A Thorough Guide to Packing Your Checked Bag, Carry-On and Personal Item

I’ve come to find that the more I travel, the better I get at packing.  My first international trip was when I was fifteen and I had no idea what I needed.  I had a huge suitcase packed for an eleven day trip.  The contents?  At least two dozen outfits, complete with five different pairs of shoes (that’s a modest estimate), a hairdryer, makeup, full bottle toiletries, etc.  How much of that stuff did I really need? Less than half!

Let’s move on to my next trip to Amsterdam for a wedding.  Still traveled with a suitcase with too many shoes, two outfits per day, and too many toiletries.  This time I learned that you don’t need multiple pairs of heels (just-in-case), and a backpack would be a much easier feat to carry around on all those cobbled European streets when bouncing from accommodation to accommodation.

So that’s when I purchased my first pack.  My backpack is a 65L Osprey and I absolutely love it.  I had it fit at an outdoors store before purchasing, as it is a pricey commitment.  There are tons of great brands and different sizes, so the best thing to do is shop around and find what’s best for you!

My first trip with my backpack I was stoked, and as large of a pack as it was, I still packed it to the brim.  Costa Rica this time.  I felt like I needed outdoors/adventure clothing, and still cute going out clothing, and also beach clothing and multiple swimsuits, and equipment to snorkel in the ocean.  Finding a theme here, I used half of what I packed, and lugged around that heavy thing with all of it spewing out.

Fast forward a couple years and a couple trips later.  I now have managed to successfully figure out how to pack for a trip.  Every trip is different and you have to learn to change your packing style based on the country and the culture.  I’ve even managed a three week backpacking trip in December to countries with contrasting weather (Norway to Morocco) all in a personal item.  However, I’ll post that on another day!

For today’s packing I will show you how I packed my backpack, carry-on and purse for 8 days in Italy. 

Personal Item:

A personal item is a smaller bag or purse that needs to fit under the seat in front of you.  Airlines are all different sizes, so the measurements of the bags change.  If you fly budget airlines, this may be the only free bag available.  Dimensions are shown on the airline’s website.

For my trip to Italy-I am utilizing my cross-body purse as my personal item.  I always travel with a cross-body purse that zips, as my own way of preventing pick-pockets.  I always zip it when I travel to prevent wandering hands and can keep it close to my body while strolling through markets or pressed tightly on public transportation.  There are lots of different pockets and sections to store smaller items and keep things handy.

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Within my purse, you will find airline essentials:

  • A book
  • A kindle
  • A journal
    • And two pens
  • My wallet
    • Visa debit card
    • Leftover Euros
    • American cash
  • Headphones
  • Chapstick
  • Gum

Crossbody Purse

After my flight and when I check into my accommodation, it is easy to switch things out for what I need while visiting the city during the day.  This purse also fits into my carry-on at the beginning of my trip, before I have checked my backpack.  This way there’s less bags to lug around the airport.

 

Carry-On:

I change my carry-on based on the airline allowance and the trip.  This trip allows for one free checked bag, one free carry-on bag, and one free personal item.  I’m choosing to utilize this as I want to bring back wine in my checked bag.  Sometimes if I’m going somewhere with lots of hiking, I’ll bring my Camelbak, and sometimes I choose just to check my backpack and carry-on my purse.

For my trip to Italy, I am bringing a more “fashionable” backpack, so that when I take day trips, I can bring a bathing suit and towel, and make room for souvenirs, while still carrying contents that would typically be in my purse like my wallet and phone.  While walking around the airport and city initially, this backpack will also carry my purse.

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Within my carry-on you will find a variety of important items:

I have organized groups of items and placed them into smaller bags to keep everything tidy.  These smaller bags are cheap, and can be found in any cosmetic section of a store.  My particular bags come from Ipsy.  Ipsy is a monthly subscription to a make-up service that costs $10 a month, and sends tons of beauty supplies that are often travel sized and catered to your wants.

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Items in my carry-on:

  • Purse (with books, kindle, wallet, passport, etc.)
  • Packing cube with change of clothes
  • Make-up bag & brushes
  • First aid kit
  • Electronics and sleep bag
  • Selfie stick
  • Toothbrush
  • Sunglasses
  • Water bottle

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Change of clothes:

  • 1 pair of skinny jeans
  • 1 plain tee shirt
  • 1 pair of underwear

I always like to bring a change of clothes, A) so that I can change after I get off the plane and B) in the situation where my checked luggage gets lost, I have something else to wear!  Putting them in a small packing cube helps keep it organized and saves space. Some packing cubes even compress your clothes, if you need the extra, extra space.

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Make-up Bag:

  • Brush kit
  • BB cream
  • Under eye cover-up
  • Highlighting stick
  • Liquid highlighter
  • Primer
  • Eyeliner
  • Eyeliner sharpener
  • Powder highligher
  • Powder bronzer
  • Powder blush
  • Eyeshadow (single palette, double palette, and multi-palette)
  • Mascara
  • Lipstick/Gloss

Everyone’s make-up needs are different.  I typically don’t wear make-up on the regular, however, I did notice that I appreciate my travel photos more when I’m wearing foundation and mascara (ok and all that contouring stuff too).  Whatever your make-up routine, you’ll like want to utilize travel size products (which is why Ipsy is great), and pack whatever you typically utilize.  I love lipstick and typically rock bright lips, but don’t wear eye shadow.  This is why I packed 7 lipsticks.  If you don’t typically wear lipstick, don’t pack 7 lipsticks for the just-in-case.  Travel mascaras are also great to save space!  Pictured top-left is my brush kit, which is great instead of shoving all your brushes into your bag.  Saves space and easily organized.

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First Aid Kit:

  • Tampons
  • Antibiotics
  • Advil
  • Tums
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Anti-Diarrheal
  • Allergy Medicine
  • Saline Wipes
  • Antiseptic Ointment
  • Bandaids
  • Sharpie
  • Scissors

I’m a nurse, so obviously I bring some sort of first aid kit with me always.  Always pack your prescription medications and keep them in your carry-on in case your luggage were to get lost. It’s also important to bring different medications when you travel, because you never know what you may need, and if that country will have it available at a drug store.  For example, tampons are particularly hard to find when traveling and very expensive.  Regardless of if you’re supposed to get your period, pack what you think you’ll need anyways.  Advil is great for hangovers, sore muscles, and headaches.  Basic antibiotics are great for infections-I’m particularly prone to getting strep throat from traveling and would rather skip a doctor in a foreign country.  And then some other first-aid necessities to clean and dress basic wounds or blisters.

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Electronics and Sleep Bag:

  • Eye mask
  • Ear plugs
  • Sleep aid
  • Travel charger
  • Phone charger
  • Phone plug
  • Travel adapter and converter
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra batteries
  • Gum

I wasn’t really sure what else to title this bag, but it’s more necessities to bring on an airplane and holds my electronic needs.  I love my travel adapter and converter because it is an all-in-one travel adapter with surge protection, with 2 USB ports, and 5 different input plugs.  Plus it’s $10 on Amazon with Prime-free shipping, $5 if you purchase on the Amazon app utilizing the code: CHELS17340N.  (I only plug this item, because I love it so much and recommend it to EVERYONE)  I also like to travel with an eye mask and ear plugs so that I can sleep on the plane and fight jet-lag, but also because you never know how noisy your accommodation is.  I like hostels because I’m broke, and have stayed in a room with up to 15 other people before.  Every night I put that mask and ear plugs in and sleep great!

Selfie Stick:

Yes, I recently purchase a selfie stick, and yes, I utilize it when I travel.  I don’t care what people who I’ll never see again think, it makes your pictures so much better!  If you’re a solo traveler, it’s extra convenient and this one utilizes Bluetooth! So say what you will, but I say, selfies all the way!

Water Bottle:

Bringing your own water bottle not only cuts down on costs, but on waste as well.  Remember to keep it empty until you get through security and then fill it up.  That way you can stay hydrated on your flight which helps prevent jet-lag.  Check up on tap-water for the country you are visiting.  Most countries in Europe have great drinking water from the tap, and often have faucets and fountains available outside.  Great place to fill up while touring the city!  For the countries that don’t-you will need to purchase bottled water, and may not find it necessary to bring a reusable water bottle.  I like this bottle because it packs up nicely when empty.

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Yes, everything mentioned above, including the purse, is pictured here in my carry-on backpack

Checked Bag:

As previously mentioned, not all flights include free checked bags, and not all trips require checked bags.  My backpack is only half filled for this trip because I want to bring back some wine (roughly half a backpack full ;)) and it’s free to check it.  It’s also a 65L which I now realize, is pretty big, and would eventually like to purchase around 40L to check on.  I also choose to pack a backpack due to convenience of carrying around, and because I often travel as a backpacker and stay in multiple cities and hostels.  If you prefer a suitcase-great!  Utilize these tips and pack a suitcase instead!

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Items in my Backpack:

  • Sun hat
  • Liquid toiletry bag
  • Miscellaneous toiletry bag
  • Clothes in large packing cube
  • Undergarments in medium packing cube
  • 1 pair of comfortable walking sandals
  • 1 pair of comfortable wedges
  • Map of Italy

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Liquid Toiletry Bag:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Leave-in conditioner
  • Wave spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Downy wrinkle release
  • Contacts (x2)
  • Contact solution
  • Face wash

Even though  I am checking my bag, I still choose to use travel sized toiletries because I don’t need the full bottle and smaller sizes not only save space, but make your bag way lighter, and easier to clean if there is a spill.  To prevent spills, I put a small square of saran-wrap under the lid of each bottle, even the spray bottles.  Downy wrinkle release is a must-have for me not because of wrinkles, but because it makes your clothes smell so fresh!  This is a great place to put shaving cream and a razor-but I typically don’t pack that.  One way to save space and money is to check in with your hotels to see which travel sized toiletries they have behind the counter.  I’ve often gotten shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower caps, razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.  Another option is to check the free pile at your hostel, where I’ve also found free large bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and I left it for the next person after I was done using it.

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Miscellaneous Toiletry Bag:

  • Makeup primer/setter
  • Perfume
  • Chapstick
  • Headband
  • Compact mirror
  • Lint roller
  • Hair brush
  • Face moisturizer
  • Night moisturizer
  • Lipgloss with SPF
  • Make-up remover
  • Toothpaste
  • Bobby Pins
  • Deodorant

These items were some random items that could be toiletries or make-up but I didn’t find them necessities.  Again-choose to purchase travel sized such as the compact hair brush, the mini-perfumes, package of make-up remover, and deodorant.

 

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Clothes:

  • 3 sundresses
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 long sleeve over-shirts
  • 3 tank tops
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of jean shorts
  • 1 pair of spandex

What I pack for clothes changes based on my trip.  This trip is to Italy, where people care about fashion.  Therefore, I felt that I needed more than just plain tee’s and skinny jeans.  Regardless of the trip, it’s easier to pack neutral colors as you can mix and match them.  The tank tops I have packed here go great with the skirts and the jeans.  The over-shirts go with just about every sundress and tank-top/jean combo.  What’s not shown (or packed here) is the plain tee I wear on the plane, the plain tee in my carry-on, the pair of jeans in my carry-on, my rain-jacket and my scarf.  And yes, the spandex are for my sundresses (sisters with chub-rub unite!)

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When packing your clothes, I recommend three things.  1) Roll your clothes to save space.  2) Roll dryer sheets in your clothes to keep them smelling fresh.  3) Utilize packing cubes or ziplock bags to keep everything organized.

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Undergarments:

  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 3 pairs of no-show socks
  • 10 pairs of assorted underwear
  • 1 sticky bra
  • 1 strapless bra
  • 1 packable, quick-dry towel

For pajamas I just utilize a pair of shorts and tee shirt.  Use whatever you’re comfortable in, but be mindful of your accommodation.  Like, where whatever you want in a hotel.  But, maybe don’t wear lingerie or sleep naked in a hostel.  Always bring one bathing suit-regardless of the destination.  There’s always somewhere that it comes in handy, whether it’s a waterfall, the ocean, a pool, or a bathhouse-I’ve never not been happy to have one. Bring socks to suit your shoe needs.  Bring extra underwear.  1 sticky bra for some of my dresses/tank tops where just a strapless won’t do.  1 strapless.  Always bring a packable, quick-dry towel.  Some Airbnb’s and hostels, don’t provide towels to shower with.  Some travel destinations have beaches and pools.  These always come in handy especially because beach and shower towels are bulky, dry super slow, and are heavy when wet. What’s not shown is a regular bra which I’ll be wearing to the airport.

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Shoes:

  • 1 pair comfortable sandals
  • 1 pair comfortable wedges

Italy is a fashionable country, therefore I felt I had to pack nice shoes.  However, these heels are wedges and are cushioned.  That way I can navigate cobbled streets, and not hate my life.  Typically, I would not bring heels, unless I was attending a wedding or fancy event.  Comfortable sandals are also an important change from your typical walking sneakers.  If I was staying at a hostel, I would add flip-flops for the shower situation.  What’s not shown is my comfortable walking shoes.  When packing, I always pack my shoes at the bottom of my bag, and in a shower cap.  That way they don’t dirty up your clothes!

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For the plane:

  • 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 pair compression socks
  • 1 bra
  • 1 plain tee
  • 1 pair yoga pants

When traveling I like to wear my comfortable walking shoes, or my bulkiest shoes.  I also choose to wear my rain jacket because I always travel with it and tend to get cold on flights.  Plus, the bulkier stuff you can wear, the more space in your bags. A plain tee and yoga pants are the most comfortable, and help me stretch and sleep on the plane.  Compression socks are great to prevent clots and swelling in your feet for long flights as well.  I always travel with a lightweight scarf as well, 1) because Europeans love scarfs and it’s fashionable, 2) they easily add to your plain tee’s, and 3) they can be used as a blanket when cold.

And just like that, I’m all packed ready for my next getaway!

So, was my thorough list, thorough enough?  Did you learn new packing tricks?  Did you find some traveling necessities?  What was helpful?  What wasn’t helpful?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

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3 thoughts on “A Thorough Guide to Packing Your Checked Bag, Carry-On and Personal Item

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