The ultimate packing list

How to pack everything you need for a U.K. vacation into a carry-on sized bag

Below is the actual packing list I use (save the female-specific items) for any general, non-outdoorsy trip. Whether it's a six-night jaunt or a six-month research trip, I call up this page on my computer and tick off the boxes as I pack. 

The only extra item I pack: A laptop computer—but only because I have this strange job of "travel writer." (However, these days I can often get away with just using my iPhone or my Android tablet—I got a Google Nexus 7 for the great value and fact that T-Mobile data service works abroad—along with a pocket-sized collapsable keyboard.)

Gear & clothing

  • - Since 1938, one of the best all-around outdoors, camping, and adventure travel outfitter, with just about everything you need, whether you're a novice or a hard-core enthusiast. Lots of high-tech clothing designed for heavy-duty wear, tear, travel, and sport, plus everything from packs to personal mosquito nets to biodegradable detergent—and of course, all the basic gear for camping, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking. It's actually run as a co-op, so if you become a member ($15 to join for life), you get 8% cash back on your purchases at the store at the end of the year (10% back if you use the no-fee, free credit card they give you, which also generates 1% back on non-REI purchases). They also have a special clearance-sale section.
  • - One of the best catalogues out there for travelers (not so much outdoorsy stuff), with high-quality clothing and luggage (and some gadgets) carefully selected or adapted to be perfect for traveling—durable, versatile, wrinkle-resistant, lots of hidden pockets, and sometimes even stylish. My wardrobe's full of stuff with their label on it—though in recent years, they seem to have become increasingly concerned with offering more and more fashion clothing than their old focus on true travel gear. Sad. Also, I should note that some women (my mom and my wife, to be precise) report that the women's clothing is a bit more hit-or-miss—usually excellent, but sometime a big let-down in terms of quality or looks.
  • - The name really says it all, doesn't it? This is the single best online outlet to compare every concievable type of bag, suitcase, pack, purse, backpack, shoulder bag, duffel, and every other conceivable form of carrying-your-stuff travel container out there—along with related accessories. Good prices, too.
  • - This Maine camping clothier and catalogue legend was selling flannel shirts long before Seattle produced its first garage band, and decades before J. Crew and Banana Republic co-opted the outdoorsy look and made it Yuppie. Their travel specialty gear is, as with most of their stock, head and shoulders above anyone else for durability, quality, and utility (if not always style). Best of all: "We guarantee all items for the useful life of the product." That statement is what has hooked people on this storied outfitter since it sold its first pair of boots in 1912. (Its original bricks-and-mortar store in Freeport, Maine became such a site of pilgrimage for vacationing fans of its catalog that it single handedly created the town's now world-famous outlet store industry.)
  • - Clothing, luggage, and lots of travel gadgets—some exceedingly useful, others merely ridiculous exercises in technology (seriously, who needs a portable oxygen mask, or a silver case that automatically dispenses credit cards?). Their prices could be lower, but they do carry some prime merchandise difficult to find elsewhere and Magellan's really is the place to go when you're seeking some obscure but useful travel gadget (and I don't mean the collapsible Lexan wine glasses).
  • - An obvious one, but a good resource to remember. Everybody's favorite one-stop shopping site on the Internet carries just about anything you could think of.

Moneybelt items

Travel clothing

  • 2 pairs of pants - (men/women) Take quick-dry travel slacks (with secret pockets), not heavy, never-dry jeans; I always make one a pair of convertible pants (men/women) so I don't need to bring extra shorts.
  • 1 pair shorts - With pockets—or just use convertible pants (men/women) for your long pants. British adults don’t often wear shorts (and most churches won't let you in with bare knees), but they’re good for hiking and, for men, as swimsuits (women: just buy a swimsuit there if you find you need one—a great souvenir!).
  • 1 long skirt or travel dress - The skimpiness at which your respectability will be questioned varies from city to small town—and many churches won't let you in if you're showing bare knees—so hedge your bets with something longish (knee-length at least).
  • 4 pairs underwear - Get moisture-whicking, quick-drying travel briefs or boxers—not cotton; something you can wash in the sink and will dry overnight.
  • 4 bras - or camisoles.
  • 4 pairs of socks - I wear Smartwool-type hiking socks—bulkier, yes, but great durability and foot-cushioning comfort; get a pair or two in black for dressy situations.
  • 2 long-sleeved shirts - Button-down collared shirts are respectable for all occasions; travel ones have hidden pockets, sunblock, and easy washability.
  • 3 T-shirts - Wear under long sleeves so the easily washed T-shirt will soak up all the sweat. Get quick-drying tops, not cotton.
  • Sweater - Warm, and dressy (aim for pullovers, not sporty types). I like a thin wool V-neck for versatility. Or you can do a...
  • Jacket - Only for fall to spring spring (though a light rain jacket is always wise). I like the pocket-crazy SCOTTeVEST.
  • Wrap or shawl - For covering bare shoulders (or improvising a below-knee skirt over shorts) to visit churches (it's often a rule); also, for warmth on planes and cool evenings, and sun protection.
  • 1 set long underwear - Only for winter trips (though useful even in spring and fall in northerly climes or mountainous regions).
  • Walking shoes - Think: casual, sturdy, lightweight. Leather, not loud sneakers. No dress shoes, heels, flip-flops, or anything you can’t walk in all day for two weeks. (STURDY hiking or travel sandals are also OK.)
  • Hat - An all-around brim offers sun protection and rain protection (also: stylish).
  • Belt - Those with a hidden zipper let you hide your backup info sheet photocopy and some emergency cash.

Bathroom kit

Daypack items

  • Daypack - Carry a small backpack or security purse with your daily needs. NOTE: Anything on the list below that is liquid should be packed in your main, checked bag for the flight to avoid running afoul of TSA regulations about carrying liquids over 3 oz. 
  • Guidebooks - As great as this site is, we recommend taking some print guidebooks as well. » more
  • Journal - You won’t remember it all half as well as you imagine.
  • Pens
  • Camera - Bring extra batteries. Tote it in a purse or mild-mannered daypack, not a “steal-me” professional camera bag. I like a waterproof pocket cameras.
  • Memory cards - Very expensive abroad (and you will fill them up fast!)
  • Tripod - I like the GorillaPod, with flexible legs so you you can wrap it around railings, tree branches and other impromptu supports.
  • Tiny flashlight - I prefer a hands-free headlamp, but you can go old-shool with a handheld flashlight.
  • Tiny folding umbrella
  • Sunglasses
  • Cellphone - Only bother if you have a good, cheap international mobile data plan (like T-Mobile), or just put it into "Airplane" mode then swicth on WiFi. Otherwise, rent a cellphone» more
  • Swiss Army Knife - or a Leatherman/multitoolMost useful features: screwdriver/can opener, blade, corkscrew (for picnics), tweezers, scissors, nail file. Note: The TSA has been debating allowing small knives in carry-ons again—though HAS NOT YET changed the rules. For now, pack any knife in your checked luggage. (Official TSA regs)
  • Tissues - Invaluable for sudden spills, substitute napkins, bathroom emergencies, signaling surrender, and, if still clean enough, runny noses.
  • Water bottle - You can buy them as you go, but always have one. (Just remember to empty it before going through airport secutiry.)
  • Tiny binoculars - Maybe I'm getting old, but increasingly I find these useful for admiring distant church mosaics, wildlife, landscapes, queens, etc.
  • Sunscreen - You'll be outside more than you imagine. Also, reapply after lunch. Remember to pack into your main bag for plane rides (TSA liquids rule).
  • Insect repellent - Also useful: After Bite for the itch. Just remember not to carry either onto the plane (TSA liquids rule again).


Travel comfort

  • Neck pillow - For the plane or long train rides. I prefer one that cinches at the front to provide all-around-the neck support (wear it backwards to keep your chin up); some rave about the the funky J-Pillow; other go for the Travel Halo with its built-in eye mask.
  • Eye mask - Some love 'em; some don't. I find every bit of help sleeping helps.
  • Tablet/E-reader - For long plane and train trips. If a tablet or e-Reader, load up on titles before you leave, or get one with WiFi (so you can download outside the U.S) or a Kindle with 3G (which connects for free in 100 countries).
  • Noise-canceling headphones - The one silly travel gadget I actually use (it makes flying less stressful, even if you don't sleep; also: way easier to hear the movie). There are tons of models. I currently rock a JVC HANC250—les than half the price of Bose; nearly as good. Or go super low-tech with earplugs (sadly, I'm one of those people who cannot tolerate wearing them).
  • Book - Just bring one or two. Some hotels have book trading shelves. Also, Britain has excellent book stores!