Packing Tips for Travelling Abroad

Traveling to foreign countries requires a bit more care and planning than a domestic business flight. For over 30 years, we’ve been perfecting our technique for traveling smart, domestic or abroad, and we still learn new tips on each trip. On this page we share some of these tips that specifically relate to packing. Full disclosure, there are a few affiliate links on this page for products that we have actually have and feel comfortable recommending. We also make recommendations for products for which we have no affiliation.

See our other travel resource posts: Safety and Other Tips for Your Trip to Africa and Tips When Travelling.

Luggage

Packing light is part science and part art: you need to pack lightweight clothing that is easy to wash, versatile in function and easy to color match. To carry your lightweight clothing you need lightweight luggage. We always travel with carry-on luggage only, including a few RTW trips and many ski and safari trips. The two obvious advantages of carry-ons are no lost luggage and a much quicker transit through airports. We have tried most luggage brands from B&R on down, but we have settled on Travelpro almost exclusively, and not just because we’re an affiliate: the brand was recommended by friends who work for airlines. We’ve also noticed during hotel check-in that that many pilots and flight attendants use that brand. What we like about travelpro: in addition to their rugged light weight, they have well configured compartments and wheels that keep rolling. Regardless of the brand you choose, avoid the hard shell cases (aluminum or polycarbonate) for two reasons: once they develop even a small crack, they eventually come apart, and they are harder to fit into tight spaces (whether on a 747 or on safari bush flights).

We think most people already know this but in case you don’t: when your carry-on is near the weight limit or overfull, you can wear your bulkiest clothing in transit and carry heavier items like small cameras and lenses, power banks and extra batteries in the pockets.

Bringing a collapsible day pack that folds up small so that it fits easily into your luggage. These small packs are useful when walking about all day in a city and some museums and other attractions don’t allow large backpacks.

Pack all the toiletries you will need as some items may end up costing up to ten times as much overseas as they do in North America. One special case in point, a makeup item ($3 item in the US) in Switzerland cost $25. On a recent safari in Kenya, the bottle of suntan lotion at the camp cost $38 USD, for what would have cost $5 USD in most large cities.

Clothing

Lightweight ‘technical’ clothing (ski/hiking) are very versatile because of their wicking and insulating qualities. Stores like REI and MEC in North America, and Decathlon in Europe offer a good selection. We pack a few extra pairs of socks because we hike in the countryside and pound the streets in cities. Most hotels have laundry, but if you’re uncomfortable with their pricing or don’t have time for the laundry turnaround, most technical items are easily washed by hand and dry more quickly when you use the ‘towel twist’ method.

If technical sports clothing has no appeal, you should at least pack wrinkle-proof fabrics like polyester, knits, spandex, and lyocell. Avoid items like blue Jeans and heavyweight fleece, and linen blends. The morbid downside of synthetic material is that it will melt to your skin in case of a fiery air mishap, whereas cotton will just burst into flame.

For women, dressing for dinner is important and you will want to include a few lightweight shirts and pants that are wrinkle free but have a bit more color than your muted khakis. You will also want to include at least one lightweight skirt that can be worn over tights or alone for places such as mosques and religious temples that require a skirt for women. Also, bring a lightweight shawl. It can serve multi purposes and is ideal for mosques and temples, when you may be expected to cover your head and shoulders, whether or not a skirt is required. Some mosques and temples will provide a long skirt if you don’t have one but take note that they may not be clean and not be even close to your size.

For men, don’t bring a light colored blazer because it will stand out in every single photo and will be difficult to keep clean.

The right hat/visor is essential. I have brought hats that I have never worn, mostly because they were uncomfortable, hot and the neck strap that was supposed to stop it from coming off drove me crazy. Also, if you are taking snapshots, a wide brimmed hat impedes working with your camera. A hat made with breathable material with the correct sized brim is best, but some hats, like the one in the photo below, fail to impress in photos.

For men and women, invest in a travel vest, lightweight with many pockets. Women may prefer to carry wallet, passport and cell phone in a small, flat purse that can be hung across the chest or on your hips for security reasons. These are great until you start to put sunglasses and bulky items in them. The best combination we have found is a lightweight backpack for bulkier items and a travel vest or a small, flat purse with a secure strap that fits across your chest.

Wearing a travel vest with large zippered pockets while in-transit can really solve lots of problems. If you dedicate one large zippered pocket for travel documents, you’ll never fumble around for boarding pass, PCR test result or passport. You can jam in your phone, charger and cable and wallet in other zippered pockets to ease the pain of security/scanner queues. When our carry-on is near the weight limit or overfull, especially on small aircraft flying into safari airstrips, we can use our vest to temporarily carry camera bodies and lenses, power banks and extra batteries. Even when not in transit, vests offer great utility for photographers and hikers and good security for carrying valuables when city touring.

Travel Apps

In addition to the obvious apps you’d use for music, Kindle, etc, here are some of our favourite travel apps. Most you will have heard about and used, we’re just including them for completeness. If you haven’t one of them yet, should install it and become familiar before you leave. For instance, GTranslate let’s you download a language so you don’t need network access to use it.

Lounge Buddy (lists airport lounges based on your location, airline status and current memberships)

Flightradar24 (provides live air traffic from around the world)

XE Currency Converter

Google Translate, Google Maps,

AP News (bias free international news source for the road)

WhatsApp or Signal

Waze (better than google maps for police radar traps)

Electronics & Phones

Be selective in which devices you bring, which makes it easier to manage them all and lowers security risk. Do you need a smartphone plus a tablet plus a laptop? When we’re gone for months at a time we each bring a laptop, but for short trips of a week or two, we either forgo the laptop or share one. Regardless of which devices you bring, ensure the passphrase is complex, that the device can be locked, and that the system software is updated before departure.

Unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots can be a security risk in airports, restaurants and hotels, and while most smartphones have a VPN option, that won’t help your laptop or tablet unless they are configured to connect via your own VPN server at the office/home or to a VPN service. In addition to the problem of insecure WI-FI at your hotel, it can be expensive and restrictive if they charge per device or limit the number of devices that can connect.

A solution to this problem is to carry a little portable WiFi router with an Ethernet port. There are many low cost options available; even a Raspberry Pi running OpenWRT or Wireguard would work. We’ve purchased several GL.iNet travel routers, which are equally cost effective, highly portable and dependable. Some hotels have LAN ports in the guest room, so that’s the recommended connection point for a travel router, or you can configure the travel router to connect via Wi-Fi.

Some online travel bloggers suggests it’s possible to connect a travel router to a hotel TV that’s connected via a DHCP Ethernet connection, and technically that’s true. However, recently we stayed at a chain hotel where their Ethernet connected TV was malfunctioning. We called the front desk who sent the maintenance person, and we learned that so many guests try to connect devices (Xbox, etc) and mess up the connection that this hotel charges guests for breaking the internet.

A portable battery pack (or power bank) is almost indispensable if you have photography gear. The TSA requires you to place these in your carry on, not your check-in bags.

International calling and using high speed data when traveling used to be a veritable headache, and phone companies in North America were notorious for billing unaware travelers crazy amounts. We used to carry an extra phone and buy a prepaid SIM card in each country we traveled to, which solved local calling and data within that country, but since 2016 we’ve been using Google Fi and it has worked well for us for both international calling and data. In countries where available, we also combine an eSIM with the Fi service, which gives us a local number in the foreign country and lowers data cost even more.

Mondisti Packing Tips for Travel Abroad

  • Learn to travel with carry-on only, you will never regret it.
  • Pack lightweight, breathable clothing with easy color matches. Don’t put an item in your carry-on unless it matches with at least two other items in the bag.
  • Make sure you pack all your toiletries as they are expensive overseas.
  • For women, bring a light skirt and a shawl for visits to Mosques, Temples and Churches.
  • For both men and women, invest in a good travel vest, wear it on the plane.
  • Bring a collapsible day bag.
  • Find a breathable hat with the right sized brim.
  • Be selective in which electronic devices you bring.