Everyone says it, and it's true: Pack Lightly. The items you pack should be what is absolutely essential to your travels. Sometimes what you believe is an essential part of your daily routine at home, might not be as relevant or necessary while traveling. There are multiple considerations to be made in the pre-trip planning and packing is truly one of the most vital. The following is advice on the dos and don'ts.

To-Do List

Write a good to-do list no later than a month in advance of your trip. Include places you need to go to such as a vaccine clinic. Figure out how much homework you want to have completed before you leave. Organise a list of phone numbers and mailing addresses of people you plan on contacting while you are away. Make a checklist of all the items you are bringing. This is very simple but will help you prevent making crucial mistakes.


Every destination is different. Depending on the style of trip you are embarking on, you may find yourself carrying and hauling your baggage around over long distances and unpredictable terrain. Remember to research your destination and pack accordingly. While wheeled luggage is excellent for flat city traveling, large back-pack style luggage is highly recommended as it covers a variety of environments. If you choose to go with a larger backpack, these can usually be stripped down and used as a daypack for day trips while heavier or unnecessary items can be left back at the hotel.

When choosing luggage, consider how well your luggage will withstand impact. This is very important during the flight to and from your destination. No matter how well you wrap and protect delicate souvenirs, with softer luggage there is a good chance that things will break. In many cases, you want to be comfortable dropping your luggage down a flight of stairs in order to simulate it being stowed underneath a plane and handled by baggage attendants.

To sum up, if you choose not to go with the large pack-back style of luggage, go with a luggage that has a solid outer shell rather than a soft body. Wheels and extendable handles are useful and if you take this approach then also remember to bring a small daypack as a carry-on for your day trips.

Weight of Bag

It may sound alarming to some but a bag weighing between 20 - 25lbs is ideal. Lighter is always better; remember that you might want to bring home souvenirs. When you keep things lighter, you become more mobile and will not suffer from hauling heavy, overstuffed bags. If you notice that you have filled your luggage completely before leaving it's likely that many of the items you are planning on bringin are not necessary. Keep it to the essentials and don't include all the items that you think would be nice to have along. Also note that if your luggage exceeds the weight limit of your flight, you can easily end up paying between $20 - $100 in added fees.

If your course is being supervised by an instructor, they will be able to provide you with a recommended list of items. Make sure that you consider any essential items which may not be on your instructor's list such as sunscreen and a first aid kit.

Camelback-style Water Bladders

A Camelback-style water bladder can be useful for long excursions or for travel in hot areas where you need to monitor your water intake. These mobile water bladders can cost anywhere from $20 - $100 including water purifiers. Unfortunately the water can often have an aftertaste of plastic or purifier tablets. This can be easily overcome by adding a little juice or flavoured powder into the bladder. Bottles of water will cost anywhere from 0.50 - $2 for 2L. The bottled water will taste better, cost a bit more in the long run and can be frozen, while the mobile water bladder is much less cumbersome to travel with and hands free. This is a choice that comes down to personal preference.


Much of the world is considerably hotter than Canadians are used to and share a more conservative dress code. For this reason, it is recommended to do a little research about where you are heading and to get to know the culture and climate ahead of time. The more you keep in mind a country's own dress code while packing, the better, as many cultures do value those who show respect to their traditions. By not following their dress code, you may find yourself faced with unnecessarily being treated with animosity which may even result in being barred from certain sites or locations. Showing respect to the local people by dressing properly is a small effort that can make a big difference.

For a hot environment it is advised to pack at least three shirts, one long sleeved, followed by two shorts and a pair of pants. The long sleeved shirt and pants will be useful for cold plane rides as well in places that require more conservative attire. Although not the most stylish option, zip off pants are highly recommended for the amount of convenience they provide as well as any pants or shirts that have zip-up pockets. And should the opportunity arise, one bathing suit is more than enough.

It might seem counter-intuitive to pack such a small amount of clothing. However by the second week, most travelers have usually figured out their favourite outfit from what they have packed and will only wear half of their other clothes once.

You will need to wash your clothes on longer trips. Packing laundry soap is recommended. It is important to note that bar soap can be very difficult to rinse out of fabric if directly applied. We would recommend attempting to handwash your clothes a few times before leaving to perfect this skill.


A pair of durable hiking shoes is a must. Consider bringing replacement laces. In warm weather, two to four pairs of socks are useful especially because some might wear out during the trip. Colder weather may warrant four to eight pairs. This depends on how often you will be able to wash your socks and how often you will be wearing shoes. A pair of comfortable casual shoes is also recommended; sandals, flip flops or runners are great.


There are two rules for packing electronics. Rule one: Do not bring anything that you are not willing to replace. Rule two: DO NOT bring anything that you are not comfortable replacing. On this trip you might have to deal with large amounts of uncontrollable dirt, sand, heat, humidity, rain, rough rides and rushed packing jobs. If you are somewhere with sand, it WILL get everywhere and into everything. Heat and humidity can also ruin electronic devices. Since you will likely be on the move often, there is also the threat of accidentally causing physical damage to a device by dropping it or packing it improperly, let alone accidentally leaving it behind. A common and often frustrating/embarrassing mistake is connecting North American electronics to a foreign power grid without a converter. This will no doubt result in smoke coming from your device, sometimes fire and certainly tears. Lastly many smaller items such as cords, cameras, MP3 players and headsets will easily be lost or forgotten. The world of travel is treacherous to electronics. This being said, they do add a lot to any enjoyable trip.

Before packing anything, check which of your electronics come with a built-in converter and what wattages they can accept. Some of the more expensive electronics such as laptops will often come with a wattage converter pre-installed.


A universal outlet converter is almost always a must. Be careful though, small and less expensive outlet converters exist that do not actually convert the wattage passing through it, they simply allow one to use a North American plug in another country. Know the difference.

Bring two each of smaller and cheaper accessories such as earbuds, USB cords and flash drives. They are easily broken and lost.

Other interesting accessories to consider packing include headphone splitters that allow you and other people to plug headphones into the same device. These are quite cheap and useful. An airplane headphone converter is handy as many airlines have headphone jacks that are designed to only work with their special headphones. Getting one in advance will save you from having to buy or use their overpriced headphones and allow you to use your own.

Music Player

A music player of some kind has always been noted as an essential for many travelers. You may be experiencing long bus rides, at least two full days of plane travel, noisy city nights and other instances where the distraction of music or an audio book are often welcome. Extremely cheap and small players can be bought from almost anywhere and are easy to travel with. If you are bringing your cell phone, you may want to use it to play music or audiobooks.


Cameras are an iconic part of any tourist's gear. If you are bringing a camera other than the one on your phone, keep in mind that because this particular piece of technology gets so much use it is often the most commonly broken or lost item. Purchasing a shock-resistant or waterproof camera may be worth the extra money. As well, because of the fragility of cameras and the importance of what they carry, find a reliable way to back-up your photos while travelling.


Laptops and tablets are the most expensive of all electronic travel accessories. However they are the most convenient for watching movies, travel writing, listening to music, charging electronics, backing up pictures and as a life-line to the internet for talking to home and loved ones.

This being said, laptops are large and bulky pieces of equipment. Despite all their uses some have regretted bringing laptops due to their size and the extra care that must go into packing and transporting them. Remember, do not bring anything you are not willing to carry and possibly have to replace.

Cell Phones

While traveling many students in the past have chosen to purchase cell phones in order to keep in contact with each other and the outside world. These phones also allow for much more convenience when organising day trips and finding friends. Phones and SIM cards can be picked up nearly anywhere.

Phone companies in many areas do not work like they do in North America. Be sure to research local phone companies and their plans in the area you will be visiting.

In most cases once you are done with the phone you can keep it and pay no extra fees to do so. If you return to the country later, you still have a phone. As well if you go to another country you simply buy a new SIM card and are then set to go. You can also consider donating the phone to an NGO or the college.

Most importantly, do your research before you leave. What cell phone companies are in the area? What are the standard costs involved? Do not leave these things until you reach your destination and must find out importation information from the wrong side of a language barrier before you can make a phone call.

Other Packing Tips

  • If you are not sure whether you will use it or not, it's probably not worth bringing.
  • Hair straighteners, blow dryers, books (course-related or otherwise), extra clothes and make-up are among the most commonly regretted packed items.
  • A first aid kit is one of the most important things for you to pack. See the Travel Health Kit section of the Government of Canada‘s Travel and Tourism site for information on what to include in your kit.
  • Bring an extra debit card if you can, most banks will allow you to have two.
  • Have a travel wallet with a cord or string. This will allow you to tie it to a belt loop or loop it to a belt making it harder to steal.
  • Inform your bank and credit card company of where you are going. If you don't they may lock your account.
  • If you don't have much experience traveling, try packing your luggage a month before you leave, then remove half of it by order of least importance.

Packing Examples

Here is a downloadable example packing list. Everyone has their own specific needs while traveling; these are recommended lists that have served others well. Make sure you research your destination and adjust your own packing list accordingly.

Example Packing List for a 20lb Bag Lasting 3 Weeks in a Hot Climate

Main Luggage
  • Sandals
  • Headlamp
  • Head phone Splitter
  • USB wall charger
  • MP3 player and/or cell phone
  • MP3 player/cell phone USB Charger
  • Earbuds
  • Universal voltage converter
  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Shorts x2
  • Shirts x2
  • Socks x3
  • Passport photo copy
  • Pencils
  • Duct tape
  • Itinerary
  • Site info sheet
  • Vocabulary list
  • Course work list
  • Water sanitizing pills
  • Pens
  • Swimsuit
  • Bug spray
Travel Wallet
  • Passport
  • Driver's license
  • Credit Card
  • 500 in destination currency
  • $200 Canadian
  • Info page with bank card number, credit card number, phone numbers, addresses
Medical Bag
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Mouthwash
  • Q-tips
  • Nail clippers
  • Band-Aids
  • Antiseptic spray
  • Antibiotic pills
  • Kleenex
  • Pen
Questions? Contact the Office of Global Engagement with your study abroad questions. T: 1-250-334-5033 or