The Ultimate Packing List

The Ultimate Packing List

Travelling as a Marie Curie Scholarship recipient.

Dear MSCA recipient,

You will be required to travel across Europe as part of your program. You will travel for training, conferences and secondments.

So…. Are you a business, school or leisure traveller? You are all of them, rolled into one!

This brings up the question, what should you pack?

If you don’t have time to read the full article below is a short list of what you need for a short trip (1-2 weeks) or a long trip (1-4months). If you want explanations and recommendations, keep scrolling 😀

Short Trip Packing list

Think Hand luggage only, this alleviates waiting for your luggage on the conveyor belt and get you out of the airport faster.

Passport and visaMoney
MedicationBackpack, luggage
Laptop and tabletLaptop stand, keyboard and mouse
Phone and chargerSIM & internet
Plug adaptorExtension lead
RFID blockerPower bank
GPSTravel safety
PenWater &/Coffee mug
StrawSolid toiletries
Menstrual productsClothing
Compression socksSocks and underwear
Rain coatJeans
Iron free itemsPajamas
Hat scarf glovesMakeup
Packing cubeHobby gear
CameraKindle / book
Planner / journal / notebook

Longer Trips

You will need everything above… plus a few extras.

Everything above…Sport towel (saves space)
Coffeepot (?)Knickknacks
Hobby gearExercise equipment

It is all about multipurpose, if something has one purpose, swap it!


All recommendations are based on my personal travel experiences. With time, you will develop your own ‘essential’ list

  • Passport, visas & ID card

Check your visa before you even book your tickets! This seems obvious, but it happens to the best of us. Also, you don’t want to forget your passport at home. Depending on where you are from, you may be able to travel with just showing your national ID card.

  • Money

Using a credit card or a Revolut card is a lot more secure than using your debit card.

BONUS… you have a wide choice of card designs

If you decide to use your credit card make sure and notify the bank of your travels.

  • Tickets

Paper tickets are so last millennium… Opt for the eco option! Screen shot your ticket and set this as your lock screen. Now you don’t have to go looking through apps to find it.

  • Medication

Take any prescription drugs in your hand luggage. I also take Loperamide (Imodium), rehydration salts (dioralyte) and charcoal tablets. The last thing you want to be running around looking for a toilet because you have a stomach bug.

  • Glasses / contacts and sunglasses

If you wear them, always pack extras! The last thing you want is not being able to see. I also recommend taking a picture of your prescription in case everything gets lost or broken, you can order new ones.

NB: You may not need sunglasses depending on the time of the year and country you are visiting.

  • Backpack vs rolling hand luggage.

Go for a waterproof backpack. You can use this on the plane, at the conference and while moving around a city. If you are on secondment, this can also be your day-to-day bag for work/ school and shopping.

The water resistance factor is important because if the sky starts leaking… you don’t have to worry about your electronics getting soaked.

  • Laptop and tablet

Take your work laptop and make sure you back-up your device fully before travelling (leave the backup at home). Duplicate conference presentations, keep them on a flash drive and save a copy on the cloud.  If you own a tablet, bring this with you on secondment so that you can keep your personal and work life on separate devices.

I do not recommend packing 2 laptops… personal and work. Lugging around two laptops and two sets of charging instruments is a bit much. Not to mention it takes up way too much space and weight.

PS. Don’t forget to put the chargers into your bag.

  • Laptop stand and other accessories

A travel stand takes a temporary workspace to a whole new level of comfort. Late nights typing away in hotel rooms seem more manageable with these. I also recommend a foldable keyboard and wireless mouse. These gadgets facilitate a similar set up to what you are accustomed to and you don’t loose time fussing and getting used to a new arrangement. These are also a must for longer trips.

  • Second monitor

This is a big maybe for secondments… I do NOT recommend these because of their high cost. However, if you are a desk-based researcher, you may want to think about investing in one.
Your comfort is important during your stressful PhD life.

  • Phone and Charger

Some travellers recommend taking a cheaper phone on trips to avoid loosing an expensive smart phone. Personally, I take my smart phone, but I also take a waterproof case/ pouch to handle the rainy European climate.

I also pack two charging cords for my phone, one in hand luggage and one in my checked bag (if I have one).

  • Sim/ internet

First stop! Double check with your data plan if you will have roaming data and how much. Make sure you have enough for your trip.

If not you can buy a prepaid sim with unlimited data and calls for a week or 3 months. You can usually pick these up in the airport when you land or a near by convenience shop. If you are doing this, make sure your phone is unlocked.

  • Storage

Get an electronic storage bag that fits into your carry-on. This keeps cables, chargers and power banks organized in one convenient spot. This also makes things easier while going through airport security and will allow you to find things faster.

  • Headphones

These should go into your carry-on and these are important for travelling, answering any voice and video calls that you may need to do while on secondment.

  • Travel adaptor

This is a must even when travelling within the EU.  Some countries use different sockets and even if you research what sockets are used in that country prior to travel, they can still surprise you…

  • Extension strip

This is great for going through airports and having long lay overs. You can now charge multiple devices without hogging all the sockets. The extension can then be used at your hotel or temporary accommodation for the next few months.

Get an extension strip that has spots to plug in USB cords. This saves space while packing and allows you to charge multiple devices at the same time.

  • RFID blocking

Get an RFID card pocket, wallet, bag or jacket. These are designed to help insulate you from electronic pick pocketing, called RFID skimming. Some brands have stylish multipurpose items that you can invest in for travel and everyday life.

  • Power bank

Fully charge this puppy before travelling. The last thing you want is your phone dying when your tickets and or bank cards are stored on your phone.

  • GPS

You do not need a GPS device, you can use your phone! However, note that Google Maps may not work in all countries, so research this beforehand.

  • Travel safety

It’s important to stay safe while travelling and a travel whistle adds some security. Most backpacks come with one, but they pick up almost no space and weight. It is worth while to have one….

You never know, you may need to scare off an animal in a park or you may get locked into a toilet cubicle. The uses are endless.

I also take a fanny pack or neck wallet to keep my valuables close to me thus making it trickier for pick pocketers.

  • Pen

This is useful for going through airports (arrival and departure forms, baggage tags) and conferences (notes). During your secondment take the essentials, and a few extra to keep you happy BUT don’t over do it, you do not need 60 pens/pencils. I always have to remind myself of this.

  • Water bottle

A water bottle is very important from an eco perspective.
Taking your own water bottle saves plastic and helps with jet lag. Hydrating throughout the flight means that you will be ready to hit the ground running…. After a bathroom break 😛

But what kind of water bottle?  Remember… multipurpose!
I go for an insulated bottle that I can use for hot liquid like a nice cup of tea,  or a refreshing drink of water. There many choices so pick which one works best for you.

My recent pick is the Hydroflask coffee because this doubles as my coffee mug… and I’m a sucker for bottle with a handle

  • Coffeepot

If you are a coffee junkie and need a fresh brew every morning. Take your coffee pot, it will keep you happier in the long run. Also think about getting a travel mug with a press.
Remember…. Multipurpose, you can also use this as your water bottle.

  • Straw and cutlery

If you use straws, pack your own reusable straw. Use it for the entire trip. Bring along some chopsticks or a cutlery utility knife and you can cut down your single use plastic to almost nothing! and it is way more convenient.

Now you are smart and ecofriendly.

  • Bar Toiletries

These are essentials to stay fresh and clean as you travel. I recommend switching to shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, SPF and deodorant bars. This allows you to stick them into your carry-on bags without wondering about spills and if you are over the liquid limit. Depending on the length of my stay, sometimes I cut a bar of soap in half or take the half used soap bar from the shower.

Alternatively refill small bottles with stuff you have at home. Keep the same small bottle to cut down on your plastic consumption.

  • Menstrual products

To all my ladies…. Have you tried a menstrual cup? This may be a good opportunity to try one. A period cup picks up little to no space, they are eco friends and saves lots of money in the long run.

  • Clothing!!!

Do a capsule wardrobe.
The key to packing this is to make sure each item of clothing can be worn with multiple things, casually or formally. Stick to one set of colours for easy pairings.


If you have a funky fashion style, make sure and show it! Pack your signature pieces and make sure they work with multiple outfits.

  • Compression socks

Since I discovered these, my life has changed. Get a pair to wear to the airport, this reduces swollen legs while travelling and are also great for walking long distances in a new city.

  • Socks and underwear

I hope it goes without saying to bring one pair for every day of your trip and 2- 3 extras. If it is an extended trip, the number of underwear and socks you pack will dictate how often you have to do your laundry.

  • Rain coat

Packable/foldable so you can stick it into your backpack. It should be lightweight and work with multiple outfits in your wardrobe.

I tend to stay away from umbrellas because it can get windy in certain countries and the last thing you want is a  broken umbrella. Raincoats also protect a large amount of your body while umbrellas tend to only keep your head and shoulders dry.

  • Jeans

PROS: they don’t get wrinkled and can be easily matched

CONS: A clean classic jean can get you to business casual but not formal. They can also be very uncomfortable for long flights.

If you decide to wear jeans to your conference/ work, make sure and pack a dressy formal piece to accompany it.

  • Iron free items

The less ironing you have to do the better. This means you can look classy and chic in under 5 minutes.

  • PJ’s

Don’t forget you need something to sleep in!

  • Shoes

When trying to pack minimally, you can get away with packing one pair of shoes.

Make sure the pair on your feet is comfortable and a neutral colour, so you can dress it up or down. I opt for a pair of Dr Martin boots but may go for trainers like converse or Vans. Whatever your pick, make sure they are a classic design and waterproof.
PS. You can make any pair of trainers waterproof with some silicone spray.

The second packed pair should be fluffy socks, house shoes or sandals. These are to relax on evenings in your temporary accommodation.

  • Belt

If you’re a person who needs to wear a belt regularly I recommend wearing it to the airport …. ooooo controversial!

This one is a bit tricky since you will have to remove your belt every time you go through security. However, it is up to you, if you don’t want the hassle of removing it at security checks, it is small enough to be squeezed into any bag.

  • Hat, scarf, gloves

Double check the country you are going to and the time of the year. These accessories may all be necessary or you may need to pack a pair of shorts instead.

  • Makeup

If you wear makeup, pack the bare minimum including your favourite item,. Do NOT pack 3 different pallets, 6 lipsticks and 3 contour kits…. This is a bit unnecessary

  • Packing cubes

Packing cubes should be used to keep your luggage organized and it’s also great for keeping your hotel room and temporary accommodation organized. They can be repurposed for many different things once you get into your location (dirty laundry, shopping bags). I recommend using these packing cubes in your carry-on and checked baggage.

  • Sport Towel

If it’s a short conference trip and you are staying in a hotel, no need to pack one. However, if it is an extended stay in a hostel or temporary house, opt for a compact microfiber sport/travel towel.  They also dry quickly.

  • Gear

If you have any hobbies such as climbing, dancing or photography take the most essential items/ equipment… Also think about where you are going and if you will get a chance to use them.

  • Camera

It’s important to take pictures, usually a simple smartphone will give you great picture, however; if you’re a photography enthusiast you may want to include your fancy camera or GoPro.

  • Kindle / book

Only take your kindle if you are going on a long trip and you will actually use it.

I usually buy a novel or colouring book after airport security to keep me occupied enflight and for a short hotel room stay.

  • Planner/ journal/ notebook

You can use an electronic planner. However if you are old school, you may want to take this along for notes, travel memories and to keep yourself organized across a long conference.

Remember that while on secondment you will be working just like at home. Pack what you need to function in the office/lab.

  • Portable exercise equipment

If you like to workout and you already have resistance bands, feel free to pack it for longer trips. However remember that universities and hotels will have gyms.

  • Knickknacks

Allow yourself one knickknack, not all…
Doing a PhD is hard work. When going on a long trip don’t feel bad to take a select few pictures or random objects that are small and lightweight. Some take pictures of their children and loved ones, a teddy bear, pillow, or a favourite seasoning that they cannot find in a new country.

Maybe you need to take your desk elephant.

Just remember… it’s okay to take it with you! #phdlife is hard, don’t make it harder.


As you explore different countries, you experience lots of different cultures. To fully embrace them you should always go with an open mind and a little bit of curiosity.

As travel restrictions ease, vaccinations roll out and we slowly moved to a life post COVID pandemic, I hope this list helps you organize your next adventure.

Best wishes,
Your resident Seaweed Brain,
Priya Pollard

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