The Essential Checklist for Fast and Light Air Travel
As light as you think you travel, there is always a way to cut the list down so that you can focus on fun and not on lugging around extra weight. We organized the list from light to heavy travel. We include both domestic and international travel checklists. Start with Packing Light which we define as packing a bag small enough that it fits under the seat in front of you. If going abroad, add in items from the International Travel Checklist. If you need more space, read Traveling with Just a Carry-On.
This spring we updated a lot of the products mentioned in this article. The general advice stays the same: go fast and light!
This is everything OutdoorGearLab co-founder Chris McNamara took on a trip around the world in 13 days to visit The New 7 Wonders of the World. The bag weighed only six pounds and was plenty (as long as you do laundry in your hotel sink every once in a while). Below is the video from the trip.
- Backpack — Take a pack smaller than 30 liters
- Camera — For most applications, your cell phone will work great and be much easier to share photos. If you want high-quality video, take the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera - likely the best picture in the smallest package currently available.
- Down Jacket — This is the key to being warm while still packing light. Our Top Pick is the Patagonia Tres Down Parka because it provides warmth, rain protection, and style. The advantage of a combined jacket (also know as a 3-in-1 jacket) is that you can combine the two when walking onto the plane and free up carry on space.
- Drivers License — Forgetting this (or your passport) is usually the only thing that can keep you from getting on a flight.
- External Battery — A must-have for long flights and as an emergency backup to get your phone, camera, GoPro, headlamp, or tablet charged when on the move (or when you forget your international adapter). On our around the world trip, we were almost held in India because our smartphone was dying and the Indian officials wouldn't let us leave unless we could prove, on the smartphone
- Fleece Jacket — Heavy fleece jackets are so 2010.
- Headphones — While noise-canceling headphones like the Bose QuietComfort 15 are the most deluxe, we find them too bulky for our fast and light style. A headphone splitter is ideal for sharing movies whether in the back of an airplane seat or at a table. We currently use the Belkin Rockstar Multi Headphone Splitter.
- Laptop — Not mandatory if you have a good smartphone, but we find that many smartphone apps still don't work well with some international travel sites, which can be a pain. Triple check that you have the charger (and any other essential cables).
- Pants — We steer away from the traditional journey or hiking clothing which may be easy to wash in a sink, but makes you stand out like a tourist. We prefer light jeans with some stretch, usually achieved through 3-5% spandex. Our current favorite is the Prana Axiom Jean.
- Phone and Phone Charger - Make sure boarding passes and reservation information is available for fast offline viewing (consider taking a screen capture and saving it to your photos).
- Rain Jacket —
- Shirts — We just take what is comfortable, which is usually cotton. Keep in mind thinner shirts dry faster, and synthetic shirts dry the fastest.
- Shoes — Like pants, we prefer shoes that are comfortable and stylish than can go on a short hike if needed. We like the Toms Chukka Boot and used them on the 7 Wonders Trip.
- Socks — We like a mixture of cozy cotton and synthetic socks medium length and short. In our around the world trip, four pairs were just fine. Our favorite are the SmartWool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks.
- Toiletries — A drugstore like CVS has a whole section with tiny-sized toothbrush, floss, deodorant. Or for $10 you can get the Handy Solutions Travel Kit.
- TSA PRe / Known traveler number — If you fly more than a few times a year, get TSA Pre. It costs $85 and about an hour of your time depending on how far you live from one of the 300 enrollment centers. Not only do you get MUCH shorter security lines, you don't need to remove your belt, shoes, jacket, laptop or 3.4 ounce or less liquid/gel containers.
- Underwear — Take synthetic underwear that can easily be washed in a sink like the ExOfficio GiveNGo Boxer Brief. Roll in a towel, step on it, and air dry it for an hour. You have the hotel room laundromat.
- Electric Skateboard — Don't laugh, we're serious.
International Travel Checklist
Take everything from the previous list Packing Light and add:
- Credit Cards — Use a credit card without foreign transaction fees which can add 3% to every purchase. Not sure if you have fees? Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card or just do a google search. If your journey takes you to Europe, it's convenient to have a card with the new chip and pin number.
- International Adapters — You can buy these at most airports, but you will save money buying them in advance. If you forget, sometimes the hotel front desk will have extra (they also might give you a toothbrush if you forget that).
- International Phone Plan — You want to set this up a few weeks before your trip. You will have to choose how much data you need. In general, SMS is the cheapest way to communicate internationally when you can't find wifi and use Skype. Reset your phone's data counter and check every day or so to make sure you are not going over. Overages are expensive!
- Passport and copies of passport — Remember, if your passport expires 3-6 months after your flight, it may not be valid. We know, it makes no sense. Why can't the expiration date on a passport be the expiration date? But a few friends with valid passports have gone through customs/embassy nightmares because their passport was set to expire a few months after their trip. Ouch. Store a copy of your passport, key reservations and itinerary on the cloud (Google Drive for example).
- Visas — If traveling from the United States, most countries either require no visas, want you to pay a fee when you arrive, or let you buy a visa within 72 hours of your trip. However, a few countries like Brazil require either a visit to a consulate or paying an agency to deal with the consulate for you. Visit this site to see requirements.
Traveling with Just a Carry-On
- Carry on Bag — While we generally avoid carry-ons in favor of a very small and light backpack, we understand they are sometimes necessary. We like light and simple carry-bags especially since international airlines often have strict weight requirements. Our favorite is the Eagle Creek Tarmac Carry-On.