Packing to go!

Nowadays I only pack to go away on vacation but when people find out what I used to do for a living, apart from, not believing me when I tell them that being a travel writer is not the job from paradise that they imagine.  Their next question is how to avoid packing too much.

I’m not the person to advise them how to convince their wife that she doesn’t need to pack five or even more bikinis nor if she is packing even for a cruise, does she need all of those evening\cocktail dresses.  All I can do is take the coward’s way out and tell them what my must-pack items are.

 I have honed my list of necessary items over countless miles, mistakes, mishaps and pure serendipity.  Certainly if my trip is to be longer than two or three days my luggage has to be more than a carry-on bag but even for a three week trip or even longer, my check-in case is fairly small and easily handled because I have used my experience to keep the contents to a minimum.

Even though I am no longer travelling for a source of revenue I have become very much a digital data kind of guy and am lost without access to the global internet.  Hence at the top of my list is my iPhone.  I no longer cart a laptop with me because I have replaced it with a iPad Tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard which allows me to type my travel blog while I am away and saves me suffering withdrawal symptoms as well as considerable space saving.

My iPhone should allow me to leave my camera at home because both it and the iPad include perfectly serviceable cameras.  However for personal reasons I am lost on vacation without my SLR so I have to include that.

Last among what my wife refers to as my toys, I have to include my Kindle Paperwhite, which ensures that I will never lack reading material and is less than the size and weight of a small paperback book. Apart from being a valuable accessory for sunbathing around the pool it also make the boring bits on a plane more palatable.

I suppose it’s an age thing but I have never felt comfortable boarding an airplane wearing a tracksuit and trainers so I leave those for the Gym. I travel in a decent pair of leather shoes accompanied by a jacket and trousers from M&S Travel range and a respectable shirt.  Such an outfit will not only suffice for visiting a decent restaurant but has on occasions marked me as suitable for an upgrade.

Passport, tickets, visas and boarding cards all go into my tote bag along with my iPod and earphones, a pen and notepad (I’m a writer).

What I cannot do is write a packing list for you, simply because we are all different, what is necessary is that you write your own packing list (yes you do need to write a packing list at least a week before you depart, that will give you time to go through it an delete all the things that are not vital to your particular trip.  Make a pact that once you have settled on your vital for this trip list you will agree that if it isn’t on my list it isn’t going in my bag.

Below is a universal packing list to which I’ve added my own memos in Red. I obviously will delete more than half of the suggestions to fit my own particular trip as no doubt will you.

dressy jacket  worn on flight2-4 shirts/blouses/tops  one worn on flight2 pairs trousers/skirts (shorts?) 1 pair worn on flight

3+ pairs socks 1 pair worn on flight

3+ pairs undergarments  1 pair worn on flight


dark (cardigan) sweater

sleeping shorts

sun hat

1 pair dressy shoes (laces?) worn on flight

1 pair walking shoes/boots (laces?)

flip-flops or sandals


Travel pack or shoulder bag
(& luggage cart?)

Daypack (fanny pack? purse?)

lightweight duffel/laundry bag

Luggage lock(s) (cable?)

alarm clock/watch (batteries?) iPhone

flashlight, extra batteries (bulbs?) iPhone

penknife, Swiss Army Knife

door lock, or door wedge

safety pins, cord, fasteners

sewing kit, including large needle

(Ziploc®) plastic bags, garbage bags

Repair tape (packing tape? glue?)

toothbrush, cap, tooth cleaner, floss

razor, blades, shaving lubricant

comb and/or hairbrush

shampoo, bar soap & container


nail clippers


Viscose towel (washcloth?)

inflatable travel pillow

Earplugs (sleep mask?)

detergent(Surgical latex braid) clothesline (carabineer?)universal (flat) sink stopper

inflatable hangers [to dry clothes]

toilet paper, water squirt bottle,
antibacterial wipes

(chemical or mechanical) water purifier

analgesic of choice

diarrhoea treatment of choice

infection treatment of choice

malaria tablets

insect repellent, mosquito net

sunscreen, lip balm


Bandages (other first aid?)

menstrual, contraceptive,
and/or prophylactic supplies

vitamins, necessary medications

(collapsible) plastic water bottle & cup

dark glasses, retainer, case

Lens cleaning cloth/supplies, copy
of prescription (spare glasses?)

pen(s), small notebook, glue stick
[for notes, addresses, diary, …]

Personal address book (stamps?)

maps, guidebooks, phrase books, Post-it® notes, restaurant lists, membership cards, business/calling cards, telephone access numbers

reading material

passport, visas, extra passport photos, vaccination certificates

copies of important documents

(International?) driver’s license, health insurance information

travel tickets

Charge & ATM cards, cash (traveller’s cheques?)

security pouch [worn under clothes]

Camera (lenses? flash? tripod? extra cards

& batteries? Charger? Download adapter?)

Cellular telephone (charger/adapter(s)?)

Travel computer (flash drive? Power cords and adapter(s)? Network cable(s)?)

The purpose of making a packing list is to ensure that nothing is forgotten.  Some travellers jam two weeks’ worth of gear into their bags for a three day business trip.  Others pack a bit too lightly, if that’s possible, and forgot important things like medicines or passports.  The savvy traveller strikes the perfect balance and bring JUST what they need.

When packing your clothes I have long been a convert to the use of vacuum travel storage bags or they might be sold as space saver bags.  I have tried packing cubes but I now use the sort that I neatly pack clothes in, Ziploc the top and then roll up to fart the air out through the special valves.  When I first used this system I began using the type that requires a vacuum cleaner to suck out all of the air – perfect when packing at home but trying to locate a vacuum cleaner at your departure hotel is nigh impossible so back to the drawing board. I find the ones that I now use are more than adequate, they are reusable and the last set that I purchased cost just £3.99 post free from eBay for a pack of six.  I have found with this method, provided I remove my clothes from the vacuum pack and hang them up when I arrive at the hotel they are reasonably uncreased and after a night in the wardrobe pristine.

Clothes worn during the flight, if they look crumpled, I hang in the steamy bathroom and any unwelcome creases disappear. My wife also uses the vacuum pack method but because some of her clothing is rather more delicate than mine she has discovered the use of tissue paper folded inside and then further sheets wrapping the garment prior to squashing the item into the vacuum pack – sorted.

There is a slight danger that using space saver vacuum bags you may get a false sense of unused space in your bag and be tempted to forget your list and pop in a few extra items.  I reiterate, keep to your list and make sure you keep under the weight restriction.

In spite of all the security advice we have been given it is now advised that you should not lock checked-in bags.  Otherwise if your bag is selected for random screening, agents will have to break the lock to get inside.  My own bag has a combination lock but although I snap the tongue into position and it looks locked, I do not spin the numbers to lock it.  If my case should be attacked by dishonest handlers at “Thiefrow”, I assume they will break the locks anyway.

Make sure that you carefully weigh both your carry-on and your checked in bags and also ensure that your carry-on is within your airline’s restrictions.  If it is too big or too heavy it will have to be checked in at extra cost.

Passports, visas, vaccination certificates, should of course be carried in your carry-on bag.  Almost all countries will want to see your passport but many will have additional, non-obvious entry requirements. Some will bar you from entering if your passport doesn’t have at least six months’ validity beyond your planned departure date.  Some require vaccination certificates if you have previously visited areas where specific diseases are prevalent.  Some insist that you show means of support (Credit Cards or sufficient cash) while visiting, and/or return or onward air tickets.  One country (South Africa) has the rather bizarre requirement that you passport has at least two completely blank pages, free of an6y stamps or other markings, and if you require a visa, the pages must face one another!  No, I can’t explain why!  Some Arab countries will refuse entry if your passport has an Israeli stamp in it.  A reason why I once had two valid passports, one with a stamp and one without.  So find out what you need, BEFORE you go to avoid being refused entry and being sent home at your own expense.

Have a great trip, don’t take more than you absolutely need and always take out valid travel insurance.  Bon Voyage!










About Jake

Long retired travel writer, author and freelance journalist. Educated at Wolverton Grammar and Greenwich Naval College. Happily married since 1958, with a married son and daughter, a married granddaughter and an adult grandson. Hobbies rock-climbing, dinghy racing and ocean racing. Still regularly working out in the gym.
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