*updated* packing list: minimal, high-quality, active, techie, and mom-friendly.

: : : Packing List, for 1 Single Traveler

Wondering how to pack everything you need into one carry-on?

Some people find this process stressful, but I rather enjoy the challenge and simplicity of sorting through what is essential enough to qualify for space in my carry-on. Learning how and what to pack from the process of trial and error might be a rite-of-travel-passage, but if you want to skip ahead of that costly learning curve, here’s a basic packing list of some recommended gear.  My travel style is minimal, high-quality, active, techie, and mom-friendly. So proceed if that resonates with you. 🙂

Here are a few options and details on some of my personal favorite travel items:

Daypack: A small daypack or backpack is a necessity. Something that you can use to carry a book, camera, water bottle, and poncho on short outings. Remember to sling shoulder strap bags across your body and to turn backpacks to the front in crowded subways and busy streets. Osprey makes my current go-to day pack. It packs down to AIR, so I can store it right in my carry-on if I don’t feel like carrying two bags.

Kindle PaperWhite: My bedside table at home has no less than 15 books stacked on it that I rotate through based on my mood. And ADHD reading is not a travel-friendly addiction. The Kindle solves the problem. But the Paper White: Have you seen one!? It does NOT feel like an electronic device (which is my biggest problem with e-readers). It looks exactly like a good old fashioned, finger-turning, paper page. Technology at its simple best.  The technology is intentionally (?) outdated enough to ensure there’s no room to wander online or get distracted by pop-up instant messages. Seriously. Just like a good old book, but palm-able. Get your hands on one and try it out. You’ll see what I mean.

Travel Journal: Use it for everything: travel expenses, journaling, scrap book, photo album, poetry, sketching. I tape/glue in old tickets and extra spectacular postcards and encourage new friends to get artistic. Bring a couple pictures of your home, family, kids, and best mates to share with new friends who you meet (gasp!) offline.  My journals are my most prized possession from each of my trips and I look forward to reviewing them in my rocking chair when I’m 80 (somewhere on the French coast if you were wondering). I’m a big fan of the Moleskin line for my journals.

Travel Alarm: Use your phone or buy something cheap and replaceable to help you hurdle time zones.  In general, I don’t buy or travel with fancy watches or jewelry. Most of my top travel destinations involve minimal decoration; sandy beaches and precious metal do not go together. Leave your valuables at home for the weightlessness of peace-of-mind.

Melatonin: Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that helps the body adjust its sleep cycle when jumping time zones. (If anyone knows if I can use this with my kids, please let me know.)

Camera: I’m currently (2016-17) travelling and experimenting with a Panasonic LUMIX mirrorless. The jury is still out.

Stored Images:  Take phone photos of your passport(s), drivers license, maps you want to quickly access upon arrival, etc. Store the digital copies somewhere secure and accessible in the case of theft or loss. Put a passcode on your iphone if you don’t already have one.

Money: FYI, travelers checks died in 2016. Register your shock and move on.  So don’t forget your debit card (accepted virtually everywhere), some hard cash (in small denominations) and a credit card. My husband is a business owner, so our family flies almost purely on award tickets earned from our United Explorer Card.  That’s a winning tip if you have a lot of expenses (ie. children), and feel comfortable putting everything on a credit card and paying it off every month.

Pimsleur Language Audio Lessons: I personally believe that language is the front-door key to unlocking the magic and mysteries of a place and people. I also think it’s an act of basic respect to introduce myself and offer greetings in the language of the country (so kindly) hosting me. So I never leave home without investing in a month into language study first. Pimsleur is an audio language course that gets that job done effectively. It’s mom-friendly in that it only requires 20-minutes a day. And it offers instant oral building skills that ensure confident and correct pronunciation.  I’m such a fan, I’d infomercial Pimsleur for free. I’ve worked through the full Pimsleur Spanish and French courses and introductory Portuguese, Indonesian and Mandarin. I’m back to working through my Spanish course again if that gives you any hint of where I’m going next. Pro-tip: Language study sharpens mom-brain and staves off dementia. Savings Tip: I use my backlog of Audible credits to purchase the lessons.

Money Belt: 20-years of travelling, and I still take my money belt. I rarely wear it, but I like having a discreet pocket for cash, passports and cards that I don’t take out for the day.

Leatherman Tool: It’s an insult to call a Leatherman Tool a “pocketknife”, but for lack of a better word I’ll use the term. They are the best and highest quality multi-purpose tools on the market. Get a StylePS for your pocket (which is TSA approved!) and a Juice CS4 for your checked bag. This is THE travelers’ tool – by which all will swear. Full Disclosure: My brother is the CEO and President of Leatherman. But my recommendation is fierce regardless.  Subtext: super proud of my bro.

Super-Absorbent Travel Towel: You can get one of these towels at travel stores or via Amazon. These special towels are super-absorbent, very lightweight, dry in an instant, and come in handy often. If you’re staying at hotels/houses, skip this.

Silk Sleep Sack: If you’re travelling through particularly warm climates or utilizing beds where you might prefer your own sheet, you should have *or make* a sleep sack. For those on a budget, you can make one simply by sewing two sheets together or you can pick one up at any travel store. Many hostels charge you for renting sheets, and you can save cash by bringing one of these. They also keep you safe from “suspicious” sleeping quarters.  I have also jumped in mine on overnight trains, while sleeping in stations/on ferries and stuffed it as a pillow on bumpy busses and the like. My starchy cotton sleep sheet worked well enough, but it didn’t keep me particularly warm and took up a lot of space in my pack. Solution? The Silk Sleep Sack: Silk insulates you better, cleans easier, takes up NO space at all in your pack…and FEELS like butter. Yes, it’s about 40 bucks more than the cotton one, but if you’re doing serious traveling, it’s worth the cost for the extra comfort and added space in your pack.

Shoes: Shoes are heavy, hard to pack and stink when wet.  Again, pay the extra buck. Comfort counts here more than you’ll ever know. Here’s what I take (as of 2016-17):

    • A pair of super light-weight trail shoes like these New Balance WT10V4.  For planes, running, hiking, mud, chasing littles. Clean up and (hang) dry in a minute. Take up minimal space in the bag. #winning
  • A pair of Chaco sandals or other utility sandal. They work for beaches, showers, mountains, caves, rivers, oceans, monsoon, etc.
  • Your favorite pair of style-sandals or all-weather boots, depending on where you’re going.

First-Aid Kit: Make sure to include: Band-Aids in all sizes, bug repellent, scrape ointment, mini sewing kit, Tylenol, a couple days worth of cold medicine, antimalarial meds *if needed*, all your prescriptive allergy medicine and birth control. Infections never heal abroad, so take care of your scrapes.

Glasses: Sun AND prescriptive. Make sure to bring a sink plug if you wear contacts.

Bathroom Bag: Get one made especially for traveling. The best are the ones with the hook on top so you don’t have to lay it down on any wet or suspicious surfaces. Put all squeeze bottles in zip-lock baggies during flights. Do bring a package of wet wipes to clean up hands and face when you’re waterless. Bring soap — liquid for the shower and a laundry bar for your clothes.

Ziplock Bags: In all sizes. Things will leak, explode, get wet and smell. But the Ziplock gods will spare you many of these messes should you pay them homage at the supermarket pre-trip.

Iphone Battery Case: I use my iphone less when travelling, but I also charge it less. A battery case offers you an extra full charge in your pocket. Which can be priceless. On that note, also don’t forget your international travel adapter plug kit.

Travel Guides: Have each travel mate bring a different guide. I recommend both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide series. I also like to download the PDF versions on the LP website to my husband’s Ipad for offline access.

Update Lists: Before you leave, remember to set up an e-mail list, text group, or mini-blogging platform like Tumblr.  Figure out at least one way to share images and updates with your mom who isn’t on Instagram.

Water Bottle: I pretty much never leave the house without my HydroFlask. Unfortunately, my kids have taken hostile ownership over my straw-lid version. So that’s clearly a hit.

Book: If you do ever get tired of looking out the window of the train/bus, and you’ve already studied the guide for the country you’re going to next, you might want some other form of entertainment and a good book is a best friend. Other travelers are often happy to trade and exchange literature. Here’s a link to my new Reads recommendation list.

Locks for your Bags: I use mini code-locks (preferred over key locks which can get misplaced too easily). They aren’t so much meant to protect as to discourage theft by making you look smart enough to not be picked on.

Mini-flashlight: Love the ones that clip onto my bag so I can find them in the dark. Given the nature of many of my travels, I often travel with a headlamp as well.

Essential Oils: I tend to travel with the basics as I have trouble moving around without them. Lavender for skin issues and chilling out the children in the bathtub. Citronella and Lemongrass for mosquito repellent. Frankincense for purification of new (stinky) spaces. And Thieves (by Young Living) for immunity support (which I dab on the kids feet before plane travel).

Clothing: The clothes you pack are highly dependent on many factors, including, but not limited to: destination, weather, activities, season, formality, style, length of stay, washing resources and budget. Here’s some general advice:

  • Stay away from cotton. It’s heavy, it wrinkles, it’s hard to wash and dry and it starts smelling bad, fast. Opt for nylon or polyester blends, which dry super fast, are easy to wash, don’t hold stains and don’t wrinkle.
  • Dark and neutral colors are best.  Ditch the denim also, or bring only your favorite pair of jeans; it’s bulky, heavy and takes days to dry.
  • If you have the cash, the special travel friendly clothing can be worth the money. In my earlier (budget) years, I just brought a bunch of old stuff I knew I could throw away (and did). Now that I have, um, matured in age, I am more opt to invest in the gear with extra zippers, extra air-pockets, special linings, super fast-dry fabrics, fine styling, and easy-clean materials. The designers who make this stuff know what they’re doing. Everything takes up about an inch of space in my pack (think carry-on only) and I am never too cold or hot, cleans up in two minutes in the sink, and survives the duress of travel with the grace of a buddhist monk. If you really want to step up your travel style, invest in a piece or two from Anatomie. I am a huge fan of Anatomie jackets in particular. And I’m saving for a pair of their famous Skylar pants. (Sign up for their emails as they have 75% off flash and pop-up sales!).
  • If you’re going though cities with proper nightlife, you’re going to want to feel incognito (from your tourist status). So don’t forget a lightweight all-black/navy outfit that can dress up or down. And I wouldn’t link to it again if it didn’t guarantee that you’d feel amazing and fit your wardrobe into a carry-on: Anatomie.
  • Everyone packs twice as much as they need (even me, two decades of trips later). Try your hardest to keep your selection simple and remember that you can almost always supplement from local stores on the other side. A commonly quoted travelers’ rule of thumb: “When you’re ready to go, lay out all your gear and money and then repack half as many clothes and twice as much money.”

The Backpack:  Depending on the nature of the trip, this might be the most important investment. Spend good time researching the pack that meets your needs (and each person’s needs differ). Talk to sales reps, guides and friends. Research and shop around.  The added comfort will be worth every extra dollar. My pack and I have shared multiple adventures, I treat it as a friend, and I won’t be the first traveler to admit to talking to it….or rather, “hearing” it calling me from the closet enticing me into my next adventure. And that’s good travel advice to end on: Always listen to your pack.

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