Travel Packing Essentials and a Printable Checklist

Summer break is here, and we are gearing up for an exciting getaway to Nashville, TN. We will be away for an entire week -a long time away from home and my essentials if you ask me! I designed a compact but comprehensive printable packing list so I do not forget anything. I am also sharing my travel packing essentials and gear which along with the printable list make the perfect aid for all your packing needs.

If you suffer from analysis paralysis and do not know what to pack for travel, this checklist gives you a good idea and makes the process easier for you.

printable packing list

We often travel by car, so I tend to pack without restrictions on weight or space. Since this time we are flying, I worry about packing too much or too little. The elusive balance that seems to exist in every area of our lives.

The printable checklist I designed is a generic guide that will help you decide what to pack for travel, regardless of your destination.

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My Favorite Travel Packing Essentials

As I mentioned before, balanced packing (not too much, not so little) seems to be difficult to achieve. And I suppose you know I fall in the category of those girls who pack way too much!

But, just as in organizing my home -in time- I have learned what to pack for travel (even before making a checklist) in a tidy form, using the right systems. I like containing things to set limits. And it truly works!

essentials for packing

Here’s my personal approach to organized and on-point travel packing every time. This list of my favorite gear and essentials for packing, along with the printable packing list, will help you ease the analysis paralysis of getting ready for vacation.

1. Small / Medium Sturdy Suitcase

Unless you’re traveling overseas (think a 9-hour flight, changing planes, long layovers) and staying away from home for over a week, a small carry-on or a medium-sized suitcase (to send on cargo) is more than enough, as long as you know what to pack and how to pack it.

I have had a softshell classic suitcase and a hard shell like my current Calpak suitcase (click for similar), and the hardshell offers a much better experience. Not only offers better security than a cloth suitcase that can be torn but because it can’t be squeezed into tight spaces in the airplane, everything inside keeps its shape.

I also love that I can thoroughly clean the suitcase. Whenever we return from vacation, I wipe the entire suitcase down with disinfecting wipes before putting it away. While my hard-shell suitcase has been dragged and scratched (think black grease from cargo and smudges from the airport’s conveyor belt), a magic eraser and wipes always make it look as good as new.

Look for wheels that rotate 360 degrees, a collapsible handle, and at least a couple of inside pockets. The magic of packing well lies not in the suitcase but in the packing cubes (explained below!).

2. Packing Cubes to Organize and Set Limits

I am sure you have heard of—or seen—packing cubes before. But maybe you’re hesitant about getting them because why would you need to put a bag inside a bag? Well, you do!

Packing cubes help you create zones and limits, two organization pillars I live by. The zones are within your suitcase, and the size of each cube limits what you can bring.

I have a set of 3 packing cubes (large, medium, and small) and although I use them interchangeably (not always for the same things), they help me stay organized inside my suitcase.

what to pack for travel checklist

Depending on the length of the trip or the destination, I use them for different items but always within the same category.

  • Swimsuits and cover-ups.
  • Tank tops, leggings, blouses. These -particularly- I roll, and they fit snugly, keep their shape, and do not wrinkle.
  • Underwear and socks.
  • Sometimes, I will use the smallest cube to hold cables, chargers, jewelry, etc., any small item that needs to be contained.

Another advantage of using packing cubes is that, precisely because they allow you to create zones and categories, you can quickly check things off the printable packing list. Since the stuff you pack is all in one place, there’s no need to undo or scramble your suitcase to double-check whether you already packed something.

3. Toiletries Bag

It might be the neat freak in me, but I think toiletries deserve their very own bag -and I mean an actual bag. Your toiletries bag should be big enough to carry entire bottles of shampoo and conditioner if you want to.

And the main reason I think the toiletries bag should be more than a zippered pouch is that your toiletries go in the hotel, Airbnb, or guest’s bathroom and do not stay in your suitcase for the entire trip.

what to pack travel checklist

So you need something big, sturdy, and with a handle. Something that you can hang on a hook in the bathroom. If there’s no hook, use a hanger and hang the bag on the shower curtain or towel rod. If it has a flat base, you can rest it on the bathroom counter or over the toilet tank if there’s not enough counter space.

The best advantage of a big, zippered, and pretty toiletries bag is that you can carry it independently. When we travel by car, I often transport it as is, and it’s easy to access as soon as we get settled in the hotel room.

4. Zipper Bags For Smaller Items

Sometimes, you only need a small zipper pouch to hold little things. These mesh travel bags are a lifesaver and essential for packing and storing anything that needs to be categorized.

essentials for packing

Mesh Zipper Pouches

I use them for travel and keep a couple inside my daily handbag. They were especially useful during the pandemic for carrying masks, sanitizing wipes, and a separate one for dirty masks.

Today, I still use these zipper pouches in my everyday handbag. I carry masks (now a necessity since some places might require them), snacks, and makeup.

I like these pouches to pack my essentials because they’re slim and light. They’re also clear but not see-through and color-coded, which allows me to recognize the categories at a glance.

5. Medium Size Travel Tote or Handbag

I am a tote junkie. If I can open my handbag and -at a glance- see everything inside, I am a happy girl. I have all types of totes, from fancy Michael Kors to Luke Bryan’s merch.

One of my favorite totes is the Scout bag, especially when we travel by car and go to the beach or explore casual places. It’s sturdy, and the flat base is great when you’re out and about. It also keeps its shape and is weatherproof. I can wipe this, too, with disinfecting wipes!

travel tote for packing essentials

SCOUT Uptown Girl Tote

When I travel by plane, I prefer totes with many compartments and zippers like this Michael Kors Voyager, which also makes an exceptional everyday handbag.

Whatever your choice of brand or material, a travel tote should be big enough to carry:

  • wallet
  • makeup
  • snacks, and at least a water bottle
  • phone, keys, a tablet (for you or kids)
  • essential travel documents (passport holder, visas, birth certificates, vaccine certificates, etc.)
  • earbuds or headphones
  • a book or a magazine
  • wipes
  • maybe even a slim laptop

6. Beach and Pool Bag

When we travel for a beach vacation, I bring a dedicated pre-packed beach and pool bag. If we travel by car (there is no weight or baggage limit), I pack all our pool and beach essentials in one place.

This bag is always beach-ready and stocked with the following essentials:

  • Sunscreen
  • Goggles
  • Hats / Caps
  • Towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Towel clips
  • Change of clothes
  • Magazine or book
  • A smaller tote (I will explain this in a separate post)
  • Plastic pouch for wet clothes

The size of the beach/pool bag you choose will depend on the size of your family. Whatever you decide, use up the space wisely by packing by categories.

List of Travel and Packing Essentials Resources

packing cubes essential for travel

Below is a list of the products (or similar products) mentioned in this post.

I hope my packing travel essentials list and ideas help you get organized when you pack for your next travel adventure. Below is the printable packing list. Enjoy!

Download Your Printable Packing List

Whether you’re going away for a weekend or an extended stay, this printable packing list will help you make sure you have everything you need before you leave home.

The printable is a letter-size PDF file, but the packing list is 4.5-inch wide by 10-inch tall. I purposely wanted something compact and easy to carry around while you’re packing your travel essentials.

what to pack printable list

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Safe travels,