How to Pack a Personal Item

Stacey Ebert

Have you noticed that your travel preferences have changed? Perhaps at one time in life you were the ‘fling it all together five minutes before you get on the road’ kind of gal; yet today, you write a list, lay everything out and are all packed within days of your adventure. At one time you didn’t care what made it into that carry on bag as long as you had your contacts and inhaler; yet today, there are certain things that make life more efficient, keep you sane, and that you can’t imagine being without. Has your personal item packing list changed over time or are you packing the same way you always have?

Throughout the journey of travel, sometimes needs change. Some of us go from single traveler to couple traveler, to traveling with little people in our lives, or in completely the opposite direction. Some of us go from ‘needing nothing’ to ‘wanting to bring our entire closet with us on the road,’ or vise versa. And still others have our needs changed for us, without our choice or notice, through medical issues, food allergies or new rules aboard airlines.

I fall into that cautious traveler category. For years, on any tour, I’ve been the one who has ‘the stuff.’ Simple things like gum, mints, bandaids, and Benadryl are always on my list. For years, I carried heaps of asthma medication and every antibiotic I could think of for that just in case moment. Depending on destination and duration, my personal item packing list either grows or shrinks. When headed into the Australian Outback or on safari through Africa, there are more items than when headed to the surrounding city life of Sydney, Capetown, or New York.

Today, when I look at ‘how to pack a personal item,’ I pack more essentials than the ‘what ifs’ (although some of them still make an appearance) and know that I might have to spend a bit of cash if there’s a need, but until then – I’d rather my bag, mind, and life be a bit lighter. For each reason and season, personal item packing list contents may ebb and flow, but regardless of what’s inside, it always makes it onboard for the next adventure. What’s in your personal item packing list?

Necessities for Any Adventure

Whether your adventure is by bus, truck, train, foot, camel, or plane – there are some items you won’t leave home without. Perhaps you’re the traveler who only needs something with his name on it and a spot to keep some cash, or maybe you’re the type that needs that plus a bit more  – regardless, your ‘must haves’ all fit in a tiny space popped inside that personal item that rarely leaves your side.

These things are always in my personal item:

  • Wallet & ID
  • Passport
  • Travel & visa documents
  • Change of clothes (especially if you’re checking luggage)
  • Medications (daily, necessary, allergy)
  • Headphones
  • Gum or mints
  • Sunglasses, prescription glasses, or contacts
  • Chapstick
  • Hair ties & headband
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Baby wipes
  • Fuzzy socks & flip flops
  • Scarf, pashmina, or travel blanket
  • Make up
  • Mini flash light
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Tissues
  • Lacrosse or tennis ball (perfect to eliminate back pain in flight)

Liquids Bag

For the air travelers among us, the 3-1-1 rule is the rule of the day. Containers of no greater than 3.4 oz (100 ml) in one quart size bag clear bag is the standard TSA allowance. Leaving aside Epi pens, medication and baby formula, if it meets the requirements and fits in that bag – you’re on your way to one less hassle at security.

This is what’s in my quart sized ziplock bag when I fly:

  • Peppermint oil (to breathe only so odors don’t bother passengers)
  • Travel size bottle of sunscreen
  • Unscented antibacterial lotion
  • Travel size toothpaste
  • Unscented Lotion
  • Cortisone, Benadryl, or anti-itch cream
  • Superglue
  • Eye drops (allergy or saline)
  • Travel size contact solution (for the husband)

Medical Supply Kit

Although there are heaps of prepackaged first aid kits available – I recommend getting a small sack/box and making your own as each journey might need adjustments. If checking luggage, or if your journey doesn’t take you airborne, you can add a multi-tool, but be sure to be mindful of local laws and customs regarding these. Pack the essentials depending on your destination. Remember – there’s a big difference in the needs of a remote thru-hiker or backpacker versus those of an urban traveler or suburban day-tripper.

My first aid kit includes:

  • Pain reliever (Tylenol, Paracetemol, Ibuprofen)
  • Allergy meds (Benadryl, Claritin, Loratadine, other antihistamine)
  • Immodium/Loperamide
  • Neosporin or antiseptic cream
  • Epi Pen (2)
  • Bandaids
  • Tums, Pepto Bismol, or antacid tablets
  • Safety pins
  • Athletic tape & gauze
  • Butterfly bandaids
  • Ace bandage

Technology

Mindful that the needs of business travelers are different from those of location independent nomads. or adventure seekers not looking to take work on the road – most of us have a gadget or two that make their way into our packing repertoire. Regardless of your needs, charge everything before you head out, always back up your photos and work (whether on a portable hard drive or amidst the wide world of the internet), and always bring extra batteries. Depending on travel circumstances, I try to keep my memory cards separate from my camera. That way, if the camera happens to disappear, at least the photos are preserved.

My personal item includes:

  • Laptop & charger
  • Smartphone & charger
  • Portable battery pack & connectors
  • Camera/lens, charger, batteries (2), memory cards (2), & an external hard drive

For Overseas Adventures

Remember those commercials we watched as kids – “Know before you go!”? If you’re headed overseas, check, check, and check again. Some things won’t need to be in your personal item (like visas or vaccinations), but those gadgets will run out of battery quickly if you don’t have the right tools necessary for your destination.

Double check for:

  • Converters
  • Copies of the front page of your passport
  • Copies of your travel insurance and emergency numbers

Snacks

I’m a vegetarian with a nut allergy. If there’s a roll and water available in flight, I’m thrilled, and always travel with snacks I can eat. Whether it’s homemade cookies, chips, crackers or my favorite dark chocolate chips – I recommend something on which to munch. Eat before the flight, be courteous of your fellow travelers, and always accept water when it’s available.

Good neighbor rules for bringing your own food on flights include:

  • Nothing smelly/hot (the odor hangs in that recirculated air for hours)
  • Nothing perishable (if it’s fruit/vegetables/jerky – expect to finish it in flight, or pitch it before you hit customs)
  • Nothing super crumbly (or if you have to, be careful – unless you’d like to be sitting amongst your crumbs for hours)
  • If possible, refrain from nut-related snacks (those with airborne allergies will thank you)

Extras

Most of today’s airlines still allow for that one personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, free of charge (check websites or call ahead to be certain). If, after packing the things that help you breathe, identify you, keep you healthy, document your holiday, connect with the world, and keep you clothed, you still have room and desire – this is where those ‘maybes and wants’ come in to play.

My favorite extras include:

  • Pens, journal, & sharpie marker
  • Coloring book, crayons, & colored pencils
  • Books & magazines
  • Pillow & eye-mask
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • Ear plugs
  • Bathing suit (depending on destination)
  • Extra layers

Which Personal Item Should You Bring?

A small duffle is ideal for the necessities if you plan to keep your laptop in your carry on bag. If you plan to use your laptop on the plane, however, opt for a slim computer bag or packable daypack. Backpacks only sometimes qualify as a personal item, so make sure to check your airlines’ rules before you travel. We don’t recommend trying to use a larger travel backpack as a personal item.

TL;DR

Our travels take us to all sorts of amazing places – but no matter where we roam, we’d like to be able to stay safe, be present, create memories, and connect with humans, nature, and animals. Your personal item can hold all things to fit each of these categories. Pack the essentials in the bag that you’ll keep closest to you at all times, in transit and when out adventuring.

  • Pack the essentials, ditch the rest
  • Be mindful of climate (both at destination & in modes of transport)
  • Bring what you need to stay safe and healthy
  • Keep your personal item close by at all times
  • Always travel with snacks

What do you pack in your personal item?