My secret travel packing tips.

My secret travel packing tips.

Packing is a pretty personal experience.  Maybe you’re a student, a businessperson, an artist, or a health nut.  Whatever is important to you dictates what you need to bring.  So instead of giving you a packing list for your next big trip, I’m offering you the packing techniques I’ve adopted over my years of European travel and two international moves.  Good packing can reduce your stress during your travels by helping you think through your packing ahead of time and plan for whatever you might need in the new environments you’ll be exploring.
If you do happen to be looking for a packing list, there’s a lot out there to choose from, including HER Packing List, which indexes packing lists by type.   The lists are focused on women, but certain things are universal, right guys?
Please note: This post focuses on trips with international airlines that offer generous baggage allowances.  If you are traveling a budget airline between countries in Europe, visit my budget airline post for tips.

Making last-minute luggage shifting outside of JFK on my way to Milan.

1. When it comes to packing, controlling weight is key in order to avoid paying high overweight airline fees and a lot of stress on yourself.

Yes, I’ve been that person sitting on the airport floor in the check-in area, looking like my luggage exploded as I am re-shifting all of my personal items to knock five pounds off the weight of my checked baggage to avoid a $100 fee.  This process becomes even worse in a foreign country, where you have to go to a cashier window to pay the excess weight fee, and then stand in line again at the check-in counter with the receipt, risking missing your flight.
Here are some tips for avoiding overweight baggage:

  • Try to limit the amount of shoes you take with you.  Shoes are the biggest space and weight hogs.
  • If you can bear it, wear your heaviest pair of shoes on your flight (you can always take them off during the flight).
  • Put any non-liquid, heavy items like cameras, shoes, batteries, and even jewelry, in your carry-on if you think you are close to exceeding baggage weight restrictions for your checked baggage.
  • Make sure you have removed any excess packaging from any items you are traveling with.  You’d be surprised how much weight a little extra cardboard, plastic, or glass here and there on a souvenir or cosmetic can add up.
  • Take a jacket out of your bag, if necessary, and clip it onto your purse or carry-on with a travel jacket clip.

Wholesale-Cotton-font-b-Foldable-b-font-font-b-Reusable-b-font-font-b-Grocery-b2.  If you are flying international and think you might buy a lot of souvenirs, pack a large recyclable grocery bag to use as a carry-on on the way back if necessary.

International flight baggage allowance usually includes two checked bags, a carry-on and personal item (but be sure to double-check the baggage policy before you leave!).  If you buy so many souvenirs that you can’t fit them in your luggage, you can always check both the luggage and your carry-on, and then carry-on instead your large recyclable grocery bag.  Make sure to transfer your souvenirs to your former carry-on that you are checking (especially if they are liquid!) and your important traveling items to your grocery bag.  I know, walking around an airport with a recyclable grocery bag is not the most fashionable solution.  But recyclable grocery bags are light-weight and don’t take up much space, and are perfect in this sort of last-minute packing emergency.  Needing to buy a new luggage while on vacation in order to get all of your belongings home is not only time-consuming, but can also be pretty expensive.

51rR7sw-i3L._AC_UL320_SR318,320_3. Saving space is important, but space saver bags are only helpful to a point.

Space saver bags are fine, and if they help you get organized, even better.  I’m not a big fan because I find the plastic tool that helps you seal the bags often falls off, and the bags become difficult to re-seal, so they become useless.  If you are going on a trip that involves a lot of stops/changing of hotels, this is especially annoying.  And, needless to say, who has a vacuum on vacation with them?
Instead of space saver bags, I organize with inexpensive laundry bags they sell for separating your clothing items by type during washing.  They come with a zipper and really last a long time.  They don’t make noise like the noisy plastic space saver bags do, because they are made of acrylic fabric, which also makes them more durable.  You can usually find them on the same aisle as the space saver bags.

4.  Get an L.L. Bean hanging toiletry kit.

In my humble opinion, there is no other toiletry organizer on the market that is as well-made and well-designed as L.L. Bean’s hanging toiletry kit.  I get no money from L.L. Bean.  In fact, when my dad first gave me this toiletry kit as a birthday gift, I was underwhelmed.  Fast forward 10 years later, and not only am I still using it, but it is my most valuable travel accessory.  I use it nearly every day because I travel so much, and it easily and effectively holds all of my toiletries.  In fact, it does such a good job that I forget how much is in there and it can get really heavy, so watch out for the weight!

IMG_61335. Speaking of toiletries, leave behind your expensive bottles of serums and moisturizers, and use contact lens cases instead.

If you are only going on a two-week trip or less, it is pretty easy to count out the amount of serum/moisturizer drops you need for your trip by pumping all the drops in a water-tight contact lens case.  Believe me, I’ve lost a lot of expensive products during my travels through damage in the traveling process.  Don’t risk ruining expensive products and benefit from not taking on the extra weight of the big bottles.

IMG_61356. Protect your blush, bronzers, powders, and eye shadows from breaking and crumbling  with disposable face pads.

My fabulous friend and fellow adventurous traveler Giovanna told me about this tip and the tip above.  I’ve had enough casualties of my make-up over the years that I embraced this tip from the first day she suggested to me.  Placing one or two make-up remover pads on the faces of my powder cosmetics has definitely minimized breakage.

7. Get out your suitcase at least a week in advance and start filling it with trip-specific items that you don’t use every day.

There are many trip-specific items that you don’t use on a daily basis, like your passport, so why not get them packed in advance and save yourself the stress and energy of packing these items the night before your trip?  If you have your luggage or carry-on out in advance, it is a gentle reminder to think ahead about important items you need to pack, and you can toss them in as you think of them throughout the week before your trip.  I’m leaving for Italy in three days on a work trip with CISabroad, and I’ve had my luggage out since last weekend.  I realized when I put my camera in my luggage that I needed to charge the batteries.  I was so grateful not to be charging batteries at midnight the night before my trip!
Types of items you can pack in advance:

  • Energy bars/snacks for traveling days
  • Camera and accessories
  • Gifts for relatives (if you’re paying someone a visit)
  • Passport
  • Winter clothing accessories
  • Plug adapter


8. Ensure your comfort in unknown environments by packing a large, light-weight scarf that you can keep in your carry-on or purse.

I keep a large, light-weight scarf in my purse year-round.  It is a lifesaver.  When I’m on a plane, I use it as a blanket.
During the summer I use it as a shawl if an evening gets a little chilly.  During the winter I use it as a scarf.  It can also be a beach cover-up, extra layer of warmth on your legs outside on a cold night, the list goes on and on.
I’m using it as a shawl on a chilly summer evening in Ojai, California in the photo above, and in the photo on the right, I’m using it as a scarf on a chilly summer morning in Birmingham, England.

9. Do your vacation shopping trip several weeks in advance in case there are a few items you can’t find and need to order online.

I went to Target a few weeks ago, and while I checked off most items on my shopping list, the shopping trip also reminded me of other items I needed.  I wanted a high-quality, fashionable backpack that fit my laptop.  Not an easy item to find, and Target didn’t have one.  I went home and found one online, but the item was back-ordered.  It is supposed to arrive tomorrow, three days before my trip.  Close call, phew!

10. Use pill boxes to keep small items like jewelry separated on long trips.

I admit, I’m a lover of accessorizing, so pill boxes aren’t necessary for everyone, especially for short trips when selecting one or two pairs of earrings that go with everything is a better option.  But my trips are quite long, and I get bored with just two pairs of earrings after a while.   I’m thrilled to finally have such easy access to them!  This is another tip I got thanks to my traveler buddy Giovanna!

11. Pay attention year-round to the travel-sized section of your local pharmacy or big retail store to look for clever travel solutions.

Although your basics are always available, the travel-sized product selection is constantly changing, and varies significantly from store to store.  If there’s a product you use regularly that you’d like the travel-sized version of, it isn’t so easy to find it by just going to one store.  So just pay attention year-round whenever you find yourself at a CVS, Rite Aid, Target, ULTA, etc.  For instance, a few months ago Target had several travel-sized Burt’s Bees products that I had never seen there before, and are since gone.  And I just picked up travel-sized nail polish remover wipes, which are so much lighter than my mini-nail polish remover bottle, and isn’t considered a liquid.  I’m so excited about this find. 🙂  Please note: Certain cosmetics brands you can contact directly or go to their websites to find travel-sized versions of their products.  I often pick-up specialty travel-sized products when I’m at ULTA.


  1. Lignum Draco says:

    Very useful tips. I’ve seen people wearing 3 coats onto a plane to avoid excess baggage. 🙂
    Packing right, and as light as possible is the key. I’ve recently bought carry on size luggage from an online store in Seattle, Tom Bihn. I like their philosophy and quality although it is a bit expensive but it is built to last.

  2. Ha! That was probably me you saw wearing three jackets. 😀 You’re totally right. And investing in travel accessories is totally a worthwhile investment. They really take a beating, so higher-quality seems to really make a difference in its life. Thanks for your comment… 🙂

  3. Caroline T says:

    Great tips! I think I am going to buy some of those smart space saver bags – I just divide my clothes and stuff into different plastic bags, but that always ends up being really cluttered. Also, thank you for the link to – had never heard about that site before, and it seem really useful 🙂

    • Glad it was helpful, Caroline. I can only hope that all of the lessons I’ve learned from my packing mistakes over the years can be put to good use, ha! 🙂 Yes, herpackinglist is cool because it has so many types of packing lists. I think I got that one from my friend Giovanna too. She’s the best. 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  4. rommel says:

    I had the worst experience with luggage fees during my recent trip around Greece. Even badly it was choosing cheap tix. Let it be known that people flying around Greece should only have extra luggage that fit above the overhead compartments.

  5. Thanks for sharing these great tips. I’m preparing for a trip next month and will definitely be back here to re-read your advice before I start packing! In the meantime I’m going to buy a hanging toiletry bag! 🙂

    • Oh thanks for the comment! So glad to hear the article has been helpful for you. I actually use all of my own tips (of course, ha!), but they have really been a collection of advice from wise friends and family over the years. Hope they make your travels a least a little bit smoother. Have a great trip. 🙂

      • Thanks! I’m looking forward to it. This is a great collection of travel tips which I expect to refer back to a few times over the coming weeks! My new wash bag arrived yesterday so it’ll be good to try it out. 🙂

    • Ha! Well said! I can imagine it can be hard to travel as a control freak. Maybe I am too…I have such a hard time flying and being confined to such a small space for so long! And I get such immense pleasure from my travel organization I am constantly trying to improve. :))

    • Thanks for reading!! It means a lot. 🙂 I’m so glad it was helpful. I should actually update the article because I’ve upgraded from reusable bags to packing duffle bags in my suitcase. ;b I’m guilty of packing too many clothes. We all have our vices I suppose! 😉

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