travel packing

Best Packing Tips for International Travel

Here are some handy travel packing tips on how to pack for International Travel. I am a road warrior. I have over 3 million flight miles with American Airlines alone! So when I tell you. I have some great tips for how to pack light, you can believe that I am basing this on my own experience.

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Accept that you will be doing laundry

On any trip longer than 5-6 days, accept that you will be getting laundry done once. This is the single best tip I can give you. Plan to pack for six days, and if your trip is longer than six days, then look at your itinerary, and see where you will be in the same hotel for more than one night.

That’s where you will be getting some laundry done. It’s true it can get a little expensive in some countries, but in most of Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe, it can be quite cost-effective for Americans.

By the time you consider not just the cost of checking in. an extra bag, but also the non-monetary cost of hauling bags, waiting at the baggage belt hoping the airline didn’t lose your bags, the time wasted in waiting for your bag, this travel parking tip will be well worth the few dollars.

I know some of you are reading this, thinking this is a complete cop-out tip. But it is the single smartest way to pack light. Either do your own laundry, or find a place where you will be staying for more than a night, and get it done.

This is only relevant for trips longer than 5-6 days. For shorter trips, it’s a very easy to pack in a carry-on only, as the packing light tips below will show you.

Choose one main color for pants and jackets/sweaters

stack of sweaters

This is the other tip that has really helped me pack light and travel with only a carry-on bag for all international trips.

Choose one primary dark color such as either black, brown, or navy blue. Do not plan to take some blue pants and some brown pants. Not only does this make all your clothing mix and match, but you also don’t need to take several pairs of shoes.

I usually take only black pants, skirts, and jackets. All the color in my wardrobe comes from the shirts, scarves, or wraps and sweaters I might take.

I usually take 2 pairs of black pants, 1 pair of jeans (the one exception to my black clothes, see below on jeans), 1 black skirt, 1 black sweater/jacket, and 1 pair of black leggings.

Get colorful coordinates (shirts, shoes, wraps, sweaters) that contrast with the main color

stack of colorful clothes

This is where my fun colors come in. I usually pick bright jewel tones or patterned shirts to go with my black clothes. Since all my pants and jackets are black, I can mix and match any of my shirts with any of my other clothes.

Pack your most comfortable pair of stretchy jeans

stretchy jeans

According to Levis, you should only wash your jeans once every 10 uses! I can’t make myself do this. But they certainly do not need to be washed after each use. I find jeans the most versatile things in my luggage.

I usually wear these on the plane. Don’t be taken in my photos showing you loose pants and cool jackets etc for wearing on the plane. If you can’t wear it on the streets during your travel, it doesn’t get put into your suitcase.

Instead opt for your stretchy jeans, one of your colorful shirts, your walking shoes, compression socks, and a wrap like this one. Not only does wearing your jeans keep you comfortable and save room in your suitcase, but you now have something that can be worn again.

Pack one bra for every two days

I’ve heard stories about women wearing the same bra for a week. I would not recommend that. But while you are traveling, you could wear a bra twice.

Unless you are going somewhere hot, you can usually either re-wear your bra for another day or wash it in the sink. For this reason, consider light bras without padding as they dry faster. I’m linking to my favorite, fast dry travel bras.

Now choose two pairs of panties for each bra so you can have a fresh pair daily. So if you have taken my advice and packed with 5-6 days in mind, you will have 3 pairs of bras and 6 panties. Of these, you will be wearing one set on the plane.

Lightweight Pajams with one top + two bottoms

Pajamas in bed

Since you will be doing laundry, you only need to cater for 5 or so days. This is what works for me.

First, I only pack lightweight, wrinkle-free pajamas. I shower before going to bed each night, which keeps my PJs clean longer, and helps me wash off the day’s grime.

I also get one top and two bottoms for each set of PJs. Toward the end of the 5 days, I sometimes wear camisoles or comfy t-shirts for the tops.

Without these steps, you will be packing 3 sets of PJs which take up a crazy amount of space.

Or you know, just sleep naked 😀 The ultimate pack light tip!

Undershirts are your friends

For men, carrying 4-5 lightweight undershirts and for women, 2-3 camisoles, can not only help you layer and stay warmer but they also help you get an additional day out of your shirts if you need that.

Buy fast-drying undershirts. This isn’t the time to insist on all-cotton next to your pampered skin. I use these lightweight camisoles for travel. They also double as great pajama tops at night.

Although I have no personal experience of these undershirts for men, I hear these are fantastic for travel undershirts.

Buy light shoes

I wear these comfortable, lightweight packable shoes on the plane as they also double. up for walking shoes. Here is the link for the equivalent men’s travel shoes.

For everyday use, I love my Tieks. They make great city walking shoes, they fold up into nothing, and they provide excellent support for my arthritis-ridden joints.

Trust me when I tell you, you do not need more than 2 pairs of shoes. Especially if you’ve taken my advice about Choosing one major base color (black, brown/khaki, or navy), then all you have to do is ensure your shoes match that color. 

Pack one outfit for each day, plus one dress

white shirt jeans and red shoes

One outfit per day. Seriously. I will allow you one extra shirt just in case you spill something. But there is no reason to carry multiple outfits per day “just in case”.

I literally lay out my clothes on my bed, and start planning what I will wear on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Of course, I don’t wear exactly that once I travel, but the exercise forces me to ensure that I have one outfit per day and no more.

This is one of the biggest mistakes that novice packers make. They take half their wardrobe for a week’s trip “just in case”. Just in case what?? That you end up changing clothes 3 times a day?

Do you change your clothes 3 times a day when you’re at home? Are you going on a fashion trip? If not, you don’t need 3 outfits a day.

Carry a multipurpose travel wrap

This is the travel wrap that I love. I use it as a blanket to cover myself from head to toe, or to put around my husband and me when we are seated in a plane.

I use it as a scarf or a wrap over a light dress when it gets cold. When we travel to India, I use it as a head covering before entering temples. Out of respect, in holy places in India, you want your head covered, and no bare legs or shoulders. This is true for both men and women by the way. So if you’re traveling to India, men may want to bring a cap or hat along on temple tours. 

It also folds into nothing in my carry-on tote as well as my day pack

Use packing cubes

eagle creek specter packing cubes

I need you to not argue with me on the necessity of packing cubes.

This is one of those things you think, I don’t really need that. I’ll never use it. You. do need them. You WILL use them.

I bought a set of packing cubes 8 years ago. I haven’t taken a SINGLE trip without them since. And btw, they’re still as good as the day I bought them. They last forever and are a totally worthwhile investment.

Here are some of the advantages of packing cubes.

They allow you to organize your clothes and make living out of a suitcase easy. I pack pants in one cube, tops in another. My underwear, socks, and pajamas go into a compression stuff sack. My makeup and pills go into another smaller sack. And I’m done. This also keeps me from losing things because I don’t unpack everything at every stop.

You can indeed carry more with a cube because not only do they force you to fold your clothes carefully, but they also compress your clothes down to a smaller size, allowing you to carry more. 

For reference, I am a size 6-8 and I use a small packing envelope. My husband who has huge shoulders and wears an XL in t-shirts, uses a medium compression packing envelope

I also use this lightweight toiletry organizer to hold all my wires and batteries.

Leave your fancy hangbag at home

Handbag with contents spilling out

This is not the time to impress your friends with your taste in handbags. Your handbag is going to be on airport floors and on trains and buses. You want something sturdy, washable (trust me on this one), secure, large enough to hold a tablet and your phone, and something you can stuff inside your backpack or other carry-on luggage

I like Baggalini handbags and this is my current favorite lightweight, washable travel handbag. It comfortably holds my passports, tickets, wallet, pens, medications, iPad mini, iPhone, and a host of other things. 

Use a crushable, washable, lightweight tote as your carry-on

I have several expensive leather totes that I used to use for work. But if you weigh those, you’ll realize you are carrying a couple of pounds or more just in the bag alone! 

I have since moved to this type of crushable, lightweight, washable travel tote that is excellent as my second carry-on bag.

I stuff my purse inside this bag when I’m boarding, which allows me to carry on just this bag and the suitcase.

As you choose a carry-on tote, be sure that it is washable, lightweight, can be crushed into smaller spaces, and most importantly—that it has a strap at the bottom that you can hook on to your suitcase. 

This is very important! It is so much easier to tote around a bag when it sits securely on the suitcase. 

 I also like a lightweight backpack like this, because it can also double as my day pack as I go on daily trips. You want something large enough to hold everything including a water bottle. 

Another option is a travel tote that fits on top of your suitcase. This is less versatile than a tote bag or backpack, but a lot more masculine than my red travel tote 😀 It’s also extremely secure even as you’re running across a large airport, and balances well on the suitcase. 

Use a lightweight spinner suitcase

This isn’t a lightweight packing tip per se, but I’ve spent a lot of time shopping for suitcases. Over the last 20 years of being a road warrior, I’ve had expensive suitcases, mainstream brands, and inexpensive brands.

I’ve come to realize that price isn’t always associated with either durability nor with good design. Too many expensive suitcases have a massive space in the middle that is taken up by the retracting handle, making it virtually unusable for packing. 

I’ve also realized that spinner suitcases are so much easier to haul across airports, and this is not something to be ignored. When you disembark, tired, jet-lagged, and in a hurry to get to the very front of the customs line immediately (you don’t? Just me then? Oh ok), fighting with your bag is the last thing you want to do.

Bags that spin on all four wheels are much easier to pull across an airport. When I have a Rheumatoid Arthritis flareup, I need to be able to use my bag as a de facto cane so it needs to be sturdy.

The last thing I want is a heavy bag which I then have to haul. I got into the habit of walking into luggage stores and just lifting every bag with a few fingers before even looking at the design. Heavy bags are not sturdier. They don’t last longer, in my experience They’re just..heavier. 

Over the last 8 years, I have found that TravelPro makes the best, lightweight, sturdy travel bags and so that is what we use. This lightweight, durable carry-on has traveled tens of thousands of miles with me, and is still holding up very well.

Keep in mind that not checking in bags also makes them last longer. So learning how to pack light for international trips will also help you save on suitcases in the long run. 

Also, note that regulations for carry-ons are different for domestic and some international flights. The 21-inch suitcase I linked to satisfies most.

If your airline asks for a 19-inch suitcase, you can use the one I link to, but note that this one will only hold 4-5 days of clothes. In this case, you want the largest tote bag you can get to carry your overflow items. 

Final packing list

  • 2 pairs of black pants (add 2 pairs of khakis in slightly different colors for men)
  • 1 pair of comfortable stretchy jeans
  • 1 black skirt (women) extra set of jeans (men)
  • 1 black sweater/jacket
  • 1 pair of black leggings (women) stretchy pants (men)
  • 5 colorful/coordinating tops or shirts
  • 1 wrinkle-free dress
  • 1 travel wrap
  • 3 bras & 6 matching panties; 5-6 underwear for men
  • 3-4 pairs of socks. Make one pair these compression socks
  • 2 camisoles (women) 4 undershirts (men)
  • 1 pair of walking shoes like tennis shoes
  • 1 pair of nicer shoes ( I like Tieks)
  • 1 set of pajamas + one additional pajama bottom

I will write a separate post on the types of medications and other things I usually take.

So those are my best travel packing tips to help you travel internationally with only carry-on luggage. I know it sounds like a lot, but I’ve provided a handy checklist that breaks it down for you.

Did we miss any of your favorite travel packing tips? Let us know in the comments!

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