Packing for any trip is the most important thing to do, but it can be a stressful time. You have to consider your weight restriction, and you certainly don’t want to overpack on unnecessary things. We have created this packing list for the USA (United States of America), to make things easier and less stressful.
The first thing we need to take into account, is if you will be visiting a number of destinations around the USA, or are you staying in one location for your entire trip. This is important, as many domestic airlines, will only allow a handbag on board the flight, and if you are lucky a small hand luggage. Most domestic airline will charge more on your ticket price, for taking large luggage that would be checked in. This is why it is so important to try and pack as light as possible, but also take the appropriate essentials with you for the weather conditions.
One of the most important things to pack when travelling to the USA, are the correct documents. You will require the following:
- Money – Always make sure you have enough cash for your trip and emergencies. The currency used in the USA is the US $ (dollar). If you have a credit card, check with the card provider, how much the interest will be if used. It may not be too expensive, as we found out.
- Driving license/international drivers permit – All drivers in the USA must carry a full driving license, vehicle insurance documents, and vehicle registration papers. Non-US driving license holders can drive a vehicle up to 12 months on their foreign license, but it is advisable to obtain an international Driving Permit. You can obtain an International Drivers Permit in your home country, or in the country you are in prior to your trip.
- Passport –Traveling to or domestically in the USA, you will require a valid passport, and with many airlines, you will require a passport with more than 6 months before expiring, but this will also depend on the airline.
- Visa – Non-USA passport holders will require an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authority) visa before entry. This will need to be obtained prior to your visit and can be done online. Just by following the steps online, and using the application form, you’ll get a notification via email to confirm if you have been granted a visa, or not.
- Insurance – We would suggest purchasing travel insurance from your home country, this will cover you in most eventualities, but you must read the full terms and conditions to find out what is not covered under your policy. If you are hiring a vehicle to go on a road trip, you must have the minimum level of cover, which will cover any damage caused to another person or their property, in the event of an incident. The vehicle insurance can be purchased through the rental company.
Some of these items may seem obvious, but some you may not have thought to include on your list:
- Sun Tan Lotion – This is a seasonal and regional item to pack. Depending on when you are travelling and where you are travelling to, you might require sun tan lotion. If you are to start your trip during the winter months, most regions will be cold and wintery, but once you travel south, the climates in many regions will get warmer. This will be when you require the sun tan lotion. For ease you may consider purchasing the sun tan lotion from a pharmacy in the USA, this will alleviate much of the packing space taken up, but the cost of purchasing sun tan lotion will need to be included in your budget.
- Medical supplies – if you need to take medication regularly for a condition, then you will need to pack a good supply for your trip. It is good practice to have at least four days’ worth of medication in your hand luggage, in case your main luggage is lost or delayed. You may also require to keep the packaging to produce if stopped by security
- Mosquito repellent – Whilst we didn’t encounter any mosquitos in the USA, it is still good practice to pack this, to prevent being bitten. We swear by the Jungle Formula roll-on mosquito repellent, as it really prevents you from being bitten. It’s very easy to apply and dries very quickly, with no strong smell.
- Tissues – you can pick-up pocket-size packs of tissues, which will prevent the spread of germs. Alternatively, these can be purchased in the USA, but again take into account the cost implication, and budget for this
- First aid kit – In your little first aid kit, make sure you have plasters, painkillers (with any medication, it is always a good idea to keep the box or instructions, in the event you need to provide these to authorities), antibacterial hand sanitizer etc. Please note, whilst we have never encountered problems taking painkillers with us, there has been cases of travelers being jailed for taking painkillers into a country which bans those drugs. If you have any concerns about the type of drugs you will be taking with you, then consult the relevant agency or government website to get clarity.
- Mobile phone
- Electrical items – you will require the relevant chargers, to charge your phone, camera battery etc. If you are coming from outside of the USA, you will need to take an adapter to fit on the plug, and in the electric socket.
These will tend to be items that do not form as part of the above, such as:
- Phrase book – you may need a phrase book to help speak with the locals if you are not familiar with the language.
- Guide book – This will help you plan your trip, and aid you getting around.
- Note pad/pen – You may wish to write some notes as you travel. Although to save paper and space in the suitcase, most smart phones these days will have a notepad, or something to write down notes, so this would be a great alternative.
- Kindle/book – if you have time for reading, then pack a good book to read on the plane, or by the beach. The book could be a physical book, or electronic book, the latter being more practical as you can store more books on an eReader/Kindle, which would take up less packing space.
- Padlock and key – if you are checking in any bags, you will need to lock the bag with a padlock and key, this will prevent items or your belongings being stolen.
- Bum bag – this is a great item to have to store your cash, credit cards, and keys, as this is close to your body and can be hidden, it should deter your belongings being stolen.
- Water – you must remain hydrated at all times. Take a couple of spare water bottles with you, so you can refill them as you go. You can always purchase bottled water, should this be your preference! However, if you are on a budget, buying bottles of water can become expensive, and could be bad for the environment especially the plastic bottles. We would recommend a camelback pouch (these come in different sizes), which you refill with water, and would be stored in your backpack to drink as you go. The great thing about the camelback pouches, is that when empty they don’t take up much space. When they are filled with water for drinking, it doesn’t feel heavy as the weight of the water is taken across your back, and makes it easy to drink from.
- Snacks – taking some healthy snacks with you, will save money and keep you going between meals. Always keep some spare, in the event of an emergency.
The USA have different climates depending on the season and region. In most northern regions during the winter will be cold and wintery, but as you move further south, the conditions in some regions will get warmer. Travelling during the summer months, in most regions will be warm if not hot. This could pose a problem if you need to pack for both winter and summer clothes, it could then eat into your packing space and weight, but also as mentioned before, any connecting flights you have, you may have to pay additional costs for the additional baggage that you will be taking with you. We have created this essential list of clothes to take with you along with the appropriate clothing for the weather conditions:
- Clothing – Make sure you only pack essential clothes for the time of year, and do not over pack. It may be a little tricky to pack the right clothes, especially if you are moving from one region to another with different climates. We would suggest only taking enough for the number of days you are in that location and a couple spare. For example, if you are travelling for 5 days take 5 days’ worth of clothes and then 2 spares. Alternatively, if you can wash your clothes as you go, you can reduce the amount of clothing you take, and this will in turn reduce the cost you would pay on any domestic flights, by having a smaller bag.
- Shoes – only take a few pairs of shoes with you, we know us ladies can over pack on shoes, but it is important to remember that you don’t want to over pack on too many things. Make sure you have the appropriate shoes for the occasion, ie if you are hiking, taking proper hiking shoes, if you are visiting the beach, take beach shoes. It is quite easy to say I need this pair, I need that pair, but really take it back to what you will be doing and only take one pair of shoes for that activity or occasion.
- Wet weather gear – whilst you are out and about, you will want to stay dry, so if it rains having good waterproof jacket and trousers will prevent your clothes on the inside getting wet.
- Thermal underlayers – this is seasonal and regional, therefore if it is winter, or in a region it is cold, then taking some underlayers will keep you warm while you are out in the cold.
- Back pack – you will require a backpack or a bag to keep your main belongings, along with your first aid kit, camera’s, snacks, and water etc. Bring a good size reliable backpack with you to store these items. We would highly recommend Osprey, as the backpack we purchased has been reliable, but also a well-known brand.
Whilst this may seem quite a large list, but you want to be packing the right balance. You will need enough for the trip, but you don’t want to over pack your bag with things that are unnecessary. Depending on where you will be flying from, will depend on what baggage allowance you will have when entering the country, in accordance with the airline. On most domestic flights however, you will need to pay extra for checked in bags, it is worth doing your research before purchasing a domestic flight and the costs of flying with checked in bags, it is also worth checking their T&C’s and then pack and book accordingly. It also depends on your trip, and whether you will need to pack all of the above items, especially if the items are seasonal, or regional, then you may not need to pack things like the thermals, or the swimwear for example. Being sensible about packing, will help you to pack economically, and with the least amount of weight.
Need inspiration on where to travel in the USA, then how about these 25+ Beautiful Small Towns in the USA!