I met my husband in 2007 and I have traveled every summer (and one Christmas) since to his hometown in England. As we embark on journey #9 to England I decided to share with you some things I’ve learned about packing for a two week journey overseas.
First off, I wish I had taken advice from seasoned travelers before my first couple of trips to England. It feels pretty helpless showing up in the airport to drop off your luggage and getting the red tag labeled, “OVERWEIGHT” strapped to the handle. Not only is there an added fee for any luggage over the limit (which for most airlines is 50 lbs.) but if it exceeds the limit too much they may force you to lighten the load before putting it on the plane. This is never a good experience. I’ve come a long way since my college days feeling the need to pack my entire dorm in my suitcase and so I thought I would share some things I’ve learned through the years about what to pack and what is unnecessary when it comes to international travel.
1. An Adapter: Almost every international trip will require an adapter for that region if you plan to take anything electronic or any chargers for electronic devices. For the first few years I traveled to England I would buy these in the airport and they can tend to run quite high in price, but a few years later I was able to plan ahead and purchase a USA to UK adapter on Amazon.com in a pack of 3 for $5.00. It is a wise and worry-free step in the process of packing to research the adapters and purchase them in advance.
2. A carry-on bag filled with books, pens, and paper: As one enters a new country you will undoubtedly be expected to fill out a customs or claims card. In my experience many airlines provide these cards during the flight to help ease the process once you have landed at the destination, but they do not provide pens for filling out these cards. Have a carry-on bag packed full of things to keep you busy during the flight and always be sure to include a pen or two. Additionally many of these cards will ask for the address of the location where you will be staying so somewhere in your carry-on or a in a note on your phone have that address handy.
3. Clothes: It goes without saying that 80% or more of what you pack for your trip should be clothing. When it comes to what clothing to pack think about layers. As a preppy college student I always tried to pack my entire wardrobe for a two week trip to England which filled my luggage to the seams and oftentimes is what put me over the weight limit when it came to the airport scales. Realistically you should just pack minimally allowing room in the suitcase to bring back souvenirs from the trip.
I am about to take a two week trip and here is a list of the clothing I am packing. (Please note that it is much colder in the summer in England than in Ohio):
-5 pairs of shoes: athletics, 2 pairs of flip flops, dress shoes, sandals
-3 pairs of shorts
-2 pairs of jeans
-3 tank tops
-5 shirts or printed tops
-3 hooded sweatshirts (because it rains frequently in England)
*Another tip I’ve learned for those of you concerned about the weight of your luggage is to wear your bulkiest pieces to the airport so that they are not added to the weight of the suitcase. I tend to wear my athletic shoes because airports require lots of walking, but also because they are the heaviest of my shoes. I’ll also pack a sweatshirt or two in my carry-on because I’ve never been on a flight where I haven’t gotten cold at some point. Most airlines offer blankets, but most do not cover both legs and arms.
4. Beauty Products: It’s so easy to go overboard on products for a trip. I’ve learned to minimize packing in this area as well. Purchasing the $1 travel-size shampoos, conditioners, and lotions have become essential to my packing. Apart from shower materials you should limit the makeup and hair products that you hull around. I always spend quite some time thinking through what I need. Anything else is just going to be added weight and space. I do always pack my hair straightener and one bag of cosmetics.
That’s about it for the what-to-pack list. Now for those items that you better just leave at home:
1. Cds, Dvds, and other media beyond tablets: These items oftentimes are embedded with a regional code that players in another country will not be able to read. So if you pack your child’s favorite Dvd thinking that you can show it in a hotel room you will be disappointed. If you or a member of the family can’t go without a certain album or movie it is best to download it onto iTunes or Google Play and watch it on your tablet or iPad.
2. Breakables or spill-ables: If you’ve ever watched them load suitcases onto a plane the reason behind packing anything breakable or spill-able goes without explanation. Although your suitcase may house some of your most valuable possessions it is likely not going to be treated as such by the airline crew who has over 250 suitcases to load on one flight. Make sure anything liquid has a lid that is securely fastened. One year I made the tragic mistake of not checking the lid on my hair spray and opened up a suitcase full of sopping wet clothes. Not fun.
3. Food: The compartment where luggage is stored during a flight is not equipped with air conditioning which will cause many foods to spoil or melt. If you are planning to take snacks be sure to store them in your carry-on and check the guidelines for food and liquid to see what is acceptable with your airline.
4. Bulky items: Really anything that is not completely necessary for your trip should be left at home. Do not pack anything that is going to be bulky and take up more than its fair share in weight and space. In the past we’ve shipped large gifts or items that we would use on the trip ahead of time, but for the most part that hasn’t really been an issue.
My best advice is travel light and think twice before placing any item in your suitcase. There are not many things in life that I would consider myself an expert in, but international travel (especially with children) is definitely one thing I’m beginning to master. If you have any specific questions about international travel that were not addressed in this post please feel free to ask me in the comment box. I hope that I could lend some quality advice that I learned the hard way through trial and error.