Nan’s advice is spot-on, especially about packing the gear necessary to make your trip both effortless (Camp Dry is ingenious) and memorable (bring a real camera, despite the temptation to shed weight and bulk). Any foreign country is enjoyed best when you are not burdened by too much possession, especially since you might add to said possession as you accumulate souveniers such as clothes, trinkets, etc.
Reading his post stirred some of my longing to travel once again, an old habit of mine put on the back-burner while I get my family started. It won’t be long before I hit the road again. But until then, I’m glad I get to live vicariously through others like Nan.
Nan’s post was about how to pack, but it made me brainstorm about what to pack (plus some other miscellaneous advice). Below are some of my contributions from past experience travelling to Europe, South America, and Asia.
What to Do Before Leaving
- Buy transportation tickets in advance: things may have changed since I travelled, but it was usually cheaper to purchase train tickets domestically vs. in Europe.
- Break in your shoes: be sure the shoes you’ll wear most aren’t completely brand-new, as you want to prevent surprise blisters from appearing. And if they do, don’t forget the moleskine.
- Get a travel wallet: Americans love to carry money in their back pocket, which is Christmas day for a pickpocket. Get and use something that will easily fit in your front pocket, like a money clip. While not foolproof, it’s much safer than the a neck wallet that screams, “TOURIST!”
- Pack one bag: do this both for carry-on purposes and to encourage the virtue of travelling light. All of your shit will await your return, trust me.
What Not to Pack
- An umbrella: it takes up room and weight, and it won’t hurt you to get a little wet, you freaking kitty cat!
- Unnecessary electronics: you don’t need an electric shaver. Computers are bulky, distracting, and thief magnets. And consider leaving the Kindle behind — after all, you’ve got a standing date with Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert (see below)!
- A travel pillow: besides making you look silly and taking up precious room in your lone bag, they rarely work well. And international flights tend to be more comfortable experiences than their domestic kin, even in coach, so there will be plenty of pillows and blankets.
Essentials to Bring Along
- Over-the-counter medication: besides Nan’s suggestion of Pepto, Bismol bring along some additional medication: Kaopectate (a stronger form of Pepto, a.k.a. the butt plug), Gas-X (anti-gas), and ibuprofen. You don’t need a ton of each, but bring a few pills to hold you over until you find a local drug store.
- Moleskine: in the event that hotspots or blisters form on your feet, squares of moleskine will save your hide (and your vacation). Be sure to pre-cut them into 1″-2″ squares, so you don’t have to pack unnecessary scissors.
- Hiking Shoes:I bring along one pair of shoes for daily wear, and I prefer walking boots for several reasons:
- They’re waterproof: wet feet are the bane of travel — even if you’re wearing Smart Wool, one step in a puddle or getting caught in the rain can ruin your efforts to remain comfortable. Invest in a pair of boots with Gore-Tex lining, and your feet will thank you later.
- They’re rugged: streets and sidewalks in foreign countries are often composed of bricks or cobblestones, which can nick up regular shoes and be easily tripped on. Boots are great at shrugging off these bumps.
- Higher ankles: these will help prevent ankle sprains as you twist/fall around said bricks and cobblestones.
- Off-road capability: if exploring outdoor areas like Stonehenge after a soaking rain, the traction they afford is much appreciated
- Running Shoes: for athletes like myself, I would regret not knocking out at least one epic run while overseas. Also, having a pair on-hand allows you to participate in pickup soccer games in the shadow of the Eifell Tower. Today’s minimal natural-running shoes are a good option due to their light weight. Plus, your running clothes will fit in the shoes themselves, saving packing space.
- A travel diary: especially if you follow my advice to not bring a computer, you’ll still want to record your memories while they remain fresh. My travel diaries rank among my most-precious possessions. An alternative to carrying around a bound journal is to mail yourself daily postcards and turn them into a book when you return home.
- A unabridged paperback copy of “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo: there are moments of downtime on any vacation. Having handy reading material will help fill the time waiting for trains, lunch, etc. One good long romantic novel is sufficient to keep you busy for up to four weeks (trust me). And one good long novel is “Les Misérables“, which is the perfect book if visiting Europe, especially Paris (once again, trust me). The first time I visited the continent, I and my travelling companions each brought along a copy. During outdoor picnics or late-nights back at the hotel, we would read passages aloud to one another, reminisce about that day’s visits to the Parisian streets filling that novel, and hold impromptu contests to see who had read the farthest ahead. People who bring Kindles are worried about not being busy. Reading this book in combination with sleep at night, writing postcards at breakfast, and travelling from point-to-point are more than enough to fill your time.
- A spare backpack: within your one luggage bag, bring along a backpack to use while the larger bag remains at the hotel. All of your daytime items will go in this, like your camera, jacket, and souveniers acquired along the way. Keep a pocket free to house your copy of “Les Mis!”
What to Do While There
- Get mail from home: if you are staying somewhere an extended length of time, consider giving the address out to friends/family at home, so they can write you letters. It’s a fun treat to find mail waiting for you at the hotel.
- Stay at B&Bs: it is a great way to get advice about what to do locally — I mean, who knows better than the people living there? And you can’t beat a hardy breakfast before a day of exploring!
- Don’t have a rigid itinerary: program in the flexibility needed to relax, take a side trip, do something spontaneous. My mantra: don’t worry about seeing or doing everything while travelling internationally, because I will be back someday!
I could go on and on, but the above represents some of my travel commandments I try to obey, no matter the length of the trip.
What about you, intrepid reader — any advice you have to share?