Whether your suitcase gets lost in transit or you simply forgot to pack something, smart packing can save you from scrambling in a foreign country to replace travel essentials. Be prepared to handle any unexpected travel snafus by follow these 5 packing tips for international trips.
Packing Tip #1: Make a packing list. Every destination has unique packing needs, so start with a list of items that you'd need for any trip. Then customize your list by adding items that depend on the weather and duration of your trip. It may be helpful to keep a smaller bag packed with basic travel essentials, such as medication and cosmetics, so you don't risk leaving items behind. Create a list on your computer and print it out, or write it out by hand. You can also download Frommer's free iPhone app, which includes a handy packing-list tool. However you do it, check off items as you go, and don't forget to include accessories, such as cell-phone chargers and camera batteries.
Packing Tip #2: Research your destination. There are an infinite number of variables when it comes to international travel. Finding a bottle of potable water might present as much of a challenge in one destination as buying your favorite shampoo or sunscreen in another. I once planned a 700-mile trek from Beijing to Shanghai after nearly running out of deodorant, for example. That near-disaster ended up providing a hilarious excuse for an incredible adventure, but I still would have preferred to make the trip on my terms, not because I needed to replenish essential supplies. Also, keep in mind that the voltage and plug style may (and likely will) differ abroad, so check ahead (I typically use search terms like "UK Plug" on Google) and buy an adapter before you go. Most electronics are dual-voltage, but check your power adapter before plugging in. Keep in mind that hair dryers and curlers are not electronics, and most of these items are not dual-voltage capable.
Packing Tip #3: Check a bag. You may be able to check up to two 50-pound bags free of charge on your international flight, so check with your airline before you fly. You'll still want to bring a carry-on just in case your baggage doesn't arrive on the same flight as you do, but checking a bag even on quick trips can allow for more flexibility when returning home. At the very least, bring a carry-on bag that can then ride below on your trip home (any liquids purchased abroad will need to be checked, and duty-free purchases may be confiscated if you have a connecting flight in the U.S.) If checking more than one bag, split items evenly between each bag, just in case one bag arrives and another does not. Use this approach when packing for family trips as well. Also, keep in mind that restrictions on domestic checked baggage have made their way to some other countries, so plan ahead if you have an intra-country flight during your trip abroad.
Packing Tip #4: Carry it on. While checked luggage may come in handy on your way home, consider the worst possible scenario when packing a carry-on bag: that your checked bag may not arrive on time. You should keep vital supplies, including medication and a couple days' worth of clean clothes, with you on the plane. I carry the same large backpack on every flight, and each essential travel item is (informally) assigned to a specific pouch or zippered compartment. That way I don't need to dig around to find a pair of earplugs, and if my passport goes missing, I'll know right away.
Packing Tip #5: Use Space Bags. The infomercials may initially have pulled me in, but space-saving bags really do work wonders. Now I won't travel without them. I use the generic version -- purchased at Target (www.target.com) a few years ago -- but these bags can really make a difference when packing for long trips. These bags allow you to pack several clothing items, zip the seal like a sandwich bag, then roll out all the air, which significantly reduces the volume of packed items. I use one bag to pack a full-size pillow in my carry-on for use on long flights, and use the rest of the bags in my checked luggage. Even if you can fit everything without them on the trip over, the bags still may come in handy when accommodating souvenirs on the way home.
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, so use your best judgment when packing your bag. It may also be helpful to take note of items you wouldn't mind having on your next trip, and consider updating your list as you go.
Staying local? Learn How to Pack for Your Domestic Flight. As always, feel free to share your own packing tips in the comments section below.
Having visited nearly 30 countries on 5 continents in the last decade, Zach Honig's fascination with travel has clearly become an obsession. Follow Zach on Twitter (@zachhonig), or check out his blog, Tech, Travel and Tuna, to keep up to date on his latest adventures.