The Ultimate Vacation Packing List (+ Printable PDF)

The Ultimate Vacation Packing List (+ Printable PDF)

Table of Contents

Packing for a trip is the least favorite part of travel for many people. There are so many things to remember and with all the other things that we need to do before departure, there’s usually a limited amount of time to get it done.

We all wonder if we will forget something important, and most of us are guilty of packing way too many things.

Some of us have even wondered if there’s some way to hire someone to accomplish this task for us, but alas, that would be impossible – as only we know what we wish to bring.

A vacation packing list can be a huge help when it comes to paying for your vacation. Whether you are packing for a sightseeing trip, a beach vacation, or a ski trip, there are certain things that you’ll need every single time.

Having a vacation packing list on hand to refer to when the time for packing comes can save you much stress and frustration.

We’ve put together this ultimate packing checklist for you so you don’t have to worry about packing anymore.

This list will be a big help to you no matter what your vacation destination is. It will be helpful for both domestic and international travel. You’ll still need to tweak it a bit to make it personalized to you, but it will certainly offer you a great base to work from and will help you to at least get started.

So, if you’re someone who loves to travel but who is stressed out by the packing process, read on. This post and these packing tips are about to make your life a whole lot easier.

Luggage

Before you even begin packing, you need to figure out what kind of luggage you’re going to use for your trip. The type and size of luggage you choose depend greatly on how long you will be traveling.

A carry-on bag may be plenty for a short weekend trip, but if you’re going away for longer, you may need to bring a checked suitcase as well. Everyone is different, though; some people like to bring a big bag as checked luggage even for a short trip.

Rolling Luggage

Blue COOLIFE Luggage

Whether you choose a big bag or a little bag, most people prefer some sort of rolling luggage to avoid carrying a heavy weight.

Rolling, hardshell luggage is very popular these days after many years of soft-sided luggage being the norm. These bags can take a beating and will keep your possessions safe inside.

See Related: Polypropylene vs Polycarbonate vs ABS Luggage: What’s the Best?

Backpacks

Army Green Kelty Coyote Backpack

Some people prefer to travel with a large backpack instead. This is a great move if you’re going abroad because it can be challenging to drag rolling luggage on uneven streets and sidewalks.

These come in a variety of sizes also; you’ll probably want one with several different pockets and compartments so you can access your stuff easily.

See Related: Best Minimalist Travel Backpacks

Packing Cubes

Set of Veken Packing Cubes

One thing that every traveler should use to save space is packing cubes. These can not only make any type of checked bag fit more items than you imagine, but they will also keep your stuff well-organized.

You’ll be amazed at how packing cubes compact your belongings into tight little packages while still keeping categories of clothing (underwear & socks, tops, bottoms, etc) easily accessible for you.

Plastic bags can also big a big help in this area, but nothing is better than actual packing cubes. Try them and see.

Laundry

Gray and Blue HOMEST Laundry Bags

An item that people often forget that can be a big help is a laundry bag for your dirty clothes.

We all know that when you mix dirty clothes with clean clothes, you end up with a bag of dirty clothes. Therefore, be sure to add a laundry bag when you are packing so you can keep everything separated.

Carry-On Bag Items

Whether you only bring a carry-on bag or if your carry-on is a bag you bring in addition to your checked luggage, the selection of this item is important as well.

Often, simple day-pack-sized backpacks are the best choice for carry-on luggage since you can get through the airport with them quickly. However, many people do prefer to use small rolling suitcases instead; it all depends on what you prefer.

Keep in mind that if your carry-on bag is small enough to qualify as a personal item, you won’t have to pay for it on an airplane. To pass this test, it will have to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Always Keep These Things in Your Carry-On

Regardless of the type of bag you choose to carry on the plane with you, there are certain things that you should keep with you at all times.

Even when flying direct, you never know when your checked bag will be lost.

First and foremost, you should pack any medications you need in your carry-on, and any expensive jewelry that you’re bringing with you should stay with you as well.

For international travel, you’ll need to show your passport frequently, so that should be in your carry-on too; consider buying a passport cover and travel insurance such as World Nomads and InsureMyTrip so it will stay protected and so you can locate it quickly and easily.

Beyond that, you’ll want to have your cell phones and credit cards on your person at all times. In your carry on you should also have your hotel confirmation for your first hotel, a list of your emergency contacts, and a few toiletries in a clear toiletry pouch just in case your bag is lost.

It’s also wise to keep a change of clothes in there just in case. Have your trip itinerary with you so you can review it en route, and invest in a high-quality, filtered, reusable water bottle for your trip so you can stay hydrated wherever you go, and no matter where you’re going – don’t forget your sunglasses!

See Related: Best Travel Totes

Clothing

Packing clothing is one of the most challenging parts of packing for any trip. Your needs will vary depending on the activities you have planned and your vacation destination.

What you pack for a beach vacation will be quite different from what you pack for a ski trip, and what you pack for a national parks adventure won’t be the same as what you’ll pack for a trip to New York City.

Still, there are things that you can do to make clothing selection easier for you. Check the weather report for your trip and heed its warnings. If rain is in the forecast, bring a lightweight rain jacket.

If where you’re going is cold, you’ll need a heavier coat and probably a bunch of sheddable layers so you can be ready for anything.

For a beach vacation, you will want to bring a bathing suit or two and some comfortable, lightweight shorts. What clothing you need or want to bring will vary from person to person and from trip to trip.

Helpful Clothing Packing Strategies

As you can see, what you bring is dependent on so many different things. However, there are some helpful strategies that you should keep in mind when packing clothes.

If You Don’t Already Wear It, Don’t Bring It

Woman Folding Set of Clothes

First, if you’ve had something for a while and you have never worn it before, you’re not going to wear it on your trip, either. In most cases, you’ll bring items like that with you and but they’ll never make it out of your suitcase; you’ll end up carrying them around for a week or longer for no reason at all.

Plan Your Outfits

Set of Outdoor Outfit

Second, it can be helpful to think about each day and activity on your trip and think about what you might want to wear for each of them.

Sit down for ten or twenty minutes and write it all out on paper. It may feel silly to plan out outfits in advance, but this will also keep you from bringing items that won’t end up being worn.

Categorize and Compartmentalize

Men Clothes with Shades

Also, it’s wise to think in categories when you start packing clothes. For example, take some time to think about shirts. You won’t need more shirts than there are days in your trip unless it’s a work trip and you’ll be bringing both business and casual clothes.

In many cases, you’ll need fewer shirts than there are days.

When it comes to underwear, you’ll need a pair for each day of the trip and maybe one or two more just in case, but there’s no reason to bring more than that. When you compartmentalize things in this way, what you need and what you don’t will be much more clear to you.

You Don’t Need It All

Hanged Clothes with Collar

Finally, once you’ve gathered all the clothing you wish to bring, go back into the pile and remove five or ten items that you know you won’t wear if you’re honest with yourself.

This will give you extra space in your bag and a lighter bag and you won’t miss any of these things at all on your trip.

Of Course, Don’t Forget…

There are, of course, certain clothing items that you’ll need for every trip. Socks and underwear are extremely important.

You’ll need something to sleep in at night, too. A long-sleeved t-shirt is never a bad idea; even if you’re going somewhere very warm, it may get cold on the plane.

Comfortable shoes for walking are a non-negotiable item; you’ll probably wear your most comfortable shoes on the travel day, but it never hurts to have a backup pair with you too.

Also, it’s always wise to bring at least one dressy outfit on most trips; you may want to dine somewhere with a dress code or you may meet someone that you want to impress.

A wrinkle-free dress is a smart move for women; men won’t likely need a jacket except in very specific cases, but it’s a good idea for them to bring at least a polo-style shirt or a button-down shirt and tie.

Electronics

Although it’s always nice to disconnect on vacation in as many ways as we can, the fact of the matter is that most people will want to bring at least some of their electronic devices with them on any trip.

This has created a whole new packing category over the past few decades and although we tend to remember most of these things without reminders because we are so tethered to them.

It’s wise to include them and their associated accessories on your packing list so you don’t forget any important components.

You certainly don’t need to bring all your devices on vacation with you but there are three things you will likely want to bring along.

Your Cell Phone

Woman Holding a Phone

First of all, you’ll want to bring your cell phone. It’s almost impossible to forget your phone because you probably are already used to having it with you all the time.

Phones are so much more than phones, too; they are also our gaming devices for the plane, our cameras for our vacation snapshots, our vessels for translation and currency apps, our hand-held turn by turn directions providers, and our connections to others through social media, email, texting, and phone calls.

Although you won’t likely forget to pack your phone, you might forget your charger. It’s always wise to pack a few extra cords and wall plug cubes in case one breaks or you leave one behind along the way.

You might also want to bring a portable charger along with you so you can charge up on the go as well.

Most rental cars today have a USB port that you can plug your phone charger into, but just in case the car you rent does not, you might want to bring along a car charger to plug into the cigarette lighter of the vehicle as a backup.

Finally, if you plan to go to the beach or will be participating in water-based activities, you should invest in a waterproof carrier for your phone to keep it safe. Some of these can even go underwater if you wish to take photos of the marine life below the surface.

See Related: Best Gadgets for Long Flights

Laptop or Tablet

Laptop on a Desk

Many people choose to leave their laptop or tablet at home on their vacations so they won’t be tempted to do work or waste time online while traveling, but more and more people are bringing these devices along on trips.

After all, there are many great uses for them beyond work needs. For example, it might be nice to have your computer or tablet with you to watch movies in your hotel room at the end of a long and busy day or to keep yourself busy if it’s pouring rain outside.

You can find an internet connection almost anywhere in the world these days, so it’s no wonder people want to bring these things along with them when they travel.

If you’ll be bringing your laptop or tablet, be sure to bring the charging cable. These can be expensive or impossible to buy when traveling so don’t forget them or lose them!

Further, you’ll want to keep your device safe so consider investing in a nice laptop carrying case or a sturdy tablet cover. You’ll be glad that you did.

Camera

Camera on a Desk

Cell phone cameras are of such high quality these days that many travelers don’t find a need to also carry a camera, but photography enthusiasts will want a separate camera to capture the sights and scenes that they like best.

Choosing a camera can be a complicated process and the many options available deserve their own detailed ViaTraveler’s post, but if you’re looking for something quality but simple, there are many cameras within an affordable range to consider.

You will want to buy a backup charging cord for the camera you choose and a hard-sided case or camera bag as well to keep your investment safe.

If you’d rather shoot video than still images, there are plenty of options for that type of memory recording as well.

As you probably already know, GoPro is the leader in this realm. You can buy a GoPro camera individually or purchase a ready-made package deal that includes a wide variety of useful accessories.

See Related: Best GoPro Accessories for Travel

Toiletries

Toiletries are something that is generally easy to pick up along the way if you’ve forgotten them, and that fact will give you some peace of mind when packing this category of items.

You don’t need to bring along everything in your bathroom or medicine cabinet when you pack toiletries; chances are that you won’t use the vast majority of it, and this stuff is notorious for taking up too much space in a suitcase and for adding extra weight.

Shampoo & Conditioner

HiBAR Shampoo and Conditioner Bar

You should take the time to transfer the things you do need into smaller travel bottles instead of bringing the full-sized versions unless you are going away for a very long time.

You’ll need shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, and body wash no matter who you are; you might consider trying some shampoo or conditioner that is free of plastic packaging when traveling as it takes up less space and it is easy to transport.

But beyond these few simple needs, much of what you bring in the realm of toiletries will depend on your personal needs.

Razors & Cosmetics

Razor and Shaving Set

For example, you might want to bring a travel shave kit or a cordless, rechargeable razor, but not everyone will need one.

Some people may want to bring makeup and will want to bring a travel cosmetic bag full of their favorite items, but others choose to go makeup-free on vacation.

First Aid

Mini First Aid Kit

Of course, it’s also wise to travel with a small travel first aid kit no matter where you are going or what you plan to do. You never know when you’ll need some adhesive bandages or antibiotic cream, so it’s smart to keep these things close at hand.

Miscellaneous

You’ll likely be pretty much all set for almost any trip if you pack the items listed above. However, there are also several additional things you could add if you have room in your bag that can help make your trip even better, even if they aren’t necessary.

Keeping Busy

Playing Uno Cards

It’s often nice to bring along a deck of cards or some travel games to keep you occupied during downtime, for example. Artsy people might like to add travel art supplies for painting or for drawing to their bags as well.

Music 

Black Wireless Headphones

Also, it’s always nice to be able to listen to some music in your hotel room or wherever you may be; a rechargeable, wireless Bluetooth speaker is something many of us should never leave home without. Also, don’t forget some wireless headphones for private listening, too.

See Related: Inspiring Songs About Traveling for Your Next Trip

Power

Extension Cord

Hotel rooms rarely have enough outlets for all our charging needs, so a simple power strip can be a game-changer, too.

Of course, as mentioned above, the needs for different types of trips will vary. You wouldn’t pack the same things for a beach vacation as you would for a trip to see the aurora borealis, so you need to take these differences into account when putting together your beach vacation packing list.

Beach Basics

Woman Wearing Swimsuit

Beach vacations are quite common and there are many items that can help you have a great time if you remember to pack them.

Of course, you’ll need a bathing suit and some beach towels first and foremost.

Some resorts include beach towels so don’t waste the space in your bag if they will be provided, but if you’ll be traveling around it’s wise to bring your own instead of purchasing high-priced but low-quality towels at your beach destination. Many people bring along a beach cover-up to wear, too.

Sunscreen Bottle

Flip flops are a must for walking around the pool or beach, too; no one wants to trudge around in sneakers and get sand in their shoes.

Be sure to bring reef-safe sunscreen and maybe even an after-sun product to soothe your skin if you burn easily. And, remember, even in the warmest destinations, the temperature can drop after dark, so don’t forget to bring a light top layer to keep yourself warm on chilly nights.

See Related: Best Vacation Dresses for Summer & Beach Trips

A winter trip will require many different items than a beach vacation so you’ll need to plan accordingly. The most important piece of the puzzle here is to stay warm. Layers are always a good move as you can add more if you are cold and take some off when you warm up.

A good base layer is a basis for staying warm, though, so bring along some long underwear. You may not need it every day, but you’ll be glad that you brought it on the days that you do.

Warm Feet

Brown Winter Boots

Winter boots are crucial if you’ll be spending much time outdoors; don’t try to depend on your sneakers for the warmth that you’ll need. With that said, a pair or two of warm, wool socks can make a world of difference as well.

If you’ll be walking on uneven ground, you might even want to bring hiking boots.

Warm Everything

Woman in Winter Clothes

A winter hat will keep your whole body warm and a warm scarf or a winter face shield will help a lot, too.

Warm clothing can take up a lot of space in your bag, but don’t cut corners here. You won’t have a very good time on your trip if you spend most of your time shivering.

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