Packing for an international trip is one of the most subjective and stressful parts of taking a vacation. Some people will have their bags packed a week before the trip, and others will be panicking and packing 3 hours before their flight. Some travelers can live out of a backpack, while others need to bring two suitcases, a carry-on, and a stuffed backpack. 

Whatever your packing style and personal needs, nothing is worse than forgetting essential items for a trip, so read on for my suggestions of items to bring with you on your next vacation or business trip. My list covers important things from SPF protection options to medical items. I have included a couple of affiliate links to Amazon products I’ve tried for my trips. This list is slightly tailored for women but men will still find useful ideas as well!

1. SPF Protection – No one wants to become a living lobster during their trip. Not only is sunburn painful, but it can also increase your risk of skin cancer and skin damage! I have super fair skin, so I try to protect myself from the sun’s harmful rays and use a combination of SPF-rated clothing, a sunhat, sunscreen, and sometimes sunglasses. If I can, I also try to do my exploring before or after 10am to 2pm, but when that isn’t possible, I do my best to protect my skin. Since sunscreen alone doesn’t seem to protect me, I recently invested in a Coolibar SPF jacket that I can take off if I want to snap a cute picture, and can wear when I’m not going to be in the photos.

2. Clothes – This is a no-brainer, but you have to make an important choice. If you decide you want to pack light and only bring a couple of outfits, you’ll need to wash and dry them in your room or find a washing machine. In Japan, I was usually able to find a laundromat or in-hotel washing machine easily, but in the European Countries I’ve visited so far, it was hard or impossible to track down a laundromat. If finding somewhere to wash your clothes isn’t an option, if you don’t want to use a hotel’s laundry service, or if you just don’t want to concern yourself with washing clothes during a vacation, then you will need to bring enough outfits to last the entire trip.  Your choice will determine how much your luggage weighs.

I also recommend bringing more underwear than you think you’ll need, and at least one extra outfit in case one gets ruined. You might also want to consider bringing one fancier outfit in case you end up going somewhere that requires something less casual. It’s also vital to bring proper shoes for planned activities.

4. Trash/Plastic Bags – I always bring trash bags to store my dirty laundry and keep it separate from my clean clothes. I also learned during our honeymoon that you should always stuff a plastic bag or two in your backpack or purse, whichever you will always have closest to you, for the following reason.. 

When my husband got food poisoning, we had to keep traveling on the tour bus with everyone else to get to our next destination–staying behind or going ahead weren’t feasible options. I had to see if anyone had plastic bags and then I had to buy even more plastic bags at a store so that my husband had something to throw up in. If I had had enough plastic bags on me to begin with, then there would have been less scrambling around to track some down.

5. Important Documents – It’s good to keep copies of some important documents with you. You should have a copy of your passport in a safe place in case your passport is stolen, so that you can show the paper copy to your embassy when getting a replacement. 

I used to always keep copies of all my credit cards, but I became afraid that if the paper copies ever fell into the wrong hands then someone would have a very expensive online shopping spree on my behalf. So I recently developed a new system: I created a Word document with a list of all my credit cards, their phone numbers, and the last four digits of all my account numbers. That way, if the document were to fall in the wrong hands, someone probably couldn’t do much harm with the list, and if my cards are ever stolen, I would have all the customer service numbers to call to report my cards missing.  

6. Toiletries – Another set of items to pack are your chosen toiletries. This is completely optional, since you could always buy them at a store at your destination if you want, or your hotel will usually have soap and shampoo. If you want to be eco-friendly, many travelers now share tips about items to bring, like shampoo bar soap instead of plastic travel-sized bottles of shampoos. Unfortunately, I always have to bring toiletries since I have skin allergies and need to be cautious not to use certain ingredients.

The most important items to think about or possibly pack are soap, shampoo, make-up, body lotion, lip balm, deodorant, and razors for shaving.

7. Electronic devices, chargers, power adapters, etc. – My life drastically improved when I started using a back-up battery–that has been a continual life-saver on trips when my cell phone battery gets low! You also don’t want to forget your chargers and any other electronic devices you want to bring. Research if you need plug adapters or power adapters and bring those on your trip, or get a universal plug adaptor. You might also want to rent and take along a wi-fi unit if you want to save on international phone plans and if you don’t feel confident buying a sim card or renting a phone abroad. 

8. Things for entertainment or personal fulfillment – Whether you want to download a season of a show in your Netflix app or whether you want to bring along your travel journal, make sure to have some things to do, in case you can’t sleep on the plane or if the bus ride gets boring. A book, a new music playlist, a coloring book…whatever will add to your happiness when there’s downtime.

9. Medicine, Bandaids, and Sanitation Items – As an anxious person and germaphobe, I am always worried about getting sick during vacation, or being far away from a pharmacy, so I try to be proactive with my supplies. Unfortunately, it means extra weight and space taken up in my luggage, but when I go abroad I like the comfort of knowing I have the items I need. I have gone to foreign pharmacies and although I’ve had good experiences (buying motion sickness gum in Greece), I’ve had stressful situations (having trouble finding cough drops in Japan–many of the store owners didn’t understand what I was looking for).

These are some of the common items to bring or take into consideration:

  • Pain relievers for headaches or muscle problems;
  • Any medication, vitamins, and supplements you’re currently taking;
  • Eye drops;
  • Electrolytes; (I personally will pack these from now on. After my husband had food poisoning, some nurses on our tour suggested buying these as well as let us try some!)
  • Emergen-C or Airborne;
  • Your preferred cold medicine, since it’s nice to have a box in case you get sick instead of trying to figure out the best medicine in a foreign land, especially if all the warning labels and instructions will be in another language;
  • Probiotics that don’t require refrigeration;
  • Preventative medicines like antibiotics, antacids, charcoal, and supplements that help in the event of urinary tract issues (like cranberry pills and/or D-Mannose);
  • Yeast infection antibiotics or a 3-day OTC treatment for a yeast infection;
  • Bandages and Neosporin, or a small first-aid kit;
  • Hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and baby wipes; (I use copious amounts of these items for sanitizing my space on the plane and even hotel rooms at times, and for killing germs on my hands.)
  • At least a few sanitary napkins or tampons. (It seems like sanitary napkins are easy to find most places, but if you like using tampons, they can be harder to find in some countries. Having at least a few of these items handy saves you if Aunt Flo comes early.)

I hope this list has helped you figure out some things you might need for your next trip or something you forgot to pack right now. Think I missed something? Comment below with your best tips for fellow travelers!

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Kara Paul

Travel & Lifestyle Blogger. I'm a wife 💍, explorer🗺, writer👩‍💻, and globetrotter🌍.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Terri

    This is super helpful! Especially the tip about bringing along preventative medicines – I often forget things like antacids and only remember when it’s too late and I’m curled up in a ball of gastric distress 😂 I also recommend packing some small snacks, like dried fruit or nuts, just in case you get stuck somewhere without nearby food sources!

    1. kpaul92

      Yes! Snacks are good! The problem is buying the right snack. I often buy a little trail mix since it’s the “right” thing to get. But guess what? I often end up with a bag of trail mix that traveled the world and returned home with me! xD So people should buy snacks they like, haha.

  2. Amy Tull

    Great ideas here. Be careful about the plastic bags though. Several countries are outlawing them. We now bring cloth or paper bags for our laundry.

    1. kpaul92

      Thank you, good point! I’m not sure what to do about spare bags for food poisoning, but I’m definitely considering cloth bags for my laundry and general organization now!

  3. Merryl

    This is soo helpful! going to refer to this while making my packing list soon!

  4. Natalie

    Love these tips, especially the one about a backup battery!

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