My first trip overseas was in 1997 when I went to Bogota, Colombia as an exchange student. I have since lived in South Korea and now Brazil and I’ve traveled all over the world. Friends and family often ask me what to pack for overseas trips. Over the years I’ve come up with some pretty handy items to bring and packing tricks.
Try to keep in mind that most travelers have their own methods. What works for me does not always work for others. I am a roller. I roll my clothes to keep them from getting wrinkles, stuff socks and small items in my shoes to make more space, etc. I am not a fan of packing cubes, however my husband sometimes likes to use packing cubes.
There is no right or wrong answer here. As long as I can carry my own bags, have most of what I need, and not go over the airline weight requirements, I consider my packing job a success! — Even if Dale says I bring too much stuff! So, below is a list of MY essentials for traveling. Keep in mind for short trips some of this stuff I leave at home, so this list changes with each trip.
These bags so far are my favorite bags to bring on shorter trips. I first started out with the TLS Mother Lode 25” wheeled bag. This bag is amazing and fits a lot but it is too big to carryon. We then bought the TLS Mother Lode Weekend Convertible bag which is a great carryon bag. I took it to London and Italy with me for two weeks. I quickly discovered that carrying this bag on my back through London Heathrow Airport was literally a pain in my back! I decided this bag is great for short trips in which I don’t need to pack as many shoes or don’t walk as much. But I still loved ebags so much that I decided this year to purchase the TLS Mother Lode Mini 21” wheeled duffel. I finally found my perfect carry on size wheeled bag. The fabric on all the ebags I own is durable and they has multiple convenient compartments for my travel documents and toiletries. I love the new carryon bag I bought because you can convert the bag to be one large compartment, or two separate ones, it has an adjustable handle, it is expandable, and also there is an extra strap I can strap my purse to. It is really the perfect bag!
Zip lock bags
I prefer zip lock bags over packing cubes. The reason I use zip locks is because packing cubes add extra weight and take up more space. Zip locks are great for toiletries and organizing makeup, etc. I bag all my liquids in zip locks when I carryon and when I check my bags. I once had shampoo explode in my suitcase and what a mess! Zip locks are great for beach trips. You can place wet clothes in them. You can use them to keep your cameras and cell phones dry and sand free. Zip locks are a must for me!
Travel size containers
I use travel size bottles for all my hair products, lotion, etc. I even have a tiny round container that I put my foundation in. If I’m going to stay anywhere for an extended period and need more product, I will just purchase the products where we are staying. Lugging around large bottles of shampoo takes up too much space and weight. I highly recommend the GoToob line of silicone containers.
Makeup/ toiletry bag
I usually use zip locks but these are nice to travel with. Mine has clear compartments so I can see where everything is. I like to hang it in the hotel bathroom on the door knob. It saves counter space. I know poor Dale has to often fight me for space because most hotels in Brazil have tiny counters. This helps make enough room for both of us.
I always pack a few plastic garbage bags. I use these for dirty or wet clothes. Also if you are doing laundry while on the road it is easy to just lug your garbage bag of clothes to the laundry mat rather than unpack your entire suitcase.
Okay this one is a little embarrassing but I’m going to tell it like it is. Toilet paper in Brazilian hotels sucks! Even the nicer hotels have horrible thin scratchy toilet paper. This makes for some uncomfortable chaffing if you stay several days. A small package of baby wipes is a must for both of us! Also they are great for traveling when you spill something or your hands get dirty.
Light jacket or sweater
I get cold easy. So a light sweater is great on the airplane or at the beach in the evening.
Adapters and cell phone charger
In Brazil, the outlets are different everywhere you go. Some are three pronged, some are two pronged, some are hexagon shaped, some three pronged ones are close together, and some are far apart. It is really strange.
They make these small and they come in handy when you cannot find a charging station. Trust me not all airports have charging stations and I’ve found the ones that do, often they are not working.
Sleep mask and ear plugs
These come in handy on long flights. They also are nice to have when sleeping in a hotel with paper thin walls and your neighbors turn out to be party animals or a family of 5 staying in the same room next to you with children. Shudder. It’s also helpful when your husband snores. These are lifesavers!
A small roll of duct tape
Take an old expired credit card or driver’s license. Roll duct tape around it and viola it is small and travel sized. Duct tape is pure magic! It can be used for anything and everything. –To fix broken equipment, to cover that nagging light from the smoke detector or alarm clock, for blisters you develop on your feet, and to tape the curtains of your hotel room shut to make it dark. Don’t leave home without duct tape!
A filtered water bottle
This is a great way to stay hydrated and healthy while going through airports around the world. It will also save you money as we all know everything in the airport, even bottled water, is more expensive.
For long drives and flights in and around Brazil and South America I always bring snacks. You never know when they might come in handy and expect the unexpected when traveling in Brazil. In fact I’ve had so many crazy international trips in and out of Brazil the unexpected delays have become expected for me! We’ve been stuck in traffic for hours, and I’ve been trapped on the tarmac in the airplane multiple times. It’s always good to come prepared and nothing is worse than when this redhead gets hangry! I’m a horrible person when my blood sugar gets low. Just ask my friends and family. I go from mild mannered, easy going, fun loving, to destroyer of the Universe. Get this girl a Snickers bar fast!
FAA approved luggage locks or zip ties
I hear that in Brazil the baggage handlers like to do their Christmas shopping in your luggage. This warning came from two different expat couples we know who lived in Brazil. I don’t take chances so I lock my luggage.
Starbucks instant coffee packets
This is one of my luxury items. Sometimes we stay at AirBnB places or different types of accommodations other than hotels. If I don’t know if coffee will be available, I bring some small instant coffee packets. Again, while usually I am a pleasant person, I’m absolutely terrifying until I’ve had some coffee.
A large travel purse and a small Patagonia sling bag
For long haul flights I bring my large travel purse that has plenty of room for my noise cancelling headphones, iPad, magazines, medicine, eye mask, pillow, etc. It has inside compartments to protect my passport and important documents. It’s large but I can easily stash it under the seat in front of me and still have some leg room. For walking around a new city sightseeing all day, I bring my Patagonia Atom sling bag. It is big enough for a camera and a few other important documents and has a really cushy strap that I can wear across my body. I used to carry a cross strap small purse but it would end up hurting my back by the end of the day so I decided to give up it and go with a sling pack. It really is more comfortable.
Photocopies of my passport and other important documents
I always place photocopies in several bags in case something gets stolen. Did I mention my passport was stolen while I was teaching English in South Korea? Having photocopies made a difficult situation easier.
Emergency credit cards
If you are traveling with a spouse or significant other, be sure to carry different credit cards. You do not want to get in the situation that we did in Italy. I have the worst luck! I was pick-pocketed by a gypsy girl. My husband and I had the same credit cards in our wallets, except for an extra one he carried. Thank goodness! We were lucky he carried a different card. Ever since this incident we make a point to carry different cards.
Emergency phone numbers
It’s a good idea to make a list of all your credit card company international phone numbers and emergency contacts. Make copies of the list and place in different bags. Again, this will make life so much easier if you get robbed. It will save you the hassle of trying to look up every phone number with oftentimes sketchy Wi-Fi. Thank goodness we had all the phone numbers saved in our smart phones and also our phones didn’t get stolen too!
I always bring my medications in my carryon. Nothing could be worse than packing it in checked luggage and then your luggage gets lost.
Noise cancelling headphones
My husband introduced me to these and they make all the difference in the world when on long flights. Airplanes are loud, and people on planes are even louder. Noise cancelling headphones help to make an arduous trip a little more relaxing and pleasant.
Guided imagery/relaxation music
Did I mention I have a fear of flying? Yes, I hate to fly and get anxious in the air. So I download some great meditation and guided imagery audio from iTunes, use my noise cancelling headphones and practice my relaxation skills. It helps a lot! If you want to read other tips about conquering fear of flying read my article.
Old lady compression socks
For long flights over 5 hours I bring my old lady compression socks. My feet tend to swell when flying from the USA to Brazil and back. So I always wear compression socks. Better safe than sorry. It beats ending up with deep vein thrombosis! I also get up and walk on the Brazil-USA flights every two hours. It helps.
Airport lounge passes
Okay, this is a major luxury item introduced to me by my husband! I love him for this and many other things. My husband was a traveling salesman. He learned over the years a lot of tricks to get free hotel stays, free flights, and lots of other perks. We have accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles from his traveling salesman days and through various credit cards we applied for. As such, we get free passes to various airport lounges. The airport lounges just make traveling long distances with layovers so much more pleasant. It’s quiet in the lounge. I can’t tell you how nice it was flying from the U.S. to Europe and being able to shower and freshen up in the airport lounge before hitting the streets of London. Also many lounges have work out areas which are great for the long layovers. The chairs are cushy and so comfortable! Free drinks, free food, and free Wi-Fi make this so worthwhile.
For long trips between the U.S. and Brazil I always bring my IPad and load my favorite sitcoms and TV shows. These 30 minute shows seem to work great for distracting me from my fear of flying. I also have reading material stored on it. The IPad is also great when we get stuck in traffic for several hours.
Feminine hygiene products
My motto is always be prepared. Traveling across different time zones and spending many hours in the air can mess with your cycle. Also, these items are great to have on hand for any first aid emergencies. Think about it. If you don’t have a band aid large enough on hand, maxi pads are great for applying pressure and bandaging wounds. Did I mention I used to teach lifeguard training, first aid, and CPR when I was younger?
A small flashlight
Speaking of emergency situations, it’s also always good to carry a small flashlight with you at all times. If the power goes out in your hotel, as Brazil is known to have rolling blackouts in the summer, a flashlight can save your shins from bruises or save you from even worse. Also, when waking up in the middle of the night to tinkle, it’s nice to have a flashlight at the side of the bed so I don’t hurt myself stumbling around in an unfamiliar dark hotel room or don’t have to wake up my husband turning on the lights. I attach a small flashlight to the zipper of my purse too. This helps when it is too dark to see the inside of my bag and I need to get something out but don’t want to turn on the light, or can’t.
Three pairs of shoes max!
Shoes are heavy. I usually bring two pairs of good walking/athletic shoes and one pair of flip flops. I broke my foot several years ago in Jiu Jitsu class and had surgery to remove a shattered bone. Ever since, I get pain in my foot from overuse and I am all about comfortable shoes.
So while traveling I always carry at least two pairs of good walking shoes. If you are doing a lot of walking on your trip, I don’t care how good your shoes are, your feet will get tired. It’s always nice to have a second pair of shoes to wear the next day. I love my Naots. They are pricey but they are dressy enough to go with anything and oh so comfortable. I also bring my Nike tennis shoes. I like to attempt to work out while traveling so they serve as great back up walking shoes. To save space I wear my tennis shoes on the flight. I also bring a pair of flip flops to wear around the hotel room, pool, or the beach. I like my Havaianas. This is a famous Brazilian brand of flip flops. Sometimes my shoe choices change depending on the type of trip. For example if we are hiking I bring my Merrell hiking boots or for shorter, easier hikes my Keen hiking shoes as they are lighter. The Keen’s also are stylish enough to wear while walking around on a city tour.
I hope this packing list has given you some new and helpful ideas. I would love to hear any other must haves for traveling. I’m always looking for new packing tips and ideas for travel essentials. Please comment below.
The links in the article are for items we love. If you buy them through the links we get a small commission – at no additional cost to you – that helps us maintain the blog.