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Every woman has those one or two things that they just can NOT travel without. For me, it’s my curling iron and my earplugs. Thankfully, you can find earplugs at almost any drugstore, so if I happen to forget them, it’s not the end of the world. But my curling iron – forget it. As someone with a head of very curly hair, that iron is my saving grace between wash days.
While those are unique to me, there are some travel essentials for women that everyone should have in their suitcase.
If you’re trying to stay fully organized, grab my free travel planner. Many of the items listed here are included on the ultimate packing list inside, but you’ll also find pages for notes, budgeting, recording flight numbers and hotel confirmations, and more. Fill it out with your information, then print it to take along with you or save it to your device for easy, paperless, offline access when you’re exploring.
Packing for a trip is a lot like preparing for life: Prioritize your wants, needs, and non-negotiables. Create a plan, and then be ready to adjust it based on your situation. And remember, never pack anything you just know you won’t use or don’t really need.
After many travel experiences, this breakdown is what I refer back to again and again when packing for an adventure.
While there are no hard and fast rules about what you should bring with you when you travel, there are some items you absolutely need to keep with you.
At least for traveling within the United States as an American, keeping your passport on you isn’t a requirement. Instead, you need an elevated driver’s license or government ID, which acts the same way. Otherwise, if you’re not an American in the USA or abroad, you need to keep your passport on your person. Purchase a personalized passport cover to keep it protected in your bags.
Cards with no foreign transaction fees
Check with your bank to confirm if you’ll incur additional fees for using your credit cards and debit cards abroad. Some great credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, give you bonus points on travel purchases and allow you to redeem your points for travel.
If you’re interested in learning more about the world of travel hacking with credit cards, 10xTravel’s free online course Takeoff: How to Travel the World for Next to Nothing is the best place to start learning the complete in’s and out’s of the industry and its Facebook group 10xTravel Insiders is informative and engaged daily. Also, fellow New Yorker Julie at Geobreeze Travel is another invaluable resource on all things travel hacking.
Pre-booked tickets & itineraries
Luckily, if you pre-book tours with GetYourGuide or Viator, you can access your tickets anywhere by downloading their apps to your phone. But, if you buy tickets online to a Broadway show, you should definitely bring them to the usher printed out. Make sure you have everything you need printed before you leave home, or call ahead and ensure your accommodation has a printer nearby.
Just don’t take the chance. Having comprehensive protection with travel insurance can be the difference between all of your financial problems being addressed at once, rather than having to figure out how to fix them as you go. And, it can provide you with the peace of mind that you will not be left out without any recourse if something unthinkable happens. But make sure you read the fine print. Many policies have limited coverage, or you will need to purchase extra coverage to get the most out of them.
TSA Precheck or Global Entry
One of the best travel tips I can give you is, if you’re American, look into applying for TSA’s Trusted Traveler program, which includes Precheck or Global Entry. Precheck allows you to breeze through airport security on domestic flights, while Global Entry gives you a speedy security experience from international flights, as well as Precheck privileges. You can read more about the different options and decide which one is right for you on TSA’s website.
Before you travel, it’s crucial to check you have the correct vaccinations for the place you’re visiting. The United States requires visitors to have certain shots before entering the country, as well as many other countries around the world.
No matter where you are going, pack medicines and supplies in your carry-on bag. This is particularly important if you are traveling to a foreign country. While you can buy medications in other countries, drug names can be different, the costs can be higher, and you may need a valid doctor’s prescription. Don’t take the chance with your health.
First aid kit
Carrying a first aid kit on your travels is more than just being prepared for injuries and sickness: it’s also an essential way to honor your body and take good care of yourself when you’re away from home.
Personal security devices
There are several types of personal security devices that I carry with me, depending on where I’m going. Pepper spray, a personal alarm to make a loud noise, a portable door lock, a security camera, even a personal flashlight or mini taser are all different tools to help you feel more secure as a woman traveling.
Best for long vacations when you’re spending the majority of your time in one place. Although many people prefer hard-shell luggage, I love my Samsonite suitcase with several outside pockets.
Now, as airlines add more restrictions with checked luggage, packing light is no longer an option–it’s a necessity. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with a lack of options; instead, pack smart with your carry-on for your shorter trips and avoid those pesky extra baggage fees.
For all the advantages of suitcases, I still find myself reaching for a backpack anytime I possibly can. Why? Because they’re comfortable and more manageable to carry than rolling luggage.
If you’re looking for a long-term, lightweight hiking backpack with an aluminum backing, my go-to choice is the Kelty 40 Liter Redwing Backpack. I used this one for months at a time in the summer while teaching English in Italy, and it was the perfect size for everything I brought with me and traveling on the Italian trains. While there are reports of the Kelty fitting in plane carry-on compartments, I used it as a piece of checked luggage.
Or, if you want a more stylish backpack that is definitely carry-on sized, I recommend the Hynes Eagle 40L Travel Backpack. It comes with its own set of 3 packing cubes, which fit perfectly in the backpack (especially when they’re not overfilled!)
This backpack got me through a two-week trip to California for a winter wedding as my only carry-on, which means I had packed everything inside–my cocktail dress and heels, winter sweaters in case it was cold, and spring dresses for the warmer days.
Rolling duffle bag
These are a cross between a carry-on suitcase and a backpack, which means they work well in either scenario.
Whether you’re using travel bags or purses, you’ll need something to carry your belongings day-to-day. I’ve been using this Samsonite backpack for a year now and it still looks great day-to-day.
Make sure to read my guide if you’re interested in hearing more of my recommendations for the best travel bags for your trip.
Did you know that there are devices to track your luggage?! If you’re the kind of gal who worries about whether or not your luggage arrived, this is a gamechanger for peace of mind.
These are the best for keeping the contents of your suitcase organized. My mesh-front set came in a pack with several different sizes, which allows me to see what’s inside the cube after I’ve perfectly packed it away.
Vacuum roll-up bags
These compression bags are a lifesaver by shrinking the space that bulky fabrics take up in your luggage.
Having a travel pillow is crucial on long flights, but traditional ones can take up much-needed space in a carry-on, making for a stressful trip through the airport. Try a neck wrap like Trtl’s. Instead of a puffy pillow which can be cumbersome when you’re not flying, the wrap has internal ribs for neck support and folds up to fit in your suitcase.
Another packing must-have? My reusable water bottle. I take my 25 oz stainless steel S’well bottle everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re using insulated refillable travel bottles or a collapsible pouch; it just matters that you have water with you.
I love luggage locks because they have 2 uses! Of course, the first is to lock your checked luggage when you send it off on your flight. But have you ever considered locking your backpack while out and about exploring? Depending on where you go in the world, pickpocketing is rampant. Locking your gear is a preventative measure to ensure the safety of your valuables while out all day.
Nothing provides more peace of mind than knowing your valuables are safe and secure while traveling. Instead of taking the chance, I bring my own travel-sized locker with me to lock up any smaller valuables.
You never know when you might need to repair a tear, so it’s worth keeping a small sewing kit in your purse or suitcase. A few safety pins and a needle and thread are all you really need to fix rips and tears in your clothes, and you can even make a temporary patch for a hole in your jeans or rain jacket. Knowing how to fix clothing can save you from buying new clothes, leaving more money to spend on souvenirs and travel experiences.
Reusable bags are an essential part of any eco-friendly traveler’s life—and not just for keeping items like souvenirs, groceries, and meals fresh. Although many parts of the world still use plastic bags, I enjoy keeping a few of my own reusable bags around. Not only are they good for the environment, but they’re much more convenient than traditional plastic bags.
Aside from your phone and laptop, there are some other technologies I consider essentials for traveling women.
I don’t go anywhere without my portable power bank. Seriously, this is a lifesaver, both while navigating in New York City and abroad. With my Anker PowerCore 20100, I can get 6 or 7 full battery recharges before I need to charge the charger. Perfect for long days out!
Camera and accessories
My Nikon D3400 DSLR is precious cargo–I never travel without it or my tripod. And with this case, I can keep the body and one lens safe from dust or damage in my day bag without taking up too much space.
Once I’m back home from my travels, I organize all of my images into beautiful, high-quality travel photo books using Mixbook.
Although similar to earplugs, noise-canceling headphones perform their own important job. Drown out the world around you with your own entertainment.
E-reader or tablet
As an avid reader, I hate to travel without an e-reader. It’s just so much easier to carry a Kindle or tablet–I can save my precious packing space for something other than books and have an entire library at my fingertips, instead of only one or two choices.
I’ve also been in situations where my computer breaks mid-trip, and having my iPad around has been the difference between still submitting work before its deadline or frantically finding the nearest Apple-certified repair shop to fix my aged Macbook.
Did you know you can download predefined areas on Google Maps to be used offline?! This is a game-changer when it comes to traveling without consistent data or WiFi in an unfamiliar place. Here are Google’s directions for setting up an offline map area.
Another essential is to download entire languages offline with the Google Translate app. Here are Google’s directions for setting up an offline language.
You know how important it is to have a reliable internet connection, but that’s not always easy to achieve. Some might think it’s a waste of money to buy and carry a portable hotspot when you travel, but in reality, it can often be a lifesaver and an essential tool for your trip.
You can’t exactly connect to free WiFi when you’re traveling through rural areas, can you? And even if you can, you’ll find that the connection is either very slow or simply non-existent. Fortunately, if you keep a portable WiFi device with you, you’ll be able to connect to the internet no matter where you are.
Skyroam offers 4G LTE WiFi in more than 130 countries, with several different data plans to meet your needs. Once you purchase a device, you can decide what data plan is most convenient and cost-effective for your situation, or you can rent a device for the duration of your trip.
The best part? Unlike with an international data plan where it’s only accessible on your phone, you can attach up to 10 devices to the service at once, which means you are free to roam with your phone, computer, tablet, and any other accessories.
Bluetooth/audio jack adapter
This lovely little device allows you to turn any headphone jack into Bluetooth-compatible. This comes in handy on flights because who really carries around wired headphones anymore?
Actually, I still do, but that can be our little secret, right?!
Universal plug adapters
I use this list from World Standards to figure out which international plug adapter I’ll need when traveling abroad. If you’re planning to visit a few different countries on the same trip; hopefully, you can get by with only two or three different kinds! Or, go for a universal adapter with USB plugs that can fit many different outlets.
If you’ve ever traveled with a laptop, a phone, a tablet, and a camera, you know how frustrating it can be to constantly untangle all those cords and wires. You can blame your bag for that since most don’t have enough space to fit all the items you need to charge your devices. But, a practical cord organizer can help you keep everything together so you can focus on more important things, like not losing any of those incredibly precious cords!
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- The Ultimate European Summer Travel Packing List
- The Best Travel Bags and Purses You’ll Need to Explore the World
- Your Guide to Create Stunning Mixbook Travel Photo Books
There’s no single way to dress for the weather, and obviously, everyone is different, but there are some general guidelines to help you plan.
- In warm climates, you’ll want to go for lighter and more flexible, breathable fabrics.
- In cold temperatures, you’ll need to layer up with thicker materials and possibly even winter coats, hats, and gloves.
- In rainy climates, your outerwear and travel accessories should be waterproof and rain-resistant.
In addition to the usual travel packing list, these are other clothing items I don’t travel without.
These socks are specifically designed to help reduce swollen feet. If you spend a lot of time in the air, they also provide a little extra support to your veins and muscles, promote blood circulation and diminish fatigue. They come in a variety of styles, colors, and they can even double as regular socks for everyday wear.
Light shawl or scarf
I keep a light shawl in my bag at all times throughout the year. They take up very little space and can act as a cover-up, a light blanket, and even a sling, depending on the situation.
While we all have that gorgeous pair of sunglasses, the last thing you want is to break them. Keep a few pairs around, and you’ll never be without them on a sunny day, and you won’t worry if they break or get lost.
However, if you’re like me and have prescription sunglasses, make sure to keep an eyeglasses repair kit with you, just in case.
Don’t forget your swimsuit! Depending on your destination, you may find a body of water you want to jump in. And even if you don’t think you’ll need one, you’re better off packing it anyway. Just in case, you never know!
Keeping a foldable, waterproof jacket in your bag is not only a great way to stay warm on a chilly evening, but it also helps you save space in your luggage. And, some stylish, lightweight jackets, like SCOTTeVEST’s women’s jackets, have so many pockets inside that it can almost be used as its own day bag while sightseeing.
No matter what the weather report says, be prepared. You just never know if the sky above you will change from cloudless blue to dark gray with rain.
Although I’m an advocate for purchasing products like body wash wherever you’re traveling, there are some travel essentials that women need from home.
I can’t go anywhere without bringing my solid shampoo, conditioner, and styling products with my curly hair. Whereas you might need your face wash, moisturizer, and dry shampoo, not to mention any specific sanitary products.
Make a list of everything you use and decide which ones you can’t live without and what you’re willing to buy once you arrive. Things like nail clippers, hair ties, and other practical items can be purchased almost anywhere.
We all know that we shouldn’t rely on sanitizing spray or gel as a replacement for soap and water, but it’s great for killing germs on the go when you don’t have access to a sink. Look for a sanitizer with greater than 60% alcohol, like the Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer Pocket Hand Gel.
If you find that you have a hard time sleeping when you travel, it might be because of the noise.
Imagine this: it’s late. You’re exhausted after exploring some of the most famous landmarks in Europe all day. You are desperate for sleep. But, your lovely neighbors think tonight is the perfect night to throw a party.
Cue the sweet silence from your earplugs. They help you fall asleep easier and protect your sensitive ears from damage.
There’s a simple joy in bringing your own pillowcase on a trip. If you have a pillowcase that zips closed, you can fill it with overflow clothes that couldn’t fit in your luggage when you fly. Your fluffy flying pillow just became a whole lot more functional. It’s also an easy and clean way to bring a little bit of home with you when you travel.
Travel size steamer
A compact steamer can get rid of those pesky wrinkles that form when you stuff your clean clothes into your suitcase in a rush.
Honestly, this might be my most utilized item! Lay it on the sand on the beach. Use it as your own clean towel at a hostel or hotel. If you’re cold at night or on the plane, you can even use it as a blanket. Most full-sized microfiber towels are very absorbent and fairly thin, which means they don’t take up too much space in your luggage.
Keep even your dirty clothes smelling laundry fresh by throwing a few dryer sheets into your suitcase before you leave home. At least until you’re able to truly wash them!
Travel coffee maker
Because when you need your daily morning dose of caffeine, the convenience of having your own travel coffee maker means that it’ll never be hard to find. You know that no matter what, you’ll always make a great cup of coffee with your own equipment–the same cannot always be said of the coffee makers in hotel rooms.
Reusable cutlery set
If you’re eating on the go, keeping your own cutlery set can save you money and ensure you always have something on hand to eat your meals with. It also means that you don’t have to worry about restaurants’ cleanliness since you’re in control of the utensils you’re using to eat.
Collapsible food containers & reusable bags
Did you know you can bring your own food onto flights–following TSA’s guidelines? I always bring snacks and meals for flights in collapsible, reusable food containers and bags. They take up less space in your carry-on or daybag, and once you arrive, these containers can carry snacks and leftovers throughout your travels.
These are a niche item, but oh so handy! These wine sleeves perfectly fit a single bottle of wine and protect them during travel. Their design prevents them from breaking and spilling inside your luggage, and the resealable Velcro makes sure you can use them again and again.
Items to Not Bring
While it might seem like a good idea to pack these travel essentials for women, trust me, these items will only frustrate you and take up cherished space in your luggage.
Your home hairdryer might not even work when it’s taken abroad, since hair dryers use different levels of electricity, which varies all over the world. Really, it’s a lot easier to just use the hairdryer in the hotel if you really need it, or let it air-dry. Rock the natural look!
Bulky fabrics (towels, sweaters, blankets, etc.)
At this point, you know that the less you bring, the easier it is to travel. Traveling with bulky fabrics may seem like a good idea, but it’s a pain and a waste of luggage space. Trying extra layers when traveling in the winter to avoid heavy sweaters, bringing a microfiber travel towel, and looking into the many lightweight, travel-sized blankets available.
The last thing you probably want to do when you’re on a trip is worry about your jewelry getting stolen. Especially if you’re going to a popular tourist destination, thieves know who to target. Peek your sentimental pieces safe by leaving them at home when you travel.
Ready to go?
Before you leave home, make sure to check out my list of the most important things to do before traveling to make sure you’re ready for a fantastic adventure!
Whether you’re going on a short trip or a long-haul flight, make sure you include some of these travel essentials for women. And remember my free Travel Planner includes this packing list, as well as pages to keep your calendar, itinerary, budget, and recommendations organized.