Packing can be stressful, whether that’s packing to go on holiday or moving home. There’s so much to consider. You’ll want to pack the essential documents, clothing, camera’s etc. One thing you don’t want to do, is overpack on unnecessary things. So, what should you pack for the USA?
We cover everything you need to take with you, from passports, visa’s, to what clothing you should pack and all the essentials in this packing checklist.
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Table of Contents
What to pack for the USA: Essential packing checklist
We have included everything you’ll need in this essential packing checklist:
Documents to pack for USA
One of the most important things to pack for the USA, are the documents. Not having these documents could prevent your entry into the country (if you are an international traveler). It could also cause delays with travelling to USA. Here are the crucial documents you’ll need to pack:
Travelling internationally, or across the border? Then you’ll need to pack your passport.
Not packing your passport, will only prevent your entry into the USA.
Something many tourists forget, is to check the expiry date on their passport. Make sure you have checked this and that it has more than 6 months remaining. If it is coming up for expiry, then you’ll need to apply for a replacement before you go.
Frequent travellers will also need to ensure their passport has one spare page left. If it doesn’t, again you’ll need to apply for a replacement before you travel.
International travelers will require a visa to enter the USA. Depending on your nationality will depend on what type of visa you’ll require.
All visa’s must be pre applied for and granted prior to departure.
You can find out more on how to apply for a visa and what type of visa you require here.
It’s a good idea to have a mixture of cash and debit/credit card packed. Make sure you have enough packed for your entire trip, plus a little for emergencies.
The currency in the USA is US$.
Tip: Some banks will charge for the use of debit/credit cards on foreign transactions. Check this before you travel. If it’s too expensive to use the debit/credit card in USA, then take more cash and only use the cards in an emergency.
How much money should you pack for the USA?
This is where you’ll need to research and set a budget for your holiday and stick to it. The USA is one of the most expensive countries to visit. But if you plan your holiday well, it really doesn’t have to be as expensive.
For example, Las Vegas can be expensive. The famous hotels on the strip are expensive to stay in. If you want to do any gambling or see a show, you could be looking at over $100+ a day. But we visited Las Vegas on a budget and this is how we did it.
As long as you plan and research your trip, you’ll not only travel to USA on a budget, but you’ll also pack enough money, to cover your entire trip.
Driving license/International driver permit
Do you plan to take a road trip around the USA? If so, you’ll need to pack your driving license and international driver permit.
Purchase the international driver permit before you leave in your home country, or the country you’re in before departing for USA.
If you hold a USA driving license, you won’t need an international driver permit.
We have written a comprehensive guide on how to apply for an international driver permit.
Having travel insurance is not a legal requirement, but it is highly recommended.
Travel insurance is there to protect you in most eventualities.
If your flight is cancelled, or delayed. Luggage is lost or delayed. If you fall ill while travelling. All of this is covered under your travel insurance.
You pay a small premium to be covered. If you need to claim, you would contact the company, pay an excess and they will do the rest.
You can find out if it is really worth purchasing travel insurance or not here.
If you hiring a vehicle, then you’ll need car insurance. This is normally included within the hire purchase, but always check with the hire company prior to travel.
Medical supplies to pack for USA
Here are just some of the medical supplies you’ll need when travelling to USA.
Sun Tan Lotion
A seasonal item to pack, but you will need to pack some if you intend to travel further south of the country, even in winter.
While most northern regions will be cold, the southern region of the USA in winter will be warm all year round.
So, depending on your travel plans, will firstly depend if you need to pack the sun protection.
During the warmer months and certainly during the summer, you will need to pack this.
Even on a cloudy cooler day in the summer, you could still burn, so always apply the sun protection and regularly apply to prevent burning.
Trust us, we have been burnt by the sun and it is very painful.
You could consider purchasing sun protection in the USA instead of packing it. This will reduce the baggage weight and what you pack, but include this cost when you budget for your trip to the USA.
This may sound obvious, but this is one of the most important things to include, any medication you take must be packed.
Always pack enough for the trip and some in the event of an emergencies.
It would also be a good idea to pack about four days’ worth of medication in your hand luggage.
This is in the event that your main luggage is lost, stolen or just delayed.
Keep all packaging for the medication in the event you are stopped by security.
In our experience, we didn’t get bitten by mosquitos, but this doesn’t mean to say you won’t.
Have a small hand luggage size repellent just in case you need it.
We swear by Jungle Formula roll on mosquito repellent. It has always prevented us from being bitten, it’s so easy to apply and dries very quickly, with no horrible smell.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but pack a tooth brush and travel size toothpaste, make up (but not all of it, you simply won’t need it), shaving products, feminine products, soap, shampoo etc.
To help prevent the spread of germs and diseases, have a small pocket size pack of tissues with you.
This is something that can be purchased in the USA, if you wish to reduce that luggage space, but again ensure this is included in your budget.
First Aid Kit
This is great to have with you, if you fall ill or have a minor injury that doesn’t require further medical treatment.
We have our small first aid kit packed with all our essentials including:
- Painkillers (with any medication, it is always a good idea to keep the box or instruction, in the event you need to provide these to authorities).
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer
For a full list, check out our post on what to pack in your first aid kit.
Note: We have never encountered any problems with taking over the counter medication away on holiday with us. However there has been reported cases of travelers, jailed for taking over the counter medication into a country, that do not legalize that substance within the medication.
If you have any concerns about that type of medication you’ll be carrying, always consult with the relevant agency or government website to get clarity.
These essentials will keep you in touch with family, friends and to take some of the best images:
You’ll need a good camera to take some amazing pictures while on your adventure.
With current technology, camera equipment no longer costs the earth.
You can now pick up a compact camera, that takes good images for around £100.00, although, in our opinion we would recommend spending a little more on a decent camera that will last for many years to come.
Not only do we have a large DSLR camera, but we also have a small compact camera.
Check out our post on Travel essentials, in which we include some of the best camera’s that we use. We include a wide range from budget friendly to expensive depending on your budget.
You’ll need your mobile phone, so you can keep in touch with family and friends.
Don’t get lost, with Google maps to navigate you around the large cities, towns and villages, or just keep your Instagram feed filled with some of your best pictures of your travel.
The latest mobile phone will have a camera inbuilt, to take some great pictures. That way, you don’t have to pack a camera and you could use your mobile phone. You can take amazing pictures with your mobile.
Now it would be pointless packing a camera or your phone on your trip to the USA if you don’t pack the chargers that go with it.
The devices will lose battery and then it all becomes redundant.
Pack the chargers for all your electrical devices.
Again, you’ll need a plug socket adapter if you are travelling from outside the USA and don’t use the 120v/60Hz Type A or type B.
Plug Type A has two parallel flat pins while type B has two parallel flat pins and a third grounding pin.
If you don’t pack the adapters, you won’t be able to plug your devices into the mains to charge them.
We would recommend packing at least two adapters, so you can charge two devices at a time, but you won’t need more than four if you have a few devices you need to charge at once.
This is a great back up in the event you’re on the road and you’re running low on battery for one of your devices.
You just plug in your device to the fully charged Battery Bank and the device will charge while on the road.
Of course, you need to make sure the battery bank is fully charged at all times.
These are just some of the things you should pack but don’t form as part of the above sections:
This only needs to be packed if you need help with speaking with the locals.
The main language spoken in the USA is English, however some locals can speak Spanish.
Guide books are great for planning your upcoming holiday to USA.
This will come in handy, as many guide books will include maps of the large cities in the USA.
Note book and pen/pencil
If you need to make any notes along the way, then taking a note pad and pen/pencil will come in handy.
But to save space in your luggage and paper, just use the note pad on your phone.
Most phones will have a note pad capability. Use this to minimize packing unwanted things.
Do you want to read while you’re on holiday? If so, then you’ll want to pack a couple of good books.
BUT why pack a couple of books and take up space and weight in your luggage?
Simply take a kindle with you instead.
A Kindle can hold thousands of books, on one small device. You can download as many books as you like and it won’t take up any extra space.
Yes, reading a physical book is great, but you will want to take as little as possible. If you insist on taking a book, then just pack one along with a kindle.
Padlock and Key
To ensure your luggage is as safe as possible when checking them in, you’ll want to have a padlock and key.
This will help to prevent unwanted people opening your luggage.
We literally can’t live without a bum bag.
There great to keep your personal belongings safe and can be discretely hidden under your clothing.
A bum bag should deter your belongings from being stolen.
What to store in your bum bag:
- Credit/debit cards
Food and drinks
This may sound a little strange to pack food and drink, but you must maintain hydrated and fueled at all times.
Snacks are a great source of fueling your body in between meals.
You might want to pack some in your hand luggage, to eat while on the flight, but you could also pack some for your day-to-day snacks.
To save space in your bags, plan to purchase snacks in the USA. Although this needs to be included in your budget.
Environmentally friendly water bottle
You must at all times maintain hydration.
Pack an environmentally friendly water bottle that you can fill up once you have passed security and during the day in the USA.
Pack a couple of water bottles, or our go to is a water pouch.
Our water pouch is amazing. We have a 2ltr pouch that folds away when empty and is lightweight.
Once filled with water, it’s a great source of fluid during the day. It doesn’t take up much space and isn’t heavy, as the weight of the pouch is distributed across the back.
We never leave home without it.
The USA is seasonal, so depending on where you visit will depend on what you should pack.
Clothing for Winter
During the winter months, the northern regions will be cold and some areas will experience snowfall.
But in the southern regions of the USA, will be warmer.
If you’re visiting the north, then pack warm clothing, layers, jacket, scarf and gloves. Trust us, you’ll need it.
You can pack cooler clothing for the southern regions but bring some layers for the cooler days.
Clothing for Spring
Both the northern and southern regions will be warming up.
With conditions warming up, you will need to pack a mixture of loose clothing for the warmer days and some layers for the cooler days.
We visited New York in April and the conditions were unpredictable. One day we needed layers and jacket, while the following day we were wearing shorts and t-shirt because it was so hot.
Clothing for Summer
The summer months can be very hot and humid.
With the hot and humid conditions, wear comfortable loose clothing that will keep you cool.
You may want to bring something to keep you warm on a cool night.
Clothing for Autumn
Conditions will be cooling down ready to head into the winter.
Pack clothing that is loose for the warmer days and layers for the cooler days.
We would also add, that you should only pack enough clothing for the trip. If you’re visiting the USA for one-week, only pack one weeks’ worth of clothing and maybe some spare clothes.
Some hotels may have laundry facilities that you could wash your clothing as you go. This will help you to reduce the amount of clothes you need to pack.
Here are some other things to consider packing along with clothing.
You’ll need underwear
If you wear PJ’s, you’ll want to pack these.
Only pack a few pairs of shoes.
We know that for many of us, we can over pack on shoes because we need the right pair to go with the outfit. But you don’t have a lot of space in your suitcase to pack all your shoes.
We suggest only packing a couple of pairs, depending on the occasion, e.g., if you are going hiking, pack proper hiking shoes. If you are visiting the beach, pack beach shoes and finally pack a pair of comfortable shoes for city exploring.
It’s quite easy to say I need this pair, I need that pair, but before you know it, your bag will be full of shoes and nothing else.
Take it back to what you will be doing and only pack one pair of shoes for that activity or occasion.
Wet Weather gear
In some regions the weather conditions can be so unpredictable.
One minute it could be nice and sunny, when suddenly it rains. You don’t want to be caught out when it rains to get completely drenched. Trust us, walking around the city in cold wet clothing isn’t nice.
The best way to stay dry if it rains, is to pack wet weather gear and wear it when it starts to rain.
Good wet weather gear will keep you dry. That means you can continue your city exploration without getting cold or wet.
A must during the winter.
Underlayers will keep you nice and warm as you travel.
A good, lightweight backpack will keep your main belongings safe while you’re out sightseeing.
We would recommend Osprey, they have done us well over the years.
But for backpack options, check out the best backpacks to purchase on a budget.
Visiting a beach while travelling in the USA? Then you can’t leave without your swimwear.
What to pack in your day backpack
As you explore the USA, what essentials should you pack for the day in your backpack?
Whether you’re exploring a city or hiking in one of the National Parks in the USA, you’ll only need to pack a few things with you for the day. Here are the essential things to pack for a day:
- First aid kit
- Layers should the weather turn cold
- Wet weather gear
- Credit/debit card
- Battery bank
- Guide book
Need inspiration on where to travel in the USA, then how about these 25+ Beautiful Small Towns in the USA!
This may seem like a lot of things to pack for the USA, but these are essential items that you can’t leave home without.
Some airlines are strict with their weight policy, so keeping things as minimal as possible to stay within the limit will only benefit you.
Many domestic airlines can charge extra for checked in bags. This needs to be taken into account when booking and planning your holiday to the USA.
Always do your research before purchasing any flights and check the weight restrictions.
In some instances, you may not need to pack all of these items, such as a physical book, or snacks, sunscreen, shampoo and soap, as these can be purchase in the USA when you arrive.
When you travel will also determine what clothing you’ll need to pack. As much of the seasonal items may not be required.
Be sensible about what you pack, will help you pack economically and with the least amount of weight.
What things can you not leave home without? Is there something you pack that you swear by that we haven’t included? Do you normally overpack or do you pack your luggage with plenty of space? Leave your feedback below in the comments.
Continue your U.S.A travel planning, with these useful posts:
- Things to do in Las Vegas on a Budget
- Things to do in New York City on a Budget
- Best Day Trips from New York City
- Best Places to Eat in New York City on a Budget
- 1 Week New York City Itinerary
- How to Visit New York City on a Budget
- Best Summer Vacations in USA
- Best Beaches in USA
- Where to Stay in Las Vegas on a Budget
- Best Places to Eat in Las Vegas on a Budget
- Day Trip to Grand Canyon from Las Vegas
- Easy Day Trips from Las Vegas
- 3 Days in Las Vegas itinerary
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