Packing. It seems like on the Goldilocks scale, many people fall into the “great big huge” end of the spectrum – loading up on a multitude of clothing options, from ball gowns to snowsuits, ‘just in case’. The anxiety that comes from the thought of being unprepared in an unfamiliar setting spurs us to overcompensate.
Of course, the more you travel, the savvier you become in your packing technique AND the more confident you become in your ability to problem-solve when unexpected situations arise. [Remember, it’s not your wedding day. Everything does not have to be perfect for you to have a wonderful time.] Realistic expectations, supported by a bit of trip research before you leave, are also worth their weight in gold – and will remove some weight from your suitcase.
Time is also a consideration. A week before my most recent adventure, my mother asked me if I had started packing yet. “No, I haven’t,” I told her. “I’ll pack some the night before and finish the rest the next day.” She was a bit amazed that I needed less than 24 hours to pack for a three week trip to southern Africa. She didn’t understand that I had my staples, and they go a long way to making my life easier and my packing quicker.
Here are my eight essentials for travel:
1Bathroom kit. After my first trip to Asia, I realized that just having a roll of toilet paper along wasn’t enough. I also learned that stuffing a roll of TP in your bag over long periods of time gives you a bag full of shredded TP, and the damn snowy bits stick to everything. Now I have a cosmetic bag (one of the bajillion my mother collects when she gets her free gift from Estee Lauder or Clinique) with travel-size amounts of toilet paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, petroleum jelly (prevents sore bum when you’ve got some version of Mummy Tummy), and hand lotion. Women could also stick in some tampons if they want. I carry my ‘bathroom kit’ with me everywhere: the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, you name it, it’s in my bag.
2 Trainers with wool socks. Trainers (or sneakers, tennis shoes, cross trainers, whatever) are comfortable walking shoes that ideally are water-resistant (this also means they’re sand/dust resistant, too). I wear these on the plane as they take up room in my suitcase and, let’s face it, if I were stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash I’d want a hell of a lot more than flip-flops on my feet. The wool socks are a SmartWool brand or something similar, which means they keep your feet warm when it’s cold and cool your feet when it’s hot. It’s magic! The only downside is wool takes a while to dry, so if you’re doing laundry in the sink, leave an extra day for your these socks to dry.
3 Convertible pants. These are camping pants where the bottom half of the leg zips off to make shorts. Yes, they are effectively placing a sign that reads “TOURIST” over your head, BUT when traveling to places that have a wide range of weather or temperatures, they are quite handy. They are also usually made of durable, quick-dry fabric, which makes them easy to launder. I bring mine on every trip, unless it’s a business trip, and sometimes even then.
4 Your preferred device – don’t forget the external charger! Ideally, your trip runs smoothly and you are delightedly occupied the whole time. More than likely, however, you’ll encounter delays and snafus and cancellations where you are forced to wait and wait and wait some more. To avoid going bonkers, pull out your preferred device for entertainment (makes sure it functions WITHOUT an internet connection) and you’re good to go. I’m a big reader, so I always bring my tablet that has my books pre-loaded on it. I have a friend who has movies on her phone, and another with music and card games. Whatever floats your boat. But don’t forget the emergency charger pack – that way if you’re in a pinch, you’ve got a bit more juice to help you make it through.
5 Water bottle. Going to a country where you can drink out of the tap? Great, fill up that bottle and save the Earth! Going to a country where you can’t drink out of the tap? Buy a five-liter bottle of water and top up your personal bottle when you need it, or use the hotel’s purified water facilities (if available, you lucky duck) to fill up. Going to an extra HOT country? The insulated water bottles are VERY nice – unless you like drinking water at the same temperature as saliva.
6 Medicine kit. This functions pretty much the same as the bathroom kit (with another cosmetic bag) but has a sampling of a variety of OTC meds to help you whatever your ailment: stomach/lower GI, headache/pain relief, cold/flu, sore throat, motion sickness, insomnia, plasters/Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, anti-itch cream, and any personal prescription drug you take regularly. This, like my bathroom kit, is in my carry-on bag, so if by chance my luggage takes a side journey, I still have it with me.
7 Hat. Going someplace cold? Bring a wool or synthetic cap in case it’s REALLY cold! It packs down easily. Going someplace hot? Bring a sun hat (I prefer the ones with a strap that holds it to my head when it’s super windy) and prevent nasty sunburns on your face and neck. Oh, you think sunscreen will work just as well? Well, let’s put it this way: it never hurts to use both.
8 Pack towels. Pack towels are camping towels that dry very quickly. I have an old – I mean REALLY old – set of two, but I still bring them along on most of my journeys. Like fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will tell you, they’re extraordinarily useful. I once used mine during a long layover in Qatar, where the AC must have been set below freezing. Drying your extra long or thick hair? Done. Need to wrap damp laundry in your suitcase? No problem. Want to sit on the grass and/or sand and/or hot asphalt? Or not sure you want to sit on that public seat? Either way, you’re covered.
Really, when packing for a trip, the best tip is to KNOW THYSELF. Know what you use, what your habits are, and what you like. For example, I am not a huge beach person, so I didn’t put a sarong on the list. That is because I am rarely in my swimsuit in public. As a result, a sarong wouldn’t be useful to me. However, for some, it would be necessary and could, in fact, double as the pack towel I have listed as #8. (I did have a sarong keep me warm on a dawn ascent to Mount Bromo in Indonesia once.) Of course, understanding where you’re going is helpful too, but many times we THINK we know what it’s like where we’re headed, and then…SURPRISE! I have learned that it’s always good to be prepared, and these eight items will help you be just that.