First Time Packing for International Travel (unnnghh)


Wowza. I’m leaving for Costa Rica tonight (WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN), which obviously means I started packing for 10 days in the jungle yesterday. In my defense, I already had an extensive list of what I needed, so it was only a matter of corralling, paring down, and making everything fit into a carry on and a backpack.  Nonetheless, I thought I’d share my discoveries along the way and what I decided to bring. Probably I packed way too much (hi teenage girl here I need everything) so you more experienced travelers and minimalist packers can have a good laugh.

So, like I said, I made an extensive list broken into the following categories: Clothes, Necessities (toiletries, etc), Stuff, and Devices. I’m nothing if not sophisticated. I do, however, strongly suggest making a list before hand because I find that it makes the actual packing a lot quicker and you have something to refer to as a checklist.

Then, I got all my crap together on the bed along with my two possible suitcase options, a Vera Bradley tote and a standard carry on size suitcase. I opted for the suitcase in the end just so I could be sure that I wouldn’t have to complicate my first flight with checked baggage.


Ugh I am a disgusting human being. I need to clean my cave before I leave. Anyway, that’s everything. Then I put it all on the floor in a sort of organized fashion:


And then I read that you should lay out everything, take half of what you think you need out of that, and twice the money you think you’ll need, so I pared down my clothing to 1 light jacket, 5 shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, and one pair of PJ shorts, and the shoes and hat. This isn’t exactly the halfsies rule, but it’s ten days, and I didn’t want to skimp on clothing too badly.

Undies I did not skimp on, however, because those are the only thing I mind re-wearing. Clearly this is not a fancy trip and luckily I don’t have to be concerned about fashion, or else this would have taken me even longer to do.


I’m also bringing a day pack, a waterproof bag, a camera bag for all of my very important things, a journal, pens, extra batteries and SD cards, and books for the plane. Not pictured are my sunglasses, camera, my phone and my iPod, which I’m using for on the go quick picture taking and music listening.


And again, I’m sure way too much stuff, but I’ve never traveled further than Florida before and I want to be sure. I also don’t want botflies and sunburn. (Also, sunscreen, bacitracin and hydrocortisone are liquids and ended up in my 3-1-1 bag. If you’re unfamiliar, more on that rule here.)


And my always on my body very important things bag, which contains: My passport, a copy of my insurance info, most of my money (more on that later), my license, my camera and batteries/extra SD cards. There’s also a small journal and a pen in there in case, because you never know, and also it’ll be handy if I can’t understand something and I need someone to write it down. I can read Spanish and speak it pretty well, but when it comes to understanding it, it’s a little tricky. In other words, if this was the only bag that came with me, I could live.

So, all in all, here are my beginners’ tips for packing:

1. Do a little research before hand so you know your airline’s specs for carry-ons and luggage, and familiarize yourself with basic security rules (3-1-1, what you can and cannot bring, etc.) Maybe even Google some packing tips.

2. Make a list of everything and pare it down to the essentials. You will be grateful for this when you’re literally sitting on your bag to close it and hating yourself for being so materialistic. It’ll also be a great checklist later.

3. Lay everything out and make sure you’re really at the minimum you feel comfortable traveling with.

4. Start packing it into your bags. If you do what I did, with a carry on and a personal bag, put a little of everything in each. Also put things you’ll want on the plane (books, iPod, etc) in your personal bag because it’ll be close to you for the flight. For example, most of my clothes were in my carry on, but in my backpack, I had a change of clothes, some money, my contact stuff, and my books/devices I’ll need on the flight. I also plan to keep the little red important stuff bag on my body at all times. Again, if these two were the only bags that came with me (worst case scenario) I could scrape by. Everything else I could buy somewhere else.

5. Ziploc bags are your new friend. All of my devices went into one, and all of my toiletries went into one. This will hopefully make security less of a hassle. I’ll let you know when I get back, though.

6. Designate a very important things (VIT) bag to keep on you at all times. This should, at the minimum, contain your passport, papers, license, and most of your money in it. I put my camera stuff in mine because I do NOT want to lose my baby. Most airlines (if not all?) allow this in addition to your personal bag and carry-on.

7. Double check that list.


And after much hell, I finally got everything to fit in these bags. Each passenger is allowed a carry on and a personal bag (in this case, my backpack), but each airline has specific dimensions and weight limits to meet, so, again, be sure to check their site before packing.

So to recap, I learned and would suggest: make a list, pack lighter than you think you should, organize as much as you can within your bags, and plan for the worst case scenario by putting some money, clothes, and essentials in each bag as much as you can. Ask yourself: If I lost every bag but this one, would I be okay? Also, keep a VIT bag and keep that VIT bag on you at all times.

If you have any tips or similar packing experiences to share, please let me know. I am such a rookie, and maybe some of my tips are just downright senseless. I’m open to suggestions!!

Also, since I won’t have internet access for the majority of the next ten days, blogging will be spotty at best. Thanks for reading, and adios!




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