How to pack smart

Packing smart really means packing light and taking less.

Below are some useful packing tips gathered from REI Adventures staff and other travel experts. Be sure to see the checklist that follows.

Items You Should Always Carry On

Luggage can get delayed or lost. So be sure to keep these essentials in your carry-on bag:

  • Passport
  • Money
  • Eyewear
  • Medications
  • Change of clothing
  • Hiking footwear (for adventure travel trips)

Clothing Tips

  • Think layering. Pack only versatile layers that mix and match and provide insulation, ventilation and/or weather protection.
  • Before your trip, make sure your outer layer fits easily over your inner layer(s) without binding or bunching up.
  • Cotton can be fine in warm weather; but once wet, it drains your body heat. Synthetic fabrics are recommended; they wrinkle less and dry faster.
  • For 1 week or longer trips, plan on doing laundry rather than packing additional clothes.
  • Stick to 1 or 2 colors that mix and match well.
  • Dark colors look cleaner longer than light colors.
  • Men: A polo shirt is dressier than a tee and is easily layered.

Footwear Tips

  • Trail-running shoes offer maximum versatility (good for hiking, walking or running).
  • Stuff items inside shoes to consolidate space.
  • Pack shoes together in opposite directions and secure with rubber bands.
  • Use your socks as padding for sunglasses or electronic items.
  • Put shoes in a plastic bag (or cloth shoe bag) to keep dirt off of your clothes.
  • Going hiking? Make sure your boots are broken in beforehand to help reduce blisters. Other tips:
    • Bring moleskin or other blister treatments.
    • Wear thin liner socks under your regular hiking socks (test these prior to your trip to make they're comfortable).

Personal Items

  • Bring prescription and over-the-counter medications as needed. These can be hard to find and expensive in other countries.
  • Carry-on travelers can avoid liquids and gels by taking toothpowder not toothpaste, bar soap shampoo, antiseptic towelettes, solid deodorant and solid sunscreen.
  • Bring a towel for budget lodgings that may not have towels. A high-viscose "multi-towel" is lighter and dries faster than a cotton towel.

Checkpoint-friendly Laptop Bags

Checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) allows laptops to remain in bags that meet "checkpoint friendly" guidelines. Not all laptop bags are "checkpoint friendly."

A checkpoint-friendly design is one that provides an unobstructed image of the laptop when undergoing X-ray screening. This helps to streamline the security process and better protect your laptop.

Purchasing one of these bags doesn't guarantee that you can leave your laptop in your bag for screening. If the TSA finds your bag doesn't present a clear, distinct image of the laptop, it will be screened separately. The TSA does not endorse any bag design or manufacturer.

Tips for using a "checkpoint friendly" laptop bag:

  • Make sure there is nothing in the laptop compartment other than the laptop.
  • Completely unfold the bag so there is nothing above or below the laptop-only section
  • Place the bag so it lies flat on the X-ray belt.

Laptop bag styles

TSA-recognized Baggage Locks

TSA recognized lock

Though the TSA electronically screens all baggage, there are times when they need to physically examine a piece of luggage. Avoid having your luggage lock cut by using only locks that are "TSA recognized." These locks can be opened by security officers using universal master keys or codes without damaging the lock.

Tips on Electronics

  • Before leaving home, check with your cell phone provider about coverage and charges. Consider upgrading to an international plan for your trip.
  • It is important is to take the right converter and adapter. A converter changes the current. An adapter lets American plugs fit foreign outlets. See the REI Expert Advice article, World Electricity Guide, for details.
  • Carry-on digital cameras and image storage cards, while not harmed by x-rays, should be carried on rather than checked.
  • Label your electronics (e.g., computer or camera) to avoid mix-ups if they get lost.
  • Keep a list of serial numbers with you and at home for insurance purposes in case of theft.

Special Instructions for Batteries

  • You may travel with dry batteries (AAA, AA, C, D) in your carry-on or checked luggage.
  • Loose lithium batteries are NOT allowed in your checked luggage per the FAA.
  • Wet or spillable batteries (e.g., car batteries) are not allowed in either checked or carry-on luggage.
  • Keep batteries in the original packaging to prevent activation or short-circuiting, or place tape over the terminals.
  • Do not let a loose battery come in contact with metal objects like coins, jewelry or keys.

Tips for Adventure Travelers

  • Stuff sacks are a great way to sort your gear. Use different sizes and colors to differentiate contents.
  • Weatherproof your pack by bringing a daypack rain cover or using a small, sturdy garbage bag as a pack liner.

Packing Smart Checklist

Your packing needs will vary by your trip destination, duration and personal comfort level, so vary this checklist accordingly.

Clothing/Footwear

  • 2 to 5 shirts
  • 1 or 2 long-sleeve shirts
  • Lightweight, micro-fleece jacket
  • Lightweight, water-resistant jacket with hood
  • 2 pairs of lightweight, quick-drying pants
  • Belt
  • Swimsuit
  • 3 to 5 pairs of quick-drying underwear
  • 3 to 5 pairs of socks
  • Shoes (see tips)
  • Sandals for warm climates
  • Hat (to block the sun/rain or keep you warm)

Women's Considerations

  • A long skirt (a reversible skirt adds versatility)
  • Sarong or shawl (doubles as a skirt or dress)
  • Black dress that can be dressed up or down
  • A head covering, especially for Islamic countries
  • A belt or scarf to accessorize
  • Sanitary products
  • Makeup

Children's Considerations

  • Clothing (see adults' list)
  • Diapers
  • Baby food and/or formula
  • Small spoon
  • Medicine (in original containers)
  • Snacks
  • Soap
  • Baby shampoo (works for adults, too)
  • Bib
  • Favorite toys, games and/or books
  • Baby wipes
  • Pajamas
  • Swimming suit(s)

Personal Items

  • Passport
  • Money
  • Eyewear
  • Prescription and OTC medications
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Razor
  • Small scissors
  • Comb or brush
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Small first-aid kit

Other Considerations

  • High-viscose towel and washcloth
  • Water bottle (collapsible is best; keep empty for airport security)
  • Water treatment system (purifier or tablets)
  • Sleeping bag liner (required at most hostels)
  • Insect repellent
  • Alarm clock (or use your wristwatch or cell phone)
  • Student ID for student discounts
  • Earplugs
  • Hair dryer (check with your hotel first)
  • Nail clippers, file and tweezers
  • Toilet paper or tissue
  • Baby wipes (to freshen up)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Flip-flops (for the shower or beach)
  • Maps
  • E-reader or books
  • Clothesline (avoids drying clothing over lamps or chairs)
  • Rubber sink stopper (for doing laundry in sinks)
  • Soap for laundry (available in bars or tablets)
  • Nightshirt or workout suit (for going down the hall)
  • Duct tape
  • Address list (for sending postcards)
  • Sewing kit
  • Collapsible umbrella
  • Small pack for short day trips
  • Carabiner (to hang items from your pack)
  • Plastic zip bags
  • Compass

Electronics

These are best placed in your carry-on or personal bag. Remember: The less you bring, the less you have to worry about losing or having stolen.

  • Cell phone with charger
  • Camera with media-storage device and charger
  • MP3 player with charger
  • Laptop (or simply rely on internet cafes)
  • Calculator (a feature of many cell phones)
  • Lanyard (for your camera or cell phone)
  • Adapter (lets American plugs fit international outlets)
  • Converter (converts convert to electronic devices; for example, 110V on American devices to 220V common on European devices)