Save. Spend. Splurge.

Travel Series: The Bare Bones Packing List

I’ve written a number of posts about how to pack lightly:

But what if you just want to have a basic packing list and go from there?

See, I hate, hate, HATE checking in any kind of luggage, and I also hate wheeling, carrying and dealing with heavy luggage.

If I could just go with a backpack, I would, because where I normally visit (Europe) they have old metro stations and it tends to be a whole lot of stairs rather than escalators and elevators.

So assuming I am a normal person (by normal, I mean I don’t bring my own pillow or cutlery) I present to you, my Bare Bones Packing List.

Obviously, you should adjust this as you see fit (e.g. guys may not have to bring makeup for instance).



CLOTHES: 3 outfits, 4 pairs of underwear


One to wear on the plane (your traveling outfit), one to change into, and another as a spare when your other two outfits (for some reason) are dirty.

3 is the magic number in this case because it accounts for one of the outfits being unwearable for some period of time.

Now, what you consider an “outfit” might vary.

Me, I’d call a single dress, an outfit.

As for underwear, bring 4 pairs to be doubly sure you can wear a fresh pair daily (and ladies, at least 2 bras, you can wear one, but bring a spare).


This is not the time to be stylish in polyester. Polyester doesn’t let your body and skin breathe, it sticks to you like cling wrap and makes you sweat up a storm because it keeps in the heat.


Might I suggest linen, cotton, even WOOL?


You may be heading somewhere warm, but getting there means traveling in an icebox in the sky.

Bring a “warm” outfit that consists of jeans or a long skirt, long-sleeved tops (and a sweater!), and a pashmina or some sort of shawl/wrap blanket to stay warm on the plane (put it on your lap, everyone forgets about how cold your legs will get) and THICK, WOOLLY SOCKS.

Your feet will thank you.

Also, you may never know when the temperature goes all wonky on you wherever you are in the world.

Cases in point:

I was in China one summer and it was SO COLD, I almost paid $50 for a fleece jacket like some dumbass.

I was in Vancouver during the summer and a sudden cold wave hit the city, it rained and I was freezing. I had to shell out $5 for this hideous brown sweater to stay warm.

… I was in Portugal during the height of their summer and the nights turned so cold, I was wearing my only sweater over my thin summer dresses and I was STLL cold.

I think you get the idea.


Some attractions I visited in Europe did not allow you to enter without covering your shoulders out of respect.

Luckily, I had brought a long-sleeved linen shirt along with me (for the sun) and I wore that… but otherwise, a lot of tourists were getting fleeced, paying $10 for a cheap coverup just to be able to enter the church.


You want to be comfortable and make it through security easily, so bring/wear your slip on shoes through security, unless you are like me, and you wear hiking boots on vacation because you walk so much, in which case, wear your heaviest pair of shoes through security and deal with it so that you don’t have to pack them in your suitcase.


It’s the only way you’ll make it through with so little packed. Look on the bright side, not much laundry to do when you return!




I wouldn’t really bring any electronics except my iPod Touch (it’s my digital organizer) and my digital camera, and that would just mean bringing an extra memory card, battery and the charger for both devices.

If you can get away with it, don’t bring ANY electronics, not even a laptop.

Bring a book if you need something to read (a real book, like one with pages??)

Me, I can’t go without a laptop because I tend to go for months at a time, not weeks, so I need a laptop to download all my photos and clear my cards and check my emails.

Otherwise, I’d travel without a laptop.


Depending on how long the flight is, you may or may not need these. For anything over 3 hours, I bring my Bose headphones. Anything under and I don’t bother.

They help me sleep, block out the noise and crying infants and are a godsend when you just need to unwind.

Otherwise, I just bring my Kobo Glo and I read.


Aside from the usual suspects: toothbrush, and toothpaste (although I don’t use any, personally)… you will want to bring your:

  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Facial Cleanser
  • Facial Moisturizer
  • Body Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Lip Balm
  • Any medications you need
  • Razor

Those are all the products you need.

You don’t need anything else. Not even makeup.

I bring makeup EVERY SINGLE TIME I go on vacation and I NEVER use it.

I bring it just in case but it’s a total waste of space.

Contrary to popular myth, your skin DOES get used to your products and works very effectively with what you are slathering on your face daily, so BRING YOUR OWN STUFF so that you don’t upset your skin by trying to use drying, overly scented products at the hotel (no matter how cute or branded the name is).



Go and buy a super cheap, super light umbrella and bring it. You never know when you might need it (super sunny, or it’s raining), and you will be glad you have this cheap, lightweight thing in your suitcase. Otherwise, you might end up shelling out some euros for an umbrella you don’t even want.

That’s all the advice I have! What about you?


  • Tania

    I’m finally a carry on & fit everything under the seat packer! The overheads fill up so quickly now that they charge for check in luggage. The possibility of no overhead space stresses me out to no end so I made the strong push to do without my rolling carry on and just go with a canvas duffle or overnight bag. I do a ton of weekend trips and I have a similar method. I’m always the coldest in the airport so I wear my warmest items on route (usually a skinny jean, T and jacket). And yes a scarf (good for covering up the nose/mouth when sick people are near me on the plane and I also use it as a sarong at the pool. I wear a pointy toed flat metallic loafer or a ballet flat that looks good with jeans, a black dress or shorts. One jersey LBD, one shorts (Hawaii), a bikini and two more Ts. BAM DONE! I could easily make this capsule work for a longer trip too (would sub out the shorts for a skirt or another dress in a different locale). I have been intrigued by the wool items back packing globe hoppers have been raving about (come in sporty styles like tanks or T cuts and don’t hold sweat or odors).

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I like my cashmere wrap too, but that is not pool-friendly.

      Good idea about that canvas bag to travel with. Where did you buy yours? I have been eying some at Everlane… or other similar retailers.

      • Tania

        @save. spend. splurge.: My duffle is made by Cook & Gates. They have their own website but I stumbled onto them via (a NYC site that sells and spotlights independent designers). I’ve been eyeing the everlane overnight bags too but what I really want is one of their Petra totes.

  • tomatoketchup

    Do the cotton clothes you pack dry overnight? I frequently had a problem with damp cotton t-shirts in the mornings unless I was in a very dry climate like the southwest US. Having to pack wet clothes was always a pain.

    My go-to travel shirt is a Lacoste SuperDry Polo that’s made of polyester and dries completely in about 3-4 hours. They do go for about $80 a piece, so it’s probably higher quality polyester than what you would find at a typical store.

  • Financial Underdog

    I’ve learned to wear only comfortable clothes on the plane especially if you’re flying overseas. Seriously, sweats and hoody might look hideous, but the comfort they bring are well worth it. Never ever again will I ever wear jeans on 8+ flight.

  • MelD

    Very enthusiastic about my new superlightweight down jacket which will be great for travel as it packs up tiny.
    Not sure why people find planes cold – I never do. The cheap airlines in Europe are packed so tight you can hardly get cold for all the bodies in there… and definitely no room to remove shoes to put socks on or anything like that 😮 Business class is hardly better.
    I try to avoid taking liquids so take a mini-bar of soap for washing and some talcum powder to use as deodorant and scent and have tiny trial size creams if I need any moisturiser, although now I have discovered pure almond oil and take that for face, body and hair, but it’s liquid.
    I don’t use toothpaste either. There is a comb in my handbag, along with lip balm/lipstick and an eye pencil if I want to go out somewhere (usually I forget to use make up…). There is shampoo wherever I am going, either family/friend or a hotel. A few emergency tablets (headache, heartburn, allergies: just in case) and I’m about good to go. My handbag also contains my coin purse, cards, phone and ear buds and my paperwork and there is room in my carry-on to stash my handbag if they impose a single-bag policy (the UK like to do that without warning…). I agree, 3 outfits of which one is a dress and maybe one or two extra thin tops to layer… undies and a pair of warm socks (which I might be knitting on the journey) and books are on my phone (Kindle app). I also usually have some knitting but since I discovered laceweight yarn, that’s easy and takes up hardly any room and I may have an extra shawl by the end of the trip!

  • Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    I am a professional at packing light and the key is to pack pieces of clothing that you can alternate that will make it seem like you have a new outfits every night. If I am going to a warm weather I have lots of maxi dresses which are light and easy to pack. Two different pairs of sandals to alternate and I’m out. Good tips.

  • Cassie

    It’s a great start, that’s for sure 🙂 I’ll be going on vacation soon for a couple weeks, and I don’t want to pack a ton. This trip I checked ahead and both hotels supply shampoo/conditioner/body wash, so I’m not packing those items at all. I tie my hair up when I’m on vacation, so using products outside my norm isn’t a huge issue.

  • Elroy

    We pack lightly going and pretty heavy coming back [we like to shop]. Our last trip we were in India with temps in the mid 80’s during the day and then in beijing, which was cold. We love our down jackets. Pack light & compact, but bring a lot of warmth.

    My wife packs toiletries, but I bring nothing. Usually I am covered by the airlines amenity kits and what the hotel/resorts have.

    I do always travel with a set of underwear in my carry on for long haul trips. Nothing feels better than a shower during a layover.

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