Tips Travel planning

How to pack for your next overseas adventure

A little while ago I posted on social media recommending people start a packing list at least a week in advance, to which my mum responded “a week? I start well before that!”
It got me thinking about how we pack and how we decide what to take when travelling to far away destinations with unknown climates. And as the world prepares to hit the tourist trail again, post Covid-19, we all want answers to that very important question – what do I pack when travelling overseas?
One of my most challenging packing missions was for a trip that took in Kenya, Uganda, a cruise in the South of France, Norway and Finland -from the equator to the north pole, from trekking through an African jungle to cruising up a river through France. Part tour hosting work, part trekking, there was a bit of every kind of activity and every kind of weather condition imaginable. Oh, and did I mention we had weight limitations for internal flights?
Packing can be fraught with indecision and confusion. You want to look stylish, but you want to be comfortable. You don’t want to be too hot or too cold and, of course, you only have limited space, so your clothes need to work overtime.

Passports, notebook, hat and camera - travel essentials.

And you don’t want to spend all your time in the Laundromat cleaning clothes when you could be out seeing amazing sites and experiencing local culture.
So how do you create a list and pack for a trip overseas?
I like to start thinking early about what I might want to take. I also have a standard packing list of all the essentials in the notes app on my phone so that when it comes to packing for an upcoming trip I’ve already got a good start. I add and subtract from this list while I’m away, so it’s constantly evolving.
But as each destination is different, the actual items I take vary from trip to trip.

Three women set out their fruits at a market in Ho Chi Minh.

Here are just a few tips that may help make packing for your next trip a little easier:

  • Add your destination to your weather app a few weeks before you go so you’ll know what the weather will actually be like when you get there. I check in a few times just to see how the weather is changing.
  • Review your itinerary for the specific activities you’ll be taking part in – is there special equipment that you’ll need? Snow boots if you’re going to the snow, reef shoes if you’ll be in the water? Fancy attire if you’re cruising?
  • Can you group the different activities that will require similar types of outfits?
  • How many times will you be doing each activity? I.e. are there any special dinners and if so, how many? Will you be visiting farms, climbing mountains, trekking around ruins or swimming every day? This is important because it will get you thinking about the primary activities you’ll be undertaking and therefore the kinds of clothes you’ll be wearing the most. If 40% of the time you’ll be trekking through jungles, 10% you’ll be eating fancy dinners and 50% you’ll be in galleries you know to pack more city gear than walking clothes.
  • I have heard of people who look at images from specific tours or destinations that they are travelling to so they can see what others are wearing. Far from being just about wanting to ‘fit in’ this can also help you know what the climate actually feels like – we all know that 25 degrees in one country can feel far different in another country – or even part of the same country – depending on the intensity of the sun, altitude, climatic region and so on.
  • Lay your clothes out at least a week before you go. This helps ensure none of the clothes you want to take are in the laundry basket – no one wants to be washing and drying clothes the night before a flight. But I also do this so I can see how well my clothes go together. I lay everything out by clothes type. If I’ve got a top that only goes with one other item, I remove it and add something that is more versatile.
  • I also lay out any equipment and toiletries I plan to take – camera gear, laptop, that way I can see how much I’m actually taking and can make sure I don’t forget chargers or power adapters.
  • Don’t pack too much. Don’t think you have to fill the space in your suitcase. You might want to buy items from your destination, i.e. local mementoes or even new clothes. And remember, you’ll often have to move your case around yourself – you don’t want to struggle lifting it on and off the conveyor belt at the airport. Laying it all out before you pack can help ensure you don’t just randomly throw items into your suitcase until it’s full.
  • If you’re still unsure, ask your tour operator, friends or family, often they will have recommended packing lists for particular destinations.

Want more travel packing inspiration, check out our post on things to take on your next trip here.

Watching the lights across the river at Hutong in Hong Kong.
Yum cha, history and giant escalators in Hong Kong
A sign for Vung Tau, 2018 on the road side in Vung Tau, Vietnam.
Vung Tau – a city of layers
Gyeongbokgung palace
Seoul: a modern, progressive city with heart
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