If you bring everything on this list, you’re doing it wrong. Some things you obviously need — some might just be fun to have if you have the extra space in your bag. This list will forever be a work in progress. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
Absolute Essentials – You won’t make it far without these.
- Passport (with visa if the country you’re going to requires one)
- Photocopy of your passport with emergency contact numbers on the back.
- Driver’s License / Photo ID
- ATM & Credit Cards
- Insurance Cards
- $100 bill for emergency use only (kept in a separate part of your wallet or hidden elsewhere)
- Contact Lenses and case and/or glasses
- Clothes for the plane – Dress in layers. Wear your jeans if you’re bringing them and other heavy or bulky items that will reduce your luggage weight.
Luggage – Name, address and contact info on the inside and outside of each bag.
- Carry-On Backpack – All valuables should go in here when on the move.
- Full-size Travel Backpack – Assuming you plan to check a bag.
- Day Pack – Goes inside or piggybacks onto your full-size backpack.
- PacSafe – For keeping your valuables secured in your room.
- Packing Cubes – Some people swear by them. (I don’t.)
- Compression Bags – Helpful for compressible items like fleece, not so much for anything else.
- Bag Locks – TSA certified. Or just use zip-ties. Never put anything of value in a bag that will be out of your sight.
- Money Belt – Keep your passport on you at all times, at least while flying. Alternatively, look at arm wallets, leg wallets and shoulder wallets.
- Compact Umbrella – Kept in one of the external pockets of your backpack.
- Zip-Lock Bags – Useful for keeping things dry inside your bag.
- Dry Bag – If you’ll be traveling on boats and there’s a chance your gear could take an unexpected dip.
Geek Gear – All such items should generally go in your carry-on bag or on your person, to avoid theft.
- Smartphone – Phone, camera, video player, music player, web browser, GPS…
- Laptop / netbook / Chromebook – If you need to get any work done while traveling, something with a physical keyboard is pretty much essential. Plus the larger screen can be nice for watching movies if you’re stuck in bed on a rainy day.
- Tablet – Personally if I’m going to carry extra weight I’d rather have a laptop, but maybe you’re a tablet person.
- Kindle – Not only does it allow me to ready books on the beach, but my old Kindle 3G gives me basic internet access everywhere.
- Digital Camera – If your smartphone camera just doesn’t cut it for you.
- Mini-Tripod – If you want to get artsy with your camera.
- Travel Router / Repeater – One that runs off a USB charger.
- MP3 Player – A small, clip-on MP3 player can be great for the plane or the beach, and less of a concern if you lose it.
- Chargers – For all the above. Try to stick with gadgets that charge via USB, so you only have to bring 1 or 2 chargers.
- Cables – For all the above. Again, try to double up. Have at least 1 cable long enough to use your device while it’s charging.
- Noise-Isolating In-Ear Earphones – They block out sound on flights, don’t require batteries and can double as earplugs.
- Airplane Headphone Adapter – So you can use your earphones with the airplanes in-flight entertainment system.
- Headphone Splitter – So you and your travel buddy can enjoy the same tunes.
- Travel Speaker – Great for tunes at the beach.
- LED Flashlight – Get a bright one that runs on a single AA or AAA battery.
- USB Battery Charger – If you’re bringing devices that run on AA or AAA batteries.
- Watch (with alarm) or Travel Alarm Clock- If you don’t trust your smartphone’s alarm clock.
- Extension Cord – A short one, for those inconveniently placed outlets. Get one with a 3-way splitter on the end.
- Surge Protector – Essential in developing countries with unstable electricity.
- Plug Adapters – Assuming you’re headed to a country with different electrical sockets.
- Memory Card Reader – If your laptop doesn’t have one built in.
- USB Flash Drive – In case you can’t backup your photos and videos online.
- Spare Battery – For your digital camera or smartphone, in case you have to go a couple days without a charge.
Daily Necessities - Things that I’ve found I need every day.
- Sunglasses - Best bought at home from a reputable source so you can assure they block 100% of UV rays.
- Padlock – For your room or locker in hostels or budget resorts. If keyed, get one where the key has to be in the lock when locking it to prevent locking yourself out.
- Keychain LED Flashlight – Because you never know when the power might go out in a place like India.
- Sarong – Functions as a towel, a beach blanket, a scarf and more.
Regional Necessities – Things you may want if you’re going to a developing country.
- SteriPEN UV Water Purifier and Nalgene Cantene Bottle – Purify water right from the tap.
- Mosquito Net
- Anti-malaria Medication
- Toilet Paper – Not a “given” in countries like India, so you may want to bring half a roll in case your bathroom doesn’t have any. You can generally still buy it locally if you’re in an area frequented by tourists.
- Swim Goggles
- Dive Mask – If you like to snorkel but have trouble finding a dive mask that fits your face, consider bringing your own.
Footwear - Shoes are often big and heavy. Ideally you only want to travel with two pairs: one on your feet, one in the bag.
- All-Purpose Shoes – Try to find shoes that are both comfortable to walk in and will look acceptable going to a nicer restaurant.
- Shoe Inserts – For better arch support.
- Hot-Weather / Beach Shoes – Sandals, flip-flops (a.k.a. thongs in some countries), Sanuks.
- Functional Pajama Pants – ones that can also be worn for other activities, i.e. yoga.
- Pants / Jeans – Ideally with deep front pockets so that items are harder to pick. Never put anything valuable in the back pockets.
- Shorts – Again, ideally with deep front pockets.
- T-Shirts / Tank Tops – For warm climates, of course.
- Long-sleeve Tops – I prefer zip-up track jackets to quickly adapt to changes in temperature.
- Socks – Try merino socks from Smartwool or Darn Tough for great socks that don’t stink.
- Underwear – Keeping in mind that packing space is at a premium (and that applies to both girls and guys).
- Swim Trunks / Bikini – Whatever you wear when you take a dip.
- Belt – There are money belts that look and function like actual belts, if you want to have a secret money stash.
- Hat – For sun and wind protection.
- Ultralight Windproof and Waterproof Jacket – If there’s a chance you’ll encounter cold, wet weather, a thin jacket that can keep the wind off of you and keep you dry can be a life-saver.
Clothing – Female Specific
- Dresses / Skirts
- Jewelry – The less, and the less expensive, the better.
- Winter Jacket – You should be able to wear this on the plane, so you don’t have to pack it.
- Cap / Beanie – In cold weather, a lot of heat is lost through your head.
- Lightweight Gloves
- Long Underwear
- Scarf – Or something that can be used as a scarf, like a sarong.
Toiletries – Keep in mind that most of these items can be purchased locally if you want to save on pack weight.
- Insect Repellent – Free free to bring your “natural” stuff, but be prepared to buy some stuff with DEET locally if it doesn’t work.
- Sunscreen – Even if just a small bottle so you’re prepared for your first day of sun until you can buy a big bottle.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste
- Dental Floss – Also useful for repairing gear.
- Comb / Folding Brush
- Hair Product – Pomade, forming cream, etc. Keep in mind the humidity if you’re going to the tropics.
- Soap – Kept in a travel container. Body wash is heavier and not necessarily better for your skin if you buy a quality bar of soap.
- Shampoo / Conditioner – Put into travel size bottles. You usually need half as much conditioner as you do shampoo.
- Nail Clippers – If you’ll be gone more than a week. Find a travel-sized one.
- Shaving Razor – And enough replacement cartridges for the duration of your travels.
- Shaving Cream / Gel / Oil – None for me — I shave in the shower using only soap lather.
- Lip Balm
- Spare Contact Lenses
- Contact Lens Solution – Plus an extra contact lens case.
- Cotton Swabs – a.k.a. Q-Tips
- Condoms or other contraceptives
Toiletries – For The Ladies
- Make-up, make-up remover, make-up removal pads – Think minimal.
- Nail polish, nail polish remover, nail file – I’d highly encourage you to leave this at home or buy it locally.
- Tampoons or a Moon Cup
- Pregnancy Test Kit
- Swiss Army Knife or Multi-Tool – Some people can’t leave home without one, but they’re heavy and a target for thieves in your checked bag — and you can’t bring it carry-on because of the knife. If you bring one, keep it small, light and cheap.
- Utility Cord – For hanging hand-washed clothes out to dry.
- Pillow Case – For a laundry bag which can double as a pillow in a pinch.
- Silk Travel Sheet / Sleeping Sack – When sleeping in the tropics, it may be all you need.
- Pen – Black or blue ink. Other colors may annoy immigration officials.
- Plastic Spoon – Especially if you’re the type to buy yogurt from a local grocery store for a snack.
- Travel Guidebook – Generally I prefer doing my research online in advance and taking notes.
- Rubber Doorstop – For some added security to keep the door closed.
- Small Compass – Because smartphones don’t always work, and finding north is tricky when it’s cloudy.
- Sewing Kit with Safety Pins – For light repairs.
- Small First-Aid Kit – Band-aids, disposable thermometers, Tylenol, Aleve, Imodium AD.
- Small Survival Kit – Fishing line, fish hooks, duct tape.
- A Paperback Book – It never needs charging and you can read it even during take-off and landing.
- Hacky Sack a.k.a. Footbag
- Cards – Note that card playing can be illegal in some countries.
- Travel-sized Chess Board
- Canadian Flag Patch – For your bag if you’re Canadian, or an American preferring to appear as a Canadian.
- Vegemite – If you’re Australian.