After booking your accommodation, your flights and sorting out your visa, packing for your international flight can be a logistical exercise. For the inexperienced traveller, this may prove to be extremely daunting.
Make sure that you know how to pack for an international flight and that you pack with a purpose. Follow our comprehensive guide below.
Using an international travel SIM card will ensure that you are always connected and that you can make your trip a memorable one.
Travel documents checklist
If you thought that passengers traveling with the incorrect documentation was a minor issue for the world’s carriers, think again. The 60 000 travellers turned back at destination or transfer points by immigration authorities each year cause stressful and frustrating situations for travellers.
Ensure that you are not a statistic. Below are some of the most important documents that you will need when making your journey:
- Passport, Travel Visa and National ID Card;
- COVID-19 Travel Documents;
- Travel Itinerary Details; and
- Proof of Medical and Travel Insurance.
There are other documents that you may need. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic several countries have introduced passenger locator forms which must be presented at check-in or at immigration. After filling the form, travellers are often provided with a QR code or a reference number. Other documents could also be required, that is why it is always important to check what is required for your trip when planning your holiday and ideally verifying the requirements once again closer to your departure date as entry rules and regulations change on a daily basis.
When planning your next international vacation, make sure you are making use of a tip travel app.
Further reading: Top 110 Best travel apps (2022 International tourist guide).
5 Packing tips for a flight
We all want to make the best of our international vacation. Packing the wrong things can absolutely destroy your travel experience.
Here are some essential packing tips before your flight:
- Start with smart luggage. If you’re still lugging around a two-wheeler suitcase, it’s time to make a smart switch to four wheels. Whether you’re strolling around the airport or rushing to catch a connecting flight, a four-wheeler suitcase requires little effort and can be manoeuvred around with ease;
- Segment your luggage. Pack your items in ‘groups’, with mini bags inside so that you can easily segment your luggage. This also makes it easier when you go through customs and you’re required to open up your luggage;
- Know the essential packing hacks. Roll the clothes you want to keep wrinkle-free and fold the thicker items like jumpers. Pack spare zip lock bags – they’re great for ensuring your liquids don’t leak. Remove any unnecessary packaging from items as they take up too much space;
- Pack for efficiency. Want your boarding process to go as smoothly as possible? Make sure you pack a pen (or two) in your carry on so that you can fill out forms on the go – without always having to borrow from someone else; and
- Packing tip for the digital age. A good tip is to bring a power strip or extension cable with you. Sometimes hotel rooms don’t have enough plugs to cater for all your ‘screens’ and this is a great way to solve that problem.
Do you want to know what the most downloaded travel apps in the world are?
Further reading: Top 10 most downloaded travel apps (2022 Tourist guide).
Types of flight luggage
When it comes to air travel, there are two main types of luggage.
- there’s carry-on luggage, often referred to as hand luggage or cabin baggage, and
- there’s checked-in luggage, often referred to as hold luggage.
As the name suggests, carry-on luggage is what you’re allowed to take with you on the airplane, and checked-in luggage — what you check in and what’s being placed in the baggage compartment.
Another type of luggage is lost luggage. When it comes to lost, damaged or delayed luggage, there is a specific protocol.
The most important thing is to report it. Don’t leave the baggage hall and head for the luggage counter to report the loss or damage. There you will be given a written confirmation (don’t lose it) and will be told you what should you do next.
Another type of luggage is infant luggage. When it comes to travelling with babies, the size of the infant luggage and the number of items you can bring on a plane varies from airline to airline. Check the airline rules and regulations before booking your flight. Some airlines are really generous when it comes to free hold luggage allowance for baby equipment, whereas some are not.
If Covid has taught us anything it is that we don’t get along with everyone. On a trip abroad, there will be some tourists that you will want to spend time with and some tourists that you will want to avoid.
Further reading: 20 Types of tourists (2022 Travellers guide).
How to pack a carry-on bag
This bag is essential as it holds any information that may be needed when going through security at various airports.
Below are some of the essential items that you may need:
- Passport/other ID;
- Face Mask. Many airlines (including all U.S. airlines) require passengers to wear face masks when boarding and on the plane;
- Cash, credit cards, ATM cards. Cash, credit cards or ATM cards should never be put in checked luggage in the event your checked luggage is delayed, lost or stolen;
- Printed itinerary/ hotel and flight confirmations;
- Essential medication and prescriptions. You don’t want to worry about not having any medication you need if your checked luggage is delayed;
- Electronics (cell phone, camera, computer, adaptors), jewellery and other valuables. Don’t put anything in your checked luggage that you cannot afford to lose;
- Change of clothing (including underwear). It is a good idea to have a spare change of clothes and underwear in case your luggage is delayed;
- Reading material/entertainment;
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. On a long flight you might want to brush your teeth; and
- Pillow. You might find it more comfortable to travel with a neck travel pillow.
When travelling, connectivity is important. Make sure you are not left without a connection.
Further reading: What is a travel SIM card? (2022 international travellers guide).
What not to pack in your carry-on bag
Continuing from our list above, there are some items that you should never pack in your carry-on luggage:
- Liquids over a specific size. Check the rules and regulations of the destination you are travelling to or the airline you are travelling on;
- There are special rules for medications, but these vary by country. Check with the country you will be flying out of for their rules;
- Sharp objects. Sharp objects are prohibited in carry-on luggage because they could be used as a weapon;
- Sporting equipment. Baseball bats, ski poles, pool cues, bows and arrows, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and pretty much any other sporting equipment containing the words stick, pole, bat or club cannot be brought on the plane as carry-on; and
- Self-defence items.
There are benefits to using a travel SIM card.
Further reading: Benefits of a travel SIM card (2022 International tourist guide).
How to pack your checked luggage
Here are some practical tips to bear in mind when packing your checked luggage:
- The bigger your suitcase, the more you will put into it. The simplest way to avoid bringing too many things is to buy a hard-sided suitcase, no more than 22 inches tall (so it can work as a carry-on) with a structured shell so you can’t squeeze in any extras;
- Do the clothing countdown. If you need a mantra to help streamline your wardrobe, use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule for a weeklong trip. Limit yourself to no more than five sets of socks and underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat;
- Lay out what you think you’ll need, then edit ruthlessly. Think twice about everything you want to put in your bag;
- Think Tetris: The best way to fit everything into one bag… Fill every inch of space. For example, footwear should be stuffed with socks. Then lay your shoes together heel to toe at the bottom of your suitcase in a plastic shopping bag to protect clothes from dirt; and
- Keep liquids in easy reach: Toiletries should always be placed on top of your suitcase in a clear bag since you never know when airport security might be interested in looking.
If you don’t want to make use of a travel SIM card, then make sure that you enable international roaming on your mobile phone.
Further reading: What is international roaming & how it works.
What not to pack in checked luggage
While this is your main bag for your vacation, there are some items that should never be packed into checked luggage:
- Irreplaceable items;
- Cash or credit card;
- Confidential papers;
- Car or house keys;
- ID, passport or itinerary;
- Work material;
- Anything fragile; and
- Other valuables.
International roaming can be expensive. Make sure you know how to manage these costs.
Further reading: How to avoid roaming charges (2022 Travellers guide).
5 Food packing tips for a flight
Like hospital food, any traveller knows not to expect a gourmet meal on an international flight.
For the picky eaters, here are some essential food packing tips for your flight:
- Avoid food that might get soggy. Use thick bread and non-liquid spreads to avoid your sandwiches getting soggy on the flight;
- Pack crunchy items, not crumbly items. Carrots, celery, and cereal are some items that don’t crumble up easily;
- Avoid food that might be easily smashed. Bananas, avocados, or plums might not be in the same state you packed them in when you decide to eat them;
- Wrap it in plastic, not foil. Place your items in ziplock bags or some cling film, versus foil; and
- Spread it before you pack it. Make sure to prepare your sandwiches prior to your flight.
Things you need to make your flight comfortable
Travelling can be stressful. Therefore, a few home comforts will help settle your nerves.
Below are some of the essentials to make your flight more comfortable:
- Face mask. Like it or not, on an airplane and in the airport, you’ll have to wear a mask for the duration of travel (including in and around the airport) unless you are actively eating or drinking;
- Eyeshades. Blocking out the light when you need to sleep is a must. It lets you set your sleep schedule on the flight regardless of the lighting situation;
- Ear plugs. It can be hard to sleep amid all the various noises on a plane or train. The roar of the engine, voices from nearby passengers, banging of carts and doors. Block out disturbing noises with a good pair of earplugs and get a few hours of quality shut-eye;
- Neck pillow. Sleeping while sitting, or even slightly reclined is hard enough. Having a neck pillow makes trying to sleep in an airplane seat so much more comfortable; and
- Hand sanitizer & wipes. Airlines boast about how good their sanitizing measures are. However, given how quickly some of the flights arrive and then depart, it’s unclear how deep a clean can they possibly carry out.
5 Medicine packing tips for a flight
Medication is critical for some. Below are five helpful tips for packing your medication for an international vacation:
- . Research each international destination for its regulations for each medication;
- Don’t assume you’ll be able to purchase your medication at your international destination;
- Bring a sufficient supply of your medications;
- Have an active refill of prescription medications for domestic travel; and
- Pack medications in their original container.
Things you should never pack for a flight
Earlier, we mentioned that you will need to be brutal when packing your bag for an international flight. However, there some items that you should never even consider packing into your carry-on or checked luggage:
- Toiletry bottles with hinge-top lids;
- Certain medications;
- Metal accessories;
- Excessive amounts of heavy clothing; and
- Hair dryers.
5 Liquid packing tips for a flight
Below are some essential packing tips when packing liquids into your luggage:
- Buy a clear liquids bag that you can use multiple times instead of those use once ziplock bags that break easily;
- Make sure all of your liquids are under 100ml;
- Buying multi purpose products to fit into your skincare and makeup routine (if you’re a girl) will benefit your packing;
- Pack a stick deodorant instead of a spray or liquid roll on; and
- When packing perfume or aftershave, make sure you pack the 10ml sprays instead of one big one.
What is proper airline etiquette
Travelling is exciting, especially for first time travellers and children. However, there is a certain etiquette that every traveller should follow to make their trip a little more memorable.
- Don’t hold up the security line;
- Board (and pack) courteously;
- Help your fellow traveler;
- Respect your (limited) space; and
- Disembark calmly.
3 Alcohol packing tips for a flight
Below are some important packing tips when it comes to packing alcohol into your luggage:
- Make sure you are of legal drinking age;
- Transport alcohol in its original container; and
- Check country-specific regulations on alcohol content.
Another tip is to try and purchase alcohol at Duty Free Zones. They are packaged in the right containers and are the right size limits for your flight.
Things to bring on a long flight
Small things can make a long haul flight more bearable.
Some of the essential items that you should consider taking include:
- A pen for filling in forms;
- Hand sanitiser. Covid has tuaght us that cleanliness should be something that we embrace all of the time;
- A travel organiser for storing all of your important documentation in one place;
- A stick of lip balm to hydrate your lips; and
- Your own headphones.
5 Makeup packing tips for a flight
One of the things that social media influencers teach us is that you need to look fabulous in everything that you do.
To have that catwalk look when you disembark the plane, consider these tips:
- Invest in a padded makeup bag;
- Save space by packing palettes;
- Customize with magnetic palettes;
- Always pack travel-sized products in a carry-on; and
- Pack multipurpose products.
What to pack for kids on a plane
Children are always a ball of excitement when travelling which can be challenging for parents and for other passengers.
Below are some kid friendly essentials for your packing list:
- A change of clothes;
- A comfort item;
- A sweatshirt;
- A water bottle; and
5 Toiletries packing tips for a flight
Below are some essential packing tips when it comes to toiletries:
- Embrace minimalism;
- Replace liquids with solids;
- Repackage toiletries in smaller containers;
- Prevent leaks and spills with careful packing; and
- Abide by security restrictions.
Things to bring on a plane for entertainment
Being stuck on a flight for a ling time can be very tiring on the brain. You will need to find creative ways to keep yourself engaged throughout the flight.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Download podcasts in advance and listen to them;
- Read/listen to a book;
- Download and catch up on a TV series;
- Bring brain teasers onto the plane such as cross words, sudoku and wordsearch puzzles; and
- Adult colouring books are the latest trend in long haul entertainment.
How to pack a suit for a flight
Men can also achieve that David Beckham look when stepping off a plane. If you have a short turnaround between your hotel and your first meeting, you wont have time to launder your suit.
Here is how you should pack your suit for a flight:
- Lay the suit face down on a flat surface;
- Fold the left shoulder back;
- Turn the right shoulder inside out, then tuck left shoulder into the right;
- Fold the suit in half lengthwise and then fold horizontally;
- Place folded jacket in centre of outstretched trousers; and
- Fold trouser bottoms over jacket and repeat with top of trousers.
With these flight packing tips in hand, you can be sure that your international trip will be a memorable one.
Flight packing tips FAQ
- What happens if airport security want to check my bag?
What happens if airport security want to check your bag? It is vital that you remain calm, engage the officers with a smile on your face, answer any questions honestly and in an even tone of voice, be courteous and most of all, be patient.
- Can I carry copies of my essential travel documents such as ID Cards and Passports?
Can you carry copies of your essential travel documents such as ID Cards and Passports? No. Most countries will insist on seeing original documentation when travelling into and domestically within their country. This is non-negotiable.
- How big should my travelling bag be?
How big should your travelling bag be? Most airlines have a specific weight limit when it comes the bag that you are packing. This will depend on the class of ticket you are purchasing (economy class, business class or first class). Most travel agents will know this information.
- What should I do if my bag gets lost?
What should you do if your bag gets lost? Immediately go to the lost baggage counter at the airport to report it. They will provide you with further instructions.
- Do I need to have my travel itinerary with me when I travel?
Do you need to have my travel itinerary with you when you travel? It is recommended that you carry a print out of your itinerary with you. Some countries want to ensure that you will be leaving the country after a specific timeframe and you have to show them that you intent to leave.
- Can I bring hairspray on a plane?
Can you bring Hairspray on a plane? The TSA has determined that liquids, aerosols and gels, in limited quantities, are safe to bring aboard aircraft. So it is important to remember that all liquid, aerosol and gel items must be stored in containers 3.4 ounce or smaller.
- Can I bring perfume on a plane?
Can you bring perfume on a plane? Liquids, Aerosols and Gels in your hand luggage must be in containers of maximum 100ml each. Store them in a transparent, resealable bag. Total bag capacity must be maximum one litre. Only one bag per passenger will be allowed.
- Can I bring a charging block (bank) on a plane?
Can you bring a charging block (bank) on a plane? The majority of power banks can be taken on a flight as long as they are under a certain capacity and are carried in your hand luggage. Power banks use lithium-ion batteries, which means they can only be taken on a flight if they are packed in your carry-on luggage.
- Can you bring sunscreen on a plane?
Can you bring suncreen on a plane? You can pack sunscreens larger than 3.4 fluid ounces or 100 milliliters in a carry-on bag; you’ll just need to make sure that you pack them in a transparent, resealable 1-quart bag (like you do the rest of your carry-on liquids) and present them for inspection once you reach the security checkpoint.
- What size liquids can I bring on a plane?
What size liquids can you bring on a plane? Liquids, Aerosols and Gels in your hand luggage must be in containers of maximum 100ml each.
- Can you bring shampoo on a plane?
Can you bring shampoo on a plane? Liquids, Aerosols and Gels in your hand luggage must be in containers of maximum 100ml each.
- What do you need to get on a plane?
What do you need to get on a plane? You will need your important documentation such as your passport, ID Book/card and flight ticket.