Traveling light is a universally known strategy, yet every time I take groups on culinary trips, we end up with too many bags. When traveling internationally – and even in the United States – the transition from home to trains, planes, and automobiles means the more compact you’ve packed, the easier your journey will be. Additionally, many cities have pedestrian only streets, and should you be so lucky as to snag a hotel along one of those quiet venues, you’ll need to be able to get your luggage from a drop off point to the hotel on your own.
I recommend limiting your packing to one small suitcase (I use a carry-on size even if I’ll be staying for 3 or 4 weeks total) plus a small tote bag. If you have one, it works well to pack a collapsible bag for bringing back purchases or to use a suitcase that expands to fit your treasures for the trip back. You can always buy a cheap suitcase at your destination if you need to carry stuff home.
Tip: I pack my tote bag full of magazines to read in the airports and on the plane. I pass them on to the flight attendants when I’m finished, then my tote is empty to bring home things I purchase on my trip.
If you bring clothes that mix and match you can get more out of less. You can also have laundry done in many hotels and cities if you need to. Here’s my list of packing basics for an average international trip for women:
Evening Wear – 1 evening outfit (casually elegant, chic enough for an international city). I suggest something dark so you can wear it multiple times – since your evening attire is usually only worn to dinner, you can generally wear it quite a few times on the trip. Bring accessories like a scarf, sweater/wrap, or jewelry to change the look without taking up much space.
Pants/Skirts – 3-4 pairs of pants for day time – capris, cropped pants, slacks, skirts, and jeans are best. It can be surprisingly cool or hot when you arrive, so having some options helps. If you have pants in a fabric that dries quickly you’ll be able to wash them out by hand if you need to.
Shirts – 4-6 tops for day time – tanks, plain (no logo) cotton T shirts, collar shirts, and lightweight sweater sets all work well. Think layers and mix and match – again, plan for variations in weather.
Shoes – one pair of good walking shoes for daytime (wear on plane) and a dressier (but walkable) pair for evening. Avoid strappy sandals, anything that pinches and anything you won’t be able to wear on cobblestone streets. Wear your shoes several times before you travel, and make sure you have enough support and padding. If you usually wear orthotics at home, be sure to bring them along.
Outerwear – light jacket (or heavier coat depending on the season), small travel umbrella, and a pashmina-type shawl for extra warmth if needed.
Tip: I keep my jacket out of my suitcase in case I want it on the plane and I use my pashimina shawl as a lightweight blanket.
Underwear and socks – some people bring only a couple and wash them out, other people figure they don’t take up space and bring the week’s worth – your call!
Toiletries – remember to use 3 ounce bottles in a quart ziplock bag if you will carry on (I always carry on). Bring bandaids if you are prone to blisters and always carry your medications on the plane.
Cell phones – if you plan to bring one internationally, you need a GSM phone that will work outside the US. Check with your carrier well in advance of your trip to understand the service they provide at your destination as well as the options for charges. Be sure they clearly outline voice, data, and text charges – incoming and outgoing.
Hair dryers – I make do with the hairdryers in the hotels to save packing space, even though they aren’t as strong as my home hair dryer. If a hair dryer is a must for you, consider buying a small one at your destination that is wired for the proper electrical.
Adapters – electricity and plug types vary throughout the world. If you have a device that does not accept the voltage of your destination, you will need a voltage converter along with the plug adapter. Ask your hotel what plug type is used in their country and hotel.
Tip: Many devices can share the same cords, relieving you of the need to bring so many adapters and chargers.
Personal Items – Camera, batteries, journal, phrase book, iPod, iPad, computer, chargers, reading material, and other personal items – make sure you bring only what you need, as these things can begin to take up all of your space and you’ll face challenges keeping these valuables safe.
Tip: I keep these things in my tote bag so I can access them during the flight.
Travel purse – something that zips up and can be worn flat across your body is best. Use this for traveling in flight so you don’t need a second purse.
Tip: I put my whole purse inside my tote through security so it doesn’t count as a third bag.