Packing for a 3+ week trip abroad is serious work people. I thought I would share some of the things I do for myself and family that makes it easier for us to travel on extended vacations. I’m going to show you everything that I pack in my own toiletry bag which I take in my carry-on. The liquid items will later be packed in a clear plastic bag for the security check but once we are off the plane and moving around, I want it all to fit into one bag so that’s my goal here. Each person in our family has their own bag and own items so they all know where their things are and can grab it and go if we split up for showers at a swimming pool for example.
Lay It All Out
I start by laying out all the items I want to take. I don’t worry about the sizes or how much you’re taking or anything like that just yet. That’s the next step. I just want to make sure important things like prescriptions and my mouthguard make it into the pile. Those will also be the first in the bag. Now step back and take a look. Is everything from my morning and evening routine in the pile? Am I able to make myself presentable with what I have? Nope, add sunscreen and moisturizer. Ok, move on.
Now that I have all the items out that I want to take, I have to look what I really really need and the space I am willing to give it all in my luggage. Since this will be going in my carry-on, space is a priority. I have two toiletry bags to choose from: a pouch style and a folding organizer that can hang up. I normally use the pouch because it holds a surprisingly large amount of things but I wanted to try the hanging organizer to see if it is more convenient when using small bathrooms and moving house to house. As I said above, the liquid items will go into a separate plastic bag for the security check but once we are back on the ground and traveling, I want to be sure it’s all going to fit back in.
Use travel/sample sizes and disposable items when possible. I was surprised to find on our last trip that travel sized shampoo and toothpaste actually lasts quite a long time, almost two weeks. I dug into my stash and replaced anything large with a mini size. I can use a comb instead of a brush, I can buy a face cleanser and moisturizer there, and a small bottle of shampoo is all I really need for the first night. Just by reducing the size of the items I probably saved 2 or 3 pounds and a bunch of space. I also have tried filling my own travel bottles but have yet to find a brand that doesn’t leak. Let me know if you have a recommendation by leaving a comment below.
Do you really need it? Looking at my items, I put in lipgloss. I don’t wear it at home, so I’m probably not going to wear it on vacation. It’s out. I can either buy it there or mix some of the sunscreen lip balm mixed with some eyeshadow to get a shimmer. I’m also back and forth on the floss. I probably don’t need it on day 1 so it can go if there isn’t room. It’s also an item that the whole family has so maybe someone else has a pack of it and I can use theirs. Nobody is going to use 30 yards of it themselves on the first day of the trip.
The other big thing I took out was the Sonicare toothbrush. If the battery doesn’t last the entire trip (it should just make it but you never know), then I’m going to end up buying a regular toothbrush anyway. Another concern is that I don’t want to pack a charger and an outlet converter just for two days I might need it. And if I lost the toothbrush, that’s a lot of money to replace it. I’m opting to grab one of the freebie toothbrushes from the pile I have collected from the dentist. Lighter, smaller, and replaceable.
Figure out what you can buy at your destination. I always buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, and sunscreen at our destination and then toss it before we leave. It saves space, weight, and there is no risk of it all leaking in the suitcase if I packed it at home. I do, however, pack some travel sizes so we don’t have to hunt down our items the minute we get off the plane. It’s nice to be able to get to your hotel/family and brush your teeth without having to go out and find a store right away. Or have tear free shampoo for the kiddo instead of the hotel shampoo that stings eyes. And with all the fair skin in our family, the sunscreen sample would be a lifesaver if we have to wait outside for a taxi. Just enough to get by a day or two until we can hit the grocery and drug stores and stock up for the rest of the trip.
So now I’ve gone through and edited my items based on what I will buy when I am there and what is practical and what is not. The pile shown on the right has reduced in size and weight considerably. Next I’m going to try and fit it all in my bag and see if I need to remove any more.
Choose A Bag
Make sure the bag can hold everything. I don’t want to be toting two bags around to bathrooms and have to keep track of it all. This year I’m thinking about switching to a hanging organizer instead of the bag I usually take. While the bag is slightly smaller, to find something at the bottom means digging through it or taking everything out until I find what I want. The organizer might take up some extra space but it looks easier to work with and after staying 3 weeks at 4 different homes, it might be a better option.
After sorting out all my essentials and downsizing containers, I packed up each bag to compare them. Both held all my items but neither would close because they were just too stuffed. Time to remove a few more things and try it again to see if it works out better.
I removed the pink bottle of conditioner, lip gloss, and moisturizer; I don’t really need those the first few days. After making these changes and also moving things around in the organizer, both easily close. The flowered bag looks like it will take up less space in my carry-on. What one would you choose?
Leaving Some Behind
Over the course of our stay, I’ll probably be shopping and picking up souvenirs, clothes, and shoes and filling my bag with groceries. At that point, every inch and pound of weight is going to count. I plan on leaving a lot of items behind because, let’s face it, new shoes are more important than half a travel deodorant. I am keeping the toothbrush and toothpaste in case our flight is diverted and we need an overnight stay but all the shampoo, lotions, scrubs, floss, and chapstick can be left if it comes to that. Most hotels have shampoo and soap for their guests and even if it’s not great quality…anything for the shoes!