Packing Tips

Here are some tips and hacks to help with your packing especially if you plan to travel abroad.

Luggage Allowance: There are three basic classifications of bags for airline travel. The first one is a personal item. This could be a purse, small shoulder bag, fanny pack, or small backpack. The bag should be no larger than 18 in X 4 in X 8 in (56 cm X 35 cm X 20 cm). It will need to be stored under the seat in front of you.

The second classification is a carry-on bag. For most airlines it should be no larger than 22 in X 14 in X 9 in (56 cm X 36 cm X 23 cm) including handles and wheels. It will need to be stored in the overhead compartment of the airplane.

And the third classification is a checked bag. For most airlines it should be no larger than the total outside dimensions adding up to 62 in (158 cm), in other words no more than W + H + L = 62 inches. It will also have a weight allowance of 50 lbs (23 kgs) before an additional overweight charge is added. This bag will be checked at the front desk and stored in the cargo area of the plane.

Other additional items allowed beyond the restrictions includes: coats, books, hats, newspapers, etc.

Most airlines will allow you to carry one personal item and one carry-on bag at no extra cost. Depending on the flight, airline, and your ticket grade (coach or first class), you may also be allowed one checked bag for free. Check with the airlines before you travel to confirm their requirements and limitations.

TSA Requirements: Any hard cased luggage should be strapped. If you wish to lock your bags you need to use TSA locks. TSA locks are combination locks that have a key-way for the TSA agents to unlock the lock without breaking it.

Liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags must be in individual containers with a maximum capacity of 3.4 ounces (100 millilters). All these items must be placed in a one-quart size clear bag (Ziplock type bag approximately 8 in X 8 in). This often referred to as the 3-1-1 rule; liquids, gels, and aerosols in 3-ounce containers inside a 1 quart bag, and only one bag allowed per passenger. By the way, paste items like peanut butter also fit into this gel category.

There are some clear toiletry bags you can purchase on Amazon or other places that are clear but have a zipper opening. Liquids, gels and aerosols in containers larger than 3 ounces must be packed in your checked bag.

Any devices with lithium batteries are required to be put in your carry-on bags. They are prohibited in your checked bag.

Knives, scissors, or other cutting instruments cannot be packed in carry-on luggage or carried on your person. These items must be packed in your checked baggage. Small round nosed scissors with less than four inch blades are sometimes allowed in carry-on bags depending on the country and the mood of the agent. Again, check with the airline and/or TSA websites before you travel to confirm their requirements.

Packing Pointers: Even if you travel with a checked bag. It is wise to include at least one set of clothes, pair of socks, underwear, t-shirt, and some sleep short in your carry-on in case of lost luggage.

Essential toiletries should also be packed in your carry-on along with needed medications. Prescription drugs should be in your name and in pharmacy issued containers. Ask your pharmacist for smaller labeled bottles. Carry enough critical medications for one to two more weeks than your expected trip.

All bags should be labeled with your name, address, phone number, and email address. Put a name tag on the outside of your bag. It is wise to write your information on a strip of duct tape and fix to the inside of your bag.

Do not put expensive items such as expensive cameras, jewelry, or cash in your checked baggage but carry these items on your person or in one of your carry-on bags.

Packing Light: Most people think they need to pack for every possible situation. There is no way you can prepare for every contingency. We can adapt or use a little creativity with what we have. In most places you can purchase something to get you through or borrow from a fellow traveler.

When I pack, I start at my head and think about the things I need for my head (shampoo, tooth brush, etc.), then my torso, and all the way to my feet.

When you are packing your clothes, try to take items that will all coordinate together. One important packing rule for clothes is to pack all clothes that match each other. I can wear any shirt with any pants; that makes all combinations work.

How many times are you willing to wear something before you wash it? I guess it depends on how much of a ‘clean freak’ you may be as to how many times you feel comfortable wearing pants or a t-shirt. It also depends on the type of trip, the climate, and the type of activities.

I am not going to wear underwear and socks more than a day if at all possible. I am willing to put a few days of sweat and dirt on pants and shirts. One quick hint: On mission trips, I take a pair of light shorts that I wear around where I am staying. As soon as I come in for the day, I change and let my day clothes ‘air-out’.

Another way to limit the number of clothes you pack is to wash (hand wash if necessary). Wal-Mart sells travel packets of detergent just for travel in the bins where you purchase travel size toiletries.

Packing Clothes: The type of clothes depends on the climate and your planned activities. Most mission trips seem to be in hot and humid climates. Light cool clothing is recommended. Many travelers to these areas like the ‘wick-away’ type shirts or the ‘fast dry expedition’ type clothing. Personally, I want to dress comfortably but I do not want to stand out too much. We don’t need to look like Indiana Jones.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Sandals are okay depending on your area and activity. If you are in doubt, make sure you have some athletic shoes with you. Flip-flops or slides are great for lounging in your quarters and for bathing.

I usually recommend long pants for men because in most locations the culture dictates the standard. Shorts, tank tops, and even slacks for women are sometimes offensive in certain cultures. Check with your contact or host before to see what is acceptable for men and women. Most foreign countries are much more conservative in their dress than Americans.

A cap or hat is a recommended item in hot sunny climates. They are great in hiding a ‘bad hair day’.

Besides what I wear, I usually pack two pants, one sleep shorts, three collared shirts, six underwear, six pairs of socks, one pair shorts, three colored t-shirts, one belt, one pair of flip-flops, one tie if needed for Sunday church, and maybe another pair of shoes.

Traveling Clothes: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes for the flight. Remember, you will have to remove your shoes and belt with metal buckle for security at the airport. I purchased a belt with a hard plastic buckle—it sure makes it a little easier going through security at the airport. I bought mine at and you can probably find one on Amazon.

I like to wear a shirt that has two button pockets or a zippered pocket. It is a secure way to keep your passport handy during the trip. I keep my passport in one and my boarding passes in the other.

If you are traveling from the United States in the winter to a warmer climate, try to avoid carrying a bulky winter coat with you. I like to wear a small pullover fleece and once inside the airport pack it away in an outside pocket of my carry-on bag. I leave my bulky winter coat in my vehicle for the land trip home and use the small fleece to get me comfortably from the airport to my vehicle.

Traveling Hacks: Do you realize how many black wheeled luggage pieces are in an airport baggage pickup carousel? If you have a checked bag, it is wise to put something on your bag to quickly identify it. You can tie some bright colored flagging tape or ribbon on your luggage. It is advantageous for everyone in your group to use the same color tape or ribbon so you can assist each other at the luggage carousel. We usually tie two different colors on each bag so there is no confusion with another group using the same method and color.

How you pack your clothes is important. Some people fold and some people roll their clothes. Individually folding clothes seems to take a lot of space and does not prevent wrinkles. My preferred method of packing is to lay my clothing items out flat on top of each other starting with my pants, then shirts and fold into one tight bundle. I pack the bundle in a zippered packing cube. My underwear is packed separately the same way in another smaller packing cube along with my socks. I love packing cubes as they are a great organizer when I get to my destination.

I always pack three plastic clothes hangers. They are hard to come by in a third world country. Upon arrival I hang up my pants and shirts so the wrinkles will ‘fall out’.

Miscellaneous Things to Pack: I always carry one medium size towel and one wash cloth—avoid the thick fluffy ones. I hang both out to dry during the day and reuse for one week. Always take a bar of soap. It is a mission trip, right?

Pack a light and small day pack/bag if your personal item bag will not pull double duty.

A small flashlight with extra batteries is a must.

A Bic cigarette lighter. Check the TSA requirements but they usually allow one small lighter in your carry on. Crazy, but they do. Your host can use it for candles and for fires.

A hank of paracord about thirty feet long and about five plastic clothes pins could be necessary.

If you traveled with a checked bag, pack a Swiss Army knife or multitool.

Take a least one empty quality water bottle. I would also recommend a small plastic bowl, unbreakable cup, and a camping type spoon.

You may need to take at least two rolls of toilet paper depending on who your host is. The small pocket size packages of tissue are great to have with you during the day for those unexpected calls of nature.

I hope these packing tips will help you. Some of my techniques are not for everyone or for every trip but it will get you thinking as you prepare to travel.

Enjoy the Journey!

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