How to Pack for an international flight

How to Pack For an International Flight

Have you ever wondered about how to pack for an international flight? Well, I have, a lot!

Whether it’s San Francisco to Lisbon, New York to Sydney, or the 14 hour San Francisco to Tel Aviv, this ultimate guide will help you get organized for your trip. You will arrive fresh, rested, and prepared to explore your destination.

The Challenge

By its very nature, an international trip requires more planning than a domestic one. More often than not, people choose to stay longer in order to get over the jet lag. They can maximize the time and money they are spending just to get there. And, long-haul flights go hand in hand with that long trip. While my experience with international flights is that they do not offer as much space as they used to, you still want to be comfortable and arrive feeling rested and ready to go.

I pack light for almost every trip. For me, that means I only bring carry-on luggage that goes in the overhead bins and a personal item. International flights bring the particular challenge that you will want access to some of your items during the flight. You don’t want to have to rummage around in your carry-on luggage, so organization before the trip is key. With that, let’s get to it!

Here is My Step By Step Process of How to Pack for An International Trip

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Step 1: Choose Your Bag

For every air trip I take, including international flights, I bring two bags. Given that I blog about packing, I have spent so much time trying different methods and have landed on the following strategy. I select 2 primary bags before I travel, and each bag is organized in a specific way:

  • Small suitcase that will stay closed until I reach my destination. This bag contains my travel capsule wardrobe, intimates, shoes and toiletries for the destination. This bag goes into the overhead bin during the whole flight and my goal is to never access it. This is also the bag that would be check in the event that the airline says passengers need to check bags.
  • Personal item or hand luggage that will stay with me throughout my travels. I usually use a stylish backpack and inside it is organized separated into a few smaller bags. I go into how I pack and organize that personal carry on in Step 5 below.
2 bags: 1 Carry on suitcase and 1 personal item

Step 2: Print Out Your Travel Packing List

Once you know which bags you plan to use, you need a list of what to bring! The good news is that I have a free editable packing list – the actual list that I start with on every trip. It works fantastically as an international travel checklist for your next trip.

You can see the whole list below and grab the list right here to print out!

FREE & Editable Packing List for Women!

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    Step 3: Plan Your Travel Capsule

    Plan your travel capsule wardrobe. The gist of it is you travel with a mix and match wardrobe that is tailored to your destination, your activities, and the time of year you are traveling. As a general rule, you bring 5 tops, 4 bottoms, 3 dresses, 3 pairs of shoes, 2 swimsuits, 2 bags, 1 hat, and 1 pair of sunglasses.

    Want to learn more about how to pack a 5-4-3-2-1 Travel Capsule Wardrobe? Learn and get some examples in the following posts:

    Step 4: Pack Your Toiletries

    Remember that because you are planning for carry-on only, your toiletry bag cannot include any liquids.

    Step 5: Pack Your Personal Carry On Item

    • The first of these is the “never check” items. These are items that you may not use while in transit, but would be potentially devastating if your luggage got lost. These items include your medicine, valuable jewelry, and your camera. This bag goes typically on the bottom of the personal item because you know you will not be accessing it while in transit.
    • The next of these is items that you will use in-flight. These include items for entertainment, in-flight comfort, travel toiletries (non-liquid) and sleep. I typically put these in a tote bag with is zippered. The great thing is that the bag I use for these items can then be used as a day pack for the trip.
    • Your one-quart plastic bag with liquids per TSA requirements.
    • A travel purse that holds your travel documents and slips right into the personal item.
    • An organizer for all your cords.
    • You will want easy access to your liquids and tablets or laptops so you can get through security checkpoints much more easily.

    Step 6: Organize Your Travel Documents

    • Whether traveling solo or with your family, manage important documents in a document organizer. Keep your passport and Global Entry Card safe in a zippered compartment of your travel purse. When traveling with family, it may be wise to invest in a travel wallet designed for several passports. You can keep all your documents in one place. They are great for family travel, I just find it bulky when it is only me.
    • Make sure you have a valid passport. That means it cannot expire until 6 months after you return home.
    • Scan everything: passports, visas and other documents. Bring copies in your personal item and keep copies on a cloud drive like Google.
    • For credit cards and debit cards, bring customer service phone numbers, international if possible.
    • If you have travel insurance make sure you know the policy ins and outs and how to file a claim if need be.
    • Bring your plane ticket if you have one! (do airlines still issue them? If you find one that does, do not forget your ticket!)
    • A copy of your complete itinerary. We typically print out reservation pages from air, hotel and car so that you have the confirmation numbers on you in case of a connectivity issue.
    • If you plan to use your phone while abroad, contact your provider and know your plan before you get there.
    • If you have prescription medications, bring a copy of the scrip and the name and dose of the meds. Also, meds and supplements need to be in their original packaging/bottles.

    PRO TIP: Some of these tasks may seem like overkill. I used to think so too. Then my purse was stolen in France and I did not have a way to easily reach my credit card companies. What could have been an easy phone call ended up taking hours to research and find the numbers. On my honeymoon, no less! Now I always bring the customer service numbers for the cards (but not a copy of the card itself).

    Step 7: Plan for Safe Travels

    You want to protect your money, your valuables and your person while you are traveling.

    For protecting your money:

    To protect your valuables:

    To protect your person, especially if you are travelling solo:

    Step 8: Secure Your Home

    You also want to make sure your home is safe while you are gone. Make sure it does not have the appearance of an empty house, as that can make your home a target for theft while you are gone. And of course, make sure that you have nothing that will go bad or create a smell while you are gone,

    These are the steps to take when traveling internationally.

    • Place a Post Office hold on your mail.
    • Arrange to have newspapers stopped or have someone pick them up.
    • Make sure your refrigerator is empty of anything that can go bad
    • Turn down the water heater
    • Make sure washing machine does not have damp clothes in it
    • Arrange for lawn care
    • Set up a light timer
    • Double-check doors and windows are locked
    • Give your key and trip plans to a friend or relative

    The Ultimate In-Flight Essentials Packing List:


    In Flight Comfort


    Travel Documents

    • Passport
    • Wallet with ID
    • Complete Itinerary Printout

    Back Up Clothes



    “Never Check” Items

    We hope you enjoy this post on how to pack for an international flight! We hope you get you to your destination with comfort and the ability to rest and relax. Enjoy your flight!

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    One Comment

    1. Hi Anne,
      Your advice and shopping tips are awesome. My cousin Michelle and her husband Dave are flying internationally to Africa in October 2023 for 14 days. Another couple more experienced in international destinations going along but they’re not offering her ANY advice. Travel agent gave list of vaccine requirements and tour destinations, but not much more than that considering what they paid her. There are many day explore times, with frequent changes of rougher accommodations to be more authentic to experience culture. Thousands paid to tour with agreement they are sleeping basically in tents near lions and zebras!? I would love to give my wonderful cousin and her kind caring hubby each a bon voyage item. Something very very useful for both as travel gift but what? Budget $100. Any ideas?
      Sincerely, Carol

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