Packing for a trip has always been a stressful experience, even before some people stopped being responsible members of society who use the overhead space that is over their heads and started putting their bags in the overhead space at the front as they walk on the plane.

And while the advice of savvy business travelers, bloggers and marketing agencies may be invaluable to our future happiness as travelers, nobody has stopped to ask the most important question of all: how would a military veteran pack for a flight?

But hey, since you’re asking now, here are some essential veteran packing tips.

Understand the Mission

Anyone with military experience knows the importance of the mission. Whether you’re changing a car battery, buying a winter coat, or supporting the formation of a friendly government in a hostile region, you always have a mission.

Are you planning for temporary duty at your friend’s wedding over a three-day weekend in Napa Valley, or will you be spending a week with your potential in-laws at their cabin in Missouri? Those missions, and the required packing lists, are entirely different.

Veterans Packing Tips - Make a List

Vet Tip 1: Always start by making a list AND try to figure out what it is you’re supposed to be doing.


Check or Carry?

Drill or PT? High-fade or high-and-tight? Army or Air Force? Like so many of life’s choices, the decision on whether to check baggage or carry-on can seem like a lose-lose proposition.

Years of movement orders, deployments, and redeployments give veterans a unique insight on the nature of travel: anything you check will be lost forever.

Veteran Packing Tips - Backpacks Only

If you have old clothes you don’t want or have been keeping something for a friend you don’t like anymore, put it in a big canvas bag and check it. Go ahead and throw in anything you are too embarrassed to put out with the trash because a neighbor or sanitation worker might see it. Drop off the bag when you get to the airport and you never have to think about that stuff again.

Vet Tip 2: If you care about something and want to keep it, find a way to strap it to your body.


Strapping Things to Your Body

Carry-on travel is a way of life that requires commitment. Just as our veterans made a decision to turn their lives over in service to our nation and its people, to live under a strict code of conduct and wear whatever they are told to wear, in the manner in which the Sergeants Major tell them to wear it, so too must you make a decision to limit your clothing and personal electronics options for several days in a row.

Most travelers do carry-on by not carrying anything. Instead, they have bags with wheels, and the wheels do all the work. So why wouldn’t they pack more clothes and gadgets than most families in the world even own? If there were no wheels on bags, everyone would already know how to pack like a military veteran.

If you can’t carry it, you don’t need it. If you need it, cram it into a backpack (preferably one that matches your clothes).

Veteran Packing Tips - Carabiners are Essential to Life

Only use one backpack. Anything that doesn’t fit should be attached to the outside of the backpack or to some other part of your clothing using a large carabiner. You have to remove your jacket when you go through security anyway, so you should attach as many things as possible to it, including your backpack.

Vet Tip 3: Forget about fashion and ease of motion; you don’t care about it unless you’ll attach it to your body.


Vet Tip 3a. Find the sweet spot: carry enough things so you can easily sit down and be propped upright to take a nap at a moment’s notice, but not so much that you can’t stand up again without help.


The Day Of

Assuming, as a veteran would, that nothing about the trip will go as planned, and that you could miss your flight or spend weeks sitting in the terminal, it’s best to admit early on that your planning is useless.

On the day of your trip, throw the checked-bag you packed in the neighbor’s trash can, leave your backpack and attached belongings at home where they’ll be safe, and focus on the basics.

Wear all the clothes you might need, layering where necessary, and stuff as many pairs of socks in your pockets as you can fit. We’re not wearing our uniform on the flight because we have to, it is just easier than trying to pack it – and we’re hoping for a seat upgrade…

Vet Tip 4: If you’re supposed to have something, somebody will give it to you when you get there.


This is pretty comprehensive list of veteran packing tips, so we don’t expect you to have anything to add, but you can say thank you in the comments section.


Disclaimer: Before you purchase a ticket, you should first ensure that it is impossible to take this vacation or conduct your business using video teleconferences or phone calls. If you actually have to be there in order to be there, then you should proceed to plan and pack.