Often the hardest part of any trip is deciding what to carry. There are a multitude of decisions that have to be made. There are also a multitude of questions that we have to know the answer to before we can make the decisions necessary for the trip to be successful. First, remember that you are not traveling to a third world country—unless of course, you are traveling to a third world country. Even then, there are many things you can buy locally rather than packing.
The most important thing to remember is to pack light. Rick Steves, the budget travel guru, says that he has never heard an experienced traveler say, “I wish I had carried more stuff with me.” Or something like that. I find that the more I travel the less I think I need to take. I have also found it valuable—on the keep things light side—to keep my wife out of the room while I am packing. She wants to add clothes that I know I will not be wearing. I usually humor her and unpack after she moves on to her next task.
I travel heavier than most people. I am an insulin dependent person who has recently had open heart surgery. I do not let those obstacles keep me from traveling, but I do carry more supplies than the average person because of the medicines, needles, etc. that I use on a daily basis.
I am assuming that you are traveling from North America. Here is a list of the questions that need to be answered before you can determine what you need to carry with you.:
- What is the typical weather where I am headed?
- In what types of hotels am I staying?
- What types of meetings does my itinerary anticipate?
- What types of tours will I be taking?
- How much walking do I plan to do?
- How am I traveling once I land in country?
- Am I taking children with me?
- What electronic devices am I taking with me?
- Do I need to bring cash, or travelers checks?
- Do I have special dietary needs?
Let’s go through these questions one by one. What is the typical weather where I am headed? Here we are talking about the average temperatures and rainfall for the time you will be there. Weather everywhere is unpredictable. Everywhere I have ever traveled, except southern Africa, has a saying that you probably use where you live: If you don’t like the weather now, just wait a few minutes and it will change. What you can tell by the averages on temperature and rainfall is what you need to expect. It will tell you whether you need to pack long sleeve or short sleeve shirts. It will help you know what raingear to bring. Do you need a sweater? That depends on how comfortable you are in the different temperature averages. Look at the day time and the night time temperatures. Some places are hot in the day and cool or cold at night.
Remember, it is always good when you travel to dress in layers. It is easy to take off a layer as the day warms up or put on another layer as the night cools off. A good hat can keep you cool on a hot day, it can also keep rain off you if necessary. Just remember to take it off whenever you are entering a church, priests really do not like men with their heads covered in church.
In what types of hotels am I staying? This answer will help you determine what to bring. Most hotels have shampoo and soap in the rooms. I usually travel with my own shampoo, I am a bit of a Primadonna there. I know they will have soap regardless. I bring the rest of my toiletries with me, even though they can be purchased locally, toothpaste in particular is not something I want to be looking for in my free time in a new city.
Most countries do not use wash cloths unless you are in a five-star hotel. So, if you have to have a wash cloth, bring them with you. Do not worry about towels regardless of where you are staying, unless you are in a hotel that has a common bathroom and shower down the hall. I also bring bedroom slippers, but I worry about my feet more than most because of the diabetes. If you need snacks at late hours I recommend bringing them with you. Many hotels with room service do not have 24 room service. I always bring snacks in case my blood sugar takes a dive late at night. I have found that when I am traveling abroad my blood sugar tends to be lower than in America. I think this is because the food has less sugar in it. It also has fewer or no preservatives in most other countries. Also, I am walking a lot more than I do at home and that greatly helps regulate blood sugar.
What types of meetings does my itinerary anticipate? Obviously, I am going to pack differently if I have a meeting with a lawyer while I am traveling than I am going to place if I am merely traveling as a tourist. A business meeting in the midst of my trip might also mean that I need to bring a lap top computer with me as well as a suit and tie. Most places I have traveled to have relaxed their dress codes. Very few places, unless you are going out of an expensive meal in an exclusive restaurant, will not accept you in shorts and a tee shirt. Some sights, in certain countries, require you to cover up your shoulders and your knees. It is important to honor these dress codes as it shows a greater understanding and appreciation of the local culture. As well as keeps you from being publicly called out and embarrassed.
What types of tours will I be taking? Are you seeing Europe by boat? That requires different packing and thinking than if you are seeing Europe by train. While both tours mean a lot of walking, the river cruise means that you will be leaving your bags in the same room virtually every day. While a train tour means that you will be lugging your bags on and off of train platforms, sometimes two or three times in a day. While there are carts to make such a task easier, you still have to get your bags onto and off the train.
On one particular trip I took early in my traveling career I carried one bag too many. We were in four or five countries in Europe, traveling around on a Eurail pass. That meant that the man traveling with me had to help me on and off trains. He had to help me at escalators and the like. Before the trip was over this extra strain, which might not seem like much, created friction on our trip that didn’t need to be there. I could have avoided the tension by packing smarter and lighter.
How much walking do I plan to do? This is one of the most critical questions you need to answer before you leave for your trip. There is nothing worse than not having the right shoes for a trip. Are you going to be walking around towns and cities? Are you going to be walking down long country lanes? Or, are you going to be hiking in the mountains? Each of these three options involve walking a lot. Each of these three options also require different shoes. They might also require different clothing.
It is important for you to remember this, no matter where you are going, you are likely to be walking a lot more than if you had stayed at home. Even a tour with a group will involve a lot of walking, even though the bus you are traveling on will be dropping you off close to your destinations.
How am I traveling once I land in country? Are you traveling from city to city by train, or are you staying in one city the whole time? If you are going to be staying put once you arrive in country you can pack with less restraint than if you are going to be hopping on and off trains. Will you be renting a car? That is a different consideration for packing than if you are not. Public transportation is incredible in most of the world, but it is a nightmare if you have too much stuff with you. Remember, you are going on a trip. The idea is to have less stress rather than more stress. If you can live without it, then live without it. Travel in such a way that you can enjoy the subways and street cars. This lets you engage more with the locals and that adds great value to your trip whether it is business or vacation travel.
Am I taking children with me? Children add incredible value to a trip. It is fun to open the world to your children. I will never forget my son’s love of flying on planes. I will never forget him making friends in the Quick play ground at the restaurant in Paris. I will never forget the first time my daughter saw the Eiffel Tower through the window of the Louvre. Those moments make the greatest memories that seem to grow stronger with time. Regardless of that, there are great sacrifices required to bring children with you. The younger they are, the truer this is. You will have to bring more stuff with you. You will have to rearrange your plans every day because children do not have the same limits as adults. You will also need to take some detours along the way to do some kid friendly things that might not be too exciting for the adults on the trip.
Again, I think the trade is worth it, but it means you need to bring more suitcases and if your children are too young to help carry them it might mean you have to change your mode of travel once you get in country.
What electronic devices am I taking with me? Of course, cell phones work virtually anywhere in the world these days. Your carrier likely has an international program that you can join just for the days you are gone. ATT for example has a new $10 per day unlimited phone, text, and data for days you are traveling internationally, if you use your phone. This service works in 100 countries so check with your carrier before you depart. Make sure you understand the rules before you travel, because hidden fees can run those bills up quickly.
As to what to bring, remember that you need charger plug ins, charger cords, and outlet adapters depending on what country you are in at the time. I often need my computer with me, so I bring my adapter and the charger cords to plug into the USB ports of my computer and do all my charging that way. I also bring portable chargers for those days when I am out of the room and away from power sources for the whole day. Remember, most people take photos and videos using their phones now, so, even if you are not planning on using your phone, you might be running the battery down taking photos and videos.
Also, check to make sure that all of your devices are good with the increased electrical currents in most countries. Most portable devices work on currencies from 110 to 240 volts. That means they will be fine simply plugged in with a wall converter. Europe is on 220 volts.
Do I need to bring cash, or traveler’s checks? Most people do not use traveler’s checks any more. Remember, if you bring them they can be difficult to cash depending on the country. Traveling with cash can be difficult as well. I have been in Greece, a first world, western country, and had national banks refuse to change USD $100 bills into Euros. The fear of counterfeiting seemed to play into that refusal. So, with traveler’s checks, and even US dollars, you can end up without the ability to spend money in the local area.
I find the best way to travel is with a debit or credit card that is set up to withdraw funds in the countries to which you are traveling. This allows you to use cash machines to withdraw money in the local currency. You pay a fee with your bank, but you get local cash. The one place I have had trouble with this type of transaction is in Brussels, Belgium. There we were unable to find any cash or automated teller machines and could only find bank machines that were attached to specific banks. Because we were not with those specific banks we were unable to get money from the machines. I have never been so glad to leave a country in my life. We had 5 Euros with us when we departed town.
Do I have special dietary needs? Make sure you carry all the medicines you need with you. I never plan on having to get refills abroad, even though I have gotten insulin in Europe, it is not the way I want to spend my travel day.
One thing I have learned is that most other cultures, especially first world cultures, serve food that is much healthier for you than you will get in America. Europeans, for example, do not use preservatives in their food. Therefore, there are less chemicals in the food you will eat while you are in Europe. The Europeans also cook with much less sugar than Americans use. Even their desserts are less sweet. Plus, you are likely walking a lot more than you do while you are at home. All of these things add up to a healthier lifestyle while you are traveling.
If you have specific food allergies, especially ones that are deadly serious, make sure you do independent research on the countries to which you are traveling. Learn how to communicate your food allergies in the local language, even though most of the people you encounter will have a working knowledge of English. Remember, labels on foods will be in the local language. Thus, it is critical that you be able to look at a label and tell if there are ingredients that you cannot have.
If you are traveling with a group, make sure the leader of the group knows what your food allergies are so that they can help you look out for potential problems whether you are eating in the restaurant or eating on the side of the road.
These tips should get you started. Now, go out and enjoy the world!