I hadn’t really considered Other Half and myself to be veteran travellers, but in retrospect, I guess we could add quite a few notches to the travel belt. We’ve visited every province in Canada one or more times, been to numerous US states, a handful of times to Mexico, three times (soon to be four) to Europe. You can get some great insights from the tips of others. You also learn a lot about how to travel while you’re doing it. Or more accurately, after you’ve completed it and have an AHA moment or several. I’ve learned from the travel tips of others and from our own experiences and now have a few tips of my own. Here they are, in case they may be helpful. This is going to involve some trust on your part. But just trust me.
Take a scroll through your packing list – you DO have a packing list, right? – and evaluate the necessity of everything you feel you can’t live without. You might be surprised at what you can leave at home, saving a ton of space and weight in your luggage for all of your holiday purchases.
Part I – liquids and such
– You’ll be tempted to bring body wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray and other liquid hair products, moisturizer, make up remover, aloe vera, shave gel, etc, etc. Don’t. Just don’t. Trust me. Here’s a little-known secret: Unless you’re travelling to someplace devoid of life, you’ll find the things you need at your destination, usually in small sizes and for less money than you’d pay at home. And as you already know from stuffing your bags full of complimentary shampoos, hand cream, mini lily-of-the-valley soaps and the like at the end of weekend getaways, hotels provide several of these things, gratis. Use while on vacay and toss any remaining pieces – virtually guilt-free – before checking out. Note: this also applies to baby powder, q-tips, tampons, pads, band-aids, Tylenol, hand sanitizer, soap, laundry detergent (if you’re inclined to bring some, just in case), nail polish & remover, mouthwash, disposable razors, sewing kits – you name it. Bring your deodorant, toothbrush and paste, and sunscreen. You don’t want to reek while burning to a glorious bacon colour on your first day.
– If you must take bottles of liquids, whether small or large, put a piece of plastic wrap over the top, under the lid. It keeps things from bubbling out when the air pressure changes during the flight. Note: while the preceding section of this tip doesn’t originate with me, this next bit does: bring at least an equal amount of extra plastic wrap with you for the trip home. Once the lids get twisted a few times, the original wrap will be pretty worn out.
– If you’re just going with carry-on bags and no checked luggage, only take liquids that you cannot possibly live without. This will serve you in a few ways: 1) you won’t have to worry about whether your 1L plastic bag will hold all of your liquids; 2) you will have room in that 1L bag to bring small bottles of bevvies on the return trip (hey, the airline doesn’t say you can’t bring alcohol as part of your liquid allotment); 3) you will reduce the weight and space in your bag, which you can use for souvenirs or other items you’d like to bring home.
Part II – checked bags
If you must take a checked bag or two, here are some ideas.
– Roll your clothes instead of folding them. Don’t argue. It saves tons of space and your clothes won’t wrinkle the way you think. I’ve seen a great video on the internet where a traveller packed an entire outfit into one roll. Look it up. You’ll be impressed.
– You know those wine bottle travel bags you can buy for about $30 each to bring some lovely Italian wine or Mexican tequila home with you in your suitcase? Yeah, don’t buy those. Go to the dollar store instead, or to the beach shop near your resort. Trust me. Buy some of those blow-up water wings kids wear in the pool. Go crazy, spend about $10 and buy a bunch. Put your precious liquid cargo into a wing. Blow it up. Put another one on the top part of the bottle. Blow it up. Boom! You have travel-ready booze. If you’re worried that the wings might come off, bring/buy a few extra-large socks to pull on over the whole thing. Works like a charm.
– While you’re at the dollar store, pick up a small ‘daily pill’ container. You know the ones I’m talking about. Use this to hold your earrings and other jewelry, if you feel compelled to bring some with you. I never bring jewelry with me on vacation with the exception of a cheap watch. If it goes into the drink or gets lost or stolen, no big deal. I do sometimes buy jewelry when on vacation, however, so the pill container is useful for keeping them intact for the return trip.
– Go to your local luggage store (or to the luggage section at Walmart) and pick up a hand-held luggage scale. They’re well worth the investment (of $5-$15) and have saved our bacon more than once. Before you start on your way home with all of your many purchases, pack your suitcases and weigh them. Maybe one bag is just over the 50 lb limit while the other is a few pounds under. If you can move some things around before you get to the airport, you’ll likely avoid surcharges. Provided you haven’t gone WAY over the limit.
– Upgrade your luggage, if it’s been kicking around for a while. Get yourself some “spinners,” rolling luggage with 360 degree wheels. You’ll easily be able to motor along through the airport, streets, and hotel hallways without (as much) cursing.
Part III – general packing
– If you’re traveling to Europe, Asia, or the U.K., you likely already know that they use a different type of electrical current than in North America and that you’ll need an adapter or two. Here’s something you may not have pondered: many European hotels are very old and have precious few outlets. This is a challenge for those of us who have multiple devices to charge (phone, tablet, laptop, razor) or that need to be plugged in while in use (blow dryer, curling iron). Here are my tips: bring an adapter or two, and one North American electrical power bar for each. You can plug the adapter into the European outlet, plug your power bar in, and lo and behold, you now have several outlets for your electronics. One additional tip: pick up one of those plug in multi-USB doodads and you can charge two or more devices simultaneously, saving outlets on your power bar.
– Ok, so you’re used to wearing at least one different outfit every day in your regular life. And you’re going to be away on vacay for 2 to 3 weeks. To maintain your fashion habit, you’ll have to take a LOT of clothes, right? Wrong. Here’s an secret: hotels in other countries have laundry facilities and laundry services. I know. It’s a revelation, right? Here’s another secret: other tourists or locals won’t know you’ve worn a particular outfit before. As one sage put it, ‘when traveling, take half the clothes and twice the money.’ It’s true. Seriously, slash your wardrobe list to a bare minimum, maybe enough for about 4 to 7 mix and match outfits, whether you’re going for 1 week or 3. Yes, you’ll need to spend a couple of hours on laundry while away. But it’s a small sacrifice compared to carrying gigantic bags over cobblestone streets or up the endless, narrow flights of stairs, and definitely better than trying to stuff your heavily-laden luggage into the small overhead bins on the high-speed trains. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way.
– Ladies, if you’re worried about pickpockets or having your handbag stolen while on vacation, get yourself a travelling purse that’s both RFID scan-proof and slash-proof, and make sure it has a zipper with locking clips. I love my cross-body Travelon bags. Yes, they’re fairly pricey (and not particularly attractive as fashion statements) but they are worth the investment. You can buy them on Amazon or in travel or luggage stores.
– Obvs for those big sightseeing trips, you’re taking your fancy DSLR with its multitude of lenses, right? Or at least some scaled-down version of same which is separate from your cell phone. Having that thing hung round your (or your partner’s) neck all day will cause neck and back pain after just a day. Consider visiting a camera store (or Amazon) to purchase a harness-style strap. It’s worn something like a backpack, but with the “pack” (the camera) in the front. The harness also stabilizes the camera when walking so it’s not swinging side to side and all around as you enter that fancy china or glass shop, daring you to break something. My husband loves his. Yes, a little dorky, admittedly. But it can literally and figuratively save your neck. Average cost is between $30-$50.
– If you expect to do any significant amount of walking besides to the pool or beach or restaurant, here’s a handy and extremely important tip: bring the world’s most comfortable pair of shoes. At least 2 months before your trip, visit a store that sells high-quality running or hiking shoes and have them fit you with a good pair, suited for your gait and your feet. Break them in for several weeks before your trip to reduce the amount of rubbing/blisters that will still probably happen. On a related note, bring several large, super-stick bandaids that won’t rub off your heels after two seconds of walking. Trust me.
Part IV – weird stuff I pack that you might find useful
– Seat cushions (your choice of thickness) to help make the seemingly unpadded airplane seats fractionally more comfortable. Make sure they don’t have buttons and that they’re not tufted. This would be worse than the regular airplane seat.
– Ziplock bags galore, from sandwich size to the large ones you can put your clothes in and squeeze the air out. They come in handy for stuff you didn’t even know you could use them for.
– Related to the above: a few fold-up fabric shopping bags (where I come from, they’re a requirement, not an option). You can carry one or two in your purse or backpack. They’re much easier on the hands than plastic bag handles for when you’re carting groceries or souvenirs or your heavy coat you thought you’d need.
– Our European trips have taught us that not every country provides washcloths in their hotels. Ew to using a bare bar of soap on your bare…whatever. If you’re a washcloth person at home, I’d recommend packing a few – in Ziplock bags. You can dry them out on the heated towel racks in the bathroom. Just don’t wash them out in the bidet. Haha.
– We often opt for self-catering accommodations when we travel, which means I do some cooking. I take a small spice kit with me that features the herbs and spices we use most: salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and basil. That way you don’t have to waste money on buying those things there. They don’t take up a lot of room or weight in the suitcase. If you don’t plan to cook, don’t bother to take a spice kit.
– I also take a package of ground coffee (preferably from my favourite local roaster or another brand I regularly drink) and a bunch of filters so that we can have coffee at the hotel any time. I’ve learned from experience that grocery store coffee in other places (I’m looking at you, Mallorca) is often unfit for human consumption, so rather than suffer with bad coffee, just bring some of the good stuff from home.
So love the ideas or hate them, these are some of my tips from an ever-evolving list. What tips do you have? What do you pack that I should be putting into my suitcase? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!