Updated: May 11
When I look back at my flight attendant career, one of the most entertaining memories I have is how terrible I was at packing my layover suitcase at the beginning of my travels. I didn’t realize how dreadful my packing skills were because I had the best intentions- to always be prepared for any situation that might arise. Although this sounds like a good strategy on the surface, it resulted in me over packing and always having to lug around the heaviest bags. Over time I realized that what I thought I need to pack in order to be prepared for unforeseen events wasn’t what I actually needed.
Through trial and error I was able to find the right balance and best techniques to make packing for layovers the easiest part of my flight preparation. Here are some of my personal tricks to make your life easy.
Even though hotels provide toiletries I always packed my own for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I couldn’t predict exactly what the hotel would provide so I found it best to bring my own supply. For example, some hotels provide toothbrushes and others don’t. (Trust me, the last thing you want to do is have to go toothbrush shopping in a foreign country with terrible morning breath).
Secondly, I am quite sensitive to certain products. I spent a lot of time in the past selecting products that are best for my skin so I couldn’t risk regularly using unknown products at the hotel.
On my first few layovers my toiletries were the last items to be tossed into my suitcase because I would use them after showering when preparing for work. I found this to be a bit of a gamble because the list of activities to get through before a flight is long, so it’s easy to accidentally forget something.
What did I do to make my life easier? I went and bought double of each product: one version to stay at home and the second bottle to permanently stay in my layover bag. By doing this I never had to worry about forgetting something. I’d pack all my layover toiletries into special bags to avoid all my clothes getting ruined if a bottle accidentally opened during transit (which happened a few times), and this bag never left my layover suitcase.
When I initially packed my suitcases to be prepared for any event, I didn’t realize that falling sick on a layover is a possibility. I thought that being prepared meant having outfits for any kind of activity, where as it actually means preparing yourself for the worst.
Over time I built up a tiny supply of medicine to keep in my bag for days I was feeling under the weather. It included herbal drinks for flu symptoms, pain medication, nasal spray etc. Due to the nature of the job it’s important to select products that are suitable, as not all medicines may be used on the job (or at all) if you work in this industry. Have a discussion with an aviation doctor to confirm that your products are a good choice.
I cannot count the amount of times I would feel less than ideal after a flight. Sometimes taking the right medication and spending your layover in bed is all you need to recover fully for the flight back home.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how many times I forgot my phone charger at home. This left me having to ration my cell phone usage outstation to keep my battery alive long enough to survive the layover.
Eventually I made one of the best decisions and bought a second charger specifically for layovers. I kept it together with my international converter (since not all countries use the same plugs). This meant that I could binge watch series on Netflix without worrying about my battery life anywhere in the world.
Dirty Laundry Bag
Do yourself a favor and get yourself a bag to keep your dirty laundry in. Even if a layover is short you will still produce clothes that need to be washed. Keeping items separated will make your life easier and you won’t risk accidentally wearing your dirty socks twice.
The great thing about this bag is that it makes unpacking back home so easy!
The dirty laundry bag goes straight into the laundry basket and everything else that’s clean can stay in your bag for the next layover.
Similar to my toiletries strategy, I bought myself a special grooming bag to permanently stay in my layover suitcase. Since having impeccable style and image is mandatory for all cabin crew I filled this bag with backups of all the products I needed- extra hair pins, hair nets, hair spray, hair styling comb etc. I thanked myself for doing this many times after I accidentally broke my hair products when letting my hair down at the hotel.
I also had makeup for an emergency. Good quality makeup is expensive so it wasn’t practical to have a double of each item. Instead I had one small emergency palette in my suitcase in case I forgot my real makeup at home (but luckily I never had to use this item).
By developing proper packing techniques I only left a few items to throw into my suitcase at the last minute before work. It made it much easier to remember to pack the few items I needed when the list was short and part of my pre-work routine
Part of managing fatigue and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to get regular exercise. This is challenging when traveling through different time zones without having any fixed routine. To combat this I made sure to have a gym membership with classes that I enjoyed at my home base, but I could normally only attend twice a week because I was on layovers across the world for the rest of the week. I therefore started to pack gym clothes into my bag to continue building a healthy lifestyle while I was away since all the hotels we stayed at had a gym.
Besides going to the gym for health purposes, I loved having the gym as a backup in case the weather was bad or the crew were boring and we didn’t land up leaving the hotel.
I also managed to see some spectacular places on layovers by having active wear with me. If the weather is great and it’s a safe location, why not get some fresh air by going on a brisk walk or run outdoors? One of my best layover memories is watching the sun rise at the coast in Melbourne while out for a morning run.
A bikini is tiny and barely takes up any space so I figured it was best to keep one in my suitcase. There’s nothing more disappointing than wanting to spend a day soaking up vitamin D from the sun at the pool only to realize you forgot to bring it. Since my home base was in a desert it was often difficult to spend time outdoors. Layovers were my chance to make up for this so it was best for me to be prepared. The bikini bag I had ensured that the rest of the clothes in my suitcase would stay dry in case I went straight from the pool to work.
Comfortable walking shoes
If you’re like me you’ll want to spend your career doing as much sightseeing as possible. I mean, why fly all the way to Beijing and not go see the Great Wall of China? Or why go to Paris and not see the Eiffel tower?
To do all this sightseeing will require a lot of walking around! And imagine doing all of this after already being on your feet for a 16 hour flight.
Do yourself a favor and invest in good quality shoes. You could even find great shoes that can function as gym shoes and sightseeing shoes. Multi-purpose shoes mean less effort packing and less weight to carry around in the bag.
As a rule of thumb, calculate the number of each item you will need and add another as a spare. You never know whether the flight back home will be delayed. Getting your clothes washed at the hotel is not free.
This list of what I needed to take across the world with me evolved over time. Packing is very personal and what I regard as essential might not be important to you. However, if you stick to this list I’m sure you’ll be more than prepared for surviving layovers. Think about what you would need that I haven’t included and share your tips with me. Don’t be shy. Even if you’re like my friend and keep a little teddy in your bag to keep you company as you travel the world, i’d love to hear.
The views presented in this article are solely the author's based on available information at the time of writing. The purpose of this blog is to inform readers, not to provide professional advice. Readers are advised to research further and consult relevant professionals, such as flight training schools. Readers are cautioned when acting on information provided and assume all risk from such actions.