheels over uneven cobbled streets. It also leaves my hands free to manage my camera, or to hold on to the handles on public transit. It keeps me from over packing, too – knowing I’ve got to carry it all is a big help when I need to narrow my list. Finally, if it’s not completely packed to capacity, it can be used as a carry-on, thus eliminating any risk of delayed baggage when flying.

To the left of this backpack are two Ikea folding duffle bags. These things are amazing. They fold up into a small zip pouch, which I’m going to put other things in on the way there, and we can unfold them for dirty laundry, for a grocery tote, or for an extra carry-on on the way home.

In the lower left corner is my purse. It’s a cross-body bag by Brooklyn Industries, and it was another Goodwill find several months ago. I can’t find anything similar on their site, so I assume it’s several seasons old, but it’s in good shape and seems pretty durable. I prefer a cross-body mostly for the security – it can’t be pulled off your shoulder and it’s easy to carry in front of your body to protect your valuables. It zips completely closed, another plus. I also need a bag big enough to hold my DSLR, my journal, and my wallet, so this fits nicely. It has one outside zip pocket, and inside the large pocket are one zip pocket and two small open pockets. And it’s a leather-like material, which makes it water-resistant so if it rains my valuables won’t get soaked.

The top left bag is my carry-on bag. It’s a simple canvas bag that zips across the top. It’s sturdy as all get out, and it fits nicely under a plane seat. It’s easy-access with one pocket, and it can be folded pretty flat. Just a good basic. My aunt gave me this several years ago, and I used it with the Jansport on my five-week backpacking trip in 2011-2012.

The last three are packing cubes. I got this set for Christmas from my sister and I’m quite excited to use them. I think I’ll only be using the smaller two this time – the largest might be too wide to comfortably fit in my backpack. They’re great for keeping your stuff organized and compact, which I love. If you’re carrying an irregularly shaped bag, you might need to pack some things around them to maximize your use of space. But the organization aspect is great and I can’t wait to use them.


3) Check or Carry On? This is situational. I’m a big advocate for carrying on luggage, especially when you have to pay for checked bags. Sometimes, when checked bags are free (usually for international flights they allow one free checked bag), I would really prefer to check that larger bag, because I really like the idea of moving lightly through the airport, getting on the plane with only my purse, and not having to worry about overhead space or hitting someone in the face with my carry-on. But carrying-on negates the chance of lost luggage, which can make travel miserable and throw off your schedule if you planned to be moving on to another city within a couple of days. Carrying-on also keeps you from having to wait at the baggage carousel when you arrive, so I’m a big advocate for all carry-on all the way.

I think for this trip we’ll try to carry everything on for the way there, but we’ll check it all on the way back. It seems like the best of both worlds to me, with the least risk of luggage loss (knock on wood). Do you prefer to check or carry on your bags for overseas flights?

Consider this mostly as you choose your bags and also when you pack them – see following posts for more on what I pack in my carry-on!

4) Make Your Other Lists. In addition to essentials, I make three other lists when packing for a trip: clothing, toiletries/personal accessories, and miscellaneous. Blog posts on each are forthcoming. I just find it easier to break a mega packing list into several smaller ones – it makes it more manageable and less likely that I’ll forget something.

I make my list by considering all the stuff I own, and deciding which of those things and how many I’ll need to bring (for example: 3 dresses, shampoo for 4 showers, 2 extra camera batteries). I’m a big advocate for putting all your things in a given category in a pile on your bed and then paring down – it’s easier for me to eliminate from a large group of items than to select when it’s all over the place – and I’m such a visual person that I find it super helpful to see everything in one spot. I also recommend doing all your laundry before packing – makes it easier to see everything at once!

Another exercise I find useful is to imagine my way through a day, in minute detail, and what I’ll need for each task. I start with my first actions after getting out of bed: Brush teeth (toothbrush, toothpaste), get dressed (underwear, bra, socks, jeans, sweater), do hair (bobby pins, hair tie), put on makeup (eyebrow powder, eyebrow brush, mascara), grab my purse (purse), go to breakfast (wallet with $, camera), etc. Think through your plans for each day, then write everything down, add it up, and make a comprehensive list.

It’s always good to start by eliminating the “extra” things that you don’t actually need for the duration of your trip, or things that you can buy where you’re going. For example, for dental care, I need a toothbrush and toothpaste. Do I really need to pack mouthwash or floss? Could I purchase it when I land?

Also consider what you wear and use on a daily basis. Sometimes this is easy (I never dry my hair, so I clearly don’t need a hairdryer), but sometimes I need to think about it. For every day makeup I usually do my brows and mascara but not much else. Will I wear the same amount of makeup on this trip, or more, or less? (Likely to wear more if it involves going out to a fancy dinner or a show; likely to wear less if I will be on a beach or generally needing to wear a lot of sunscreen).


Those are my intro to packing tips. Next up is my clothing packing post, which is twice as exciting because I actually get to pack it all in the next week!

Here are some ideas for things you could put on each packing list:

Clothing: Socks, underwear, bras, pants, shorts, skirts, leggings, dresses, shirts, tank tops, sweaters, cardigans, jackets, mittens/gloves, hats, scarves, shoes.
Toiletries/accessories: Earrings, necklaces, rings, bobby pins, hair ties, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, razors, hair tools (brushes, blow dryers, straigtheners, etc.), moisturizer, tweezers, makeup (list everything you use), nail polish, cotton pads, feminine products, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, toothbrush, contact solution, glasses, ibuprofen, allergy medicine, prescriptions, band-aids, sunglasses.
Miscellaneous: Camera equipment (batteries, charger, SD card), entertainment (tablet, book, headphones), phone & charger, journal, pens, scissors, snacks.

What is your top packing tip, and what are your must-haves for overseas travel? Let me know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s