Playlist author Laura L. Smith loves to travel. In fact, she’s set both of her Playlist titles in cities she’s visited, Paris and Barcelona. Today she shares tips for packing for international travel.
As I was packing for my recent adventure to Guatemala I found myself repeatedly reciting a list of things I needed to bring. I love to travel, so I’ve got international trips down to a system. My list reminded me of the game I played in elementary school, I’m Going On A Picnic. You know the one — I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking an apple. The next person has to repeat what’s been said so far and add an item that starts with the next letter in the alphabet, like, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking an apple and my bikini.”
My Guatemala packing list went something like this. Your trips will be different than mine, but I hope my list helps you if you have aspirations to be an exchange student, go somewhere exotic for spring break, study abroad or back pack around Europe.
I’m going to Guatemala and I’m bringing….
You won’t be able to charge your phone without an adapter.
Adapters. Whenever you travel out of the country do a Google search to see what the outlets look like where you’re going. Rarely will other countries use the same three prongs we do in the U.S. You can buy adapters that will allow you to plug your flat iron, hair dryer, phone, tablet, etc. into the outlets in other countries. Amazon has a great, inexpensive selection. If you’re more of a last minute girl, Radio Shack has them, but expect to pay more.
Bag. I have the same string bag I’ve been using since I first went to Europe in 1990. I bought it for about 3 British pounds at the market at Covent Garden in London and it has survived a multitude of stamps on my passport. I use it as a daypack, to carry the necessities for a day of exploring, so I don’t need to lug a heavy purse or worry about where I’ve put it.
Cipro. This is the prescription drug for traveler’s diarrhea. I hope you don’t need it. But if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.
You can pass the time in airports and train stations playing everything from Euchre to Kings in a Corner.
Deck of cards. With travel there are delays and downtime and waiting. Cards take up zero room in your day bag and offer countless games to pass the time.
Epipens. Two of my kids are allergic to nuts. I’m allergic to fire ants. Enough said. If you have asthma bring your inhaler. Eczema? Bring your cream. Whatever medications you keep with you at home, make sure you pack them.
Footwear. I’m as crazy about shoes as the next girl, but traveling abroad is not the time to pack your snazziest heels or your favorite pair of riding boots. Think comfort. Think function. Sounds boring, but I promise you’ll be glad. I have never gone on an international trip where I didn’t walk several miles a day. A few I’ve found comfy enough to stroll the Champs D’Elysees and hike the side of a volcano, but still somewhat cute are Sketchers, TOMS or Soludos. Gym shoes always do the trick.
bring comfy sturdy shoes for lots of walking
Granola bars. Or some other handy, portable snack. There’s always an uncertainty of when you’ll find your next meal and what it may be.
Hand Sanitizer. You will find yourself in bathrooms that have no soap or water. I like the fun scents from Bath and Body Works.
iPhone – make sure you can stay in touch. I encourage you to unplug from social media while you travel. Just soak in the trip. But maps come in awfully handy, so does the use of a phone to make calls, and don’t forget music or the built in camera to record your adventures!
Jeans. Dress them up, dress them down. Wear one pair and pack one more. Wear the daylights out of them.
Kindle. All the books I need for long flights or rainy days, including my Bible are loaded onto my one, thin, portable, handy device.
Language. Take time to learn the basics before you go. The library has language courses on CDs you can borrow for free. My fav is Pimsleur www.pimsleur.com. In ten days you’ll be able to ask directions, order a coffee, talk about train/plane schedules and other survival skills. It will make your trip less stressful and the natives will appreciate your effort.
Manicure. I’m a bit fanatic about my nails. I love to experiment with colors and cringe at chips. But two weeks on the road, means a minimalist approach. You don’t want to pack polish, because if it explodes in your bag – disaster! I paint mine the day before I leave with a neutral pink. It protects my nails. They look polished. But if they chip, which they will, it won’t be nearly as obvious.
Jot down thoughts and ideas, stuff in a napkin, map or business card to preserve your memories
Notebook. You’ll see smell and experience so many amazing things on your travels. You’ll want a place to jot them down. It also comes in handy to play tic tac toe if your flight/train/bus is delayed.
Open mind. Things will be different. You might have your meal served to you on a leaf instead of a plate. You may order chips and get fries. There may not be air-conditioning. You might not be able to drink the water. But life is an adventure. Be open to the people, culture and experience God has in store for you.
Passport. Make sure yours is up to date. If you don’t have one, plan to apply for one three months prior to travel. Applications are at post offices and most college campuses.
Quetzals. This is the national currency of Guatemala. Your bank, or the bank at the airport can exchange U.S. Dollars for most world currencies. Sometimes local banks need advance notice to order foreign currency. Credit and debit cards are accepted in most countries, but many cafes, market stands, cabs, etc. only take local currency.
Have one in your day pack and plan your day.
Rick Steves. This guy writes my favorite travel guides. He rates just about every cathedral, trail, museum, restaurant and hostel in Europe. His tips on reduced rates, shorter lines and tourist traps are priceless. Other great travel guides are Fodor’s, The Lonely Planet and MTV Travel Guides. Buy last year’s edition used and cheap on Amazon or check it out from your library prior to your trip.
Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Even in the winter, you may find yourself outside all day. Protect your skin!
T-shirts. For layering and comfortable travel wear.
Underwear. Pack lots.
Visa or MasterCard. Even if you have plenty of cash, a credit card will be invaluable if you need an emergency flight home, an unexpected prescription or an extra night in a hotel.
Webster’s pocket dictionary. You may know a few phrases or be fluent, but I promise there will be a time during in your trip, when you really, really, really need to know the word for something and don’t know it. I got mine for cheap on Amazon.
Xtra copies of your passport, hotel reservations, flight itinerary etc. Keep them somewhere different than where you keep your originals. If you have your passport in the hotel safe, stash these papers in your suitcase in your room. If your itineraries are in in your suitcase, keep a copy of them in your day bag. In the unfortunate event you lose your originals, you’ll be covered.
Be open to trying new foods, new ideas, new adventures. Be willing to say, “yes”.
Yes. Yes. Yes, you would like to try the fried plantains. Yes, you would like to try jumping in the lake. Yes, you would like to hear the local’s explanation of the plants growing at the side of the road or why there’s a parade on a random Tuesday. You will learn so much if you’re willing to try. Never agree to something that makes you feel uncomfortable like going off with strangers, taking a ride somewhere you hadn’t prearranged or drinking the water in Central America, but be ready to say yes to something new.
Zeal. Get ready, get set, go. You’re off to great places!
Do you have any trips planned? What do you take with you wherever you go? What do you usually forget to pack?