I’ve been travelling since 2013, every now and then, I still make a terrible decision in packing, mainly for a few reasons. Like when I don’t write my itinerary, or activities I want to do, when I don’t look up the weather during my visit, and often the culprit is – I’m simply one of those travellers with a “just in case” mindset.
After all these years of travelling and living on the road with my 40L backpack, you can imagine how easy it is to pack everything. I arrive and leave a place with the same things in my bag unless I throw away broken stuff or old clothes and buy a new one. Packing for 3 weeks was never a problem.
However, after a while, I decided to stay in one place for over 3 months, and unpack my backpacks (I have two; the main backpack and a small laptop bag/day pack). Eventually, I started to have more clothes than a pair of shoes and other small things in between – packing for a trip changed.
I must start choosing which clothes to bring, which shoes to pack, and how much underwear to load in the backpack – do I need a jumper? Long trousers?
RELATED ARTICLE: Where to go travelling for 3 weeks
Eventually, I managed to figure out how to do smart packing for 3 weeks trip because I hate buying things while travelling, especially things that I already have at home. But what I hate most is when I get a blister on my finger every time I try to zip up my backpack and fit everything inside!
First, I will talk about things to remember. Later in the article, I will have a list of things to pack. So, use the table of contents and skip or jump to the topic if necessary.
HOW TO PACK SMARTLY FOR A 3-WEEK TRIP
Here is what I do when packing for an upcoming trip, regardless of whether it’s three weeks, three months, or a weekend getaway; this system works, and I hope it works for you too!
Get a pen and paper or your phone
Let’s create a simple packing list for your trip. Nothing too fancy and detailed; this will help you give an overview of what to bring, and then you can adjust this later.
For example, write the usual:
- 2x dresses
- 1 hiking shoes
- 5 pairs of underwear
One thing to remember, though, make sure to have separate categories. The main types are clothing, toiletries, footwear, electronics, and documents. If you have a young child, you will have categories for baby stuff, baby food, etc.
On the other hand, if you are doing lots of hiking, make a separate category for hiking tools/clothing.
Write your itinerary or not
Okay, that’s a confusing heading, right? The thing is, there are travellers out there who like to write an itinerary and have everything planned with as many details as possible, while there are people who love to wing it – I’m both!
This tip works both. Writing your travel itinerary in detail or a simple one helps make a great list of what to pack for 3 weeks trip. If you already have, that’s great. If not, do a quick list following below:
In your itinerary, check out which activities you want to do. Are you planning to hike, go to the beach, have a safari, have a fancy dine-in experience, ski, snorkelling, party, attend a business meeting on the side, etc? These activities will already give you an idea of what to pack.
Here is a sample: If you plan to go hiking 40% of the time of your trip, packing a pair of hiking shoes vs bulky noise-cancelling headphones is a no-brainer.
If you know that you will visit churches, temples, and other sacred places, a long-sleeved shirt and long trousers are a must.
Look up the weather
Of course, knowing the weather and temperature of the destination you’re going to will help a lot. This step massively affects the number of things you’ll have to pack.
For example, if you are going to a place where the weather is warm but not warm enough, you need a jumper or a light jacket. You don’t want to make the mistake of not bringing one or a bulky one – we all know that jackets are notorious space eaters.
If you didn’t bring one, you honestly don’t want to buy a puffy jacket just because you forgot to pack one. Now, you’re down $40 from your travel budget for something you don’t need for more than 3 weeks.
Who are you travelling with
One more thing to consider when packing is your travel companion, especially if your travel partner is a dependent, young child, your retired parents, or your friend or family member who is a PWD.
Teenagers can pack on their own, but someone will forget something. On the other hand, making an essential list of them can also help their packing. Packing with toddlers, well, that means you are packing for them too.
However, let’s say you are travelling with your partner or parents. In that case, you don’t need to pack sunscreen or toothpaste, especially if you are sharing a room. These are little things, but if you can narrow down the things you can share together, you both will save lots of space.
Don’t triple-pack the same clothes
I’m guilty of this. I went for a 5-day beach getaway and packed 2 sets of swimsuits while I only used one. While I packed 4 tops and only used 2 since I can re-use my top when going to the beach.
You probably don’t need two sets of the same type of shoes, no need for 2 pairs of flip flops, no need 3 sets of swimsuits, 2 types of jumpers, or 4 summer dresses – especially if you want just to have one cabin luggage or 40-45L luggage and avoid extra charges.
Stop the “just in case” mindset
This is probably the hardest thing to kick off in most people’s mindsets. We want to be ready, we want our holiday to be if not perfect, minimal hassle as much as possible. This brings us to the idea of packing things we actually don’t need.
Honestly, the only time I successfully managed this was when hiking the Everest Base Camp. We were allowed to bring limited weight. Plus, the fact that every little thing adds up in weight especially when you’re against gravity.
5 kg in sea level is massively different when you’re 5,000 m up the elevation. If you’re doing the EBC trek, check this packing list for EBC hike.
When I get to this crossroad, I make a pile of just-in-case clothes or stuff. For example, you know you need to bring 7 pairs of underwear or 2 dresses, the 8th or 9th underwear or 3rd dress goes on the just-in-case pile.
After you pack your “must bring” check how much space you have. If you have just enough room for souvenirs you know you want to buy, forget your “just in case pile”.
If it takes you more than a minute to zip up, you must cut down more. If you have a lot of space, go ahead and choose a few from your “just in case pile”.
The best way to do this is to see how easy it is for you to zip up. If you find yourself sitting on top of your luggage or backpack or need an extra hand to close the zipper or simply takes more than a minute – you’re packing too much.
One more thing, which is my favourite, is if you can’t carry, tow, or lift your luggage or backpack on a flight of stairs, it’s a big red flag – you are overpacking.
Roll it, pack it or squeeze it
This is almost common knowledge; rolling your clothes when packing saves space in your luggage. Rolled clothes make up every space in the corners, which are often overlooked.
Another thing to remember is don’t try to roll your pullover or jumpers. Instead, wear this on the plane or tie it up on your bag to save space.
Another trick is buying air-sucking bags such as vacuum-sealed bags or compression packing cubes. Pack your clothes inside and squeeze the air out. If you have a vacuum machine, these bags have a small round thing where the air can be sucked out.
MY RECOMMENDED PACKING FOR 3 WEEKS TRIP
This is my general packing list for a 3-week trip. From here, you can modify your own list depending on the type of trip you’re doing. Going skiing, advanced diving, hiking, or camping will be different. But this would be a good starting point.
Things to buy when you land
This will surely save you space. If you are going to a cheaper place, don’t pack. However, if you are heading to expensive destinations like Scandinavia or a place where there’s no shop (like Antarctica), perhaps it’s better to bring your own:
- bar of soap
- hair products
When you land, head to the convenience store. You will have to anyway, especially if you need to buy a big bottle of water for drinking. Make sure you have a list ready (on your phone) of basic necessities to buy from the shop.
While the items in my luggage change depending on the length of the trip or season, what you will see below is what I usually pack in general:
- 4 comfortable tops
- 1 long-sleeve top, lightweight
- 1 skirt
- 1 long and comfortable but lightweight trousers
- 2 comfortable shorts
- 2 lightweight dresses
- 1 jumper/pullover (lightweight)
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 2 bras
- 1 sports bra – if planning to hike and do active tours like hiking, biking
- 1 one-piece swimsuit
- 1 two-piece swimsuit
- 4 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of flipflops/beach flipflops
- 1 pair of walking/hiking shoes/comfortable shoes
- 1 pair of nice sandals/Birkenstock, Karrimor (both I have for nearly 4 years now)- something you can casually wear in the mall, or if going out for a couple of drinks or a nice dinner, choose a lightweight one
- microfibre towel (don’t bring one if you plan to stay in hotels)
- 1 bar of soap – if going to a cheaper destination, best to pick up one when you arrive there
- 1 bar of shampoo and conditioner – more eco-friendly than bottled ones
- 1 100ml toothpaste – don’t bring bigger than this unless you are planning to check in your bag
- 1 toothbrush
- floss – 50 m
- 1 100 ml mouthwash – don’t bring bigger than this unless you are planning to check in your bag
- 1 deodorant
- 1 small and lightweight loofa
- tampons/pads/menstrual cup
I’m not great at makeup, so I only have basic items. All are travel-sized and are all in a travel pouch:
- pick up small bottles or travel-size versions of the basic makeup kits you need
- eyebrow liner – I use either Maybelline or L.A. Girl brow pomade
- angle brush
- liquid foundation – I either go with e.l.f during winter or Maybelline for summer
- finishing powder
- mascara – from Maybelline
- 1-2 eyeshadow palettes – for travel, I choose classy/safe colours, the one from NYXy is amazing
- pocket mirror – I discovered a pocket mirror with LED light, and it’s a game-changer
I personally use these products that have been great for all seasons:
- facial wash by Cerave
- tea tree oil – to prevent pimples from swelling
- vitamin c serum
- tea tree daily solution/serum
- retinol serum by La Roche Posay
- edelweiss daily serum
Well, as you can see, I’m not a man. So, I asked my friend Ryan (part of this blog) to help me write what men typically pack for their 3-week trip:
- 4 cotton t-shirts
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 long trousers (I always pack my zip-up hiking pants)
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 1 jumper/pullover
- 1 lightweight, long sleeve (a dress shirt)
- 4 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of flipflops
- 1 pair of comfortable walking/hiking/daily shoes
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste (not more than 100ml unless you’re checking in luggage)
- 1 bottle of mouthwash (not more than 100ml unless you’re checking in luggage)
- 1 deodorant
- 1 bar of soap
- 1 bar of shampoo
- 1 small and lightweight loofa
- shaving kit – best to find a travel-size electric razor
- 1 microfibre towel
Here are others things that all genders will need. Plus, if you are taking medication, make sure to pack them and bring the prescription from your doctor to avoid getting stopped at the airport:
- lightweight scarf – can be used as a cover-up when visiting sacred places or as a blanket on the plane or overnight buses or in the airport waiting for the area
- reusable zip lock – perfect for keeping your liquids from spilling everywhere
- 1 20ml perfume
- 1 lip balm
- 1 journal
- 1 pair of sunnies
- eye mask
- neck pillow
- hand cream
- 1 reusable water bottle
- pocket-size first-aid kit
This is what I usually pack, but remember, I work online. So, I often bring my laptop since I run my own business. Unless I’m taking a full break, I will leave it behind.
- 1 notepad, 3 pens
- 1 power bank – I use 20,000 mAh power bank, it’s great for hiking or long bus rides
- 2 USB/charger cords
- 1 phone charger
- 1 camera, charger
- 1 wired headphones
- 1 Bluetooth earbud
- Laptop and charger
- Bluetooth mouse and a mouse pad
- Bluetooth keyboard
- Extension cords – not all hotel rooms have the power socket right next to the bed (I use this small kind)
- Travel adapter – with USB port too
- Small-size tripod
- photocopy of your passport
- a digital copy of your passport
- evisa letter if needed (printed and digital copy) – I always get my evisa here
- a digital copy of your tickets and travel bookings – save a screenshot, it must be able to access without an internet connection
- travel insurance card/letter – this is my go-to travel insurance provider
- yellow fever card/certificate (if you’ve travelled to regions where Yellow Fever is prone in the last six months)
- onward ticket/flight to home – many countries require this, a digital copy is fine
- Address of your first accommodation/hotel – many countries will ask you to fill up an arrival card, and it will ask you to write the address of your first hotel
- prescription medication – bring plenty of stock with you, and don’t forget the prescription letter and your doctor’s contact details
FREE PRINTABLE PACKING LIST (with different seasons)
Get yourself a copy of this printable packing checklist for free. It includes two files, one with sample lists and another with a clean and empty list. Please check your spam or promotions tab in case of the email lands there.
COVID PACKING TIPS
This might no longer applicable in many situations, but if you want to be extra careful, you might still find this section helpful.
Packing for 3 weeks worth of vacation is challenging enough, but also adding your list of masks, and test kits, and making sure you have the correct document is additional stress.
If you are heading for a trip soon, here are some packing tips during COVID:
- check if your destination is open for tourism – a quick “is XYZ open for tourism” will give you the answer
- most open countries require you to be fully vaccinated and a 72-hour before arrival negative test result
- bring your vaccination card, and check if yours needs this to be translated or if your destination has “bilateral vaccination recognition”, some countries accept “proof of recovery within a certain time frame”
- travel insurance that covers COVID – many countries are making this a requirement
- bring masks (cloth masks or single-use)
- pack hand sanitiser
- bring the covid home test kit
- check if you need to quarantine upon arrival, if you are vaccinated, some countries might ask you to stay in a hotel for 1 night to wait for your test upon arrival result
- i.e some places like Nepal, allow unvaccinated tourist but requires a 14-day hotel quarantine at your own expense
I’ve had my fair share of trying out different backpacks and even suitcases in the past years. Here are the suitcases and backpacks I recommend for your 3-week trip:
- Haglöfs Tights Pro Medium – had this for 7 years now
- Osprey Farpoint 40L
- Samsonite Wheeled Backpack
- Mountaintop Hiking Backpack 40L – the best choice for a budget-friendly bag
- Osprey Ozone Wheeled/Duffel Carry-on 42L
- Kelty Coyote 50L Backpack
- Briggs and Riley 21-inch Carry-On Wheel Suitcase – the newest addition to my cabinet of travel items
- Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Luggage
- American Tourister Belle Voyage Expandable Softside
- Travelpro Maxlite Softside Carry-on
RECOMMENDED PACKING CUBES
Packing cubes is a game-changer for me, who likes to pack properly so I can maximise the space of my luggage. I also hate using plastic bags as laundry bags. It does bother me to use a cloth bag for laundry, too, because the idea of stinky dirty clothes touching the clean ones doesn’t feel right.
Hence, I like using laundry bags with plastic lining or dry bags that work well as laundry bags, and you can also use them on the beach.
One thing you should remember when choosing packing cubes is if you travel full-time, it’s money well spent to spend a bit more. I had cheap ones during my full-time backpacking, which only lasted less than a year. I upgraded and splurged a bit, it’s been 3 years, and it’s still in perfect condition.
- Amazon Basics 4-set
- Veken 6-pack with a laundry bag
- Eagle Creek 3-set
- Eagle Creek dirty/clean division
- Bagail compression packing cubes
- Well Traveled 8-pc packing cubes
RECOMMENDED TOILETRIES BAG
I love using toiletry bags. It’s easy to pack and easy to unpack when you get to the hotel. Zip it down, hand it on the bathroom bar, and voila! You have complete toiletries items ready to use:
- Bosidu hanging travel toiletries bag
- Men’s toiletries bag – it’s a good choice since it has space for a shaving kit
- Bagsmart hanging toiletries bag
OTHER BASIC TRAVEL TIPS
From booking flights, tours, and accommodations to ensuring I have a rented car, these are the sites and tools I always go to arrange any travel necessities:
Honestly, packing is not easy, and I understand people who have difficulty picking out which to bring on a holiday. Especially if this holiday only happens once a year, you want to make this trip less hassle, take lovely photos, wear your best clothes, and simply enjoy your trip.
I hope my tips on how to do smart packing for 3 weeks trip gave you some valuable tricks. If you have more excellent tips for packing correctly, let me know in the comment section below.