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Holiday packing and pre-travel checklist

So, you’ve booked your flights, accommodation and activities. What next?

Let’s make sure you’re not leaving anything out – from what to book and arrange upfront to the essential items to pack when you go.

Posted: 24/1/2022 | By Amanda Duffy

Woman packing her suitcase

We’ve put together checklists for travel in general and for specific types of holiday too, so you can tick things off easily, wherever you’re off to. With so much else to keep in mind when you’re getting set to travel, checklists can help you avoid forgetting something important.

Before you go

There are a few things you should do to get your house in order before you leave for your holidays.

Bills and utilities

  • Let your credit/debit card company know you may be using it abroad – it will help avoid problems later
  • Pay bills in advance that will be due while you’re away
  • Turn off electrical wall sockets (except the fridge and the freezer) if your home is going to be empty
  • Set timers for devices or appliances you still want to come on while you’re away, like lights (to put off would-be burglars) or your boiler
  • Contact your mobile operator to see if roaming charges apply where you’re going. Buying an eSim card can help you save money on calls and data while you’re travelling

Practical tips

  • Clear out the fridge of anything that’s going to go off while you’re away
  • Find a place for your pets – ask a friend, family member or neighbour to look after them or book with recommended local kennels or catteries
  • Let a neighbour know you’ll be away – give them spare keys and emergency contact details just in case
  • Book airport parking – paying in advance could help you save money, especially if you book reputable services a bit further away and catch a shuttle bus to the airport

Protect what matters when you go with good travel insurance

Documents and travel insurance

Check your passport

How long is left on your passport? Check in good time for everyone who’s due to travel, in case any are about to expire. Some countries refuse entry to tourists whose passports are less than six months from expiry.

Applying for a new passport can take at least six weeks, while renewing a passport takes three weeks – so don’t leave it to the last minute. Passports can be renewed or replaced at any time. 

You should also check well in advance if you need a visa for your destination. The time it takes to apply and receive a visa can vary.

Get travel insurance

Good travel insurance for everyone in your family should be top of the holiday checklist. It can provide extra reassurance as it may cover you for cancellation before your trip, missed or delayed flights, or lost, stolen luggage and other belongings such as passports and cash. Most importantly, it may cover emergency medical costs if you need attention while away.

In EU countries, a Ghic or Ehic will give you free or low-cost emergency and state medical care, but they’re not a replacement for travel insurance. They won’t cover you being airlifted from a mountain or flown back to the UK, or extra accommodation or transport costs for a family member if you need a long stay in hospital. So, it’s best to have your travel insurance in place well before you go and take all documents with you.

Woman set on floor taking notes with open suitcase on bed behind her

Travel money

It’s important to have some cash wherever you are going, even if you are visiting a largely cashless place. You never know what you might need it for. So local currency comes high on any holiday essentials list.

Don't pay over the odds for travel money at the airport. Get it sorted as soon as possible, ideally when the pound is strong against the foreign currency you need. Use a currency converter to check the exchange rate.

Make sure you have at least two different debit or credit cards – memorising both PIN numbers. Keep one in a safe place as an emergency backup. Note that some banks charge for cash withdrawals overseas. You can also load travel money onto prepaid travel money cards.

Travel apps are also available that help you keep track of your holiday spending and convert local prices into pounds easily when you’re away.

Your travel itinerary

Find out your flight times, including departure time and when to check in by, and add in plenty of extra time to get to the airport and for unexpected delays.

Check in online the night before if you can and print off your boarding passes, as some airlines charge you to issue a boarding pass at the airport. Print off an extra set and keep them separate, just in case.

Double-check your accommodation check in times. If you get there early, you may need to wait for them to get your room or whatever you’re staying in ready.

Find out if they’ll hang onto your luggage in the meantime – then you can explore without carrying your bags around with you. Just remember to take any valuables with you or ask to leave them in the reception safe.

Woman wearing backpack walking at the airport pulling wheeled luggage behind her

Packing list essentials

In the following checklists, we cover off the absolute essentials you’ll need wherever you’re going, and whatever type of holiday you’re going on. And we answer the question “what documents do I need for my holiday?”

We haven’t listed clothing – just take what’s appropriate for the climate in your destination and any activities you’ll be doing. And remember to pack a pen and paper – they’ll be useful in all kinds of situations, especially if your electrical gear fails you.

When you’re packing, make sure you know the airline’s weight limits for hand luggage and checked bags. Weigh your luggage on the bathroom scales before you go. If your hand luggage is too big, you’ll have to check it in – and that usually means an extra charge.

Don't forget the essentials

  • The travel documents you need in order to be able to travel are:

    • Passports
    • Boarding passes
    • Visas (if required – print and take with you)
    • ESTA (if you’re travelling to the USA – print and take with you)

    Take a copy of your passport details in case it gets lost and you need to apply for an emergency replacement. Other important documents for your travels might include:

    • Travel insurance documents
    • Boarding passes
    • Itinerary details – a list of addresses of where you’ll be visiting and when
    • Home address details in the UK
    • Contact details for your bank, particularly the overseas contact number
    • Any onward travel (such as train) documentation
    • Information about the British embassy in the country your visiting, or your nearest consulate
    • Travel agency contact details if relevant
    • Ghic or valid Ehic for EU trips (see ‘health and medication’ below)
    • Driving licence (as a form of ID whether you’ll be driving or not)
    • International Driving Permit (IDP)
    • Hire car details
    • Booked excursion details
    • Licences for activities you need them for (e.g. PADI certificates for scuba diving)
    • Contact details of next of kin
    • GP contact details
    • Prescriptions and lists of personal medications currently being taken
    • A letter from your GP confirming you’re taking, and need to take, your medicines
    • Inoculation and vaccination certificates
    • Organ donor card (if you have one)
    • Medical bracelet (if you wear one)
    • Images and serial numbers of valuable items you’re taking with you
    • ATOL certificate

    You don’t need physical copies of all these things, but it’s a good idea to have digital copies. If you’re taking photos of them, they need to be accessible if you don’t have internet access, so you could store them on your phone’s memory or laptop hard drive (if you’re taking one). Just make sure you keep them charged.

    It’s also wise to email all of these to someone at home so that there are emergency back-up versions available should you lose your phone or computer.

  • Toiletry items to pack could include:

    • Shampoo
    • Conditioner
    • Shower gel
    • Toothbrushes
    • Toothpaste
    • Moisturiser
    • Sun lotion

    With a few of you going away, your luggage may tip the airport scales with toiletries alone, so take smaller bottles of everything, including shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Remember that you’ll be able to buy full bottles at your holiday resort if you run out.

    As well as the basics, don’t forget things like glasses, contact lenses and any medicine. And remember that you can’t bring any liquids over 100ml in your hand luggage to avoid having to bin toiletries at the airport.

  • If you’ll have lots of time on your hands, such as on a beach holiday, taking enough reading material, devices and other items to keep you entertained for the full trip is a travel essential. That’s especially important if you need to keep little ones busy.

    • Mobile phones
    • Books/magazines
    • Activity books and guides
    • Tablets such as iPads
    • Portable games consoles
    • E-readers
    • Headphones
    • Music player if you don’t use your phone
    • Fitness trackers / watches
    • Pack of cards or selection of games (for family trips)
    • Pillow and light cover for longer flights/journeys
    • Chargers for all devices you’re taking

    Bring mains plugs for chargers, don’t just rely on USB. Remember the right international plug adapter for your destination too. If you don’t have one, buying one before you get to the airport will save you paying over the odds there. Portable USB charging packs are a handy backup for phones and other devices when you’re on the move.

    Wi-Fi in your destination may be slow, expensive or non-existent when you travel to your destination. Download all the music, books, games, guides, maps, films or TV box sets you’ll need to entertain the whole family, especially the children – or if you want to get a bit of relaxing time to yourself.

  • Medical care for Brits in the EU

    Your travel necessities should include a UK Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) or, if it’s still in date, your current European Health Insurance Card (Ehic). These give UK nationals access to free or reduced-cost medical care while in European Union countries. 

    While a Ghic or Ehic is certainly a travel essential for any trip to EU countries, it’s still important to get travel insurance too. Neither Ghic nor Ehic will cover you for extras such as being airlifted from a mountain or flown back to the UK, known as repatriation. And an Ehic or Ghic won’t cover the costs to transport or accommodate a family member to stay nearby if you need a long stay in hospital. So, it’s best to have your travel cover in place well before you leave.

    Make sure you also take full details of any medical conditions you have, including a record of any jabs and other medical documents that may help a local doctor should you fall ill. 

    Prescription medication

    If you or one of your family take regular medication, pack enough in your hand luggage to last you more than the length of your holiday, including potential delays. Include a recent prescription and letter from your GP explaining what the condition is and what you’re taking for it. If you take liquid medication or need extra medical equipment such as syringes, you’ll be required to prove why you need them to travel at airport security.

    First aid kits

    A good first-aid kit is one of the most essential travel items to take with you. Besides your prescription medication, include a small amount of any of the following normally kept in your medicine cabinet at home:

    • Painkillers (ibuprofen, paracetamol)
    • Indigestion tablets
    • Antihistamines (for insect bites and minor allergic reactions)
    • Travel sickness tablets
    • Plasters and bandages
    • Cotton wool
    • Antiseptic cream and wipes
    • Infant or child's medication (if needed)
    • Insect repellent
    • Safety pins
    • A pair of tweezers
    • A pair of scissors

    Remember, standard travel insurance policies typically provide only limited cover for gadgets, so if you’ll be taking more than your policy provides consider if you’ll need additional gadget cover.

Travel checklists by holiday type

Where are you heading? To the beach or a camp site? On a cruise or perhaps a skiing trip or city break? here are a few extras you’ll need for specific trips depending on what you’ll be doing.

    • High factor sun protectio
    • After sun
    • Insect repellent 
    • Lip balm
    • Antihistamines
    • Painkillers
    • Water sterilisers
    • Sunglasses
    • Sun hat
    • Flip flops/sandals
    • Beach towels
    • Portable safe (for keeping valuables safe outside of the hotel)
    • Anti-theft bag
    • Waterproof covering for electricals
    • Light clothing
    • Swimsuits
    • Inflatables
    • Beach activities (bucket and spade, beach tennis)
    • Snorkelling kit
    • Books and magazines
    • Refillable water bottles

    Sun, sea, sand – beach holidays are the gold standard in relaxation. As well as sunbathing and swimming, you’ll probably want to be eating and drinking your fill too.

    It’s important that your travel insurance covers you for everything you’re doing. Activities that you might want to get involved in spontaneously may not be covered and you could be putting yourself at risk without making sure before you buy. You can also invalidate your policy by drinking excessively, so know your limits.

    Sunbathing and tanning are what lots of us go on beach holidays for, so it’s important to remain hydrated while you’re there. It’s not always easy to buy lots of bottles of water when you’re at the beach itself, so make sure that your shops include enough bottled water. You lose lots of moisture just sitting out in the sun, so you might need to drink more water than you think in order to stay properly hydrated. Failing to do so can contribute to things like sunstroke, which can be deeply unpleasant.

    And it goes without saying that you should protect yourself against the sun with a combination of high-factor sun protection for sensitive areas and clothing.

    Avoid taking your valuables to the beach. Keep them in a safe in your accommodation. Or see if nearby establishments have a secure locker service. Don’t leave valuables unattended or try burying them in the sand as they risk being lost or stolen.

  • Packing for a family holiday will depend on the age range of its members. A toddler and baby holiday checklist is always going to be much longer than that for older children. But remember that they have their own luggage allowance. Here’s a suggested packing list for families – just tailor it to your trip.

    • Nappies
    • Changing mat
    • Teething ring
    • Milk / powdered milk
    • Food and snacks
    • Wet wipes
    • Dummies
    • Toys
    • Blanket
    • Cotton wool
    • Books
    • Pram/stroller/bassinet
    • Car seat
    • Water sterilisers
    • Bottles
    • Muslins
    • Travel cot
    • Clothes (for you both)
    • Rusks (if you need them)
    • Nappy bags
    • Calpol
    • Antihistamines
    • Nappy cream
    • Moisturising cream
    • Sheet for travel cot
    • Bibs
    • Baby cutlery
    • Beaker
    • Nasal aspirator
    • High factor sun cream
    • Sun hat and suits
    • Umbrella or sun shield for pushchair
  • On top of the general items we’ve listed for any type of trip, a suggested packing list for city breaks would include:

    • Map software, downloaded to be used offline
    • Translation app, again downloaded to be used offline
    • Sensible shoes
    • Daypack
    • Evening clothes

    You may end up needing to use your phone often in a new city. Having offline apps means you won’t need to rely on Wi-Fi or data roaming charges to get around or know what to say.

    Sensible shoes don’t have to sacrifice style. But if you’re going to be walking all day, it’s important to do so in comfort. And evening clothes doesn’t mean formal evening wear; simply clothes that you feel good in to go out in the evening.

  • A ski packing list could run into many pages, but some of the essentials – depending on what you’re taking or decide to hire when you arrive – include:

    • Thermals
    • Ski socks
    • Sun cream and sunblock
    • Lip balm
    • After sun
    • Moisturiser
    • Chapstick
    • Muscle pain relief (eg. Deep Heat)
    • Salopettes
    • Ski jacket
    • Helmet
    • Sunglasses
    • Goggles
    • Ski gloves
    • Normal winter gloves
    • Snow resistant boots/shoes (for apres ski)
    • Warm hat
    • Ski hire details
    • Ski boots / snowboard boots
    • Walking boots
    • Skis / snowboard
    • Ski lock
    • Multi-purpose tool kit
    • Day pack / rucksack / backpack
    • Hydration bladder
    • Resort map
    • GPS tracker

    Don’t forget details about your resort, including your accommodation and the best places to hire equipment from, as well as the tickets and passes to get you up the mountain. You may need spare passport pictures for your lift pass.

    Ski gear can be expensive, so unless you go frequently it might be sensible to see if there are items you can borrow from friends and family rather than buying new. Again, you may not need everything on this list. If you don’t have your own skis/snowboard, for example, then it’s more common to hire them at your venue.

    Sunlight reflects off snow and intensifies in the process, meaning that on the mountain you are getting sun from above and below. This can cause severe sunburn, rapid dehydration, sunblindness and chapping. Wear high-factor sun cream on exposed skin and sunblock on your lips. Carry a full hydration bladder in your backpack. Always wear UV goggles or sunglasses if you’re proficient. Chapstick can be a lifesaver if your lips do become cracked by wind and sun.

    It’s sensible for your ski clothing to be brightly coloured. This is to make you stand out if you become stranded, or need to stay close to your buddies during a white out. A GPS tracker can be extremely important for those going off-piste. Remember that, if you do go off-piste, your travel insurance policy may stipulate you must still stick to recognised routes and resort boundaries in order to remain covered.

    Read our detailed guide to packing for a skiing holiday.

  • The great thing about cruises is your comfort’s quite often in the hands of the crew, but there are a few additional items to remember, especially if you’ll be exploring the sites on shore along the way.

    • Travel money – for each of the countries you’ll be stopping off at
    • Prescription medications – enough for the cruise duration plus a bit more
    • Evening wear
    • Warm coat – something for all weathers will be handy when it gets nippy out at sea
    • Footwear that can grip when wet
    • Cagoule
    • Camera
    • Sportswear if you need it
    • Books
    • Daypack – to carry your travel money and other items you’ll need on shore

    If you’re going on a cruise holiday, be sure to check your travel insurance policy for what it covers. Some may require you to add on additional cruise cover to your standard policy.

  • This checklist seems a lot to take in a backpack, leaving little room for clothes. Many of these items can be bought where you are, but if you think it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get them where you’re going then pack them in advance.

    • Large backpack
    • Daypack
    • Torch (perhaps head-mounted)
    • Wet wipes
    • Water sanitisers
    • Sun cream, sunblock and after sun
    • Laundry detergent for cold water
    • Clothesline (length of nylon cord)
    • Portable power block
    • Waterproof wallet for travel documents
    • Microfibre towel
    • Dry shampoo
    • First aid kit – see ‘health and medication’ section above – other items to consider include constipation and diarrhoea relief, plus electrolytes and rehydration sachets (such as Dioralyte)
    • Cagoule
    • Waterproof cover for backpack
    • Ear plugs and eye mask
    • Drinking bladder
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Bin liners
    • Portable safe
    • Pen and paper

    If you take prescription medicines, take plenty, a copy of your prescription and a doctor’s note explaining why you need to take them. Check there aren’t restrictions on the medicines you’re carrying in any countries you’re visiting. You may be able to get an exemption via the country’s embassy. Some common, over-the-counter medicines in the UK are prohibited in other countries. Make sure that you are not carrying these.

    Bin liners can be incredibly useful and take up little space until unrolled. They can provide as makeshift waterproofing, a receptacle for dirty laundry, as normal rubbish bags and many other things.

    Some items, like a cagoule, are in case you end up in weather you hadn’t expected. You won’t want to take your large backpack everywhere you go so having a daypack helps you only take what you need on excursions.

    Laundry detergent might not be something you want to carry around but, if you don’t have access to supermarkets, it might prove extremely useful.

    A microfibre towel is a highly-absorbent, quick-drying, miniature towel that takes up nothing like as much space as a normal one. It can be an invaluable travel buddy.

    A drinking bladder (or hydration bladder) is a ‘bladder’ you fill with water that is integrated into your backpack or daypack. This can save on carrying around water bottles and keep you hydrated.

  • The first item on any camping holiday checklist is, of course, the tent. Choose one as large as your budget will allow and take your time putting it up. There’s nothing worse than an unstable tent or a water leak when the weather is bad. Other items to take along include:

    • Sleeping bags
    • Portable stove
    • Camping chairs
    • Warm sleepwear, as it can get cold at night, no matter how warm it is in the day
    • Ear plugs and eye mask
    • Pillows
    • Torches
    • Waterproof clothing
    • Water bottles
    • Cooking utensils
    • Cutlery
    • Washing up liquid
    • Washing up bowl
    • Tea towel
    • Matches
    • Lots and lots of wet wipes
  • Suggested items for your walking holiday travel checklist are:

    • Walking boots – study and comfy, ideally with ankle support
    • Breathable clothing – to keep you warm or cool as needed, but ventilated
    • Daypack – to take out just what you need for the day
    • Water bottle or hydration pack
    • Snacks – such as energy bars, trail mix, sweets and chocolate
    • First aid kit – see ‘health and medication’ section above
    • High factor sun cream or block and lip balm
    • Handheld and head torches, plus batteries and spares
    • Camping gear if you need it (see camping checklist above)

Other common questions

  • It’s a good idea to pack a change of clothes and essential toiletries in your hand luggage in case you need to call on them during your travels. Just don’t pack any liquids over 100ml, including toiletries or drinks.

    Remember that, usually, once you’ve been through airport security you can buy drinks in the departure lounge to take onto the plane for your flight. It’s also worth taking some snacks, as doing so can avoid you paying sky-high prices in the air.

    Another important but sometimes overlooked essential is a pen – useful for filling out immigration cards, for instance.

    Have something warm to wear in your hand luggage, for use on the plane or in case it’s cold when you arrive in your destination or back home. A head pillow and eye mask, if not provided by the airline, can add extra comfort if you’ll be sleeping on the flight.

    Entertainment and electronics wise, you can take mobile phones, laptops, tablets, MP3 players, electric shavers, hairdryers, straighteners and e-cigarettes in your hand luggage but must be able to switch them on if asked so make sure they’re charged. Don’t forget headphones too.

    Essential medication is okay, even if it’s over 100ml, if you have a copy of your prescription or a doctor’s note saying why you take it and confirming that you need to.

    You’ll find more about on hand luggage dos and don’ts on the FCDO hand luggage page.

  • Whenever you board a plane in the UK, there are restrictions on what the hand luggage you take into the cabin can contain. Check the full government guidance on hand luggage restrictions before you pack your hold and hand luggage to make sure you’re taking only what’s allowed – and in the right bags.

    Liquids cannot go through airport security in containers of any larger than 100ml, even if only partially full. The exceptions are for essential medial purposes (such as prescriptions), special dietary requirements or baby food and baby milk.

    Sharp items aren’t allowed in hand luggage, but personal items like tweezers, nail clippers and small scissors with blades no longer than 6cm are fine. You can typically carry one lighter. Any more must go in your hold luggage.

    On a practical point, remember to also check in advance with your airline the number, size and weight of hand luggage allowed for each passenger.

  • Some airlines allow you to take a small extra bag, such as a handbag, on board in addition to their hand luggage allowance per person. This isn’t the case for all carriers, though, so you should check with yours to be sure. Details will usually be available before, during or on confirmation of your booking, and when you go to check in online.

  • Each liquid you take in your hand luggage must be a container of no more than 3.4 ounces. You must place each container in one clear plastic bag that’s a quart in size. And only one of these bags is allowed per passenger. This is known as the 3-1-1 rule.

  • There are different schools of thought but often, and depending on the items of clothing you’re taking, a combination of rolling and folding works best to keep them in good condition during transit.

    Try rolling smaller items like shorts or dresses that could crease more easily if folded.

    For bulkier items like jumpers and jeans, folding should be okay. Flat packing items can be even more effective and can help free up extra space too.

    Read out guide to how to pack a suitcase.

Interested in travel insurance?

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