Travel Essentials for Women – How to Pack Perfectly for Any Trip

The comprehensive guide to packing like a pro no matter where you go!

blog title image for travel essentials for women

Love travel but hate packing? Me too! That’s why I created this ultimate list of travel essentials for women based on my travels in more than 50 countries! Read on for answers to all your travel packing questions.

What’s in our guide to travel essentials for women?

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If there’s one thing I hear from female travellers more than any other, it’s this:

I love to travel but I hate packing!

Different women I know employ different packing strategies depending on personality type. My mom and my best friend both start planning about a month before any big trip, laying out their suitcase and the essential items far ahead of time.

This helps keep them organized — but it also leads to some mildly obsessive behaviour.

some ecards image with text overlay sorry I packed so much emotional baggage on our vacation
Emotional baggage is just one more thing that you can leave at home.

I have another friend who waits until the night before and then throws items haphazardly into a giant suitcase. It’s an effective, albeit very heavy, way to makes sure she packs all the travel essentials. The drawback is that she ends up with a way-too-heavy suitcase filled with items that will stay crumpled in the bottom of her suitcase until she gets home again.

Ideally, your packing process should be somewhere in between these two. Starting a few days early will give you time to pack thoughtfully without getting super-obsessed and stressed out over it.

No one needs to be haunted by nightmares about packing before they leave on vacation.

when you have the right travel essentials you're ready for anything
Packing for travel is a balancing act. You need enough stuff so that you can take advantage of any opportunity, but not so much that it holds you back.

During the past six years of full-time travel, and the two decades before that of exploring the world, I’ve managed to figure out what items are absolutely essential for travel, which ones are nice to have on a longer trip, and what items should definitely be left at home.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through what’s in my suitcase and help you decide what should be on your travel packing list.

Finally, I’ve tried to recommend eco-friendly, responsible and vegan travel gear wherever possible because I want my (and your) trips to be as earth-friendly as possible!

Find the Perfect Travel Backpack or Luggage

woman carrying a standard luggage suitcase travel essential
This is the suitcase I travel with. I absolutely love it!

Packing for travel is only as effective as the suitcase or travel backpack you’ve got. So before you start to decide what to pack for a trip, assess your luggage situation. If you already have luggage, I don’t suggest you run out and buy more — that’s not a very eco- or budget-friendly way to start your trip.

But, if you’ve only got a gigantic suitcase, or don’t have any luggage at all, choosing the right backpack or suitcase can make a huge difference in your trip.

What Kind of Luggage Do You Need?

Depending on your travel style, your fitness level, and your destination, some types of travel bags are more appropriate than others. For example, if you’re going on safari in Africa or trekking in Cambodia, you’ll need a travel backpack, since wheeling your suitcase will be impossible.

If you have trouble finding a backpack that fits, there are travel bags made especially for women — they will accommodate curvier and smaller frames that most unisex or men’s bags don’t fit.

If you’re heading on a European city break, then you might want to consider a convertible bag that can be transformed from wheelie suitcase to backpack as needed. That way, you can wheel it in the airport but throw it on your back when you navigate Europe’s winding, cobbled streets.

minimalist backpack with wheels
A backpack and a wheelie suitcase rolled into one? Yes, please!

If you’re heading to a North American city like New York or Vancouver, a wheelie bag will be your best friend, since you’ll rarely need to carry your suitcase with all those wide, paved sidewalks available.

What Size of Luggage Do You Need?

For almost all trips, I recommend choosing a carry-on size bag — yes, even for long trips to multiple climates. Stephen and I travel full-time with only carry-on luggage and even though we usually check it on the plane, we love that it limits the amount of stuff we can bring.

I strongly believe in packing light; I often think excess weight in my luggage makes travel more stressful. When I have a nice light bag, I feel more carefree, more open to opportunities, and more enthusiastic about going places!

Look for a bag that’s between 32 and 40 litres which is enough space to pack the essentials, but limited enough that you’ll be able to lift and carry it easily.

The Travel Luggage I Recommend

standard luggage convertible backpack suitcase

Standard Luggage Convertible — I have been carrying the Standard Luggage convertible suitcase for the last 4 years and still absolutely love it. It converts from a suitcase to a backpack, is expandable, and has plenty of pockets to keep me organized. Plus, it’s so durable that it’s still like new after years of full-time travel.

Osprey Ozone Wheelie Backpack — If my suitcase ever needs replacing, I have my eye on the Osprey Ozone which converts from a wheelie suitcase to a backpack. Even though I keep my bag light, there are still times when I really wish it had wheels. This seems like the ideal solution!

Osprey Fairview Women’s Backpack — I also love the Osprey Fairview packs designed especially for women. If you have a womanly frame, try this on for size!

If you need a new travel backpack or luggage, make sure to read our complete guide to the best minimalist backpacks for travel.

Pack Smarter with Packing Cubes

large orange packing cube a travel essential
I use my large packing cubes for pants and dresses and medium ones for t-shirts, bras, and underwear.

For me, packing cubes are as essential to travel as money and a passport. They help keep me sane while I’m travelling!

Packing cubes are to your suitcase like shelves and hangers are to your closet. Imagine if your closet was just one big space into which you threw all your clothes. You’d never be able to find anything!

Your suitcase is the same. Without packing cubes, it’s just a jumble of clothes, toiletries, shoes, tech gadgets and random items. Sort all those things into packing cubes and you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for in seconds.

Packing cubes are also great because they make it easy to unpack when you reach your destination, even if there’s limited storage space. Just pull out your cubes, pile them on the shelf, and then go out and enjoy yourself.

Packing Cubes I Recommend

For years, I travelled exclusively with Eagle Creek packing cubes. Heck, back when I first started travelling they were the only ones available. I still have an Eagle Creek packing cube I bought in the late 90s when I went on my first international trip.

Now there are tons of packing cubes available that are cheaper and possibly more sturdy than the modern-day Eagle Creek ones.

I just bought a set of Gonex cubes, but there are plenty of similar options. Sadly, I couldn’t find a decent set of eco-friendly packing cubes, so perhaps I need to manufacture my own?

If you’re into DIY, you can sew your own packing cubes and if you’re on a budget, simple mesh laundry bags can also work.

Picking the Essential Travel Clothing

When you’ve got a closet full of clothes in front of you, it can be a nightmare deciding what to pack for a trip. There are so many choices, soon you’re drowning in a pit of anxiety and indecision (or maybe that’s just me).

woman in pink dress with long sleeves
A great travel dress is essential for a women’s travel wardrobe.

You can narrow it down by remembering that every piece of clothing you pack should be:

Comfortable — This is the top priority. Don’t let tight or scratchy clothing ruin even a minute of your holiday.

Versatile — Never bring an item you can only wear for one specific occasion. Pants and shirts should be versatile enough that you can wear them to the beach and then dress them up for an evening out.

Durable — Despite what you see all the famous Instagrammers wear, light floaty chiffon is not your friend when you travel. Travelling is tough on clothes, so go for fabrics that won’t rip or stain easily. If you’re a bit messy, packing darker colours will help hide any drips from your daily gelato fix.

These items make up my ideal women’s capsule wardrobe for travel:

navy blue sleeveless travel dress

1. A great travel dress. Look for a dress that works just as well in the cool evenings (maybe layered with a pair of tights), as it does on the beach.

My ideal travel dress would be made from breathable fabric, have a hidden zipper pocket, and be just long enough to wear riding a bike without showing off too much skin!

The dress in the picture, made by Bluffworks, ticks all those boxes. It’s a little heavy for travel in Asia but is perfect for a European vacation.

2. The perfect travel pants. Look for loose-fitting pants that are like comfy pyjamas on the plane, but still look nice enough to wear out to dinner. Ideally, travel pants will have at least one zippered pocket where you can hide your valuables from would-be thieves.

3. Quick-dry travel t-shirts. To be honest, I usually just pack my favourite t-shirts, as opposed to picking speciality travel t-shirts. However, travel tees made from wrinkle resistant quick-dry fabric are ideal. I like to find t-shirts in striking colours that look good in photos and make you stand out in a crowd.

azores travel blouse by bluffworks

4. Long-sleeved lightweight shirt. Whether you’re travelling in a tropical climate or a wintery chill, a long-sleeved shirt for layering or sun protection is essential in your suitcase. It can be used to dress up a t-shirt in the evening or to provide sun protection in the middle of the day. It should also be good for layering over other clothes to add an extra bit of warmth.

I just got the blouse in the picture from the Bluffworks brand new women’s line and I love it! It’s been perfect for keeping the sun off in Bali and for dressing up my casual look when we head out to dinner.

5. Comfy sweatshirt or sweater. Sweatshirts and sweaters are not great for packing because they are bulky and take up a lot of room in the suitcase. But I always bring one anyway. Why? Because airplanes are such cold and horrible places that I need something cozy and comforting to wear. Plus, it’s just nice to have something soft and warm to snuggle into when the day starts to cool down.

6. No-hassle quick-dry travel underwear. Underwear and I have been mortal enemies for years. No matter what kind I buy, I can’t seem to find ones that fit comfortably without riding up. My fault for buying cheap underwear from discount stores, I guess!

Recently, I decided to get what turns out to be the most amazing travel underwear out there — Ex-Officio Give-n-Go Bikini Briefs. They are designed specifically for travel, which means they are comfy, quick drying and don’t ride up. So worth the money!

7. Easy-care travel bras. The bras you bring travelling should be as ultra-comfortable as possible while giving you all-day support. I usually pack two t-shirt bras, which can be worn under anything, and a sports bra for all my fitness needs.

Choosing the Right Travel Shoes

After six years of full-time travel, I still haven’t quite solved the mystery of which shoes to bring. It’s by far the hardest part of packing, since shoes weigh a lot and take up so much space in your luggage.

grey keen travel sandals
Shoes can make or break your trip — make sure you’re packing the right ones!

I only have space for two pairs of shoes on my travels and these shoes have to cover every possible travel experience, from doing a scooter tour in Vietnam to a night out at the opera in Budapest. More importantly, they have to be up to the task of covering miles of walking through cobbled European cities and dusty Asian streets. Not an easy task.

The right travel shoes need to be:

Comfortable & worn in — This is the top priority. Don’t pack any shoes that you haven’t worn at least a half-dozen times. Getting a blister on holiday is a major travel fail!

Versatile — You’ll need to wear your shoes in all kinds of situations and on all kinds of surfaces.

Lightweight — Not only will lightweight shoes help you keep under those pesky airline weight restrictions, they’re also more comfortable for your feet and legs. Even a few ounces can make a big difference when you’re taking 25,000 steps or more per day.

So Which Shoes Should You Bring?

1. One pair of comfy walking shoes. These are the shoes you’ll wear almost every day on your trip. Make sure they have good support — without it your legs and feet will tire out much more quickly and you’ll have far less energy.

If you’re heading to a hot climate, I’d recommend sport sandals which keep your feet cool but still protect your toes from curbs, roots, and random junk on the street.

Our detailed buying guide to lightweight walking shoes will help you choose the right pair for your trip.

2. One pair of slightly dressy shoes. If you plan to go to expensive restaurants, stay in upscale hotels, or take part in nightlife, you’ll need something other than your everyday walking shoes. But don’t go too dressy. These shoes should definitely be flats — high heels just don’t work well for most travel. You don’t want to risk breaking an ankle wobbling home after a night out.

Full disclosure: I do not carry dressy shoes, as we almost never go places that require them. Instead, I carry a pair of winter walking shoes and a pair of sport-sandal walking shoes. I would love to have room for a “cooler” pair of shoes for nights out in the city, but there’s just no room in my carry-on!

3. Bonus shoes. As a luxury, I also carry a pair of flip-flops wherever I go. Though they aren’t essential (I travelled for years without them), I do love to have them for beach days in summer or wearing inside on cold winter days.

Travel Shoes I Recommend

Keen CNX Sandals

My Keen CNX Sandals go with me everywhere. In warm climates, they are the only shoe I need and can easily go from beach to boat to bar without being totally embarrassing.

They also offer enough support that I can go for a long hike in them without my legs protesting too much. Most importantly, unlike most sandals, they offer toe protection which is useful on hiking trails, cobbled alleys, and ramshackle Asian city sidewalks alike.

Pro tip: They make Keen Sandals in some crazy colors but if you plan to wear them as much as I wear mine, it’s best to go for something neutral so you can pair them with any outfit.

Merrel Siren Edge Q2

I also love my Merrel Siren Edge Q2 hiking shoes, which have amazing grippy soles (even on icy sidewalks) and allow my feet to stay cool on a warm day.

If you don’t plan to hit the trails, I’d go for something like the Merrel Civet shoe which incorporates some of Merrel’s great tech into a more stylish shoe.

Essential Outerwear for Travel

The outerwear you need really depends on where you’re going and for how long.

For a hot-weather tropical trip, you might be able to get away with no jacket at all. For a winter trip, of course you’ll need something super-warm yet packable.

Here’s what I bring which covers all weather, from the balmy beaches in Bali to the snowy streets of Norway.

packable winter jacket essential for travel

Packable winter jacket — My Columbia Omni-Heat jacket is the perfect packable solution for winter travel.

  • The Omni-Heat technology uses metallic dots to reflect your own warmth back into the jacket, so though it’s thin it’s also warm.
  • The shell is water-resistant and the jacket is quick-dry in case I get caught in the rain.
  • Inside, there’s a zippered security pocket perfect for money, ID, and anything else you want to keep safe.
  • The insulation is synthetic so no worries about wearing cruel down!

Lightweight rain jacket — I also carry a lightweight rain shell that I can layer over my winter jacket when it gets really cold or wet outside. In warmer climates, my rain jacket is perfect over a t-shirt to keep me dry during unexpected showers. Always look for a rain jacket that is breathable, so you don’t create a greenhouse situation inside your own jacket.

Essential Travel Toiletries List

three bottles of skincare items by fré
I recently started using this vegan FRE skincare line, which has made a big difference to my travel-weary skin!

If there’s one place I constantly see women overpacking, it’s in their travel toiletries bag. Here’s the rule to remember when packing toiletries:

You do not need nearly as many toiletries travelling as you do when you’re at home.

I don’t understand the exact reasons for this, but I can attest that it is true.

Start with a Great Toiletry Kit

Packing your toiletries well starts with the right toiletries bag. I’ve tried many and hated most of them. But, a few years ago, I found the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter toiletry kit and it has changed my life.

(That might be an overstatement but at least it has gotten my toiletries organized.)

This kit is lightweight, has two outer pockets and one big inner space, and magically fits all the things into a compact, easily packable pouch.

Pack the Right Toiletries

These are the toiletry essentials I recommend for a no-fuss travel kit:

1. GoToob travel bottles — Instead of buying those little travel-size bottles whenever you hit the road, grab a 3-pack of GoToob silicon travel bottles. They are the right size to carry on the plane and, in 6 years, mine have never once leaked, no matter what I filled them with.

2. Bar of soap and shampoo bar — Instead of carrying shower gel and shampoo, I always get a solid bar of soap and a solid shampoo. This not only takes up way less space in your suitcase, but it eliminates a whole category of plastic waste from the world. Why not switch to solids at home, too? For a soap dish, I use a mini leak-proof tupperware container. Six years on the road and it’s still going strong.

3. Moisturizer with high SPF — Make sunscreen a part of your morning travel routine so you never end up with that “oops, I forgot to put on sunscreen today” lobster face while travelling. Save time and space by getting an SPF CC cream, which removes the need for foundation, too.

I love my Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses CC which is organic, vegan, non GMO and about 100 other great things all packed into one tiny tube. It also makes my skin look wonderfully poreless and dewy.

4. Face cleanser — I’m generally very anti-product, preferring bar soap to any special face cleanser. But if you have sensitive skin, a good face cleanser can make a huge difference when you’re exposing your skin to dry airplane air, dusty city streets, and extra hot or humid conditions.

I was recently given a set of FRÉ skin cleanser and moisturizer to try and can honestly say my skin is so much better than it used to be! FRÉ products are specially designed to be used after workouts or in tough conditions, are super gentle, and all vegan.

5. Lip balm with SPF — Have you ever had sunburned lips? I have and it is hell on Earth. Protect and moisturize those lips while you travel with an SPF lip balm.

I seriously could not live without my Hurraw! sun lip balm, which is organic, vegan, eco-friendly, SPF 15 and goes on super silky smooth.

Travel Makeup Essentials

Is this you on vacation? It might be time to reconfigure your travel make-up routine!

It’s quiz time. What do you want to spend your vacation doing?

  1. Putting on make-up so you can look just perfect in your Instagram photos.
  2. Immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of an exotic new place.

If you picked number one then… go find another blog. Seriously. This is not the travel blog you’re looking for.

Travel is about using all your senses to absorb the cultures, sights, smells, and sounds you encounter. When you’re in the middle of a transformational trip, the last thing you should be worrying about is your Insta likes.

And when you do post, the glow of pure joy that comes with discovering a new part of the world and a new part of yourself will get way more likes than the most intricate make-up routine.

Full disclosure: We do worry about our Insta likes and Insta stories when we’re out taking in the sights. But that’s our job. Your job is to have a great time when you’re travelling!

When I pack my travel makeup essentials, I make sure to stick to only the essentials. The nice-to-haves and maybe-i’ll-needs and the perhaps-it’s-useful items can just stay home. They’ll be there when you get back.

For most female travellers, I suggest wearing almost no makeup beyond a sun-blocking CC cream or moisturizer. An SPF lip balm is also essential.

If you’re one of those people who feels naked without makeup, bring these six make-up essentials suggested by blogger Emily Luxton. But please save your 15-step contouring routine for when you get home.

Feminine Products for Women Who Travel

If you’re not already using a menstrual cup, then get ready to revolutionize your period.

I got my first cup before we embarked on our 2-year cycle tour around the world. Imagine trying to manage your period in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign country, on a bike. Not super fun!

But, it was all made much easier by the menstrual cup.

Here’s why a cup is great:

  • Less messy than pads, less waste than tampons
  • You can wear it all day and need to change it less frequently than pads or tampons
  • No more destroying forests to make disposable pads
  • Much cheaper than disposable pads

Do I need to go on?

Using a menstrual cup does take a little getting used to, so I’d suggest getting it a few months before you go away. Read some reviews and learn about cup sizing before you buy one.

Menstrual Cups I Recommend

Most menstrual cups from recognized brands are pretty much the same. I started out with the Diva Cup, which was pretty good, but I suspect I had the wrong size, because it was often awkward to insert. I recently switched to the Lunette Cup which is absolutely perfect.

Women’s Essentials for Safe Travel

It can be kind of freaky heading out on a big trip, since everybody and their neighbour will tell you how dangerous the world is. Then the news media jumps in by reporting the most horrifying stories they can find. It’s a wonder anyone goes anywhere at all.

woman on a wooden swing in front of a beautiful lake
The freedom and joy that comes from solo travel WAY outweighs the risks!

Rest assured that reports about how dangerous the world is have been greatly exaggerated ever since people communicated through cave paintings. If you keep your wits about you and don’t act like a total dolt, chances are absolutely nothing bad will befall you on your travels.

Part of staying safe is to be prepared should you ever find yourself in an unfortunate situation.

Start with the Right Travel Insurance

Your number one safety priority should always be travel insurance.

I know dozens of people who travel many times per year and they ALL have travel insurance. It’s a small expense (usually about a dollar or two per day) to guard against bankruptcy in case the worst comes to the worst.

Travel insurance certainly was a blessing that time I got malaria in Laos, or when Stephen had to have surgery on his infected elbow in Germany.

Travel Insurance I Recommend

  • World Nomads — One of the most popular brands, World Nomads provides reliable coverage for short and long trips.
  • SafetyWing — Designed especially for people who travel frequently or for long stretches at a time. You can sign up for the monthly plan and then cancel whenever you get home.

Bring a Travel-Size First Aid Kit

Though I’ve never needed to use my first aid kit to save a life, it’s been a real life-saver for blisters, minor cuts, sunburns, food poisoning, cramps and bad headaches.

You see, your travel size first aid kit isn’t really about those huge disasters but more about day-to-day nuisances that could ruin your trip if not treated.

Of course, if you ever do need to staunch a wound or survive in the wilderness overnight, you will be extra-glad you got that first aid kit.

Personal Safety Alarm

I do not carry a safety alarm. In all my years of travel, I’ve never felt threatened enough that I would have ever triggered a safety alarm even if I did have one.

But I’ve been lucky. Lots of solo female travellers bring an alarm that can be stashed in a bag, giving them daily peace of mind and saving some from the worst case scenario.

Please remember that no safety alarm can take the place of common sense and a healthy dose of caution. Taking responsibility for yourself is the best defence against unpleasant incidents.

Essential Travel Gadgets

The only truly essential travel gadget in my bag is my phone and charger.

I use my phone for navigation, for scheduling, for communication, for photography, and for entertainment — if I ever lost it, I would be literally lost, not knowing where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be there.

Get the Right Phone Apps

The apps on my phone are as important as the device itself. These are my top 5 essential apps for travel:

1. Maps.me — This offline mapping app allows you to add your own pins. I add pins for my hotel, restaurants I want to visit, useful services like banks and laundry, and the must-see tourist attractions. With that done, I can confidently wander wherever I want and check the map when I want to get unlost.

2. Apple Wallet or Android equivalent — Now that much of the world offers payment by tap, my Apple Wallet is an essential app. I love not having to take my real wallet out to pay for things, which greatly reduces the chances that I might lose it. Apple Wallet also stores all my travel documents (boarding passes, hotel confirmations, transport tickets) so I no longer have to keep track of a bunch of paper.

3. Local metro app — If you’re travelling to big cities, make sure to get the local metro app. This will save you tons of time staring at the metro maps in the station trying to figure out how to get from A to B. It’ll also help you not look like a lost tourist, which reduces the chances of becoming a target for pickpockets or con artists.

4. Kindle app — Hey, I love to read a real paper book as much as the next girl but when I travel, there’s no way I’m loading up my bag with all that extra weight. Instead, I grab books on Kindle and read them right on my phone. That way, I always have my book handy should I have a few minutes to sit and wait for something.

5. Snapseed — Want an easy way to take your phone travel photos from just OK to really great? Grab the Snapseed app, which allows you to edit your photos, apply filters, lens blur and other tricks to make your photos memorable.

Other Essential Tech Gadgets

So you have your phone all set up. What about other tech gadgets?

I know it can be tempting to fill your bag with all the tech you can possibly get your hands on. (OK, usually it’s guys who do this but women can be tech-obsessed too!) Instead, take the minimum tech you need to get around and get things done. Too much tech just weighs you down and makes you worried about things getting stolen.

Here are the essential tech gadgets for travel:

Power adaptor — If you travel a lot, I highly recommend getting a universal adaptor, that can accept any kind of plug and be inserted into any kind of plug. If you’re just going to one destination, then just buy an adaptor that works in the place you’re going.

Headphones — For me, headphones are super essential when I’m travelling. Nothing makes a long boring train or plane ride go by faster than listening to podcasts, music, and books. It’s also a great way to drown out noisy seat mates or to give yourself some mental space for a while.

If you’re really sensitive to noise, invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones which can help keep you sane in busy airports or cities. These Bose ones are high on my wish list!

Portable charger/power bank — If you rely on your phone as much as I do, carrying a portable charger makes sense, especially if your phone battery drains quickly. We just bought the RAVPower 18 which is compact, charges super-fast and holds enough charge for two phones.

A portable charger is only essential if your phone battery doesn’t usually last a full day or if you’re going to be shooting video which drains your battery more quickly.

Laptop — I bring my laptop everywhere. I have to, because it is how I earn a living! But I am the exception. Almost no one needs to bring a laptop when they travel.

Unless you work from your computer and NEED to work while you’re away or you take a lot of photos and videos using something other than a phone, leave your laptop at home. It is a lot of extra weight, another thing to get stolen, and a temptation to check email or watch Netflix when you should be out enjoying yourself!

Essential Travel Accessories for Women

red sarong with straw sunhat and sunglasses
If you’re going somewhere warm, you’ll need a sun hat, sarong, and sunglasses!

Now that we’ve go all the big ticket items out of the way, here are a few accessories that can make all the difference in your day-to-day enjoyment of travel.

Earplugs — Sleeping well is the most important part of any trip. I wear earplugs almost every night, to drown out street noise, early morning roosters, chirping frogs, buzzing fridges and mosquitos, and the snoring of a certain someone! Unless you sleep like a rock, bring earplugs.

Sarong or large scarf This is the most versatile accessory you can pack. It works as a beach cover up, a beach towel, a skirt, a scarf, an extra blanket, a picnic blanket, and so many more things. I even use my sarong on the plane to cover my head, blocking out light and the overzealous plane air conditioning. The Turkish bath towel I just started carrying works perfectly.

Sun hat & sunglasses — When you travel you spend a lot more time outside than usual. Even if you’re not expecting it to be terribly hot where you’re going, protect your eyes and face every day from damaging UV rays.

Sewing kit — Travel is harder on your clothes than regular life, and you never know when a seam will split or a fabric will rip. A small sewing kit can rescue you from wandering town with your underwear on display.

Refillable water bottle — There is no excuse for single-use plastic water bottles! The world is in trouble, people, so do your bit. No, carrying a refillable water bottle won’t solve the climate crisis but it can reduce your plastic consumption dramatically.

In 99% of North America and Europe it’s perfectly safe to drink from the tap. In Asia, many places offer a water station where you can refill your bottle with drinking water. So please, bring a water bottle from home and say “hell no” to Evian, Dasani, and all the other companies who have spent millions of dollars convincing you that tap water is beneath you.

Small hand towel / handkerchief — I carry a small towel to use instead of paper towel. Not only does it save trees but it’s much gentler on my hands. It also comes in handy in about a dozen other ways.

Cloth shopping bag / day pack — Whenever I go out for a day of travel and leave my shopping bag behind, I always regret it. No matter what the plan is, it seems at some point I want to carry something that needs to go in a bag. Pack one and carry it every day to avoid plastic bags when you buy something.

What to Pack in Your Carry-On

Dog putting a passport into a carry on bag
Don’t forget to pack your passport or you won’t get very far!

Now you’ve got all your gear together, the big question is, what goes in your carry-on to take on the plane, and what can you safely check in your suitcase?

Here are the essentials for your carry-on luggage:

Passport & other ID — Number one essential for carry ons! You’re not going very far without your ID.

Earplugs — Sitting next to a crying baby or a constant chatterer? No problem! Plug those ears.

Eye mask — Flight crews turn on the lights at awkward times. Keep it dark with an eye mask.

Scarf / sarong — Put it over your head to sleep. I guarantee you’ll get a better rest.

Water bottle — Yes, even on the plane, you can say no to single-use plastic.

Lip balm & moisturizer — There’s nothing more drying than recycled airplane air at 40,000 feet.

All electronics and chargers — I never check my electronics. Baggage handlers can be rough!

Hand towel / handkerchief — Great for drying hands or mopping the sweat from your anxious brow.

Sweater, socks, other warm items — Why do they make airplanes so bloody freezing cold (when they are not making them crazy boiling hot, that is)? It’s an eternal mystery. Make sure you bring all the layers so your Siberian flight won’t be quite so painful.

Snacks — Airlines either overfeed or underfeed you. There ain’t no in-between. That’s why snacks are an essential carry-on item. Plus, it’s nice to munch on something tasty while watching the latest Sandra Bullock movie on that tiny screen.

Things to Definitely Leave at Home

pair of high heels abandoned on a railroad track
High heels have no place in your travel bag!

If you’ve gotten all the items above, your carry-on sized suitcase will be reaching its capacity. So just in case you were tempted to bring any of the items below, don’t! You won’t need them, I promise!

Expensive jewelry — If you have a precious wedding ring or other expensive jewelry, leave them at home. Bring only cheap stuff that you wouldn’t mind losing. It makes you less of a target for thieves and you won’t spend your whole trip worried about your jewels.

Expensive clothes & shoes — Bringing expensive clothes and shoes will prevent you from walking down that mysterious path or sitting on the beach for sunset. I know you don’t want to be the woman who ruins everyone’s good time by worrying about her designer threads, so just leave them at home.

Money belts — I haven’t used a money belt since 1999 and I have never once regretted it.

Usually, I stash a little cash in a pocket or cheap decoy wallet so I can leave my real wallet hidden deep inside a bag or back in the hotel safe. Thieves know all about money belts and know how to target you at your most vulnerable — when you have your hands down your pants digging for cash!

Blow dryer, curling iron, 20-step make-up routine — I know that women are supposed to look put-together, perfect, and pretty every minute of every day.

But guess what? When you’re on vacation, you can look however you damn well please! So why not take the opportunity to let your hair down, literally? Take a vacation from your beauty routine and find out what it’s like to let your natural beauty shine.

High heels — If there was ever an item that was made by men to oppress women, it’s gotta be the high heel. I know, some women love wearing them, but even if you do, they just don’t work when travelling.

No matter how you travel, there’s going to be a lot of walking, often on bumpy, unstable surfaces. High heels might be nice for a night out but they’re not versatile enough to qualify for a spot in your suitcase. Leave them at home and give your feet, calves, and back a much needed break.

A Final Word About Travel Essentials for Women

It’s not easy to make a universal list of essential things for women to pack for travelling. “Essentials” is such a definitive term and I know that travel needs vary widely between each person.

This post is my way of sharing the lessons I’ve learned from 20 years of travel. Things I thought I would need way back in the late 90s are no longer even considerations in my packing process. Recently I’ve added new things (like a travel tea cup and a sun hat) that I never used to want.

Similarly, your travel essentials list will change and grow as you grow as a traveller.

Every woman is different and each of us has a different list of travel items we need to pack. For example, I love my travel pillow but it’s not essential. There will be items on your essentials list that I would never pack — and that’s totally cool!

You might just want to pack your completely impractical favourite hat. And that’s OK!

Use my suggestions above as a starting point and then add and subtract items to make this essentials list your own.

We hope you’ve found this guide to women’s travel essentials useful. Our goal is to help make your next trip into a transformational journey. With the right gear in your suitcase, you’ll be ready for any opportunity that arises. If you have any questions about this list, give us a shout on email or Instagram.

♥  Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen

We’re not going to lie, it takes a LOT of work to create travel guides like this. But it’s easy to help us out! If you book or buy something using one of our personal links in this post, we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course, we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J

Love travel but hate packing? Me too! I created this packing guide after 20 years of travel. Use it as a starting point and customize it to suit your needs. Click to get packing. #travel #packing #travelgear #femaletravel #myfiveacres #mindfultravel
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