The last post dealt with a lot of the actual process of traveling. I hope this post will help guide you through the equally dreaded process of packing for your trip.
First key to packing for your trip is to know the rules and regulations in terms of what you are allowed to bring. The major airlines typically have this information available on their websites and it’ll mean the difference between easy traveling and either paying insane fees or throwing stuff away. I traveled United Airlines when I went to China, and they were pretty straight forward. We got one free checked bag, one carryon bag, and one “personal possession”. Oversized or overweight bags got slapped with steep fees, as did additional bags.
A luggage scale is a super worthwhile investment. I got mine from Target for about ten dollars. The model I used has a velcro strap that goes around the handle of your bag, and then you lift it by the scales handle, and it will show you how heavy your bags are. It’s not a bad idea to bring this with you, because people inevitably end up acquiring more stuff over the course of a trip. I left the United States with 23 pounds of luggage, and came home with about 26 of my own stuff (I ended up carrying a lot of stuff for other people who were over limit). It can be done.
Your luggage should be easy to maneuver and carry when necessary. Most suitcases/rolling luggage use a double zipper setup, and it’s not a bad idea to pack a few zip ties to lock these shut after your bags have been searched and before they go under the plane. Talk to the person who searches your bag, it’s a common thing and they will be cool with it. Also, an easy way to make your bag more identifiable in the baggage claim is to put a strip of colored duct tape on either side of your bags and write your name in permanent marker. I use white just because it contrasts against the black bag and is easy to spot.
Now that your bags are ready, let’s talk about what junk to put inside. Let me break it down for you:
The rest of the world has a pretty similar stance on public nudity, so you’re going to want to pack some clothing. Clothes, in addition to covering your naughty bits, make great protection from direct sunlight, weather, and terrain. Try to read up on the typical (and worst case scenario) weather so you know how to prepare. Rain or shine.
The key to packing light is to pack as practically and efficiently as you can. Before you put something in your suitcase, think about how much you’ll actually use the item and how versatile it is. You don’t need thirty sets of pajamas if a T-shirt and pair of shorts will suffice. Think about articles of clothing that will be usable in different conditions. Whenever I travel I tend to rely on flannel shirts to be my go to because they are sturdy, you can wear them in the cold or roll the sleeves up when the weather is warmer, and balling them up makes a passable pillow.
Take care of your feet. For real. Make sure you are wearing comfortable footwear when you travel, because you’ll probably find yourself walking a lot more than you do at home. No need for blisters when you could have just as easily worn comfortable shoes and socks.
Just remember: be practical, don’t be afraid to repeat outfits, and don’t put something in your suitcase if you aren’t going to get a lot of use out of it.
This section has some obvious items, like your toothbrush, toothpase, shampoo, and so on. What I learned in Asia was that there are other things that will definitely be incredibly valuable to have.
Fun fact for travel in China: East Asians have fewer apocrine sweat glands than most other people.
Not so fun fact: If you run out of deodorant or forgot it, be prepared to spend some time looking for it. A result of that whole apocrine gland deal is that only places catering to the international community have it, and not always fairly priced, in my experience.
Hand sanitizer is a hot commodity, especially in extremely populated cities. It’s easy to get sick in a foreign place with whole hordes of people slathered in bacteria coughing, touching your food, etc. Our Chinese pre-meal ritual began with each table passing around a bottle of hand-sanitizer. Getting sick abroad sucks, don’t do it.
Also: packing toilet paper if you’re heading to Asia isn’t a bad idea. Not everywhere will provide it, and it’s certainly not the greatest of surprises.
Sunscreen is a good idea too, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors taking in the sights.
Make sure that you consult your doctor before going abroad. They will be able to make recommendations on what to pack depending on where you are headed. Plan accordingly if you take medications regularly. Pack a small, light first aid kit. I took one that I bought for a few dollars at a Walgreens that had just about anything I could need for basic cuts and such.
Know your stomach. If your timid tummy is no match for the local fare, plan accordingly. Packing some Tums and Imodium can cover even the toughest cuisine.
It’s probably pretty tempting to load yourself up with all the comforts of home, but I’d be willing to get more out of your experience abroad by unplugging for the most part. A digital camera for
proving to your friends that you are more interesting taking pictures is a good call. A simple watch is a good idea too (note that a lot of places operate on a 24 hour clock). Make sure that you plan ahead and decide if you really need a cell phone. International plans can be costly, and with new apps and programs like text+, skype, and more you may find an iPod touch to be more efficient. Headphones are important for music, but you can probably get an okay pair for free on the plane.
Really think about whether or not you want to bring your laptop. One maxim that always seems to hold true is “don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose”, which is closely linked with Murphy’s Law. If you decide to bring it, back everything important up. Dropbox is a great free option. Your alternative is to transfer your important files to an external drive. Also be sure that you have a protective case, because while your luggage is important to you, it will probably be treated like a basketball by everyone who handles it.
Also, know whether you need a converter, adaptor, or both for outlets in your destination. The outlets need an adaptor to go from your plug to the plug the outlet accepts, and you’ll probably need the converter to change the actual amount of electricity that goes from the wall to your device. You can get a one-size-fits-all adaptor/converter for about twenty dollars.
Protip: Read up on which email services and social networks are available in your destination, especially if you head to China. Certain websites are blocked completely and you will have to rely on other avenues for communication.
This is mostly the take it or leave it kind of stuff that falls into your preference. You might want to bring a book and a small notebook that can fit in your pockets (I’m going to talk about how notebooks are my must have travel item in a later post). Granola bars are a good lightweight snack that might be worth packing. If you’re headed somewhere with a new language you would likely benefit for a small phrase book. If you plan on doing laundry on the cheap, bring a travel size container of detergent (I’ll explain the magic of doing your own laundry later). Also, pack a copy of your passport that includes your personal information and your visas. This can help the process of getting a new passport in the event that yours is lost or stolen.
Well, that’s all for now folks.
Tomorrow, I’ll actually get into my experiences. I thought this would be the best time to get the preparation junk out of the way. Expect more pictures and interesting subject matter in the days to come!
* (I’m not a licensed physician, and this doesn’t constitute medical advice. You should always consult your doctor before you travel for more complete recommendations.)