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What to Pack/Bring on Vacation - Packing Checklist

Updated on July 22, 2013
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What to Pack/Bring on Vacation

Whether I'm heading to the movies or leaving for a month-long trip, I hate leaving anything useful behind. Sometimes I feel like I'm going overboard, but, more often than not, I'm really glad I brought along the sunscreen, extra water, fancy dress, or whatever else I decided to cram in my bag at the last minute. As much as I love being prepared, I also realize that there are limits on how much a person can bring on vacation and things that are just downright unreasonable for a specific time of year or destination. Discover tips on what to pack for your next vacation that will help you be prepared without going overboard.

Avoid Jet Lag

Long flight between you and your vacation? Discover how to prevent and avoid jet lag!

How to Prepare for Packing

Before you even begin to think about packing, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • How long will you be away from home?
  • Where are you going?
  • Are you traveling alone? With a significant other? With children?
  • What do you plan to do? Relax at the spa? Hike? Swim?
  • Will you have access to laundry facilities/are you willing to do laundry while away?
  • What are your accommodations like? Are you staying with friends/family? At a full service hotel? At a hostel? In a tent?
  • Do you get a free checked bag (if you're flying)? How much luggage are you willing to bring? Have you considered flying with just a carry on bag?

These should be easy to answer questions, but they are important and can help you decide what to bring.

Are you taking a meditative retreat? Going on an adventure? Your vacation plans influence what you need to pack.
Are you taking a meditative retreat? Going on an adventure? Your vacation plans influence what you need to pack. | Source

Where do you Stay?

What's your favorite type of accommodation?

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What to Pack for a Hostel Stay/Backpacking

A lot of people are nervous about staying in hostels because they've watched a few too many horror movies, but many real life hostels are friendly, clean places to stay. Contrary to popular belief, most hostels are not 'youth hostels' with some arbitrary age limit. Some hostels do not allow locals and require you to present a valid foreign passport when you check in, but many hostels welcome foreigners and locals, alike. Additionally, not all hostels are just big dormitory rooms full of strangers. If you're willing to pay a little more, many hostels have semi-private and/or private rooms available. These rooms cost significantly less than staying in a traditional full service hotel, but still offer the privacy and safety of a personal room. Even if you pay for a private room, there are a few extra things you need to bring if you're planning to stay in a hostel.

  • Pack a towel. There may be a hostel out there somewhere that provides towels, but I've never stayed in one. When backpacking/staying in a hostel, I love bringing my amazing Packtowel. It is lightweight, super absorbent, dries quickly, has an anti-microbial agent that keeps it from growing funky even after several weeks of use, and takes less space to pack than a t-shirt. I realize it probably sounds too good to be true, but the Packtowel is awesome!
  • Check the hostel's policy to see if you need your own linens/blankets. Some hostels provide sheets and a blanket, some do not. If you're staying at one or two hostels and already have a room booked, you can check their policies. If you're planning to backpack around and see what you can see, go ahead and pack a sleeping bag just in case!
  • Consider bringing a lock. Some hostels have free or paid secure storage, some do not. If you stay in a dormitory room, you'll probably have access to a lockable drawer, so bring a lock if you want to keep your possessions safe. I've never personally lost anything to theft in a hostel, but it does happen.

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What to Pack for a Beach or Summer Vacation

Beach vacations seem to be the most popular, iconic way to spend some free time. Sun, sand, surf - what could be better? Beach/summer vacation are fun, but you can ruin the entire trip by forgetting one of these important items:

  • Sunscreen! Lots and lots of it. Sure, you can buy it while you're on vacation, but tourist-area and hotel prices are always higher. Save yourself time, money, and frustration by bringing plenty of sunscreen along. If you're used to hot weather and sun, you may be tempted to skip the sunscreen when you visit a tropical destination. The tropics tend to be cooler in the summer than sub-tropical and inland areas, but the more direct sunshine can cause vicious burns. A severe sunburn on vacation can ruin your entire trip!
  • Sunglasses. Sunglasses aren't just a fashion accessory - they are an important piece of wellness equipment. Many skin cancers form on and around the eyelids, but it is easy to protect this thin, sensitive skin with UV-blocking shades. Polarized lenses cut down on glare, making them perfect for relaxing at the beach, boating, and other water sports. Don't know if your lenses are polarized? Find out how to check your lenses for polarization.

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  • Multiple bathing suits. You'd be surprised how many people plan a beach vacation and forget to pack a swim suit! I've done it on more than one occasion. Ideally, you should bring two or three, if possible, so you don't have to wear yesterday's cold, clammy suit or something that smells musty and mildewy.
  • Light, easy to wear clothing. You may love your jeans, but you may not want them at the beach with you. Opt for airy clothing made from lightweight, natural fabrics and light colors. Linen pants are a great choice for men, and linen or cotton dresses, tunics, and blouses are great for women. Dark colors like black, deep blue, and burgundy attract heat and can warm you up, but whites, light grays, neutrals, and pastel colors help keep you cool. Try to avoid overly-tight clothing, clingy fabrics, and synthetic materials that can just make you sweat.
  • Exercise gear. Believe it or not, a lot of people like to exercise on vacation. Most hotels have a fitness room, but running or walking in a new, beautiful location can be a lot of fun, too. People work hard to get 'bikini ready' and don't want to loose their months of effort to a few vacation cocktails. If you're the type that likes staying fit on the go, don't forget to pack appropriate shoes, shorts/pants, and tops!

You may feel silly using a hydration pack, but they're very convenient!
You may feel silly using a hydration pack, but they're very convenient! | Source
  • A water bottle. Whether you plan to chill at the beach or take a scenic hike, a reusable water bottle is an important piece of vacation equipment. Windy beaches dehydrate you quickly, even if you don't feel sweaty, and hiking without sufficient water is downright dangerous. If you're planning to walk or hike, consider an easy to carry water option, like a sling for your water bottle or even a hydration pack.
  • A waterproof camera or phone case. You can always choose a disposable waterproof camera, but digital waterproof cameras are affordable and take surprisingly good photos. Alternatively, you can use a waterproof phone case, like a LifeProof case, and take your phone to the beach. For something even more affordable, choose a simple waterproof pouch for your smart phone. They aren't a substitute phone case for everyday use, but waterproof pouches usually cost about $15 and allow you to safely bring your phone to the beach.

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Cool views come with a cold price!

You may be sweaty on a hike, but you will cool down quickly when you stop. If you plan to rest at the summit, or even snap some photos, warmer clothing is a must! I regretted my choice not to bring a jacket on this particular hike - just look at that wind!

What to Pack for a Winter/Cold Weather, Mountain, or Ski Vacation

If you're going on a ski trip, you probably already know you need to pack some cold weather clothing, but do you realize you might need cold gear if you're going to warm destination? Even if you don't plan on taking a 'cold weather' trip, the local weather might be unseasonably cool, or just cold to you. Because of this, I highly recommend checking the local weather starting about a week out. Decide for yourself whether their summer is actually your winter! I am from South Carolina and I've been bundled up on a Canadian trip while the locals where at the beach, so pack what you need, regardless of what the locals are accustomed to.

If you're heading to a topical vacation destination, you might still want to bring a jacket (potentially a heavy one!). Temperature decreases dramatically with elevation. If you're planning any hikes out of the South American jungle, to European peaks, or even to Volcano National Park in Hawaii, you should bring a jacket or windbreaker.

No matter how cold your just cold to you your destination is, there are a few things you need to bring:

  • Sunscreen! A lot of people get sunburned skiing and snow boarding because they don't protect their faces. UV rays don't care how cold it is, they will burn you. Snow reflects light back into your face, making the potential for damage even worse.
  • Sunglasses. Yep, these are important in cold weather, too. Polarized lenses are especially important for winter sports because they cut down on glare.
  • Layers. You need to bundle up on the slope, but you also need appropriate clothing for relaxing in the lodge, too. Packing/wearing layers of clothing allows you to remove or add an extra item to accommodate changing temperatures.
  • Hats. Hats are the not so secret (but often forgotten way) to stay warm. A warm hat and a way to protect your ears from cold temperatures and biting winds will make your winter vacation enjoyable, but forgetting these items will make you miserable.

  • Waterproof gear or waterproofing supplies. Snow is perception, and snow melting on your gear can make you cold, soggy, and miserable. Make sure your go-to boots are waterproof and, if they're not, apply a waterproof coating before you pack.
  • Emergency supplies. If you plan to cross country ski or hike up a snowy mountain, come prepared with basic supplies like granola bars, a flashlight, water, and an emergency blanket.
  • Sports gear? Maybe not...If you're flying, it might not actually be worth it to bring all your own gear. Airlines charge a lot for checked items, and oversized/differently-shaped items frequently cost even more. Add up the checked baggage costs each way and think about how it could get damaged in the process before you assume you need to pack all your own gear.

What to Pack

If you need more ideas on what to pack, check out these great resources for some additional inspiration!

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Vacation Preparation and Packing

Planning your vacation should not only include booking travel and accommodations, but should also involve carefully planning what to bring and taking care of everyday life obligations ahead of time. With a bit pre-planning and effort, you can make sure vacation is as enjoyable and stress-free as you'd imagined!

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    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Very insightful and full of great tips! Thanks for sharing. (Voted Up).

      -Rose

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! Packing has been on my mind a lot recently because I'm spending the summer in Hawaii and I'm about to head out on an 'actual' vacation. I'm packing from my packing - eek!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There you go talking about something I can't do, making me jealous all over again. Thanks a lot, Natasha! :)

      Good job as always!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Ahaha. I couldn't do it on my own, either! I'm just lucky enough to have a very understanding man with the sense to study science instead of history. =)

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Wonderful article, Natasha! And you must have quite a budget to hire such great-looking models! LOL! Congratulations and kudos to you and your man for going on terrific adventures while you're young and accumulating such golden memories. Aloha!

      Joe

    • jabelufiroz profile image

      Firoz 3 years ago from India

      Great tips on Vacation. Voted up.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Joe - Sshhh! He doesn't know he's in this hub! We're leaving for Maui tomorrow and are really excited! We've done a lot, but this trip will be our first 'real vacation' together.

      Jabelufiroz - Thanks!

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 3 years ago from Georgia country

      You definitely know what to pack on vacation as you are travelling around which is absolutely great. Very useful and great tips!

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      You've covered everything! I like the wide range of options here for so many different types of trips.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks, janetwrites!

      Randomcreative - thanks you! I may end up writing a whole hub on staying in hostels, too.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 years ago from USA

      I've never stayed in a hostel, but am curious to learn more. I'd love to read more about your experiences and suggestions :)

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      I haven't done it recently but we're checking in to one tomorrow!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Great list of things to take on vacation. From my experience, your mention of the towel is an item not to forget. It is amazing at how quickly you can go through them. And the hotel does not always come through with fresh towels at your convenience.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      You're right! Depending on where you are, towels aren't always available. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Love the lists and especially the lock for Youth hostel stays. Stuff tends to disappear from those places easily! Pinned.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      I recently stayed in the world's cleanest, friendliest hostel, but the sure can be sketchy! Thanks so much for pinning.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      I always forget something! lol! but sun cream is my best friend, especially when I went on holiday last week! great list, nell

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks! I think I didn't forget anything this time...except my phone in an airport!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Natashalh - Very interesting and very informative. Now I am feeling absolutely desperate to take a trip, but classes start next week. Darn! :) Great Hub. Theresa

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      My next trip is that not fun flight home for school, too! Thanks for stopping in =)

    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 3 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      Being a constant traveler myself, I certainly agree with you are writing here. They are obviously useful and ideal. Great hub and looking forward to read more of them.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks! I look forward to having the time to actually write more soon. =)

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