We have detected that you are using an older version of Microsoft Edge. For the best possible experience, please use Google Chrome or the new Microsoft Edge.
A collection of colorful suitcases stacked on top of one another.

Actually Useful Packing Tips for International Travel

For us, it comes down to the three Cs: comfort, currency, and chargers.

Chris Abell
Associate Director, Content
November 29, 2023

Packing for an international trip can be a little overwhelming. In addition to all the usual packing questions—How much clothing do I really need? What weather do I need to prepare for? Should I carry on or check my bag?—there are other considerations at play. Do I need power adapters? What do I do about money? How can I fit more stuff into my suitcase so I have fewer bags to lug around the world?

At EF Ultimate Break, travel is what we do. We spoke with three of our experts to get their tips for international travel and suitcase packing hacks. Here’s what they had to say.

A variety of bills from a number of different world currencies.

What is the most important thing to remember when packing for an international trip?

First, of course, make sure you have all proper documentation you need: passports, visas, etc. But beyond those logistics, packing for international travel comes down to the three Cs: comfort, currency, and chargers. You’ll always want to be prepared with the right money. While in many parts of the world you can get by with your credit or debit card, it’s often a good idea to carry some of the local currency in cash as well. It can come in handy for things like tips, but it’s also a positive for small businesses in your destination. Samantha Tso, Paid Media Manager at Ultimate Break, points out that “a lot of small places appreciate cash because it saves them with taxes. Plus, some of these types of vendors don’t have a credit card machine.” So your best bet is to bring your credit and debit card and hit up an ATM upon arrival at your destination.

Second, your phone can be your lifeline in a foreign country, so make sure you set up international data with your carrier—and make sure it never runs out of battery. For charging, be sure you have the proper adapters based on your destination country’s outlet type. And be ready to charge on the go as well. “I absolutely need my crossbody bag and a portable charger, says Emma Topp, Social Producer at Ultimate Break. “As long as my phone is charged and in my hand, I can get anywhere, translate any phrase, look up anything….I’m pretty much unstoppable.”

Emma Lifvergren, Copywriter for Ultimate Break, says that, especially for longer international trips, she always packs for comfort first, then style. But they’re not mutually exclusive. “Clothes in neutral colors will mix and match so you can look great without overpacking. Fortunately, the whole quiet luxury thing lends itself well to keeping outfits cool but simple.” She adds, “I like to preplan outfits and then take photos of myself for reference later on the trip.”

Topp also recommends planning outfits in advance. “Try it all on and think of each piece in at least three outfits before you pack it. I am a maximalist at heart, but I have to make tough calls to leave room for on-the-road purchases. Take the basics, pack your favorites, and leave some room for fun.”

What are the best bags for international travel?

When it comes to luggage, decide whether you want to check your bag or try to carry one on. There are, of course, two schools of thought here. If you’re okay with packing light and want to avoid waiting for potentially long periods of time at baggage claim, then roll your clothes up and pack them tightly into your suitcase. Says Topp, “If my trip is long, I need warm or bulky clothes, or my flight is direct, I prefer to check a bag so I can pack enough clothes without having to wash anything. But I do love the ease of a carry on, so I do try to make that happen whenever I can.” Tso and Lifvergren, however, are Team Checked for any trip over a week long.

Should you use a hardside bag or a softside bag? The first thing to note is that softside does not necessarily equal less sturdy. Softside bags are often made of tearproof materials and can absorb the shock of being tossed around cargo bins. That said, hardside suitcases tend to be more stylish, and if you pick the right one, it will be plenty tough to handle the bumps and bruises of international travel. When choosing a suitcase, be on the lookout for things like four good spinner wheels, a telescopic handle, and expandability for those trips when 17 outfits just isn’t enough.

Lifvergren recommends choosing a dark-colored piece so scuffs don’t show too easily. “I love my navy Away Bigger Carry On with a built-in charger—I’ve taken it on a few trips and it still looks great and fits more than you’d think,” she says. For some travelers, like Tso, it’s more important to get a bright color that can be quickly spotted at baggage claim (she opted for bright orange).

Topp also prefers a hardside, but her most adamant recommendations go beyond the suitcase. “I’m extremely adamant about my personal bag being a backpack,” she says. “My general rule is pack a carry-on with all the essentials, maybe a change of clothes, and of course a book and noise-cancelling headphones. Then put all your clothes (obviously you need options) in your checked bag.”

A person neatly packing clothes into a suitcase.

Packing accessories are key

All our travel experts agree that a little organizational help can go a long way. They’re particularly fond of keeping their toiletries safe and segmented from the rest of their cargo. “I usually carry three different makeup bags with me—makeup, skincare, and shower stuff,” says Topp. “Lesportsac and Vera Bradley are my favorite; they’ll survive anything.  I also use my Cadence capsules for hair gel, face masks, and other products that are too bulky to pack in their entirety.”

Tso prefers consolidating into one toiletry bag. “I can’t travel without my Cubetastic Travel Toiletry Bag,” she says. The bag has three different compartments with pockets and zippers, a hook to hang the bag, and a handle strap for when everything is all zipped together. It’s also waterproof. “This is perfect for traveling to places with little counter space in the bathroom,” Tso adds. “When I went to Europe for two weeks this past August with my family, it came in super handy. European hotel rooms are known for being small, and sharing a room with three other people makes storage and counter space that much scarcer. With this toiletry bag, I was able to keep all my face products and makeup organized (and there’s A LOT of it).”

Lifvergren agrees. “I love my black neoprene Hunter bag by Dagne Dover,” she says. “It’s super lightweight with lots of room and removeable pouches.” She also swears by bringing a separate little case or bag for organizing tech accessories like cords, headphones, and chargers. Otherwise, keeping track of all the little gadgets can be a challenge when you’re on the road.

Other packing accessories worth your investment: vacuum- seal bags to compress your clothing and create more space in your suitcase, and packing cubes to keep things tidy and organized.

More packing tips for international travel

Make a list. Tso recommends having six different columns: clothing, toiletries, makeup, accessories, entertainment (books, playing cards, headphones, etc.), and miscellaneous for any randoms needed (hand sanitizer, reusable water bottle, etc). She also recommends rolling your clothes instead of folding them. This saves space in your suitcase and even in your packing cubes. Rolling also helps fill the crevasses in between the suitcase bars at the bottom of the suitcase.

Lifvergren says she checks her destination’s weather obsessively. “There have been a few times when I just winged it, packed the wrong things, and ended up uncomfortable or spending money on new stuff,” she says. When she’s packing, she rolls thinner items like t-shirts inside sweaters and always stuffs socks inside shoes.

In summary, be sure that your documents and phone plan are set up. Monitor your destination’s weather. And then cover your bases on those three Cs: comfort, currency, and chargers.

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare by Email
Ready, set, Essential.

Essential trips are an experience unlike any other. We’re here to help you prepare, plan, and pack so you’re ready to embrace the unknown.

Prepare for Essential

Why trust Ultimate Break

Chris Abell is the Associate Director, Content at Ultimate Break. Prior to UB, Chris was Associate Editorial Director at Travel + Leisure, where he tested and reviewed all sorts of travel products, including luggage and packing accessories. He has been to 19 countries and counting. For this article, he interviewed Emma Topp, Social Producer at Ultimate Break, who has been to 26 countries and counting; Emma Lifvergren, Copywriter for Ultimate Break, who has been to 16 countries and counting; and Samantha Tso, Paid Media Manager at Ultimate Break, who also has been to 16 countries and counting.

Ready to travel?

Find your trip
Back to top