“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller
As an admitted over-packer, I often have difficulty determining which items are essential and which are not—especially when making preparations for overseas travel. The whole clothing issue is dependent in large part upon the season, and the majority of toiletry items that I pack are non-negotiable. Beyond that (and an umbrella and/or raincoat), I have settled upon ten things that I would classify as “Do Not Leave Home Without” necessities. I will briefly discuss them below, though not necessarily in order of importance.
- Passport – This one is obvious as you will never even make it onto the plane without yours. Of particular importance in light of the recent disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines jet is the need to secure your passport to the greatest extent possible. Make sure you have a photocopy of the original—which you will have to produce should you lose your passport abroad—and take precautionary measures to protect it exactly as you would the original. (This is when a theft-proof bag comes in handy…see below for more info.)
- Plug Adaptors and Converter – I purchased a nice combo kit from Best Buy before we traveled overseas for the first time. It includes a relatively heavy-duty converter and multiple plug adaptors designed to work with most any outlet in the world. Since some overseas outlets are recessed into the wall, I also picked up an extra component that—when plugged into the wall first—easily accommodates the plugging in of various implements. While this was a bit cumbersome at times, it enabled me to utilize existing outlets (with the addition of a plug adaptor as well) to operate my electronics…i.e. charge my cell phone and camera batteries. Many travel-size dual-voltage appliances (such as laptops, some cell phones, flat irons, and hair dryers) can run on both 110-volt and 220-volt currents. In that case, only a plug adaptor is required. Just be sure that the switch is turned to the correct voltage before using these appliances. (Many overseas hotels have built-in hair dryers for patron convenience.) For more information about converters and adaptors and when to use each, visit http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/passports-and-international-travel/electricity-overseas-converters-adapters-and-beyond.
- Camera(s) – For me, the days of traveling with a single camera are long gone. I routinely carry my full-size DSLR camera, a small SONY Cyber-shot, as well as my iPhone, and utilize each one for a different purpose. For quick uploading to Facebook or Twitter, I generally depend on the iPhone. The Sony takes amazingly good pics considering its size and range and has panoramic and video capabilities that are easy to use. It is also the perfect size to slip into my pocket or purse when making a climb over rough terrain or in close quarters (such as hiking through mountainous San Marino or climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa/the Duomo in Florence). I use my large camera when it can be easily carried, or when I want the best quality photographs. I am known to carry all three at once more often than not!
- Guidebook(s) and Maps – I am a firm believer in having a reliable guidebook (such as Rick Steves’ informative volumes) at my fingertips for quick reference. It is also wise to pick up a map from your hotel or a tourist information center as you will likely find yourself referring to it over and over again.
- Smartphone – Useful not only for obvious reasons (photos, phone calls, texting, emails, etc.), but also for quick access to handy travel apps (trip advisor, currency converter, translators, interactive maps, etc.), podcasts, notes, and reminders. Just be sure to get a SIM card for the region you intend to visit or set up an international calling/data plan before you go. Failure to do this can result in unexpected—and shocking—consequences! (Another story, another time…)
- Cash and Credit Card(s) – Opinion varies from person to person as to whether you should exchange your money before or after arriving overseas. I, personally, prefer to make daily withdrawals from an ATM once I arrive in the country I am visiting. I carry only enough cash to cover my expenses for one day—two at most—rather than running the risk of being mugged or pickpocketed and having all of my travel funds lifted in one fell swoop. I prefer to use a credit card for purchases when possible. (Be sure to contact your credit card company before you leave the country and notify them that you will be using your card abroad.) For money advice beyond what I am equipped to provide, check out http://www.fodors.com/news/exchanging-your-3870.html.
- Anti-theft bags – I invested in a variety of anti-theft gear for sheer peace of mind. The last thing I want to worry about while conquering new frontiers is whether or not a stealthy thief will succeed in divesting me of my personal information and/or documents, money, etc. The bag that I routinely carry is a cross-body model that is large enough to hold necessary items, but not too bulky or heavy to carry around all day. It has wire mesh panels in front and back, hidden zippers with zipper locks, and a slash-proof strap. As an additional precaution, I store my passport and credit cards in an RFID-blocking wallet inside the bag. I also have a backpack and a camera bag with the same safety features as my mini-messenger bag. I would love to find a cute, mid-size convertible backpack/purse with anti-theft features, but so far have not found one that suits my fancy. I intend to keep looking…
- Luggage scale – This handy-dandy little gadget is small enough and light enough to easily tuck into a corner of your suitcase. Using it to weigh your bags before checking them at the airport is a simple way to save those steep overweight baggage fees.
- Travel Journal – A first-hand account of your travels in written format will cement the details of your experience for a lifetime. Not only is it an inexpensive memento, but also one that is uniquely reflective of your own perspective. A travel journal can be as simple as a small lined notebook or as fancy as a pricey leather-bound book. Journal writing is most effective if you take time each day—even just a few minutes—to jot down your thoughts and activities while it is fresh in your memory. I make a point of doing this on a daily basis—even when it means sacrificing a little sleep!
- Comfortable Walking Shoes – Last but not least, a pair of comfortable walking shoes is a must! There is nothing more distracting or likely to cut sightseeing short than a poorly fitting pair of shoes. I wear rubber-soled sandals in the summer (the ones pictured above are Merrells…love them!) and Gore-Tex, rubber-soled boots in winter. Thankfully, today’s active footwear is not only comfortable, but also fairly attractive. Be sure to break in your walking shoes before striking out on your trip!!