susan shain sphinx egypt

Going on a big trip? Have no clue what to pack?

When I first started traveling, I wished someone would just tell me what to pack; what I did and didn’t need, and what their favorite products were.

Unfortunately, no one did, and I once ended up traveling for several months with an umbrella. AN UMBRELLA. And no, it never rained.

Now that I’ve been around the block a few times — and made more than a few egregious packing mistakes — I thought it might be helpful to see what I pack in my bag.

But First, My Packing Philosophy

It’s always tempting to pack more than you should, and the art of light packing is something I’m still working on.

I like Tim Ferriss’ rule of bringing $200 extra for purchases in-country. For example, he’d rather buy some nice shoes last minute than carry them around and never use them. (Or an umbrella… see above.)

When I recommend specific brands below, it’s because they’re my absolute favorites. For those of you who’ve been traveling a while, feel free to splurge on a few items — but if you’re just starting out, do NOT invest in these pricier pieces.

I borrow advice from Rolph Potts here, who advises against buying a bunch of stuff for traveling. (It kind of defeats the point.)

Borrow things from friends and make do with what you have. If you decide you really like this traveling thing, you can eventually acquire more things. The nice gear I have now has gradually accumulated over 10+ years of traveling.

Don’t forget: You’ll be doing laundry once a week(ish), and it’s expected you’ll wear things more than once while on the road.

It’s better to bring less and end up buying a few things than it is to bring more than you’ll use.

If you do need some new gear, my favorite places to shop are Amazon, Steep and Cheap, Sierra Trading Post, Backcountry, and the local thrift store.

women's travel packing list

Here’s my packing list for going on an adventure — be it backpacking or a city break.

I’ve tried to become more minimalist over the years, and this is what I’ve come up with. Since I mostly travel to warm weather locations, that’s what this list is geared toward, but it’s easy to adjust for colder situations.

And since I’m a girl, this is mostly a female backpacking packing list, but I think you guys are smart enough to know what to leave out…


Passport (with visa, if required): And don’t forget to sign up for Global Entry if you’re a frequent traveler!

Debit cardThe Charles Schwab Debit card doesn’t charge any foreign ATM fees — and refunds fees charged by other banks.

Credit card: My essential travel cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Insurance card: For travel health insurance, I always turn to Squaremouth.

Student card: It could get you discounts on everything from hostels to bus tickets.


Tanks x 3: Flowy tanks look nice with everything. Bring three so you can sleep in one of them. I get mine from Target.

T-shirts x 2: Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t bring a million; you’ll probably want to pick up a few as souvenirs on the way!

Long sleeved shirt: Even if you’re going to a warm location, you’ll want this in case of mosquitos or sun. I have a super lightweight one from Icebreaker that I love.

Fleece or jacket: I’m cold no matter where I am, so I always make sure to bring some sort of warm layer. My favorite thing is my Patagonia NanoPuff jacket, because it’s compact, quick-drying, lightweight, and warm. (Keep an eye on Patagonia’s sales at the end of summer and winter to score a deal!)

Jeans: I’ve tried to travel without jeans before and have always regretted it. This is one thing that’s difficult to pick up on the road, and even if you’re in a hot country, you’ll have nights where you want to go out and just look normal.

Lightweight hiking pants: I’ve finally found a pair of these that don’t look dorky, and they’re amazing.

Long skirt: For women, these are just so versatile and comfy. They’re also perfect for traveling in more conservative countries where you don’t want to show your legs.

Shorts: Whatever you want. Just no booty shorts.

Running shorts: You’ll need something to sleep in at the hostel, and something to work out or hit the beach in.

Dress: Dresses are extraordinarily easy while you’re traveling, since you don’t have to think about anything else. Just make sure you’re not bringing anything too revealing.

Underwear x 8: I always want an ample supply of underwear. Or, get these life changing ones from Ex Officio, and you’ll only need to bring a few pairs.

Bathing suit: Even if you’re going to a ski location, you might want this for hot tubbing.

Bras: I usually bring one real bra (nude or white) and one racerback sports bra.

Socks: If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking, nice socks are nice. Bridgedale are pretty baller — but you’ll obvs want to find ’em on sale.

If going to rainy or cold destinations, swap out a few items and add in:

Rain jacket: I’ve had my Marmot Precip jacket for 10 years, and it’s never failed me.

Baseball cap: Perfect for keeping sun and rain out of your face, but if you’re not sure you’ll wear one, this is super easy to pick up in-country.

Warm hat: Always a good idea if you’re traveling to higher altitudes. I was so thankful for mine in the mountains of Peru!


Flip-flops or sandals: The backpacker uniform. If you want some that will support your arches — and last for YEARS — check out these ones from Chaco.

Running shoes: Bring an old pair of running shoes on a trip, and you’ll be ready for a hike, a city walking tour, or a run.

TOMS: Buy a pair and they give one to a kid in need. Comfy, easy to pack, and good when open-toed shoes won’t work.

That’s normally all I bring on a backpacking trip. If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, you might want your hiking boots — and if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in big cities and nice clubs, don’t forget a pair of dressier shoes.


Diva Cup: Omg how did I live without one of these glorious silicone receptacles all my life? Don’t bother carrying around tampons or pads; just get one of these. You’ll thank me later.

Face wash/wipes: They make life SO easy, especially when you don’t have easy access to water!

Sunscreen: Protect your skin! Sunscreen is one thing that can be really costly to buy abroad. For my face, I’m obsessed with this sunscreen from Neutrogena. I know it’s expensive, but it lasts a long time, and is small enough to carry through airport security.

Brush/comb: I mean, if that’s important to you. I think I travel with one about 25% of the time.

Towel: Though it’s not essential, this is one gear-y thing I do recommend buying. Quick-dry towels aren’t that expensive and are so convenient for packing.

Purell: Because soap is a commodity in many bathrooms.

Shampoo/conditioner/body wash: I’m not picky, so I often buy a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner — and use it on my body, too.

Toothbrush + toothpaste: Kiddie ones with the suction cup are super useful when you’re in sketchy hostel, since they guarantee the bristles won’t touch anything.

Razor + tweezers
Nail clipper


Sunglasses: Please don’t bring expensive sunglasses; that’s just asking for trouble!

Scarf: Just a basic one for chilly nights. Or, if you’re up for a splurge, I absolutely adore my hidden-pocket travel scarf from Speakeasy Travel Supply.

Watch: In normal life, you probably use your phone as your timekeeper. When traveling, this may not be as feasible. Get a cheap wristwatch with an alarm so you can wake up for early buses.

Headlamp: If you’re camping, or in a city where the power’s gone out, you can use your headlamp to get around. It’s also convenient for reading in a hostel after the lights have gone off.

Cross-body purse / daypack: What are you going to wear when you’re wandering around a city? How about when you go hiking? I usually carry a daypack on the plane, and then pack a cross-body bag in my suitcase or big backpack. That way, all my bases are covered!

Electronics (don’t forget the chargers!)

Phone/iPod: I travel with an iPhone 5S using an amazing T-Mobile plan that works in 100+ countries!

Camera + memory cards: Now that phones are taking such good pictures, you can probably do without a big camera — but I still travel with my Nikon D5100 DSLR. It’s my baby.

Bluetooth speaker: Why bring a speaker, you ask? Because speaker = INSTANT PARTYYYY. This one is my jam (literally).

Kindle: I just got one of these and am totally obsessed with it. No need to carry books around anymore!

Laptop/tablet: If you’re not planning on doing a lot of typing, a phone or tablet is probably fine. Since I work while traveling, my Macbook is clutch.

Headphones: I lovelovelove my wireless Beats headphones, but they’re ridiculously expensive. (They were a gift.)

Adapter: Be sure to check the type of plugs where you’ll be going. If they don’t match, you’ll need an adapter. If they use different voltages, you’ll need a converter — BUT most electronics have a converter built in. So I usually just travel with a universal adapter like this.

Optional Items

Mesh bags: If you’re backpacking, these will make such a difference in organization. And buy a non-mesh one to hold your dirty laundry. You can find both kinds at the dollar store.

Makeup: Because sometimes you might want to look like a normal human. All you really need is powder (go, Bare Minerals!), mascara, and eyeliner.

Baby powder: Not essential, but if you’re traveling to a hot country and are going to be wearing a lot of skirts or dresses, this is magic for your thighs.

Sleep sheet: These can be really nice when you’re at a creepy hostel. I don’t travel with one anymore (too bulky), but they’re easy to make.

Sarong: So versatile! You can use this as a beach wrap, towel, blanket, pillow, knapsack… and they take up hardly any room.

Birth control: Don’t forget this one. If you’re on the pill or other medication, make sure to bring an ample amount.

Eye mask: I looooove my eye mask for long flights and bus rides, and also for dorm rooms where people are turning the lights on and off all the time.

Ear plugs: For party hostels.

Multi-tool: Not only will this come in handy, you’ll look super cool when you bust it out. I use this little Leatherman — but keep in mind you’ll have to check a bag if you want to bring it on the plane.

Journal + pens: I use my journal to record thoughts and observations, but it’s also useful for capturing phone numbers, names, bus times, and email addresses.

Reusable water bottle: I actually don’t bring these along with me when I’m traveling to countries where I can’t drink the water, because I just buy the throw-away bottles. I’d like to invest in a water bottle with its own filtration system soon — it’d be better for the environment and my wallet.

Phrasebook or dictionary: So you can chat with the locals! I like these ones by Lonely Planet, and am also a huge fan of their guidebooks.

Photo album: I love to bring a little photo album with pictures of my family, friends, and hometown. It makes for a great conversation starter with locals, and all of my homestay families have been delighted to see where I came from.

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