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Travel information and travel advice 

Packing:  The Art of "What Not to Bring"

What is the common theme?  Less is easier to carry and less expensive to transport.  There are LOTS of recommendations on how to pack and I read through them periodically for new ideas as I constantly refine my own list.  If you desperately need something, you can buy it.  And it’s fun to leave room for a few country specific additions.

So, how do I pack less when I need to plan for EVERY situation?  Layering is a common strategy.  Just think - t-shirt, sweater or fleece and jacket which will get you through three seasons. 

I base my packing on these common scenarios:

-Sight seeing

-Volunteer work

-Activities such as hiking, biking, or water based sports

-Nice dinner or cultural event requiring something beyond backpacker basic

I usually break my items into 3 groups:  Clothing, Toiletries, and Gear (a rather nebulous yet essential group).  

Luggage:  Let's start with luggage.  Before you leave, check the airlines you will be using for their carry-on and checked bag policies.  These policies are inconsistent from country to country and airline to airline.  In the U.S., you are usually allowed 40 lbs (about 18 kg) for a carry-on bag while other countries only allow about 15 lbs (7 kg).  In fact, if you are flying on some carriers from the U.S. to an international destination, this policy will apply if you have to connect and you may have to reweigh your bags in the connecting city and pay a fee if your carry-on is overweight.  
I try to check one bag and bring a small backpack on the plane. And I always bring a smaller bag that can be used on the return trip as a carry-on for any goodies I buy while traveling.
For my 5 month journey, I had a wheeled carry-on (for my camera, medication, change of clothes, 3 oz. toiletries), a very slim backpack (for my computer, Kindle and a few necessities on the plane) and a medium size backpack that I could fit inside a duffel bag for my checked bag.  The duffel bag allowed me to also add items from the wheeled carry-on to the checked bag to meet the weight requirements for my wheeled carry-on overseas.

Below is my list for my 5 month trip which can actually take you from 1 week to several months.  The thing to remember is that you pack basics that can apply in most situations.  Don’t bring lots of things for "just in case".  For women, bring one dress or skirt in case you need something dressy.  Men only need a pair of khakis (not cargo pants) to serve as something dressy.  


  • Shoes:  Shoes are always the most challenging, especially if you’re active like me.  Baseline:  Walking shoes, some type of sandal/flip-flop (if you will be active you may want something with straps so you don’t lose a shoe), one pair of sandals/flats that can dress up an outfit for dinner, and some slippers/flip-flops for the bath/hotel.  Optional:   hiking boots.
  • 2 slacks  - A pair of black travel pants which I knew I could use as “dress” pants if necessary (just make sure they aren’t cargo pants); a pair of khaki/tan travel pants.
  • 2 capri pants - Black (again, make sure they are plain enough to be dressed up) and another pair of khaki/tan or other neutral color.
  • 1 pair shorts - A pair of walking shorts made of travel material will be very versatile since short shorts are not well accepted in many countries.  The travel material means you can wash them out and they will dry overnight.
  • Skirt or dress - This is to for the times you want to eat somewhere a little more upscale or attend a cultural event.  For me, this happened enough that I was happy to have this extra outfit.
  • Shirts - 3/4 sleeve tops are very versatile.  I usually bring a couple of 3/4 sleeve tops; 1-2 long sleeve tops/sweater and about 4 short sleeve tops.  Maybe one tank top that can also be layered.  Mix solids with patterns.  The great thing about a patterned top is that they hide dirt and stains.  If you’re committing to only a few shirts for several months, this can be important.  I also try to bring shirts that aren’t too fitted since they will work well in more conservative cultures.  
  • Socks, Underwear, Bras - 3-4 pairs socks (2 extra pair of hiking socks if appropriate);  5 pairs underwear; 2-3 bras (one sport bra if you are active).
  • Pajamas
  • Fleece
  • Rain jacket (rain pants if hiking)
  • Swimsuit

Optional:  Thermals for colder climates which double as pajamas; scarf (may be more fun to buy one along the way); hat and gloves.

Toiletries:  A word about travel sizes.  Regulations for carry-on allow for 3.4 oz (100 ml).  A container of shampoo that size will last 2+ weeks (and I have shoulder length hair).  If you are not sure how much to take, then do a test run before your trip.  Fill the container with your normal shampoo at home and keep track of how many days it will last you.  Then you know exactly how long it will last and how much to take.  I was surprised to find that my little travel bottle of shampoo lasted 17 days!!  And that only applies if you need to wash your hair every day.  Bottom line, there is no need to take an entire bottle of shampoo, conditioner, or lotion.  Many hotels provide these items and even if you have to use hotel shampoo for a couple of days, it will not destroy your hair.
Containers - I prefer containers with a twist off cap as a flip-top cap can sometimes open and ooze contents.

  • Sun screen
  • Toothpaste/toothbrush/floss- the little travel tubes of toothpaste that are 0.8 oz, (23g) will last 2 weeks
  • Deodorant
  • Body lotion
  • Face creams/moisturizer - small bottles will last a long time!
  • Razor - you can protect the blade with a binder clip
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body powder
  • Soap - for hotels that do not provide.  I also collect a few small bars along the way that I stick in a plastic bag.  If you don’t have one, then wrap in a plastic shower cap from your hotel.
  • Lip balm
  • Brush - I use a small folding brush
  • Insect repellant - some countries may require a mixture with DEET (30% should be adequate)
  • Makeup and small mirror
  • Tweezers, nail file, manicure scissors
  • Small sewing kit
  • Safety pins
  • Small bottle of detergent/Woolite for washing clothes; you can also use shampoo if provided at your hotel
  • Travel towel - always good to have a back-up for beaches, etc.
  • Q-tips, cotton balls
  • Hand sanitizer, wipes
  • Kleenex, toilet paper (In many countries, public restrooms do not have paper.  I usually take about half a roll, press it flat and carry in a baggy)
  • First aid kit - Moleskin (for blisters), bandaids, Neosporin, cortisone, ace bandage
  • Medications - acetominophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), Pepto Bismal, Immodium, etc.  Consult with a travel clinic for additional meds such as malaria pills and an antibiotic.


  • Ear Plugs - Always remember and never forget.  You can thank me later.
  • Mask/snorkel - optional.  I have my own so I do like to take them if I know I will be snorkeling or diving
  • Camera, instruction book, cables, charger, batteries, photo cards, etc.
  • Cell phone, ear buds, charger, SIM cards (from recent trips to top up)
  • Computer/notebook and case, charger, flash drives
  • Kindle and charger
  • Plug adapter
  • Glasses
  • Journal/notepad and pen
  • Plastic envelopes for receipts/tickets/documents
  • Headlamp/batteries
  • Halo or similar (flashlight/charger)
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Luggage locks/ bag tags
  • Guide book
  • Small Swiss army knife
  • Duct tape - you can wrap it around a pencil to have a good amount that won’t take up too much space.  Duct tape is an amazing “fix it” tool.
  • Hydration tablets - if hiking or for dehydration associated with intestinal distress
  • Portable laundry line
  • Money belt
  • Extra duffel/bag for carry-on souvenirs
  • Trekking poles - if hiking
  • Sleeping bag liner - provides extra warmth and a safe cocoon for questionable bed linens 
  • Zip lock bags - multiple uses and reuses
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • Sink stopper/plug for doing laundry in the sink
  • Small travel umbrella - can also be used for the sun

For the plane:

  • Passport - make a copy for a separate bag; also email a scanned version to yourself for additional backup if lost or stolen
  • Visas - if needed
  • Credit cards/ATM cards
  • Vaccination card (if applicable)
  • Driver’s license for car rentals
  • Plane tickets or boarding passes
  • Cash
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Snacks/gum