Cathy’s Collection of Travel Tips – Packing it all in

Everyone who knows me knows I love to travel and have asked for travel tips and packing suggestions for their international trips. Here’s the travel sheet I send them. I’ve added items for both warm weather travel and cold weather travel. Many of these tips have been learned the hard way – I didn’t have what I needed on my trip and either couldn’t find it locally or it was outrageously expensive. I had several people tell me – “oh, just buy it when you get there.” And I could, but who wants to be in an exotic or exciting new locale and shop for the basics? Not me…..that is for sure.

When I first started internationally traveling in 1985, my suitcase was heavy, leather, and with no wheels. Ugh! For a few years after my first few trips, I used a foldable trolley to lug my suitcases (yes, more than one suitcase–crazy, I know!). Love the invention of wheeled suitcases and lighter material. And now, I’ve fallen for the four-wheeled variety over the two-wheeled suitcases because I can either push or pull it — and quickly.

I also realized I needed to pare down the multiple suitcases to one suitcase to check-in. For my carry-on, I’ve been using the same Tumi backpack since 1985! I’ve had it re-stitched and re-conditioned twice over the years and still prefer it for long flights. I really like having my hands free by wearing a backpack plus usually a small cross-body purse.
For those really long flights, I sometimes take a medium size tote in a nylon material with a zip top. I put my cross-body purse in it to meet the “two” items carry-on restriction plus my mini-ipad, a paperback book (doesn’t need charging!), chargers, a travel pillow, ID, medicine, a water bottle and emergency snacks. Both my backpack and the tote can fit under the seat in front of me or I can put the backpack in the overhead and keep the tote for easier access.

Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on (I put it in my backpack) when leaving the U.S. in case your luggage is delayed. I generally don’t bother with it on the way home.
Be sure to add an itinerary in the front pocket of check-in luggage that includes dates and lodging locations so if it is delayed they can figure out where to send it to in Europe. Take a photo of your luggage so you can describe it if it is delayed. I also have bright ribbon, wraps, locks, grips, and tags on my luggage tied to the top handle and side handle so I can easily spot it on the luggage carousel.

I also suggest scanning and then emailing to yourself: a copy of your passport, airline itinerary, hotel information, credit card phone numbers, etc., in case the “worst” happens and you lose them. And for those of you are don’t recall numbers because they are in your phone contacts, make a hard copy of critical ones in case you lose your phone. It’s difficult to phone anyone for help if you don’t remember their number…..

Now for THE LIST…(I’ve noted what is for carry-on. If not noted, then it is for checked luggage or your choice.)

1. Small flashlight (carry-on luggage) And yes, I know the phone has a flashlight however, it uses up precious battery life and it may be awhile to the next charging.
2. Carbiners (2-3, different sizes) (great for hooking items together or to your backpack)
3. Antiseptic wipes (3-4 small packets in carry-on)
4. Travel size kleenex (2-3 with at least 1 in carry-on)
5. Travel-size hand sanitizer (carry-on)
6. 3×5 index cards (4-6 cards) (1 card in carry-on for money
conversion table, notes or Celsius-Farenheight conversion)
7. Manila envelopes (1-2 different sizes.)
8. Plastic grocery bags (2-3) (throwaway type – especially good for wet clothing or
9. Quart & gallon size plastic baggies (1 of ea size in carry-on, several of
both sizes in checked luggage)
10. 1 kitchen garbage bag (check-in luggage, layer on bottom)
11. $50-100 USD (ones, fives, tens, twenties)
12. 50-200 worth of local currency [Travelex – can order online but has minimum of $250 or buy at mall. I order on-line from Bank of America which mails it to the house. It’s nice to have on hand for arrival so you don’t have to exchange money at airport fees.
12a. Two credit cards and an ATM/debit card. The ATM/debit card can be used for foreign currency.
13. Pair of old socks (throwaway) for plane ride (carry-on)
14. Pens (at least one clip-on in carry-on)
15. Clip-on book light (can also be used as flashlight)
16. Peel & stick address labels (1/2 page or so)
17. Extra camera battery, card and lens (and computer connector cord if you want to download photos as you go)
18. Coin purses (1 for euros/foreign currency, 1 for USD, 1 for pickpockets) Be sure to have one in your carry-on – lots of coins are given back as change and many currencies have the equivalent coin to $1, $5, $10 and even $20 coins)
19. 2 pair reading glasses/sunglasses if needed, (reading glasses in carry-on)
20. Magazines and at least 1 book (in case e-reader charge is low), 1 travel guide to tear apart/pocket info, download travel guide to ipad.
21. Small baggie of laundry detergent (double-bagged or pods)
22. Assortment of safety pins, travel-size duct tape
23. Small knife, small scissors & even a wine bottle opener (definitely NOT in carry-on)
24. Snacks plus buy water or fill a water bottle at the airport—sometimes it’s awhile before you get served on the plane.
25. Packable nylon shopping bag or two if you plan on grocery shopping.
26. Travel umbrella – automatic (if available, bring newspaper plastic bags—perfect size for wet umbrellas) I pack one that folds flat instead of round – easier packing. Get automatic open/close because you often only have one hand available to open it as you walk out of a door/building. If you are going to a windy place, be sure it is strong enough to not blow inside out or break.
27. Postcard(s) of home city (helps in conversations with locals you meet)
28. Travel pillow, travel blanket (brookstone has a nice one), eye mask, ear plugs and headphones (noise-cancelling if possible – eases the trip) (carry-on)
29. Electronic chargers and connector cords, one portable phone charger (one of each in carry-on)
30. Electric converter with country specific adaptor pieces (two types – sometimes one won’t fit into the plug or is too heavy; USB ports are nice to have on it too. (Caution: Have one in your carry-on luggage if you have a flight layover in a country with different current strength or are taking a connecting train.)
31. Lightweight jacket (to layer under the heavier jacket for warmth, or for inside
museums, shops, on the plane)
32. For cold climates: WARM (thigh length or calf length) Jacket with hood, gloves (gloves should be able to fit into the pockets), hat (headband/earmuffs optional), warm scarf, and sometimes a rain hat or poncho. Note: The longer jacket keeps the butt warm on cold seats and when the wind/rain blows it helps keep you drier and warmer. I also use it as a blanket for extra warmth when sleeping or sitting on a plane or train. Consider a hat with a brim to keep the rain off of your face. I usually use a cashmere scarf because it is warm and doesn’t itch.
33. Scarves (can be used instead of jewelry, adds color and/or warmth—at least 1 cashmere if cold weather trip)
34. Small purse/backpack/daypack – I sometimes pack a small purse for evenings/dinner/short walks/minimal shopping days and a daypack to use on tour instead of my larger backpack.
35. 1 pair compression socks (for lengthy plane rides, generally more than a 4 hour flight)
*36. HIGHLY SUGGEST A PASSPORT/CURRENCY POUCH THAT CAN BE WORN UNDER GARMENTS. You can find them at,, rick I usually safety pin one to my bra strap and wear it under my arm where it is retrievable if necessary, but safe during transit. (i don’t wear it on the plane though.)
36a. Jewelry: I never take my valuable or keepsake jewelry. I use costume jewelry (or scarves) that I won’t mind losing. There are lots of inexpensive scarves to buy in Europe. I’ve even removed my wedding rings for some countries I’ve visited or at least the diamond settings…..advice of locals should be heeded!
37. Toiletries: Many people will tell you that you can buy everything you will need, but I prefer to spend my time having fun, not shopping for basics. I try and figure out how much I will need (except for my make-up) for the trip so I can use them up and discard them when I’m heading home. I spend the previous months, moving partially used items to my travel storage box when I re-stock at home. If you use washcloths, be sure to pack one (in a plastic bag) – Internationally, I seldom see them except at the luxury hotels.
38. Clothing: I pack layering and interchangeable items in the same color palette and my travel “throw-away clothing” that I’ve collected since the last trip. Once the travel throw-away clothes are worn to the point of needing washed, I either toss them or launder them and leave them with a note to donate to those in need. These are clothing items that I stopped wearing in CA due to some fraying, small stains, old styling, too large, don’t fit or I just don’t like them. It lightens the suitcase so I have room to buy!
I usually only pack 1 pair jeans (two at most with 1 pair being black jeans) with my other pants being non-denim slacks. I try to find light-weight jeans because they take less time to dry if you have wash them while traveling. For winter travel, I pack black wool blend slacks and wear either tights or silk underwear underneath them for added warmth.
39. Shoes: I generally wear the heaviest pair (boots for cold climates) on the plane and have 2 more pair in my luggage, sometimes 3 if you count flip-flops. It is important that your shoes are comfortable because there is a lot of walking and stair climbing in Europe and often on cobblestone streets. Take shoe inserts to add warmth and more comfort. I take a pair of running shoes (not white) that I no longer use for running, but are still comfortable, then discard them when I depart for home. (More room in the suitcase for treasures!). Ugly shoes and white tennis shoes are only seen on tourists. Flips flops are mostly worn for the beach and pool in Europe especially and not for museums, churches, tours, restaurants. In some countries, you will want to wear close-toed shoes for hygiene and safety.
40. Clocks (I use my iphone or ipod for clocks/alarms). Smartphones are especially helpful to check world times so you don’t call home when it is 3 or 4 in the morning.
41. Smart phone/ipad or tablet – If you want to use your smartphone/ ipad or tablet internationally, purchase an international phone and data plan from your phone carrier. It is best to do so before leaving on your trip. I suggest taking the small mini-ipad for mapping and booking reservations; it’s easier to use than the smart phone/iphone.

And finally, a small medicine kit with prescription medications and any OTC medicines you use.  Sometimes what we consider everyday meds such as Advil, Aleve, Claritin, etc. ,are hard to find or are very expensive for small amounts.  I include Melatonin for sleeping in my kit too.

Read more of Cathy’s Collection of Travel Tips in future posts.


1st luggage – Europe ’85
IMG_2023 (1)
Color me in a scarf, Peru
Monet and our scarves
My travel basics, Prague
cathy and luggage
Luggage for two, 2018



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Love travelling the world.....enjoying new sights, foods, and locales.

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