The Ultimate Budget Vacation Packing List

So I know it’s a total SHOCKER when I say this, but I love to travel and always need some sort of vacation packing list. I mean, I know it isn’t evident from my travel blog but I would consider travel my “thing”. And because I travel so frequently (I usually travel to Europe about once a month from New York),
hands down, the number one question I get ALL the time is, “How can you afford to travel so much?”. Now, this is a pretty simple question with a rather complex answer since it really nor just one thing, It’s the thousand little choices I make everyday that add up to big savings. You know, like buying my coffee in bulk from the grocery store, as opposed to getting a latte from Starbucks everyday (I know you were looking for some sexy answer like I’m a stripper or a phone sex operator but not that’s not my bag baby); sacrifices that are totally worth it because I cannot envision my life without travel. To me, it is something I need for my life to feel truly complete.

It just makes my heart hurt to think that so many people out there truly believe that financial constraints stand in the way of their travel dreams (that and time since people in the US get a whopping two weeks off a year). But trust me, travel is possible. I should know because  I  am not some closet loan shark and I definitely don’t have a secret bank account in the Bahamas. And I’m pretty sure I haven’t won the lottery lately, actually positive since I don’t gamble. So how do I afford to travel so much when I’m not rich, work full time, live on my own, pay my own bills, and live in one of the most expensive cities in the United States? Well, part of the answer to that question is in this budget vacation packing list. I want to share all of my must have travel gear with you so that you can travel more easily and more cheaply, just like me.

***This budget vacation packing list varies depending on whether I travel to a warm or cold weather climate. 

***Looking for some additional budget travel tips? Then check out this site with some amazing budget travel tips.

***Not sure what to get that special traveler on your gift list? Then chekc out this epic list of travel gifts for every budget .

25 Items on my Vacation Packing List

1. Fjallraven Kanken Backpack – $79.90 with  15” x 10.6” x 5.1” dimensions and weighs 0.64 lbs.

I don’t know if you can tell but I really love the bags on my budget vacation packing list.

Okay, so I will be the first one to say that this is not exactly a “budget” item. In fact, it’s probably the most expensive thing on my list, but this bag is so worth it. Not only is it stylish but it can convert into both a hand held bag and a backpack which makes it great for hiking and walking around the city. Plus, it is way bigger than it looks and can fit a ton of stuff. I also like it because so many people have this bag. Now, normally that fact would totally annoy me but in this case, this bag makes it easier to blend in and look like a local. This way you don’t stand out as a tourist and become a pickpocket’s next victim. It also comes in a variety of colors so you can find the bag that fits YOUR style.

***NEVER and I repeat NEVER put your valuables in your backpack because someone can just reach in and take them. That is why I always put my passport and money in my money belt when carrying a backpack. That way, if someone opens my bag, they won’t find anything valuable. If you don’t like backpacks, a shoulder bag or a messenger bag are good choices too. Just make sure you always put the zipper in front of you where you can see it (for more tips on how to avoid pickpockets, click here). 

***Don’t forget to pack a PEN in your carry on just in case you need to fill out a landing card upon arrival.

2. Cabin Max Metz Backpack – $48.99 with a 44 liter capacity

When I got this backpack, I was a little worried that it wouldn’t fit all my gear, but I have taken it on a two week trip to Greece and it worked out really well. Not only does it fit all my stuff, but it is also small enough to carry on the plane. The other thing I love about this bag is that when I filled it to the max, I could still comfortably carry it on my back. I don’t feel like I’m going to keel over and die because the backpack is just so heavy when fully packed. Plus, the price is awesome. Way cheaper than my other backpacks and just as durable (Plus it comes in a bunch of snazzy colors that you can chose from. To hear more about my love for my backpack and why I gave up rolling bags, click here).

***If you want to be extra cautious get locks for your luggage.

3. Columbia Women’s Wayfarer Scarf – $7.03 but price varies depending on the pattern you choose (also machine washable)

Okay truth be told, I don’t actually own this scarf. I have some random green, polka dot scarf that I bought in Madrid for like €5 but any scarf will do. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I just always like carrying a scarf because it is very multifunctional. Not only can it keep you warm and protect you from the sun, but it can also add variety to an outfit, thereby reducing the number of clothes you need to pack in your bag. Obviously if it’s winter or you’re headed somewhere cold, bring a heavier scarf.

***WINTER VACATION PACKING LIST: warm hat, scarf, gloves with good grip, snow boots,  and a warm down jacket. Also pack hand warmers. They’re a life saver.

4. Ray Tix Money Belt – $13.99 and comes in red, gray, green, and black.

Definitely not the sexiest item on the list but totally essential if you want to keep your money, credit cards, and passport safe when you are in transit from one location to another. I also love that this money belt provides you with full RFID protection (Had no idea what this was before I bought it but it basically ensures that no one can steal your information electronically). It is also durable, adjustable, and comfortable. The only money belt I use in conjunction with my backpack.

***IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS VACATION PACKING LIST: Passport, drivers license, visa (if needed), passport copy (with one saved in email), travel insurance, travel itinerary, credit cards, frequent flyer cards, relevant hotel booking confirmation with addresses/phone numbers for landing card, plane/train/boat/excursion tickets, and guidebook (I never bring one since I use blogs now because I find them more helpful).

***Don’t forget to inform your bank of your travel plans so that you can use your credit and debit cards when you’re abroad.

5. Travelon Flexible Water Bottle – $15.00, 10 by 2.5 by 3, BPA free Silicon, and comes in blue and an unidentifiable yellow green color (go with the blue)

One of my favorite travel items. First of all, it rolls up so that you can save a ton of room when packing it. It also has a carabiner that you can attach to your bag when you don’t want to carry it around. Also BPA free, like a metal water bottle, only lighter and easier to pack. Truly one of the items that I cannot live without when I travel because not only is it convenient, but it also helps save me money since I don’t have t buy as money bottled drinks (Sadly I am still a massive Diet Coke monger but hopefully that will change soon. Don’t judge me and my caffeine needs. Also don’t tell me how awful it is for me. I swear, I know (Hangs head in shame)).

6. Bagail 6 set packing cubes – $26.99 but price varies depending on the color you choose.

So before I started using a backpack in earnest, I thought that packing cubes were the DUMBEST thing ever. I thought they were for anal retentive freaks who had to have everything tidily arranged within various compartments of their luggage. But that was all before I fell in love my backpack. And once you continual use a backpack you begin to understand that it’s hard to keep your backpack organized (Seriously there is nothing worse than unpacking your entire bag to find one item).

Well, that’s where these packing cubes come in handy. Not only do they help you organize your backpack, they also save you space by consolidating all your items into the packing cubes themselves. So yes, I have joined the cult of anal retentive, packing cube freaks and I’m okay with that because it makes my life so much easier.

7. Komfort Kollar Inflatable Travel Pillow ($27.95 for a large) or the Travelrest Pillow ($26.95 in multiple colors)

Travel pillows are essential for sleeping while sitting up, but man are they the worst to pack. You use them once on your flight and then you have schlepp this bulky thing around in your luggage for the rest of your trip. Well, this inflatable pillow changes all that because you manually blow it up when you need it. Then when your flights ends, you deflate it, saving you a ton of space in your luggage. It is also comfortable and varies in size depending on the width of your neck size. Talk about the ultimate in custom fit. Love it way better than my old bean bag neck pillow which not only wore out quickly but also took up a ton of space in my bag (The travelrest pillow make look weird but I know so many people that swear by it! It is a great choice too).

8. Micro Miracle Micro Fiber Towel – $21.90, comes in assortment of colors and sizes range from small to extra large.

It’s the worst when you have  wet towel that you need to pack into your bag. Inevitably it never dries and just ends up getting moldy and smelly and gross. Well, that’s why I only travel with micro fiber towels now. The micro fiber is super absorbent and  quick drying so that you never have to worry about carrying around a wet towel again. It is also easy to pack because each towel, regardless of size, fits into a small mess pouch that takes up virtually no room in your bag. It’s also super soft on your skin and comes in an assortment of sizes since there is nothing worse than using an itty bitty towel to dry your entire body (This is your challenge and you have to accept it. And you only have 30 seconds so go).

9. Lush Shampoo Bar (and tin) – $21.49 and comes in an assortment of scents (Don’t be scared by the price because it lasts a long time).

Liquids are the worst to pack in your carry on. They can only be a certain size and have to fit in a clear bag and well, they are just annoying. That’s why I try to convert as many of my liquids into solids as possible, hence the lush shampoo bar. It not only keeps your hair healthy and clean, but it lasts a long time and keeps you from stinking up the joint because we all know that travel can get pretty down and dirty. Also get the tin so that the bar is easier to carry around and doesn’t get all over the place after you use it. You cab also use a ziplock bag so just do whatever works for you (I have also switched to bar soap and sun screen sticks in an effort to reduce the liquids in my carry on since I wear contacts and always need contact solution).

***TOILETRIES VACATION PACKING LIST: tweezer, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, sunblock, tampons/pads, contact lens solution, contacts, glasses, a stick of concealer (I don’t want to look jacked in my selfies), moisturizer, hair brush, hair ties, vitamins, and medications. If you take medication, make sure you pack enough for the entire trip and that it is in the original bottle so that security knows it has been prescribed by a doctor.

***For longer trips I bring nail clippers and buy razors while I’m there.

10. Baby Wipes

Not just for babies anymore!! They are an easy and convenient way to clean things up. They are also helpful if you are in transit and don’t really have access to a shower. You can quickly wipe yourself down and you’ll be good to go for a little while (Still take a shower though. Personal hygiene is always a good thing, especially when traveling. No one wants to sit next to a stinky person. It’s never cool)

11. Protein Bars (ISS One $24.99 for 12 and Grande Carb Killa $27.49 for 12 and oh snap $13.93 for 7 are my faves)

Okay, first of all, protein bars can taste like total ass. We all know this. but you want something quick, easy, and delicious when you travel so that you don’t have to eat out every single meal. Well I eat these all the time and they actually taste like candy bars because I like food too much to get anything that tastes terrible. These bars are also great because they are high in protein and low in carbs (I mean I am not a dietician but they seem fairly nutritionally sound). So, if you’re strapped for cash while traveling and want something that will fill you up, these work perfectly. This way, instead of constantly going out to eat, you can just reach over and grab one of these (I usually pack a box since they are cheaper when you buy them in bulk).

***Watch out for some of these in extreme heat because the outer coating can melt and get pretty messy.

*** I also always bring sweetener with me for my coffee since a lot of countries really only use sugar. My fave is Equal but you can bring some packets of whatever sweetener is your fave.

12. Fit Kicks Women’s Active Footwear (Come in sizes small to extra large for $19.99 a pair) or Teva Flip Flops ($24.95 with many sizes and colors) or Sanuk Yoga Mat Flip Flops ($31.95 with many sizes and colors)


Okay, so even when I went to the Ice Hotel in Sweden, I still had a pair of fit kicks of teva flip flops to use in the shower. I mean, I am sorry but the prospect of getting foot fungus in public showers really grosses me out. Thats why I always rock a pair of these shoes. Now, flip flops are okay because they are easy to get in and out of. Plus, both of these pairs are super comfy (I mean, the Sanuk pair are made of yoga mats! How cool is that?). But my fave are the fit kicks shoes. You don’t slip out of them because they have backs. Plus they are water proof, comfortable, light, easy to pack, and come in some pretty fun colors. The only down side is that the sole is thin so if you step on a rock, you feel it. That and they get dirty kind of easily but you can wash them in a washing machine when that happens. They are also great for the beach, shower, or walking around a common area.

***If you’re going somewhere warm, don’t forget your bathing suit! I always opt for a one piece since I have a rather large chest and they are just way more practical (I have learned the hard way that I don’t want to flash anyone even if they would enjoy it).

13. Repel Wind Proof Travel Umbrella for $21.95 (or Columbia Women’s Switchback Jacket $29.00)

This umbrella is like the holy grail of all umbrellas (and if you don’t know what that means, it just means that this umbrella is really cool). Not only is it light, durable, waterproof, and compact, but it has fiberglass ribs that hold the umbrella up and prevent it from turning inside out in the wind (Hence the wind proof part of the name). Plus, it comes with a lifetime guarantee so if anything happens, you can just return it.

Generally speaking, I bring an umbrella to warmer destinations and a rain coat cooler destinations since a jacket will help keep me warm. Now honestly, I don’t have this rain jacket but I thought it looked nice, got good reviews, and was a good price. I have a north face rain jacket that is ridiculously expensive and that is honestly not that great. That’s why I am not gonna recommend it because no one likes mediocre when reading an article like this. Mediocre makes you want to run away (You can also pack a poncho that you can dispose of after the trip. Super cheap and easy).

14. Febreze

Changed my mind! Had to put a picture of me loving Febreze because it is an essential item on any budget vacation packing list.

It’s awesome and smells nice and let’s be real. After traveling awhile, you probably don’t smell that nice. So that’s why I have Febreze on the list. It helps you smell fresh when you really aren’t. Now obviously you can’t bring a wh
ole bottle in your carry on, so I opt for getting some of the air fresheners and opening them as needed to um, spruce things up a bit (I don’t want to smell
stank). You could also buy it upon arrival if you want to go with the regular, old-fashioned, squirt bottle (I’m not putting in a picture because you know what Febreze looks like).

15. Chapstick

Umm, need I explain? No one likes dry, cracked, chapped lips so make sure you pack some before you go. And get the cheap kind because it all feels the same to me (Another item you totally do NOT need a picture of. We all know what it is. And you need it because what if you meet the man of your dreams, running through a field while traveling abroad? I saw it in a movie so it has to be real. But it will only happen if you buy chapstick and have soft lips. Totally kidding but that’s what most commercials want you to think. LAME).

16. Melatonin

Honestly, this is probably the item that has most improved the quality of my travel life. That’s because I am a terrible sleeper and can never seem to fall asleep on a plane. Well, that was until I found melatonin. It is a chemical that naturally occurs in your body and is released to help you fall asleep. So, if you want to fall asleep on a plane naturally, I suggest you pack some of this vitamin. It is honestly the only thing out there that is effective (for me), non-habit forming, and that doesn’t leave you feeling groggy when you wake up. Seriously the only pill for sleep that has ever worked for me.

***If you have never taken Melatonin before, get the lowest dose, which is usually 2 or 3 mg. That will be more than enough. 10 mg and 5 mg doses are only for people who suffer from insomnia or who take Melatonin on a regular basis. Trust me, this vitamin is highly effective so a little goes a long way.

17. Clinique Superdefense Moisturizer with SPF 20 ($66.69 for 1.7 ounces)

Okay this one is another splurge item for me but it works. It keeps my skin looking fresh and my wrinkles far far away (whatever you do, just tell me I don’t have any). Plus, it has an SPF 20 so my face will stay wrinkle free (and pasty white) for many years to come.

Why do I pay so much for this you may wonder? Well, it works (this is worth repeating). I am also just as vain as the next person, and tend to find it on sale in duty free shops at the airport. I mean, why not utilize all that time in the airport to doing something fun and productive like shopping. But seriously, it’s actually good for your health so you NEED to have it (This is how I justify the insane price to myself, But if you find something cheaper that works, hook a sistah’ up).

18. Freegrace Set of 3 Dry Bag ($15.99)

Look, I put this one on the list not because I use them, but because a lot of people have valuable equipment that cannot get wet. Me, I’m not that fancy. Nothing I own or bring on vacation with me is important enough to need a dry bag. Instead, I just throw wet or dirty clothes in a large, ziplock storage bag. But the choice is yours. I would think this would be suited for someone with a valuable watch or jewelry that needs to keep dray at all times. It could also be for someone who dives or boats and needs to keep electronics from getting wet (What do I know though. I rock disposable bags. Ziplock bag pride).

22. Anker Astro E1 5200mAh Candy bar-Sized Ultra Compact Portable Charger ($17.99 and also known as an external power bank for your cell phone or other electronics)

After the melatonin, I think this is the second most important item I pack in my carry on. Why you may ask? Well, I am a social media whore who always likes to take pictures, listen to music, and watch netflix. So, if my phone shuts down and I have no way to recharge it, you might say that I freak out. Okay, I have a nervous breakdown but I’m not proud of it. That’s why i need this external power bank. It charges your phone without an outlet and stores enough power to charge your phone for a few days, before having to be recharged itself. A great option for the phone lovers in the audience who no longer want to scour the gates of an airport, manically looking for a vacant wall outlet to plug into before their phone ceases to function (This is no small feat nowadays by the way. Kind of like finding Big Foot).

***ELECTRONICS VACATION PACKING LIST: smart phone, camera, memory cards, tablet/e-reader, chargers, convertors, adaptors, and headphones. Also don’t forget to download a bunch of shows to watch on the plane!

23. BareTraps Women’s Boots – $38.95

I love flat boots because they look good, are easy to walk in, and tend to keep your feet warm. But the problem is that tall boots take up a lot of room and some boots are really expensive and super uncomfortable. Well, that’s where bare trap’s women’s boots come in. You actually don’t have to sacrifice comfort in order to get a reasonably priced pair of boots that look good. Sure, they aren’t snow boots but they are the perfect pair of flat boots to walk around the city in. Also available in different style and colors just in case you think these are hideous and that I have absolutely no taste (I swear, I never claimed to be a fashionista! Lol).

***CLOTHING VACATION PACKING LIST: 2 sports bras, scarf, one strapless bra,  3 cheap pairs of socks, underarmour underwear (it is so comfortable and I usually pack a week’s worth and then do laundry), solid gray, white, and black shirts so you can easily mix and match items and use accessories to create outfits without bringing everything in your closet, a fleece shirt, 3 pairs black leggings, comfy jammies, black cardigan, A-line dresses (have to fit both winter/summer looks so I can throw on leggings and boots in case it’s cold), cheap sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat/fedora so I protect my face without looking dumb, 

***NO JEANS! They take up a lot of room and retain odors.

24. Toms Women’s Avalon’s – $45.99 but price varies by color


I never thought it would be so hard to find a comfortable pair of black flats that don’t look like orthopedic sneakers. Seriously, it is so hard for me to find a pair of black flats that look good and feel good since I walk a lot but don’t want to look like hideous beast in ugly shoes. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I have always liked Toms sneakers because I could walk forever in them and never get a blister. But the soles of the shoes were so thin that they always wore out rather quickly. But that has all changed since Toms designed the thicker soled, Avalon shoes. Now I can rock my Toms because they look good, last for a long time, and are super comfortable to walk in (If you need a pair of no show socks to for a new pair of shoes, I highly recommend these Women No Show Ultra Elastic Liner Nylon Silk Hidden Cotton Boat Socks(4 Pairs) (Shoe-Size 6-11, 4Nude).

***When wearing new shoes, always pack bandaids for blisters (pack a first aid kit if you are traveling to a remote area).

25. Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Full-Zip Fleece Jacket – $37.98 in multiple sizes and colors

So for my budget traveler packing list, I always pack a fleece because they function as a jacket in the summer and an extra layer in the winter. Plus they dry quickly, and keep you warm even when they get wet (that’s why we always had to take them on white water rafting trips). But honestly, i don’t think it matters which fleece you get. Sure, this one looks nice, but I got a cheap target fleece in the boys section for like $20. It was fine for what I wanted and when it got destroyed, I threw it out and just got a new one (I do the same with sunglasses and never spend more than $10 on a pair). But this one is also a great choice because it is good quality material that looks nice and keeps you warm (I dunno how nice a fleece can look but whatever).

Okay, I know that was an insanely long budget travelers packing list but guess what? It’s over! The endurance test is through! I hope you found this list helpful in preparing for your next, most epic of adventures. And whatever you do, don’t pack too much because you have to carry all this stuff around (And no one wants scoliosis. Everyone likes hobbits but I don’t know many people who want to be itty bitty like them).

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