What should you pack for a trip to the US?

The big day is fast approaching, and it's time to start packing for your USA trip.

That's when the stress starts to set in: what should you bring? 

It's best to travel light, and you will certainly have some choices to make. You'll need to consider a number of factors such as the destination, the weather forecast, your airline's baggage restrictions, etc. 

This article contains a ton of information to help make things easier for you.
 

#1. Carry-on baggage: What are the essentials? 

what to bring in your carry-on
What should you put in your carry-on?

Whether it's because they have sentimental value or because you need them to travel, certain items should be kept close at hand.

  • Your passport.
     
  • Your printed ESTA authorization.
     
  • Your airline ticket and boarding pass.
     
  • Your car keys and house keys. 
     
  • Your driver's license (valid and in the Latin alphabet) AND your international driver's license (required by some rental companies).

    You will need both of these for picking up your rental car
license to drive in the US
Most European licenses are valid in the U.S.
  • Photo ID, your bank/credit cards and some cash in US dollars.
     
  • Your mobile phone and other electronic devices you might need (phone charger, camera, laptop computer, portable video games, MP3 player, electric razor, memory card, etc.). 

    Note that you can pack these items in a laptop bag or camera case, in addition to your carry-on bag. However, the weight of this accessory bag will count towards the weight of your carry-on bag

    These items should be easy to remove from your bag at the security checkpoint.
     
  • Your headphones: if you have a recent iPhone, make sure you don't just bring the headphones provided by Apple.

    These don't have a standard electrical connection (jack). Without an adapter, you won't be able to connect to the in-flight entertainment system.
what to bring on your usa road trip
Bring the right headphones
  • Fragile or valuable items: glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses, jewelry, etc.
     
  • Your medications: medications must be identified by a label printed by a health professional or by the manufacturer. 

    If you are taking medication that could pose a problem at customs, it is a good idea to bring an official document listing your health problems. 

    This is not mandatory, but it could save you trouble when you go through customs and security. 

    If this document is in English, even better.
  • The exchange voucher or contact information of the first hotel or apartment you will be staying at on arrival in the US. You may be asked to provide this information at customs. 
     
  • A small kit of personal hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, makeup, tampons or pads, wipes, hand sanitizer, deodorant, etc.). 

    Make sure that all these personal items meet liquid volume restrictions.
things to bring in the plane
Bring your personal basics
  • A T-shirt and underwear, in case your checked baggage gets lost.  
     
  • A book, magazines or e-book reader/tablet.
     
  • If you're a smoker, your disposable lighter (e.g. Bic) must be placed in your hand baggage.
     

:fleche: emoji Liquid and aerosol restrictions
 

All liquids in your carry-on baggage must be in containers of 100 ml/100g or less.

Note that it is not possible to take a 200-ml bottle and fill it halfway.

All these containers must be packed in a transparent, resealable plastic bag (e.g. freezer bag) with a maximum capacity of 1L

Only one bag of liquids per passenger is allowed. Be sure to take it out of your carry-on bag at the security checkpoint

Larger containers (shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc.) can be placed in your checked baggage. 

 

#2. Checked baggage: What to bring?

Luggage list usa trip
Packing your suitcase wisely is a must

Start packing your suitcase a few days in advance. That way you'll be sure not to forget anything.

Before you do anything else, check the weather forecast for the next few days, as it won't do any good to bring the wrong clothes for the weather

There are many weather websites to choose from, such as AccuWeather

  • Clothing and underwear: U.S. weather can be very variable. Bring less items, but a little of everything.

    In general, you will need: socks, underwear, shorts and T-shirts, pants and long-sleeved tops, a semi-formal outfit, a sweater/fleece and pyjamas.

    For more information, read the article "What clothes should I bring to the US?". 
     
  • Shoes and sandals: it is a good idea to bring at least two pairs of comfortable shoes. You'll be glad to have an extra pair if it rains. 

    If you plan to go out, be sure to bring dress shoes as well.

    Walking/hiking shoes are recommended for some hikes. Find out before you go. 
What shoes to bring to the US
Bring the right shoes
  • A hat or cap.
     
  • A raincoat or windbreaker for rainy days or hikes at high altitudes.
     
  • Your swimsuit and a beach towel.
     
  • A converter / adaptor: across North America, electricity runs on 110 volts.
adapter for the USA
Bring an adapter to use your devices
  • A first aid kit (bandages, disinfectant, painkillers, sunburn ointment, etc.).
     
  • A more elaborate personal hygiene kit (razors, shaving cream, hairbrush, nail clipper, moisturizer, hair products, etc.).
     
  • A reusable water bottle to help protect the environment.
what am i allowed to bring on the plane
Avoid plastic water bottles
  • Small backpack (10 to 15 L), which you can also use as a beach bag or extra baggage on your flight home.
     
  • A curling iron or hairdryer, if these are part of your daily routing. Although… you'll be on holiday, after all. ;) 
     
  • Your camera charger.

 

CHECKLIST

To make sure you don't forget anything, check out our packing checklist for your US vacation.

You can print this checklist by clicking here.

 

:fleche: emoji Regulated European products

what can I bring to the US
Make sure your products are allowed

Of course, you can bring specialties from home in your checked luggage, whether for your personal consumption or to offer as gifts

  • Up to 1L of wine or alcoholic beverages per traveller (aged 21 and over). Additional quantities will be subject to US duties and taxes. 
     
  • Up to 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2 kg of tobacco.
     
  • Cheese (firm and semi-firm) that does not contain meat. 
     
  • Candy and chocolate.
     
  • Commercial canned goods.
     
  • Cooked foie gras in vacuum packed jars and properly labelled. 
     

It is very important to declare these products

For further details on food items that are allowed (and not allowed), see the following list.

 

#3. Airline baggage policies

weight of luggage us airlines
Weight your luggage if you can

While most airlines allow one checked baggage item of 23 kg per traveller, as well as a carry-on bag of 13 kg, it is best to check your airline's policies.

This will avoid unpleasant surprises at the airport, as overweight fees are generally very high.

If you think you may be over the maximum weight, it is sometimes more economical to pay for an extra bag

Find out more:

#4. 10 tips for a successful trip
 

 

  1. If you're travelling with battery-operated electronic devices, be sure to charge them so that they are functional when you pass through security, as the officers may ask you to turn them on. 
     
  2. If you are unable to do so, your electronic devices may be seized. 
     
  3. Use soft bags rather than hard suitcases. They are easier to fit in the trunk of the car or in the RV, especially for family or group trips.
     
  4. Label all your luggage with your full name, phone number and the accommodation you will be staying at when you arrive in the U.S. If your luggage is lost, it will be easier to find you. 

    Don't forget to remove all old travel tags.
    Old travel tags must go!
  5. Tie something colourful (such as a ribbon) to the handle of your checked baggage items. They will be easier to spot on the luggage carousel and you will avoid confusing them with other similar bags.
     
  6. Put your clothes in ziploc or freezer bags and squeeze all the air out of the bag. That way your clothes won't get wrinkled and will take up less space in your suitcase.
     
  7. Make photocopies of your identity documents, drug prescriptions and airline tickets, and put these copies in your checked baggage. Also give photocopies to two people you trust, who may be able to help you if you run into problems.

    Scan your passport (or take a photo) and email yourself a copy
     
  8. Check the expiry date of your passport and credit cards.
     
  9. Never travel without medical insurance. It is absolutely essential. If you think you're insured through your credit card, check the terms and conditions before leaving.
     
  10. At customs, don't make jokes about the contents of your baggage or the reason for your trip to the U.S. American customs officers aren't known for their great sense of humour. 

 

And there you go!

All that remains is to enjoy your US vacation. Have a great trip!

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to share them in the comments section below.

Karine Beaudin

An enthusiast of our great outdoors and a travel advisor within the Authentik team, it’s with great pride that I share our country’s best-kept secrets and hidden treasures with the rest of the world. Welcome to our neck of the woods !

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