Whether it’s packing too little, packing too much, forgetting the swimsuit or even the passport, most of us are guilty of a few baggage bloopers. If you’re a seasoned traveller, chances are you’ll have your packing down to a fine art (although, even the pros can make mistakes). If it’s your first time travelling, or if you’re packing for the whole family, then a checklist like this can go a long way to help.
But packing your bags is only one part of preparing for a holiday. Getting your documents in order, changing currency, securing the house and protecting yourself with travel insurance are all must-dos that can’t be overlooked.
We’ve divided this ultimate travel checklist into sections, so you can tackle your packing with confidence, get the house in order, and prepare for a relaxing and worry-free holiday.
Well-packed bags don’t happen straight away. Before throwing anything and everything into the old suitcase in the corner, consider the following steps.
Choose the right luggage
When it comes to travelling in comfort and security, not any old bag will do.
- For your checked luggage, find a sturdy suitcase with durable zips and wheels. Flashy designer suitcases may look great but can attract unwanted attention from thieves.
- For your cabin luggage, find a lightweight bag with a hard surface to protect it in the overhead compartment. Remember that there are strict laws around what you can pack in cabin luggage.
- If you’ll be using this as your day bag while out and about, consider finding a theft-proof bag with slash-proof material, hidden compartments and locking zips.
- If you’re an adventure traveller, an all-in-one travel backpack can be a versatile option. Look for breathable, flexible, weather-resistant and durable options, and remember, you get what you pay for.
Get your packing technique right
Finding the right bag is only half the battle. These packing techniques will allow you to use every inch of space to the fullest, ensure your valuable items stay secure and keep things well organised when on the go.
- Roll your clothes. If you’re working with a small amount of space, packing techniques like the ‘army roll’ or ‘ranger roll’ can be a lifesaver. This video shows how rolling your clothes instead of folding them can allow you to fit almost twice as much in your bags.
- Use luggage organisers and compression bags. Breaking down your main suitcase into smaller sections can make stacking and organising easy. Packing cubes can also isolate potentially messy items, like toiletries and makeup, and protect valuables like jewellery.
- Cut the packaging. Carrying half-empty shampoo bottles in your checked luggage is wasted space. Cut down the packaging by emptying contents into smaller travel sized bottles. You can often find these at pharmacies.
Checked vs carry-on luggage
It’s important to know the rules surrounding checked and cabin luggage before you start packing. There are strict laws on what you can pack in cabin luggage, which can even differ from airline to airline. As a general guide, the following items can’t be taken in your carry-on bags:
- Sharp objects (such as razor blades, scissors, and knives)
- Objects potentially used as a weapon (such as hammers, cricket bats and golf clubs)
- Flammable goods (such as aerosol containers and lighters)
- Liquids exceeding a certain volume
- Some food and drink
Always check with your airline for an exhaustive list of what can and can’t be taken on board, and if in doubt, leave it out.
Overseas travel packing checklist
Now that you’ve got the right luggage, the right technique and know the difference between checked and carry-on bags, it’s time to start packing. We’ve divided this packing list into sections and included a few insider tips along the way.
Clothes suitable for climate and culture
Before emptying the wardrobe into your suitcase, ask yourself if the clothes are suitable for your destination. Three pairs of jeans may be overkill for your Fijian escape, and revealing swimwear may not be appropriate in more conservative countries.
Clothes and accessories for day-to-day
- Casual shirts
- Vest tops
- Comfortable everyday shoes
- Prescription glasses and case
Clothes and accessories for the beach
- Sunscreen/zinc for face and body
- Sun hat
- Swimwear/cover up
- Sunglasses and case
- Wet bag
- Beach bag
- Thongs or sandals
- Beach towel
- Wetsuit/rash top
Tip: Some sunscreens contain ingredients that are damaging to coral reefs. In fact, Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate; two damaging chemicals commonly found in sunscreen. If in doubt, buy your sunscreen at your destination rather than bringing your own.
Clothes and accessories for cool weather
- Rain jacket/coat
- Travel umbrella
- Snow/rain boots
- Winter sports gear
Clothes and accessories for adventure travel
- Sturdy enclosed shoes
- Loose fitting long sleeved t-shirt
- Quick-drying shirt and shorts
- Waterproof socks
- Thermal gear for cold climates
Clothes and accessories for eating out
- Dress pants
- Nice shoes
- Button up shirt
- Formal dress
- Jewellery (if valuable, wear it on the plane)
- Dental products (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss etc.)
- Make up
- Body wash/soap
- Cleanser, toner, moisturiser
- Cotton wool
- Lip balm (handy for the plane)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Contact lenses and solution
- Shaving gear
- Hair styling tools and products
- Emergency toilet roll
- Nail clippers, tweezers, scissors
- Laundry kit
Tip: Items like clippers, tweezers and scissors are best packed in your checked luggage. While some airlines allow you to carry scissors up to a certain size in your carry-on bags, it’s always safest not to run the risk.
- Prescription medication
- First aid kit
- Cold and flu medicine
- Pain relief medicine
- Diarrhea medicine
- Motion sickness tablets
- Sunburn gel (such as aloe vera)
- Insect repellent
- Eye drops
- Hand sanitiser
Tip: There are strict rules on travelling with prescription medication, like carrying it in its original packaging accompanied by a doctor’s certificate. Check with your airline before packing your bags.
Always check smartraveller.gov.au and follow their vaccination recommendations.
- Mobile device and charger
- Laptop/tablet and chargers
- iPod/Mp3 player and chargers
- Camera, memory card and charger
- Protective cases
- Electrical adapters
- eReader and charger
- Travel apps downloaded to your device (such as language guides)
Tip: Pack your electronics in your carry-on bag, as we cannot cover these items if they are damaged or lost in your checked luggage.
- Passport and photocopies
- Driving licence
- Cash and credit cards
- Travel insurance documents
- Visas (if applicable)
- Booking confirmations and itineraries (accommodation, tours, rentals, transport etc.)
- International sim card
- Emergency contacts list
- Embassy contacts list
Tip: Many countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months after your intended return date. Ensure you research this ‘six month rule’ on smartraveller.gov.au to avoid unwanted surprises at immigration.
Keeping photocopies of your travel documents lets you protect the real thing and acts as a backup if something is lost. It’s also a good idea to upload these photocopies to a secure online storage service, like Google Drive.
Safety and security
- Luggage lock
- Money belt
Other things to do before you travel
As romantic as it seems, travelling is rarely just “get up and go.” The following checklist items are essential before boarding the plane:
- Inform your bank of your travel plans
- Exchange currency
- Register your travel with smartraveller.gov.au
- Share your travel plans with friends and family
- Pre-pay any bills that will arrive while travelling, where possible
- Secure your house and unplug appliances
- Have a neighbour or relative collect your mail (an overflowing letterbox is an invitation for thieves)
- Stop any regular deliveries whilst you’re away (such as newspapers or food boxes)
- Check-in for your flight online
- Plan how you’ll get to the airport (check what terminal you need to go to)
Tip: Events such as volcanic eruptions and snow storms can be unpredictable. That’s why it’s important to visit smartraveller.gov.au just before your trip. Search for your destination to see the latest travel advice and safety tips. A ‘do not travel’ or ‘reconsider your need to travel’ advice level may mean you have to delay or cancel your travel plans.
Finding the best travel insurance
Comprehensive travel insurance is one of the most important things to pack for any holiday. Whether you’re embarking on a round-the-world backpacking adventure, or taking the kids overseas for the school holidays, it’s important that you’re protected if the unexpected happens.
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