I’ve been traveling between the US and Europe for over a decade and have learned the hard way what works for me on long international trips. The first time I traveled to Europe I had two checked bags, a rolling carry-on, and an overflowing tote bag. I should never say this out loud, but I was so clueless that I even packed…hot rollers. I dumped the hot rollers in the trash after my first country (Switzerland) and then two pairs of shoes were intentionally left in a hotel room in Rome. Slowly but surely through my six-week trip, I dropped thirty pounds of baggage – twenty from my luggage reduction and ten from schlepping my enormous luggage up stairs, through train stations, and down cobblestone streets.
I’ve come a long way over the years. Now I hardly ever lose weight when traveling – ba-dum-dum! But I’ve also learned a lot about packing for a long international trip. Now when I travel I check one bag that is only 50% full, including a smaller foldable bag inside in which I can pack my treasures to check on the way home. Yes, now I acquire more than I throw away – oops. Somehow it all balances out at home but my new system makes for a MUCH more enjoyable trip.
Ten Things to Consider When Traveling Internationally.
Some of the things I’ve learned over the years are pretty well known by world travelers: Roll your clothes instead of folding them, reduce your toiletries to the little fill-up bottles as much as possible, and keep at least one day of essentials with you on the plane. But then there are the secret tidbits that only a girly-girl who has traveled to almost 50 countries would know. Let me share a few of those with you:
- What to Pack: Clothing. Pack monochromatically. Black is a good basic but you could use white, cream, tan, or chocolate as a base. Color should be used as accents – scarves, a jacket, a pair of shoes, jewelry.
Try to pack things that can be layered and that can dress up or down. This doesn’t mean that your look should be boring. No. It should be curated.
A sample fall wardrobe might include some of my standbys for traveling, pictured here:
Black boots, black open toe sandal boots, black sneakers. Mid-calf sleeveless black dress, knee-length black shift dress, and knee-length black/white long sleeve dress. Denim jeans, black leggings, black halter jumpsuit, and 2 pairs of black tights. One workout outfit in which the pieces could double as layers under other clothes (long black tights and black tank, for example), long lightweight duster coat, leather jacket, two large scarves, 2 pairs of sunglasses (black and funky), black long sleeve t-shirt, and white tank top.
- What to pack: Necessities. Pack a mini bottle of Woolite to hand wash undergarments and use samples of moisturizer, cleanser etc. as much as possible. Get a portable luggage scale to make sure you are meeting airline guidelines especially if you are taking small planes with varying requirements. Buy TSA locks and use them on both checked and carry-on luggage. I also pack a small travel candle and matches, flip-flops to wear in hotels, a corkscrew, an emergency protein bar, hand wipes, tape to tape down bottles (so that they don’t open and spill with air pressure on planes), a laundry bag to separate dirty clothes, shoe bags, lingerie bags, plastic zip bags for delicate things, and band aids/moleskin.
- What not to bring. Bags are my downfall and I will admit that I bring too many. Always. Don’t be like me and instead only bring three: 1) a tote large enough to carry toiletries, an iPad or laptop, and basics on the plane, 2) Bring a crossbody for daytime, and 3) a clutch for night. This should be all you need! I, however, usually bring 2-3 more bags that I never use. But, I tell myself this helps me avoid making purchases of bags on the trip. It does not. but if you must pack extra bags, make the use of the space. Put jewelry rolls, socks, toiletries and other small items inside bags and shoes to save space.
- What to Wear on the Plane. Personally, I would never wear jeans on a long flight because they are too constricting. I wear leggings with a loose top/t-shirt and a great jacket and shoes, with a large scarf. The jacket and shoes come off on the plane and the scarf goes from tied loosely around my neck to turning into a light blanket that I put around me like a shawl. If you bring a hat, you will have to wear it on the plane unless it is crushable. Sample airplane outfit from the above: black leggings and black ankle boots, black t-shirt, leather jacket, big colorful scarf, and hat.
- What Not to Do on the Plane. Even though my shoes come off and my socks go on immediately upon boarding – please do not – I repeat do not – go barefoot on the plane. I don’t want to see anyone’s disgusting hooves and I’m sure they don’t want to see mine. Plus, unsanitary. I literally remember every person I ever saw with their feet out, it scarred me that much. Keep your feet to yourself. And don’t bring smelly food. I just had to get that in.
- Wear your Best Stuff on the Plane. If you bring them, wear your designer bag, expensive jewelry, sunglasses, best jacket, etc. instead of packing them. You will feel better if these things are on you. But don’t bring a lot of expensive jewelry – you will just worry when you leave it at the hotel.
- Books/magazines/other things “to-do”. Leave them at home. I’ve found they are a total waste of space. You will have plenty to do, including on the plane – I use international flights to catch up on the latest movies since the airlines offer so many onboard. If you must have your own entertainment, download an audiobook – which takes no extra space – to listen to as you fall off to sleep on the plane. Which brings me to…
- Sleep. There is nothing more important than sleeping on the plane. Go with this goal foremost in your mind and prep for it before you go so that you aren’t sitting on the plane wishing you had brought something that you didn’t know you would need. Sleeping meds are essential for me (I order a prescription from my doctor for flying, but I think OTC will work too). I would also get a sleep mask because even though the lights will go out at some point, there are always a few people reading with the overhead light on instead of sleeping. Usually, that person is seated next to me. Bring a sleep mask. The scarf that you wore on the plane can double as a blanket while using the airport blankets around your legs and feet. I like having my comfy, personal fabric around my face, but maybe that’s just me. Also, I don’t care if you are flying first class or not, buy a big bottle of water in the airport because you will want to hydrate constantly without trying to flag down a flight attendant for a baby cup of water in the middle of the night.
- Save time and space. Packing a hair dryer, curling irons, or god forbid hot rollers, takes a lot of space. You simply can’t travel with every comfort that you have at home. If you are like me, you think you need shampoo, conditioner, mousse or gel, oil/serum, maybe a hair mask, straightening or volume products – the list can go on and on. Even minimizing the products to travel size and bringing a tiny dryer still take a lot of space and you always risk those little bottles popping open and making a huge mess in the luggage (it’s always been a pesky hair product that has caused me consternation in the past). But my best and favorite tip of all is this: Plan to get blow-outs once or twice a week and save yourself from bringing hair appliances and products entirely. This is easier than it sounds. It won’t be difficult to find local salons in almost any place you travel,. I would suggest that you keep the services as basic as possible, like just a shampoo and dry. This is not the time to go for a whole new look, trust me on this.
- Bring gifts. This is something I started doing in the beginning because I was planning to visit friends during the trip. But since then I’ve found it useful to always have a couple of things to give away to friends, newfound friends, or as a thank you to especially gracious people I meet along the way. I usually bring something like American candy or peanut butter, which are not super easy to get everywhere outside the US. It’s best to bring things that are small or light like t-shirts or tank tops with cool graphics or a pair of earrings, for example. This may seem counter-intuitive to the “pack light” mantra, but remember that these items will be leaving your luggage along the way. That said, this list is not meant as a mandate but as a list of things I’ve learned and from which you can pick what works for you. Buon viaggio!!