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Travel tips

Your one-stop packing list for vacation

Jul 01, 2024 by Steph Herron

Every trip of a lifetime begins with an expertly crafted packing list, but curating the perfect travel checklist is no easy feat. When planning the best things to pack for a trip, there are a lot of factors to consider. Luckily, on our guided tours, we take the stress out of travel, so we’re sharing our insider tips, tricks, and suggestions that’ll make prepping for your next adventure a breeze.

Picking the right luggage

Let’s start with the basics. Before you begin thinking about your travel packing list, you first need to decide what you’ll pack it all in. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing your luggage. You’ll want to think about where you’re headed, how long you’re going to be away, how many different overnight locations you’ll be staying in, and how you’ll be getting around.

For most of our trips, we recommend sticking with carry-on luggage whenever possible. Not only does this save you from worrying about delayed or lost luggage, but smaller bags also make transportation between destinations simpler. On our guided tours, you’re responsible at times for handling your own luggage. If you’re transferring by train or ferry, storage space on board may be limited, and your window to board and disembark is quick. In these moments, you’ll be grateful you packed light.

Our preferred combination: Opting for a rolling carry-on to store in the overhead bin and a backpack to put under your seat will have you traveling like an expert. If you’re a chronic over packer and keeping your packing list short sounds difficult, read our tips on packing small for a big trip—they’ll make prepping for your next tour a breeze.

Pro tip: “Two or three days before you leave, pack your whole bag once, unpack it, then repack it. It helps you think about what you really need and gives you a sense of how it will feel packing and unpacking as you switch hotels.” —Staffer Alex

Choosing the right travel outfit

Gone are the days of dressing in your Sunday best to head to the airport, but choosing the right outfit for takeoff is still a bit of an art form, so don’t leave this step off your packing checklist. Layers are essential, comfort is key, and clothes that don’t wrinkle are a blessing when you’re sitting for long periods of time. We also recommend avoiding sandals for the plane. It may seem like a tempting idea when you’re trying to pack light for a tropical vacation, but you’ll be thankful to have socks on when you’re asked to take off your shoes at security or when it gets chilly on the plane.

Pro tips: “I always factor my plane outfit into my clothes on tour. If I’m bringing X number of shirts and X number of pants, I make sure my plane outfit is included in those numbers and is going to match my other items.” —Staffer Alejandro

“Go for clothes that are light, loose, and airy [for the plane]—but keep it stylish. You never know who you’ll see at the airport.” —Staffer Mallory

Clothing packing tips

Ready to start forming your personal packing checklist? While the types of clothing and number of items you’ll want to bring will change depending on your destination, here are some suggestions.

The basics: Whether you’re bound for our Grand Tour of Italy, our U.S. National Parks: The Grand Canyon to Yellowstone tour, or another trip altogether, these staples should be some of the first on your packing list for vacation.

  • Shirts (styles you can layer are usually the best call)
  • Bottoms
  • Dresses
  • Socks
  • Undergarments
  • Pajamas
  • A dressier outfit in case you plan on attending a performance or visiting a fancy restaurant
  • Outerwear
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • One or two belts

Hot, humid climates: Headed out on our Australia & New Zealand tour, a Thailand tour, or another trip to a tropical locale? Consider adding these items to your vacation packing list.

  • A sun hat
  • A pair of slides, sandals, or flip flops
  • Swimsuits
  • Coverups
  • A light scarf (this is very useful if you’re entering churches or temples and need your shoulders covered)
  • Light, flowy linen clothing

Cool, cold, rainy climates: Going on our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Northern Lights tour or our A Week in Ireland: Dublin, Cork & Galway tour? These items may deserve a spot on your packing checklist.

  • A warm hat
  • Gloves
  • A thick scarf (it can double as a blanket to keep you cozy on the bus, too)
  • Layers to help you stay comfortable indoors and outdoors
  • A warm, waterproof coat or lightweight waterproof jacket, depending on temperatures
  • Waterproof pants (these are useful for Iceland specifically)
  • Waterproof walking shoes

Pro tips: “Take the total number of days of your trip and add two—that’s how many socks and underwear you should bring. As for pajamas, I wear the same pair the whole trip to save space.” —Staffer Kyle

“I like to follow the 3-3-3 method, where you pack three tops, three bottoms, and three pairs of shoes. You mix-and-match your entire vacation wardrobe from that set.” —Staffer Haylie

For the plane

Consider packing your under-the-seat bag with all or some of these items to make your in-flight experience enjoyable.

  • Passport and ID (arguably the most important items on your travel checklist)
  • Headphones
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs
  • That book you’ve been meaning to read
  • Travel pillow and blanket
  • A refillable water bottle
  • Phone or tablet with plenty of music, podcasts, audiobooks and/or E-books downloaded
  • Phone charging cable
  • Snacks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Tissues
  • Glasses (and extra contacts if you wear them!)
  • Any necessary medications for the plane
  • Face masks
  • Chewing gum
  • Slippers
  • Hand cream
  • Skincare

Looking for more tips? Read our packing 101 carry-on guide.

Put our tips to the test of one of these tours

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Toiletries to remember

While everyone has different packing needs, here are some essentials that our travel experts have on their vacation packing checklists. (Just be sure to remember to keep things travel-sized if you’re opting for a carry-on.)

  • Dental care items (think: toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, mouthwash)
  • Deodorant
  • Skincare products (think: facewash, bodywash, moisturizer, or any of your other daily skincare staples)
  • Sunscreen
  • Eye care (think: eyedrops, contacts, lens solution, lens case, glasses, lens cleaner)
  • Razor
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls or pads
  • Hairbrush or comb
  • Dry shampoo
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair styling products (think: heat protectant, hair oil, styling creams, gels, hairspray)
  • Hair styling tools (think: a hair dryer, flat iron, curling iron, round brush—just be mindful of voltage conversion with these devices)
  • Hair accessories (think: hair ties, bobby pins, clips, etc.)
  • Makeup
  • Makeup remover
  • Perfume or cologne
  • Menstrual products
  • Insect repellent
  • Tweezers
  • Nailcare items (think clippers, files, a bottle of the nail polish color on your toes to touch up any on-tour pedicure chips)
  • Body wipes to freshen up on the go

Your on-the-go medicine cabinet

Most tours go off without a hitch, but it’s always wise to arrive prepared for anything that may come up during your travels. Consider adding an emergency kit with a combination of these items to your trip packing list.

  • Pain relievers
  • Any personal medication
  • Vitamins
  • Imodium
  • A Z-pak
  • Allergy medication
  • Cold/cough medicine
  • Lozenges
  • Steroid cream
  • Melatonin
  • Antacids
  • Motion sickness medication
  • A first-aid kit

Electronic items

In the modern world, it’s hard to imagine travel without these tech items, so don’t forget to add them to your packing list.

  • Phone
  • Headphones
  • Laptop
  • E-reader
  • Camera
  • Universal adapter (and converter if any items you’re bringing require voltage conversion for your destination)
  • A portable phone charger
  • Chargers for all devices

Miscellaneous

Lastly, don’t forget to round out your packing list with some, or all, of these items.

  • A photocopy of your passport and travel documents
  • Your printed-out itinerary and flight information
  • Your house keys
  • Packing cubes
  • Waterproof bags to separate wet clothes or bathing suits
  • Sunglasses
  • An ATM or debit card
  • Credit cards you can use at your destination
  • Local currency
  • An umbrella and/or rain poncho
  • A journal and pen
  • A quick-drying towel
  • Binoculars (especially if you’re headed on a Safari & Wildlife Tour)
  • A sewing kit
  • A stain-removing pen
  • A portable steamer
  • A small crossbody bag or tote bag for sightseeing
  • A portable fan

Hear from our in-house experts

For some destination-specific insight, we asked Go Ahead staffers for their packing list tips after their most recent Go Ahead tours. Here’s where they went and what they had to say:

Staffer Rhyan
Tour: A Week in Eastern Europe: Prague, Kraków & Budapest
Grateful she packed: light layers to stay comfortable on the go
Wishes she’d packed: less! She wishes she’d left more space in her bag for souvenirs

Staffer Megan
Tour: Food & Wine: Flavors of Chile & Argentina
Grateful she packed: a few sweaters and a sweatshirt, because it gets pretty chilly at night
Wishes she’d packed: mosquito spray—she had no idea how pesky they could be when it rains

Staffer Tim
Tour: Costa Rica: Rainforests, Volcanoes & Wildlife
Grateful he packed: binoculars to make spotting wildlife a breeze
Wishes he’d packed: plastic bags to put wet clothing in

Staffer Abby
Tour: Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket
Grateful she packed: a lightweight SPF shirt
Wishes she’d packed: flowy dresses that covered her shoulders for entering temples

Staffer Andy
Tour: Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru
Grateful he packed: a really good rain jacket
Wishes he’d packed: more breathable activewear for hikes

Staffer Kieran
Tour: Kenya Wildlife Safari for Solo Travelers
Grateful she packed: loose, long-sleeve shirts to help with sun exposure
Wishes she’d packed: a reusable rain poncho

Staffer Joe
Tour: A Week in Switzerland, Germany & Austria
Grateful he packed: sunglasses
Wishes he’d packed: a small backpack for sightseeing, so he didn’t have to empty out his bigger backpack each day

Staffer Emily
Tour: Egypt and Nile River Cruise with Jordan extension
Grateful she packed: water shoes to wear at the rocky Dead Sea Beach
Wishes she’d packed: SPF clothing for extra sun protection

Want to hear more from our travel specialists? Check out our list of expert packing tips.

Now that you know how and what to pack, the only question is: Which of our 200+ guided tours will you be packing for? Shop our tours

About the author | Steph Herron
Since moving abroad for college at the age of 18, Steph’s never doubted that travel is her passion in life. When she isn’t seeking opportunities to satisfy her wanderlust—and inspiring others to do the same—you’ll find her exploring Boston’s vegan food scene, shopping for eclectic pieces to add to her closet, or rewatching 90s romantic comedies.

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views of the aegean sea from the greek islands with white buildings in the foreground
views of the aegean sea from the greek islands with white buildings in the foreground views of the aegean sea from the greek islands with white buildings in the foreground
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