Essential Packing Tips for International Travel – What You Need to Know in 2021

Did you know that only 36% of Americans have a passport?

This means there are an awful lot of people out there who have never traveled to a foreign country.

And the chances are that most of them won’t have a clue about what to pack even if and when they do.

But fear not, for if you’ve never taken a vacation abroad, or even if you’re a seasoned multi-country backpacker, these packing tips for international travel are for you.

There’s a lot of things to remember when you leave your own country – especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

So, read on and discover the who, what, where, when, and how of packing like the professionals for international travel.

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The Basics of Packing for International Travel

Passports, Visas, and Travel Insurance

Yes, about that passport statistic. It’s about time it changed.

As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I think in this day and age there are a lot of people that should be taking a trip abroad.

It’s always useful to have a passport because even if you’re not a frequent flyer, you never know when you might want or need to visit pastures new.

But let’s assume you have one already, and you’re looking at exciting destinations to visit.

First of all, it’s important to make sure it’s valid for at least six months from the date of your departure. There are countries that won’t let you in if your passport is close to its expiry date.

For entry requirements, It’s highly likely that you’ll need a visa to visit your destination of choice, so make sure you check directly on that country’s immigration web page to see what is required.

This should be done well in advance of the date of travel, and all necessary fees paid. If a visa is needed, do not leave your home country unless you have it in your possession.

Make a few color photocopies of your passport and visa – and keep digital versions on your laptop, smartphone or tablet.

Also, print a copy of your travel insurance documents. Travel insurance isn’t compulsory but is highly recommended – especially if you belong to the older generations, if you’re going somewhere with an element of risk, or you’ll be participating in winter sports.

So, if you’re over 75 and you’re going base jumping in Afghanistan, it’s essential.


You should keep all of these important documents together, in a safe and secure place, and I would suggest a pocket that’s close to hand in one of these ideal carry-on luggage solutions.

Keep any travel tickets in the same place – just be organized about it. Picking up a dedicated document/ticket wallet is a very good idea.

man sitting in airport

Never check-in essential items, it might go without saying but you’ll be surprised how many people forget.

Unless you’re moving home, you don’t need a mammoth suitcase. I’ve known long-term travelers who have been on the road for over eight years just with a 65-liter hiking backpack.

Travel as light as possible – it will make your experience a lot less stressful. Remember that you can do laundry in other countries, too. This is one of the best international packing tips but is often overlooked.

Another stress-busting tip is if you pick up one of these luggage trackers. Human error is a thing and your belongings can and do go missing from time to time.

There’s no need to get in a twist about it, especially if you’re keeping tabs on where your luggage is at all times. Even if it does go missing, it’s not going to be too much of a headache to track it down.

Oh, and for even LESS STRESS when traveling abroad (or even on domestic flights) everyone should have a portable luggage scale.

Literally, millions of dollars in avoidable fees are lost down the drain every year due to overweight bags.

It is, therefore, a very good idea to learn the luggage regulations of the airline you’re going to be traveling with – just for your own peace of mind – and wallet.


The internet is awash with great swathes of travel articles telling you what you should and should not pack when it comes to clothing.

I’m not going to do that here, but have a look at this article about what to pack for solo travel for more information.

The most important thing is that you learn how to pack smart and appropriately for the country your visiting and its weather conditions.

It’s a good idea to write a list beforehand, so you can get it clear in your head and make the process much easier. Remember – you don’t need nearly as much as you think you do.

Bring clothes that you can mix and match. Having a single outfit for each day is a recipe for disaster. And get used to layering – which is practical at any time of year.

Instead of folding your clothes, use the rolling technique. This is one of the best travel packing tips there is. Roll them as tightly as you can before placing them in your backpack or suitcase.

You’ll use all the available space much more efficiently, while at the same time your clothes will be less likely to be all creased up when you take them out at the other end.

Having a good packable down jacket is a great clothing solution to give you more room in your luggage and keep you warm when you need it.

Try to make use of “dead space” in your luggage, too. Fill shoes with smaller items, put things in pockets, try to be as practical and efficient as possible with how much room you have at your disposal.

And for the love of all things holy, invest in some packing cubes to help keep your luggage organized.

There’s nothing worse than having to rummage around trying to locate something when the contents of your bags have been displaced during transit.

bag with passport

Bring a microfiber towel with you. They’re much more compact and dry super-fast. Of course, if you’re staying in a hotel, towels should be provided so you don’t need to worry.

Have one set of clothing for your travel days – when you set off and when you return home. It’ll save loads of space and nobody cares what you look like on an airplane anyway – so you shouldn’t either.

Just make sure you’re prepared for the weather conditions at the other end.

Also, something that’s often overlooked, is how to dress appropriately for the country you’re going to be visiting.

It’s well worth checking up on this, as you don’t want to cause offense by showing too much skin or if you need to have your hair covered in a more conservative environment.

In summary, remember the golden clothing packing rule. Lay out everything you think you will need and then half it.

Then half it again.

More Things to Keep in Mind


It’s very important that you adhere to the rules and regulations of the airline you’re flying with when it comes to what you can and can’t carry-on in your toiletries bag.

Generally speaking, any liquids over 3.4 fluid ounces should be in your checked baggage. If you’re in any doubt at all it’s best to check liquids in – I’ve learned that the hard way on a few occasions and lost expensive toiletries at security.

Any liquids in your carry-on luggage should be in the right-sized toiletry bottle. Have a look at these travel toiletry bottles that have all been approved for foreign and domestic flights. This will give you an idea of what you need to pack.

Try not to buy those travel-sized toiletries – they’re such a waste of single-use plastics and a con. Reusable tubes and bottles are the way forward. You can always decant your toothpaste, shower gels or other liquids from bottles and tubes at home.

While you’re at it, there are some gorgeous toiletry bags out there, so maybe it’s time for an upgrade – especially if it’s your first time abroad or you haven’t been traveling for a while.

As for the contents of your new wash bag, keep it light, simple, and only the essentials.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, antiperspirant, lip balm, hair product, and any makeup or feminine hygiene products if applicable.

Medication is safe for travel and should be packed where you can get easy access to it if required. If you’re doing anything adventurous it might be a good idea to include a travel first aid kit, too.

Bring sunscreen if you’re going somewhere even remotely hot – that’s the one item that is cheaper to buy at home than it is when you’re on the road. Sunscreen prices can be extortionate.

Don’t overload yourself – remember that you’re not going to another planet. Most countries will have similar products to those you can get at home – especially if you’re going to Europe.

Hotels will have complimentary shower gels and shampoos. If you’re staying in hostels, people leave all sorts of stuff behind in the lost property bins.

Keep your toiletries as light as possible and cut down on unnecessary waste.

Electrical Devices

I don’t know about you, but I need noise-canceling headphones when I travel. They’re extremely useful to shut out invasive chatter, engine noise, and traffic.

Use them in conjunction with your smartphone, tablet or laptop. But only bring what you’re genuinely going to need.

electronics being charged

For example, if you’re a keen photographer, you should be packing one of these compact travel cameras to shoot the best pictures without taking up the space of an expensive DSLR.

But if that’s not your bag – your phone camera will surely do. There’s no need to overload yourself with electrical tech.

There are around 15-20 different plug sockets in use in the world today, so an essential packing item is a universal adapter so you can keep your devices juiced when you’re abroad.

Make sure you’re getting one that covers the country you’re actually going to. An all-in-one adapter that at least covers Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia/New Zealand should do.

You don’t really need a power converter as these days most chargeable electronics are dual voltage – meaning they can be plugged in both in the states (110V) and in much of the rest of the world (240V).

But leave the hair-dryer at home. Your accommodation will most likely have access to one should you require it. And you certainly don’t need that coffee maker…

Keep all of your wires, SD cards, pen drives, cables, and other accessories handy in a good electronic organizer. Even the pros get caught out sometimes with a pocket full of a frustratingly tangled mess.

Speaking of the pros, more and more travelers seem to be packing a good quality power bank, so that even if you do run out of battery at an inopportune moment, you’ve got a solid backup to keep you connected.

a map and computer on table

Still, make sure to charge all your electrical devices before you embark – and switch the phone to airplane mode before you take-off.

Otherwise, you’ll risk freaking out the seriously nervous flyer that might be sitting next to you. Which might actually be me.


I would heartily recommend you get yourself an international prepaid credit or debit card for use when you’re traveling to foreign shores.

You simply load it online with however much cash you’ll need at a given time. You can then use it at foreign ATMs, shops, and restaurants without being charged a small fortune in bank fees.

You also get a decent exchange rate and you’re a lot less likely to get ripped off – so your money goes even further.

And if you practice only keeping a small amount loaded on the card (just what you need for the day), there’s another big bonus. If it ever does get stolen, they’re in for a nasty shock when they can only lift a minuscule sum.

I’m speaking from a lot of experience here.

Always keep some a couple of hundred bucks stashed away somewhere for emergencies. You never know when you might need some cold, hard dollars when you’re on the road.

Whatever you do, don’t keep all your cards and cash in one place. Spread them out in various pockets and compartments throughout your clothing, luggage, and belongings.

Using a money clip or belt is a good idea, too. This is especially useful if you’re exploring crowded cities, or anywhere there might be a high pickpocket risk.


While we’re on the subject of theft, whether you’re traveling internationally or not (or even simply staying at home) there is always a chance you can be a victim of petty crime.

One of the best packing tips for traveling is to keep your valuables in something that is going to deter would-be thieves.

Try one of these anti-theft backpacks to help keep your belongings YOUR BELONGINGS. Or, if you prefer, check out these anti-theft purses that are great for everyday carry regardless if you’re traveling or not.

cross-body travel purse for women

If you’re out and about exploring a new city, you might want to wear a travel jacket or pants that have hidden pockets.

But if – in the worst-case scenario – something unsavory does happen to you on the road, have a look at this article on travel emergencies so you know how to handle the situation.

This section isn’t meant to put the fear of God into you – it is merely some cautionary advice to keep you and your stuff safe.

For more travel safety info, feel free to download my eBook – which is packed with loads of tips and tricks for staying safe when traveling solo.

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Get 50 Solo Travel Safety Tips eBook for FREE

No more reading loads of posts about solo traveler safety. Get your 50 point safety list in one eBook. Be ready, stay safe!

Miscellaneous Travel Packing Tips and Tricks

The first things you need to pack before any clothing, electronics or toiletries – are your travel documents. Put them in a secure pocket, close to hand in your carry-on luggage.

If you’re staying in hostels, earplugs are essential. An eye mask is a very good idea, too.

Use zip-lock bags for small items to keep things organized.

If you’re going to be on the road for a while, pack a cloth laundry bag. It’ll help you keep your dirty and clean clothes separate. One of those reusable supermarket bags is ideal.

Bring a decent water bottle, and take it EVERYWHERE with you. Nobody should be buying plastic bottles of water unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Put a dryer sheet in with your clothes – it’s a great hack for keeping your gear smelling fresh and it won’t take up any space. This is particularly useful if you’re going on the road for a while and you want to avoid those musky aromas.

Never pack something “just in case.” You’ll never, ever need it.

Don’t forget to leave some space in your luggage for anything you might want to pick up on your travels. Souvenirs, gifts for friends and family, stray dogs you’ve found on the street…


Travel is life.

Get out there and explore the world before it’s too late – and it’ll only be too late when you’re dead.

You’re never too old!

Armed with these packing tips for international travel, you’ll be a confident, experienced globetrotter in no time.

If you need any more advice, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments, or if you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions of your own.

I wish you the very best of luck, eternally neat packing, and long and happy travels!

ebook cover 3d

Get 50 Solo Travel Safety Tips eBook for FREE

No more reading loads of posts about solo traveler safety. Get your 50 point safety list in one eBook. Be ready, stay safe!

Karlis Kikuts

Karlis Kikuts

Coffee addict. Digital nomad. Solo traveler and blogger. Camping and hammocking enthusiast. Tiny book worm. In other words, the guy behind