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The Airline Pilot’s Complete Packing Guide You Should See

The Ultimate Travel Essentials Guide

I know, there are like 18 million travel packing guides on the web. Let me ask you a question though: how many are written by someone who travels 90% of the year?

As an airline pilot who practically lives out of my suitcase, it’s a necessity to pack well for each trip. Over the years, I’ve learned to tailor what and how I pack down to the essentials.

It took a while, but I’ve perfected my method of packing. I’m seldom left thinking I brought too little or coming back home with unused items.

I’ve traveled on hundreds of work/business trips, ranging from 2-day to 19-day trips. I’ve gone on expeditions and solo trips that lasted several months without coming back to home base. Still, I manage to live exclusively out of a carry-on size Luggageworks bag.

In this article, you’ll learn to how avoid paying for overweight baggage fees and still have enough to get through any trip.

What’s the Secret to Packing?

Over the years, I’ve learned to do more with less. There are so many ways you can pack smarter, not harder.

There’s so much ingenuity and innovation going into making travel easier. Many products now-a-days take up less room in your suitcase, weigh less, and have more uses. It’s so much easier to minimize what you pack.

Have you ever considered how many times you end up taking things on trips you don’t use? Sometimes you have to bring stuff just “in case”, but other times the culprit is simply poor planning.

That’s where this guide comes in. Here’s what you need to pack, and what you don’t.

Packing Only The Essentials

I’ve listed only the products I own. I can vouch for each and every item on this list. Here’s the best way you can travel effortlessly and maximize what you pack.

Packing the Right Suitcase (not the left one)

Travel essentials all in one picture!
There are plenty of suitcases to choose from. Hopefully you’ll find your soul-suitcase someday.

Well, the first thing you might need is a suitcase. The first step to maximizing what you can pack starts with your suitcase.

Here are the 5 top suitcases pilots use and why you need one. You’ll see why the extra inch or two really matters.

Backpacks (or jetpacks?)

Back to packing!
Excellent carry-on size bag to maximize what you can take onboard. I personally have a smaller backpack I use as my second bag.

Another great tool I use is a backpack. Yes, most of us have had these since elementary school….

But having one that’s right at the size limits of carry-on size for low cost carriers, such as Frontier or Spirit, is a fantastic way to get out of some ridiculous bag fees while packing more.

Off Da Hook! The Secret to Easy Travel.

Out of all my packing essentials, this comes as #1
The Ultimate Travel Essential: this will make your life so much easier. Add some balance to your life.

So you have your suitcase and your backpack. Let me tell you a secret to rolling in comfort. It’s called the J-Hook.

The first time you latch your backpack onto your suitcase, you’ll gasp at how easy it is to pull your luggage.

Suddenly, there’s no weight pulling down on the handle, and no bag to hold up against the handle of your suitcase.

Thinking Out of the Box: Packing Cubes

Packing essentials 101
These packing cubes will make your life so much easier. They just compress everything.

Such usefulness… such effectiveness… such hygiene. Packing cubes are a great way to keep things apart in your suitcase.

But they’re especially great at compressing each individual item (shoes, jackets) so you can squeeze more in. It really makes a world of difference for packing more in less space.

SD Cards: The Best Kind of Memory

I remember buying this...
Remember when hard drives could barely hold 256GB? Now you can have all that on a tiny SD card for $25! Crazy…

If you have any sort of camera, laptop, GoPro, Android phone, or any modern device really, it’s best to be packing extra memory.

Right now, SD cards are as cheap as they’ve ever been. You never know when you’ll need one. Trust me, they tend to be much more expensive on the road.

Winter Jackets Don’t Have to be the Worst Part About Winter (or Packing)

It doesn't have to coat your whole suitcase!
This jacket literally folds into its own pocket. How’s that for saving space?

Over the last couple years, clothes companies have really come far in diversifying the products they offer. In particular, Eddie Bauer has a line of jackets that literally fold into their own pockets.

No longer do you have to encumber yourself with huge jackets that take up half your suitcase. Packing made ridiculously easy.

Wearing the Same Shirt Twice Doesn’t Have to be Backwards

Packing reversible shirts saves a lot of time and space. Albert Einstein?
Reversible shirts: cut your packing in half!

Having a reversible shirt basically lets you pack half the shirts you normally would. Great space saving!

Plus, not having any tags scratching your neck is nice too.

Shoes: the sole of your bag

Who would've thought shoes would be such a hassle when packing?
Shoes? YES, hugely important! These are amongst the heaviest items in your bag.

Lightweight, versatile shoes are a HUGE factor in packing light. If you can reduce the number of pairs of shoes you bring by one, it could be the difference between excess baggage fees or getting away fee-free.

Just remember that the next time you’re thinking of packing that extra pair of shoes. And remember, flip flops are in style!

Keep Those Shoes From Stinking Up Your Bag

Amongst the important travel essentials to pack,, for your own health...
I’ve thought of it all! Even shoe bags. Thanks Pierre!

Over the years, I’ve learned that the type of shoe bag you use is extremely important.

You don’t want to pack your shoes in a plastic bag with no air intake, because then your shoes stink. If you pack them directly into your bag, then your bag stinks. Maybe I just have smelly feet?

Anyways, there are plenty of great, breathable options that solve these issues.

Packing Those Compression Socks

More than just socks, they're for your health!
A great idea, plus you look like you play Soccer or a ballet dancer.

Compression socks are a fantastic way to keep the blood flowing on those long flights.

Plus, they remove stress and reduce the chance of getting varicose veins and excess fluid retention. Compression socks help relieve pain and discomfort related to plantar fasciitis. Over long flights, this leads to reduced fatigue, soreness, cramping and prevents injuries at the same time.

Tide Pods: The Essence of Minimalist Packing

Tide pods: nothing more essential... or dangerous?
They don’t take up much room, but they are a life saver… unless you eat them. Then not.

Tide pods are possibly the biggest aspect of packing less is dividing your trip into even groups of days. For example, you could pack for a 10 day trip with 5-6 days of clothes, or a 4 month trip with one week of clothes.

Tide pods give you the flexibility to do laundry on your own. Most hotels and airbnbs I’ve been to have washing machines. Usually, the tough part is drying! But I’m sure you can manage. Just don’t eat the tide pods, please.

Cancel that Noise! – Headphones

I ALWAYS pack this.
The latest and greatest in headphone technology. Just came out this month. On sale!

The best purchase I ever made was noise-cancelling Sony headphones. I started out with the WH1000XM2’s for a couple years, and upgraded to the XM3s about a year ago. I’ve never looked back.

The XM4s are supposed to pack a 20% improvement in noise cancellation. Not sure how that’s possible – flights are already dead silent with the XM3s. All I’ll say is, technology is amazing, and these make great gifts.

Keep that Passport Nice and Shiny!

Passport holder: one of my most important travel essentials.
Passport holder: one of my most important travel essentials.

When I first started traveling extensively, I never really thought about keeping my passport in good shape. It spent 90% of the time in my pocket.

It didn’t take long until my passport was literally worn so badly you couldn’t see which country it belonged to on the front. When I got a new passport, the FIRST thing I did was buy an RFID-resistant passport holder.

Power Adapter: Adapt Your Packing to Remember It!

One thing I sometimes forget when packing, even though I travel internationally all the time.
If you want to power multiple devices and never worry about not having the right adapter… well, here ya go!

It’s not really a shocker, but packing a high-quality power adapter/converter is super important. It’s not something you want to break down in the middle of a long trip. Trust me….

If you are only going to Europe and really want to minimize on the space your adapter takes in your bag, here’s a great option.

I Got the Power! Bank

Make sure to pack one of these if you value having charged devices!
A high mAh, fast charging, small power bank like this one is the key to keeping your devices charged on a long trip.

Packing a power bank will keep you out of tough spots. Whether you’re on a super long trip, on an extended hike or camping trip, or you forgot your charger, these will have you covered.

Plus, they don’t charge much for them. Only $25-35 for a good one. Electrifying!

The Case of Watching a Movie: Tablet/Phone Case

We’ve all done it. You know. Lean your phone against your cup on the seatback table, and watch it fall two seconds later.

Lots of airlines are ripping out perfectly good seatback entertainment in search of better economics. Use that money saved on your flight ticket to buy a new, better phone case with a kickstand.

Melatonin: Don’t Fight the Jet Lag Unequipped

Packing melatonin is a good idea, trust me!
Not a drug… yet works better for sleep than any I know.

Melatonin: the supplement that helps you sleep when you’re jet lagged. It’s a tool that, when used correctly, can let you get used to a new time zone nearly instantly.

Lifestraw: Packing Life

Pack something that is life-saving, for you and others around the world.
This is literally life saving!

Having a life straw is literally life saving. Not only for you, but for the school child that gets water for an ENTIRE year with every purchase.

You can basically drink water from anywhere with a life straw. It’s amazing. It’s great in developing countries or wherever/whenever (Shakira?) it’s hard to find fresh, clean water.

Plus, it could save you quite a few runs to the grocery store for water bottles. It takes almost no room and is super easy to pack.

Clear Liquids Pouch

This can make your life a lot easier…

This will make your life easier going through TSA, assuming you don’t have TSA Pre Check or CLEAR.

Plus, they help to keep your packing organized.

Travel-Sized Toiletry Bottles

Packing liquids made easy... and environmentally friendly!
The KEY to not having to check in your baggage. 🙂

While there are pre-customized convenience kits with everything you need like this one, my recommendation for something that’s more environmentally friendly would be these re-fillable travel-sized bottles.

Packing these over one-use bottles enormously reduces your plastic usage. If not for yourself, do it for mother nature.

These travel-size containers are the key to not having to check in your bag. I personally use mine for my toothpaste and sunscreen.

Wallet: Where Are You Packing Those Big European Bills?

Big Billz!
A fantastic, high-quality wallet with big enough pouches.

I used to have a slim wallet. I loved it. Until I started traveling more internationally. Unfortunately, not all money is the same size as US Dollars.

In Europe, Euros vary with amount – for example, a one euro bill is much smaller than a fifty Euro bill. Anything bigger than a 20 Euro bill sticks out of normal American wallets. That is a great way to seduce pick-pockets.

Dirty Clothes Bag

Of the travel essentials I've listed, this is the only one I don't always pack.
A great, cheap product. Definitely a good idea…

Inevitably, you’ll want to separate your dirty clothes from you clean ones.

Here’s my pro tip, and it doesn’t involve buying anything. There are usually 2 of these available in any hotel closet. They’re usually cheap, plasticky, and rip after some time, so it’s up to you.

Packing sturdier dirty clothes bags is probably a much better option.

Pens!

Pilot pens? Coincidence?

As a pilot, these pens have always been my favorite. Not sure what it is about them….

Anyways, you’ll have tons of forms to fill out. Don’t forget to take pens. These are great.

Optional but Helpful Travel Gear

A Laptop Bag that’s Actually Easy to Open

Think ahead when packing your laptop.
This is one of the finest bags you can find!

We see it all too often. That person, struggling to unzip their bag, find their laptop, and take it out.

Don’t be that person. Just get a better, more travel-friendly laptop bag.

International Sim Card

Stay connected...
Optional or essential? That’s up to you.

These days, staying connected while traveling is more of a necessity than just a desire.

Check out the best international sim cards and how they stack against American carriers.

Small Portable and Packable Tripod

Packing a tripod doesn't have to take too much room....
Extremely light and portable, this will soon become your new friend!

Going solo? If you’re headed on a solo trip and you don’t want to constantly hassle other people, or you want to take more time to perfect that shot, a Tripod will do the trick.

They’re light, and small – two great things when packing.

A Debit Card with No ATM Fees

Pack that golden Debit Card!

ATM card fees can be a major expense if your bank is not available where you travel.

Fees are even higher if you travel internationally. Luckily, banks like Charles Schwab have debit cards with no ATM fees.

Hiking Equipment

Essential to hiking...
These do definitely take up some room, but the folding/collapsible ones are a good compromise.

If you want nothing but the best for your hike, you’re probably much better off packing your own equipment rather than renting whatever is available.

Chewing Gum

Gum is important to bring, especially if you’re susceptible to pressure changes in the airplane or if you’re congested.

BTW, don’t fly congested. Or with any symptoms. We thank you.

Travel Cooler Bags: Fitness on the Road

If you want to stay fit on the road, cooler bags are essential. Learn more about staying as fit as possible while traveling.

In the article, you’ll also learn about some portable workout equipment that packs nicely in any suitcase.

If You Have a Drone, Protect It!

Packing a drone? Protect it.
Protect your Mavic Air 2… plenty more options available.

Lekufee makes great carrying cases to protect your drone. Protect that investment!

First Aid Kit

I hope you never end up using this, but it's good to have it packed just in case.
Hopefully you won’t have to use it….

For those that like to be prepared, a first aid kit really doesn’t take much room. And it’s pretty inexpensive!

Sewing Kit

Packing a sewing kit might extend the life of your clothing!

If you packed less, taking a sewing kit can definitely extend the life of much-needed clothing.

There are travel-size kits that don’t take up much room, but you may still have to check in your bag because of the scissors.

Pack That VPN (Virtual Private Network)

This is especially important if you’re traveling to China – otherwise, you won’t have access to social media. Apps are available with subscriptions, sometimes costly.

Packing Extra Knowledge

I hope this guide helps when you’re packing for that next trip!

If you’re wondering how to travel safely, here’s how.

Here’s where you can currently travel without needing to quarantine (much).

And here’s how to fly to Europe.

Note: I do receive a commission if you click the links for products in the article. I own and have used all (or similar) items I have listed – no item is listed that I don’t 100% recommend. Thanks again for reading!

Keep Exploring the World

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