Originally published 26 August 2015.
Greetings! I have been reading several other travel blogs lately, and many of them have at least one post on packing and/or travel essentials. But many of these lists leave out some very important things that I view as absolutely essential.
Also, people are amazed at how lightly Steve and I pack whether it’s a weekend excursions or a Trip of a Lifetime lasting 10-days or more. Get ready! I’m about to share some of our secrets!
1. Coconut oil
Why coconut oil? It does double duty about five times over! Is that deca-duty? It is my lotion, facial moisturizer, sunburn soother, hair mask for beach trips (curly hair is naturally dry, so when you saturate it with sand, salt, and sun, it needs a little extra moisture!), and as an added bonus, it’s anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, so you can use it as a topical ointment in a pinch. It has a million other uses, but those are the ones I make the most use of! Using coconut oil has changed the way I pack my toiletries.
Ok, part of the beauty of travel is unplugging sometimes. But you can still unplug from social media, e-mail, phone calls, texts, etc. all day long while still using the benefits that come with bringing your smartphone. Some of my favorite travel apps are:
We can use the full app on wi-fi or download the city we’re be visiting before we leave and have access to maps and reviews to restaurants, activities, and hotels/hostels/B&Bs!
This is how I blog abroad. This is also how I write messages to Steve when we’re in a cab or a place where I’m not sure it’s ok to talk. This is where I keep my post card list. This is where I type out our itinerary for the day when I know we won’t have access to wi-fi (what we want to see, addresses, hours of operation, our hotel phone number and address, anything I think we might need to know or be reminded of).
Yes, I use my iPhone camera to take pictures of all the fun we’re having, but it’s also handy when I don’t have time to type or write things down. I can just snap a picture of the name of the restaurant we went to so I can remember to review it or include it in the blog later. I take pictures of books I want to look up at my library or on Amazon, and I should start taking pictures of everything we pack, just in case. I’ve also read that some people take pictures of their passports, itineraries, visas, backs of their credit cards, etc., just in case those things get stolen. Snap a picture, e-mail a copy to yourself and/or a friend of family member, and you have an electronic copy of all those important documents, just in case.
Steve and I travel with United more than with other carrier. We both have the app on our phone, and it’s saved us a time or two! You have mobile boarding passes, all your flight information, and you can even see where your equipment is coming from. You can even purchase tickets from the app and see how many miles you’ve accumulated!
Sure, there are maps available in lots of touristy places and in guidebooks, but the one on my phone tells me where I am now, which helps me figure out which direction I need to go next!
I don’t use this for every trip, but it was very valuable for my trip to Canada with my mom and brother. This is your one-click spot to keep all your flight info (and companions if you’re coming from different places), accommodation info (what was the address and phone number for the hotel again? It’s in my e-mail somewhere…), event information (plays, group trips, anything you received an e-mail ticket for), and more. Just forward your e-mails with all the information to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it’s available to you offline!
This is a currency converter. So, you have all this foreign money, and you see how much it’s worth where you are, but how much are you actually spending in American dollars? Just type in the amount of currency you have or what you’re about to spend, and the app calculates it for you in the US Dollar (USD) amount you can understand quickly.
What? The Eiffel Tower is 33 kilometers from where you landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport? How far is that? Can I walk there? Just type it into the Convert app and it’ll tell you how far that is in miles, yards, feet, inches, meters, centimeter, millimeters, and nautical miles! You can also convert weight, time, speed, temperature, volume, area, and more. It comes in handy when converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, too!
This one is powered by Google Translator, and I use it to figure out how to say things like, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Yes,” “No,” and “Bathroom” before I travel to a new place. You type in a word in English, choose what language into which you need it translated, and there you go! You can also have it spoken to you so you know how it sounds.
A friend just told me about this app, and I love it! It’s an easy, fun, interactive way to learn the language of the place you’re going. Start it two or three weeks before you leave, and you’ll be able to communicate pretty well by the time you get there! It just takes a few minutes a day!
I usually take my hardcopy Bible with me. It has been with me since my first trip overseas to Japan in 2006! But sometimes, knowing there will be weight restrictions or if I know I’ll be doing wet or very active things, I leave it safely at home and use this app. You can highlight, mark your page, even choose from several reading plans! It gives you access to numerous versions of the Bible (English as well as in other languages), and you can download any version you want so you can use it offline as well.
3. Phone Charger Case
I have been using a phone charging case ever since I got my first iPhone three years ago, and I don’t care how cute other cases are, I am sticking with mine! I got mine from Amazon for about $30, and it will keep my phone going strong for up to two days. It uses my phone’s charger, so I don’t have to keep up with multiple chargers, and if I charge it with my phone in it overnight, I literally have a 200% charge for that day’s adventures! Just make sure you get one that is “MFI” (made for iPhone).
4. Power Strip
Many countries just don’t require rooms to have as many outlets as the US does, so we were always scrambling to find that extra outlet for one of our phones, or my waterproof camera, or a laptop, or Steve’s GPS watch. You don’t have to bring a full-size power strip that will take up too much precious space in your carry on. We have a three-outlet power strip that uses just one outlet wherever we are, and that’s usually plenty for Steve and me. Just don’t forget your adaptor! Google what the outlets look like in the country where you’ll be. Adaptors are pretty inexpensive, and often hotels have extras if you forgot yours. Having a power strip also ensures you don’t need to have multiple adaptors!
5. Phone Charger
Should be a no-brainer, but it’s ALWAYS at the top of my packing list! And any other chargers you may need. But be sure to check all your cords to see if any of them can go to more than one thing. Steve’s phone charger also works for my waterproof camera!
6. Ear Buds
I hardly ever use my earbuds at home, but when I’m on a plane and they don’t have earphones to give away, it’s nice to have my own pair! I can also listen to music on my phone, watch TV or movies in-flight, or listen to a podcast or watch a show on Netflix or YouTube on my phone while I’m waiting in the airport.
7. Notebook and Pens
Because you never know when you’ll need to write something down the old fashioned way (or have a stranger on the street write something down for you or draw a map for you), and you’ll need a pen to fill out your declarations form when entering most countries (and always in the US!).
It’s a given that you’ll need your passport, so don’t forget it! I also keep my yellow vaccination card and a copy of Steve’s and my marriage license in my passport case as well. If you’re going into a country for which you need vaccinations, you need to have your yellow card handy as proof that you’ve had your shots, especially yellow fever. If not, they will vaccinate you at many boarders–and let’s be honest, they may not be using the most sterile of equipment. Get your shots in the States. As for the marriage license, when we went to get ours, the man who issued it shared a story about a man who got sick on vacation, but the hospital did not allow his wife to be with him because they didn’t have enough proof that they were married. This just covers that bas for us!
9. Plastic Bags
These can be grocery bags, laundry bags, shopping bags, or whatever else you might have handy. These are great for dirty clothes, wet clothes, wet water shoes, anything that smells funny, and many more things! I take a minimum of five. They take up almost no space, and you’ll be glad you have a few extras!
My phone usually acts as my watch, but I usually turn off my phone in-flight unless I have a purpose for having it on (listening to music, typing a note, etc.). It’s handy to have a watch around–attached to your arm or to your personal item–because you can set it to the time at your destination and keep track of how long you’ve been flying and how much longer you have to go. (Also, your phone won’t update to the time at your destination until you arrive.)
11. Travel Wallet
A friend got me a wallet and matching purse as a going away present before I left my job to travel the world and follow my dreams, and I have been using it ever since! It has two bill pockets so you can carry around more than one kind of currency (like you sometimes end up doing in Canada or if you’re visiting multiple European countries that are not using the Euro). It also has a change pocket and a place for your license and multiple cards–insurance card, credit and debit card, Nexus card, etc. It is Unbelievably handy to have!
12. Water Bottle
Nothing has changed about liquids since 2006: you cannot bring liquids greater than 3oz through security. But buying water really adds up when you drink a LOT of water like I do. Plus, traveling is dehydrating. I have a Contigo spill-proof/leak-proof water bottle, and I LOVE it! I had a Nalgene, but it tended to leak no matter what I tried. I am in water love with my Contigo! It’s 32-ounces, which is about as much as I want to be carrying around at one time, and it’s no problem to refill. Most restaurants at the airport are happy to refill your water bottle, even if you don’t eat there, and many US airports have these handy motion-sensor water bottle refilling stations, so you don’t have to worry about germs–it’s hands-free, and no one is putting their mouth on any spouts!
13. Dutchess Cup, Diva Cup, Lunette, or other “Menstrual Cups”
This is for the ladies. Please do a search for this. Best. Purchase. Ever.
14. Travel Purse
I have the world’s best, most secure travel purse. I got it for 5 Turkish Lira in Kappadokia, and I wish I’d got about 10 more. I’ve had it four years now, and I have never found another one quite like it. It can be worn as a backpack, so it’s not bad for your posture like a one-shoulder bag, and there is a small pocket on the front that’s good for non-valuable things like my notebook and pens, hand sanitizer, and the like. But the best part is that the main zipper is on the back–and agains MY back. No one’s getting in there without my feeling it! I keep my wallet, phone, camera, water, “purse bag” (with hair ties, bobby pins, headband, and chapstick), book, snacks, sunscreen, and I’ve even fit my MacBook Air in there. If you’re a woman especially, you need a good travel bag. Anyone want to take a trip to Turkey with me? It’s worth a trip to get one! It also folds up nicely into my backpack when I’m limited on how many carry-ons I can have (many airlines only allow one bag, and they sometimes have REALLY strict weight limits, too).
15. Carry-on Baggage
Meet Osprey. Notice she opens at the top AND the bottom, which has already proven to be super handy! Sometimes I travel with my Osprey backpack on my back and my regular backpack on the front. Sometimes it’s just the Osprey and my travel purse (mentioned above). No matter what, I like to travel with my legs fully mobile and my hands free. Roller bags are not in the picture for me. If my bags are too heavy to carry on my own, I’ve packed too much, and I need to take some out! Even when I was recovering from both foot surgeries, even when I was wearing a walking boot, I traveled with stuff on my back and shoulders. Steve was incredibly helpful, and we didn’t walk as much as usual, but I needed my hands free for balance, and even with my short legs, I always kick roller bags and get tripped up on them. Seriously though, you only have to walk from where you get dropped off at the airport to your gate. And then you can take a cab or a bus to your hotel when you arrive. You can do it!
Also, Steve and I never EVER check a bag. We’re not so much afraid of getting our luggage lost as we are about wasting precious time waiting for luggage! I once packed for a trip to Switzerland and Turkey (two VERY different climates!) for two and a half weeks with just a duffel on my back and my backpack on my front. And I probably could have done it with less if I’d been a little smarter about my packing back then. It can be done!
Next up, Quick Whit’s Travel NON-essentials! I know it’s hard to go without things you think you might need, but in my next post, I’ll share some of my secrets for packing light!