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International Travel Must-Haves

Traveling Light hasn’t always been my thing.  In fact, my first memory of international travel brings flashbacks of hauling four (yes, four) bags through the terminal on my way to Hawaii when I was 15.  I checked two massive suitcases, and carried on two small duffel bags, plus my purse.  It was out of control, and my parents laughed at me as I struggled with all of my baggage throughout the trip.  And guess how much of what I packed was actually necessary?  I swore to myself that I would never over-pack again.

Growing up, we traveled a lot.  My Dad was a hotel manager, and my mom works for an airline, so we had lots of opportunities to jet-set all over the place.  I eventually learned the art of traveling light, and I was liberated by the simplicity of it all.  When Sean and I spent 5 weeks in Asia, I only brought a 55L backpack.  It was fantastic.

After being asked time and time again which things I always pack for international travel, I have compiled a list of my top 8 tips for simple packing – including some of my favourite double (or quadrouple) duty items.




1. Power Bank

Something I will never be able to live without, now that I have it, is my Power Bank.  They come in a variety of sizes and charging capabilities, but the bank I bought has a 10,000mAh battery with two USB ports.  When fully charged, it can charge my iPhone 6 four times from zero.  I also love that I can charge two things at once, since I am usually traveling with multiple chargeable devices.  Now, I never need to worry about not having electrical outlets on a plane or my phone dying during a day of sightseeing.


2. Black Leggings

I never, ever travel without black leggings.  My go-to pair are the Lululemon Wunder Under Crops.  I’ve owned many pairs in my life, and I love the quality, the fit, and the versatility.  The crops are long enough that they can be tucked into boots for a dressed-up look, casual enough to wear with sneakers, and athletic enough to wear during workouts or runs on the road.  Plus, they’re super comfy, and my favourite thing to wear during a long day of air travel.

Balboa Park -
The Dressier Side of Lululemon Leggings in San Diego


3. Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap

This magical liquid was another game-changer for me.  I’ve only ever used it as body wash, face wash and laundry soap, but the company claims that it can also be used as toothpaste and as shampoo (although the Hairstylist in me would not recommend that!) 😉  It’s ultra-concentrated, so a tiny travel size easily lasted me 5 weeks on the road, and eliminated the need to carry around a bunch of extra bottles.  It comes in a variety of fragrances, but my personal favourite is Tea Tree because of the antibacterial properties.


4. Sarong or Pashmina

Sarongs are meant to be worn as skirts (dressed up or as beach cover-ups), but I quickly learned that they can also double as a blanket during a brutal layover in Bangkok, a curtain when the sun wakes up before you do in Costa Rica, a towel on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, a bag to carry your groceries in Bali, and a scarf during a chilly evening in Japan.  Other possible uses: for privacy in a hostel bed, a shawl to cover up in modest temples, or – worst case scenario – as a sling or a bandage wrap if you get injured somewhere remote.

The many adventures of the $3 Sarong I bought in Bali


5. Lots of Neutral Clothing

I’ve never been much for bright colours anyway, but especially when I travel, I mostly stick to neutral tones that pair well together.  This means more outfit combinations, more options, and less hassle trying to decide what to wear on the road.  My suitcase is typically an array of black, grey, navy and beige.


6. Double Duty Shoes

I try to limit myself to two pairs of shoes when traveling, but absolutely never more than three.  And to keep my suitcase even lighter, I always wear the bulkier ones on the plane.   Choose footwear with multiple uses, such as trail runners that are light enough for a workout or a walk around town but sturdy enough for a rugged hike, or sandals that are casual enough to wear to the beach but dressy enough to wear for a night out.  I did Asia and Costa Rica with only my Merrell Siren Sport trail shoes and a pair of Sanuk flip flops, and it was perfect.

Rocking my trusty Merrell Trail Shoes before Ziplining in Costa Rica


7. Moisture-Wicking, Quick-Drying Clothing

While this may not seem like the sexiest choice for a trip where you want to dress up a lot, I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to have technical fabrics in your suitcase. This way, you can pack less, wash on the go, hang to dry, and be wearing the same thing again in a few hours.  I wore the same 4 tops, 2 bottoms, and one dress on rotation in Asia for five entire weeks.  Did it get boring?  Maybe.  But you know what didn’t get boring?  Sailing past other travellers struggling with their massive suitcases with my tiny backpack on.  My go-to brands are Lululemon, Columbia, Prana and anything from MEC.

Elephant Nature Park -
I lived in my Columbia Convertible Pants and Lululemon Tank in Thailand


8. Packing Cubes

When I bought my carry-on backpack, I was simultaneously introduced to the magic of packing cubes.  I couldn’t believe the way that they compressed my clothing down so small, and I loved how organized my pack was.  I was able to pack for two weeks in Africa in a Carry-On, and I couldn’t have done it without these bad boys.   My favourite brand (no affiliation) is Eagle Creek, but there are a lot of different kinds of packing cubes on the market.  If you want to save space, make sure you get the compression kind.

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What are your packing light essentials?

What is your guilty pleasure that you cannot travel without, no matter how light you try to pack? 

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.


  1. at IVHQ Bali is bedding there already or do people bring their own? Pillows? Mattresses? What about on weekend excursions – do people need sleeping bags? Also I’m guessing you would want really light sleeping bags to sleep comfortably in the heat…? Thanks for letting me know!

    1. Pillows and mattresses and bedding is all there already 🙂 I brought a very thin silk sleep sack because I was paranoid about bed bugs, and it did come in handy through the rest of our travels. Most weekend excursions should have bedding, we never ran into any problems.

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