“There are only two kinds of travelers; those that pack light, and those that wished they had packed light!” I don’t know if anybody has said this before me. Perhaps they have? Maybe I heard it somewhere and repeated it? Until somebody shows me otherwise I am going to lay claim to this tidbit of wisdom. But, when it comes to traveling, near or far, for short time or several weeks, truer words have never been spoken.
Schlepping way too much luggage, that weighs way too much, will spoil any kind of fun and hold you back in many ways while you are traveling. I have traveled too many times with items and clothes that I didn’t really need or never used. I try every trip to only take the necessities but somehow I just can’t help myself. I mean, after all, who knows, I may need that extra charger, back up camera, or unabridged dictionary? This isn’t just about the weight of your bag, but about security of many things that you won’t ever use while you’re out of the country. You can’t lose it if you don’t take it!
A few years ago I started trying to pare down my take-with-me list and my travel-process. It’s a constant struggle. So, I came up with a list. Who doesn’t work well from a list? The following, used with some adjustment for your own needs, may help you have a better travel experience.
The first rule of packing light, whether it be your carry on or checked bags, “DON’T TAKE WHAT YOU DON’T NEED!”
1. Unless you are going to be renting a car do you really need your driver’s license? Leave it at home. Taking it just increases the chances of losing it. If you traveling internationally a passport is the preferred choice of identification and sometimes the only acceptable ID. While you’re at it, empty your wallet or purse from passes, loyalty punch cards, spare keys, notes and anything else that you don’t need. You can put them back in your purse or wallet when you return. Many times, upon my returns, I decided I didn’t really need them in my wallet in the first place.
2. Don’t take your car or house keys! Unless you’re leaving a car at the airport, leave your keys at home or with whoever may be dropping you or picking you up at the airport. The keys will just weigh you down, and again, why take the chance of losing them? If you lose them, you have even more problems when you get home.
3. Always use one credit card and one ATM/debit card… with a back-up plan. The back-up plan may manifest itself in different ways, especially if you are traveling alone. In that case, take a second set of cards, preferable from a different account, but make sure they are stored in a separate but equally accessible safe location. You should carry one set in your wallet or on your person, and one set hidden away in your checked bag or carry on. If you get your wallet or back pack stolen there is always another set in your other bag. If you are traveling with a friend or spouse, have them carry the other set. By doing this you're mitigating the risk of loss.
Almost all foreign countries will accept your ATM card to access local currency only. Using your ATM to access local cash is also the best way to get the best exchange rate. There will be however, international exchange fees on your credit card or ATM statements. The fees usually don’t add up to very much. Check with your bank to make sure either of them can be used out of your home country. Tell your bank what countries you will be in, and on what days.
A couple of years ago I was traveling with a friend. He had called his bank and told them he would be in China. No problem, except that he assumed that China also included Hong Kong. When he checked into the hotel in Hong Kong his credit card was denied because he failed to tell the bank he would be in what they considered to be a different country.
Credit cards are the preferred method of payment for hotels, rental cars, and some other necessities. However, many countries don’t take credit or debit cards even for restaurants. Most all of the stores and vendors want local cash only. If you’re dealing with a street vendor and you ask if they accept credit cards, they will move on to another customer very quickly. If you use cash, you can also bargain with a street vendor for a lower price! Plus, I’ve been to countries that will charge additional amounts for you to cover their credit card transaction fees. This happened to me when I went to pay our group hotel bill in Belize. I was with a large group for which I was the leader, and we stayed for a week, so the charge was significant. When the hotel wanted the credit card fees that he would be charged I went to the ATM in the lobby and withdrew the cash and stayed on budget.
4. Cash: I recommend $100.00-200.00 USD. Plus, whatever cash you want to exchange for local money as soon as you get to the destination airport. Money belts and other forms of such are great accessories. Like the credit cards, your cash (especially in large amounts), should be split up into two or more locations. You might have your spouse or traveling partner carry half the cash. Or, leave half the cash in a different carry-on or checked bag. Again, by doing so you can mitigate the risk of losing your wallet or back pack.
By the way… I always save back a little American cash for the return trip so I can get something to eat when I return to airports here in the States. Subway has never tasted so good as when you haven’t had a sandwich in the last 30 days or more!
Many countries close to the US will accept U. S. Dollars, but many will not. Whether they do or not, check the exchange rate they day you depart, or you could end up losing a lot of money in the transaction. Often money exchanger's can smell an uninformed American. Anytime a business or service provider chargers more to Americans They call that the “American Tax.” Unfortunately, I’ve paid this tax way too many times.
5. Insurance… Do you need travel or emergency health insurance? The answer is YES! The travel insurance that is usually offered by the airlines, will cover the cancellation of your airfare, but it often also covers some other out of pocket expenses. Check what your airline carrier offers to find out more.
Health insurance coverage: Include in this search process your current healthcare insurance. In some countries this can be used for major necessities, others not at all. Check with your insurance carrier before you leave.
When it comes to transportation or health insurance perhaps the most important coverage is EMERGENCY EVACUATION INSURANCE. For what I think is a very reasonable fee you can purchase insurance that enables you to fly out of the country and back to the nearest hospital in the United States. Let’s face it, while many disparage the current status of healthcare coverage in our country, it’s still the absolute best in the world. If you are in a country that has third world healthcare coverage or less, and have a major accident or life threatening situation, the best thing you can do it is “get the Hades out of there” as soon as possible! Emergency Evacuation Insurance pays for an airline or even a private jet to come get you and return you to the nearest city in the United States. If you are somewhere on the Eastern seaboard of the Pacific Rim you are likely to be flown to Los Angeles or Seattle. If you are somewhere east of the Atlantic Ocean, you will likely be flown to New York or Miami. If you are in Central America or somewhere South of that, Houston or Miami are the nearest destination with the healthcare you may need.
The fees vary depending on the number in your group. You may never need this, and the chances are remote that you will, but the fees for this are still very justifiable. When traveling with a group of more than six the rates go down a lot!
6. COPIES: Always, always, always, make a paper copy of your passport or government issued VISA, insurance, flight itineraries and other important documents. Store them in a separate location from your originals that can be accessed in case of your backpack being stolen or left behind! Make two sets; one to carry in your backpack, one to store in your other carry on or your checked bag, or both! While you’re at it make a paper copy of both sides of your credit and debit cards with customer service phone numbers written on the paper in case you need to make a call for stopping charges or replacing the cards.
Plus, leave a complete set of paper copied of all items at home with a trusted friend or family member. Unfortunately, I have experienced losing my credit cards and Passport/Visa while in another country. I simply texted and called my wife with pleas to call the credit card companies, cancel their use, and make plans for a replacement card. The Passport and Visa replacement was a different process. I will cover that later in other post.
Make a daily agenda with hotel reservations, addresses, emails, phone numbers, websites and contacts to get a hold of you if necessary! Include a list of known personal contacts that will be visited and the days that you will be with them. In the case of an emergency these people can tell of your last known whereabouts.
Create the “Football.” I always carry copies of my important papers in a manila envelope. I call it the “Football.” Many years ago I learned that when a U. S. president travels there is one secret agent that carries a briefcase. Inside that briefcase with a manila envelope with all of the instructions to be carried out in case of an emergency. The Secret Service calls this “the Football.” My Football also has copies of all of the above items for me and my traveling companions. I tell a few of the team traveling members about the location of the “Football” and instruct them about what to do in the case of an emergency or in the event that I am incapacitated.
Recommended for Backpack, purse or other personal travel bags:
7. Cell phone (with chargers) - All smart phones are now required by law to be unlocked so that any sim card chip acquired from another country can be inserted into your phone. You should learn how to do this before you leave. Take a paperclip just for that purpose. When I travel to another country the second thing I do, often even before I leave the airport, is to acquire my phone card. BTW, the first thing I do is convert my cash to local currency. You can’t secure a phone number and service without local cash.
If you have a friend or colleague that is from the country where you will be traveling, consult with them as to which phones service is best for your needs. The main ingredient in this equation of acquiring phone services is data, and, I always make sure I get at least a 4G data speed service.Get whatever minutes you may think you need, but what you really need is internet access, for communicating via email, texting, Facebook, WeChat, getting you connected to WIFI. But, get the most amount of data you can afford. If you can get an unlimited data package do so! You won’t regret it, I promise you. You may need to leave the airport to get what you need. But until you get your data sim card you phone can only be used with WIFI.
8. Camera (with Charger or batteries, and extra Memory Cards). My biggest amount of weight is my camera system. I am a professional photographer and I somehow feel compelled to bring the tripod, the extra lenses and other paraphernalia that very often I don’t need or use. In the summer of 2018 I went to Xinhua, Hunan, China just to photograph the Rice Terraces. I took my load of equipment and still did not use most of it. When I returned stateside I immediately started to shop for a smaller lighter system. (more about that on another blog entry).
Batteries for all of your electronic needs are usually pretty accessible but a back-up set in your backpack is probably wise. Make sure you take batteries and chargers so that when you head out for a long day away from the home base or hotel room you have plenty of charged up juice for your cameras. Most countries have standard AA or AAA batteries, or even 9-volt square batteries for sale locally at stores and other places of commercial sales, but most high end cameras have their own proprietary battery and charging systems. Buy an extra battery or two for your proprietary systems before you leave.
9. I-Pad/Mini I-Pad/I-Pod, Kindle or laptop for longer trips, if you need or can’t live without them. I have downsized my laptops and other digital devices, but they are simply the best because of the versatility for so many functions. Think about what a device or two of this nature can hold, books, journals, cameras, calculators, and so much more! If you must feel the paper pages, don’t carry more than one book.
10. Toiletry and miscellaneous items: soap, toothpaste, shampoo, razor, etc. You probably have a grip on what you need, especially if you won’t have access to some more specialty items. I like to take liquid soap in a small container. Small bars of soap are awkward sometimes messy to repack in your bag. Take only take the travel-size items as other bigger sizes will be confiscated during airport security scanning.
Sun Screen! Take a small travel size bottle in your back pack and a larger supply in your checked bag. If you have to have a specific level of sun protection, you should take it with you. A variety of different levels of sun screen are often not to be found in many areas of the world.
Disinfectant Hand Sanitizer – Take a very accessible small supply in your backpack, purse. In most international countries hand washing is not as prevalent as it should be. Sometimes, a clean water supply and soap are not available. Washing your hands often is probably the single best way you can prevent illness when you travel. If you check a bag make sure you have a larger supply located there.
Three-and-a-half ounce is the travel size that is most commonly allowed to be carried on. I often will buy or collect empty 3 oz. dispensing plastic bottles and fill them with the items I need that I can’t find in travel size. I also recommend placing items in zip-lock bags in the event that your supplies leak or break open).
A supply of Wet-Wipes, and a small roll of TOILET paper is a must! Wet Wipes are great for washing your face and hands when you are away from a properly working bathroom. Many foreign bathrooms do not supply TP, or the supply is out, probably stolen by traveler before you that didn’t bring any! I always take Wet Wipes, and a small roll of TP in my back pack and often a full roll if I’m going to be staying in remote places without the benefits of hotels and retails options.
11. A quick-drying hand towel. There are a variety of quick drying towels available for purchase on-line. The camping supply areas in most discount stores often has items with quick dry ability. This are so valuable when trying to travel light. You really don’t need to bring a full size towel. A quick dry towel also may be the only towel you have access to for a day or two! Here’s a travel hack I’ve learned in this area. Collect those packets of pellets that are made to keep moisture out of the items that are being shipped to you in electronics and other products. When you use your quick dry towel, wring it out as best you can, place the towel and a dry packet in a zip lock bag, and when you next need to use a towel, it will be dry! This also keeps you from having to repack a wet towel in your bag.
12. Speaking of dry fit – Every piece of clothing I take are dry fit, quick drying, lightweight materials. Every. Single. Piece! I have dry-fit t-shirts, dry-fit polo/golf shirts, dry-fit cargo shorts, dry-fit long slacks, even dry-fit underwear. They are light-weight in your carry on or suitcase and can fold or roll up smaller than you can imagine to take up very little space! Now to be sure, my travel is almost always during the summer and warmer months and usually to places that stay warm longer. Winter months and cooler weather locations may have to re-think this packing tip, but for me, it’s just perfect.
Perhaps the best part of dry-fit clothing options is not the packing, but the wear and use during your stay. Dry-fit clothes are super comfortable. They wick away sweat and moisture. They dry quickly when they get wet. Dry-fit clothes can be washed at night in a bathroom sink or shower, wrung out to almost dry, hung in the bathroom and worn again clean the next morning.I haven’t done so yet, but one could literally travel with just one or two sets of clothing and wear clean clothes every day! This can seriously save you a lot of packing space!
13. A pair of loose fitting sandals or flip flops/shower shoes to be worn on the plane. You do not want to be that person that walks around the airplane with bare feet. Nor do you want to be the one following that person. For your protection and everybody else’s on the plane, carry a light weight pair of flip-flops in your back pack. High altitudes cause feet swelling and your laced up shoes on a long overseas trip could get very uncomfortable.
14. One change of light-weight clothes, in the event that the luggage is delayed/lost. This is also why I only carry light-weight, dry-fit clothing when I travel. A clean extra shirt, maybe an extra pair of shorts, and an extra pair of underwear can feel really good after 24-30 plus hours of traveling form your home bed until you lay your head on a pillow in another country. If I don’t get my lost luggage the day after arrival, I just head to the nearest store to get what I need until the bags show up.
15. BIBLE, Journal, and pens for note taking while you’re gone and full reporting when you get home. Wow, digital technology has changed this for the better the last few years. I used to carry my study Bible, now it’s all on my cell phone. I used to carry a larger journal for all sorts of notes and contemplating entries. Now it’s a voice recorder, a camera (with video options), a note pad, calculator and more… all on my phone! There are apps for everything these days. One of my favorites is the Google Translation App. I can speak into my phone and have a word or two translated into almost any language.
16. And finally: Never leave home without song in your heart, a smile on your face and a peace that passes all understanding knowing that wherever you go, and whatever you do, God will hold your hand today, and for eternity!
Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at email@example.com.