Travel Tips

Our travel tips will give you ideas for how to pack, complete with a packing list, toiletry kit ideas, and shutting down your home. We’re confident you’ll feel good to go after you’ve learned these tips!

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At home we take many things for granted, like that trusty alarm clock or extra set of reading glasses. We go about our daily routine with relative ease because we know our way around and we know where things are when we need them. But with travel everything changes!  Nothing’s where it belongs! Below are some tips for preparing to travel a long way from your comfort zone and a packing list and suggestions to make your time on tour as trouble-free as possible.

The Basics

Passport: A passport is required for all international travel by U.S. citizens. It must be valid for at least 6-months AFTER your return from your touring destination.

Security: Make photocopies of your passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and bank card, and pack them in a place besides your money belt or pouch. In addition, leave copies of this information with a family member or best friend back home. This precaution was invaluable to me when I had to replace my passport in India. My family faxed it to me and we were able to expedite the replacement process with the consulate. Also, leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member so in case of an emergency your family may easily reach you.

Health: Start walking if you’re not already. We’ll be on our feet 4-10 hours every day, and it won’t be a pleasant experience to sit-out an excursion because you’re winded and sore. Walking stairs is one of the best exercises!

NO vaccinations are REQUIRED where we’re going. However, it’s absolutely crucial to be up to date with your tetanus shot (every 10 years) and MMR, and it’s very smart to have protection against Hepatitis A and B (which may be contracted through non-sexual activity).

Talk to your family doctor and/or visit the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel for RECOMMENDED vaccinations and general health care while traveling.

Be sure to bring your essential medical and vaccination records with you. I always pack them with the back-up copy of my passport (and, of course, leave a copy of the original at home with a copy of your passport, easily accessible by a family member in the event of an emergency).

If you take allergy or other medications regularly, bring an extra supply in case of loss or delay in travel. Be sure that all of your prescriptions are current and contain necessary information in case we need to contact your physician. Also, make copies of your prescriptions incase you need to replace them during your travels.

Bring an extra set of eyeglasses or contacts, if you can. There’s nothing worse than being thousands of miles from home and half-blind because you dropped your glasses into the sea!

Driving: There will be no need for any of our guests to drive on our tours. However, from time-to-time a traveler might want to rent a moped and ride around a town or island we visit.  A motorcycle license is sometimes necessary. However, an auto license is often enough to rent a scooter. An international driver’s license is often helpful if not essential as well. An international driver’s license application is available through AAA at www.aaa.com/vacation/idpapplc.html.

Money: You may need cash for visas and departure taxes, not to mention souvenirs, lunches and personal items. Please note that street vendors don’t usually accept credit cards.

You might bring at least $50 cash per day of travel (i.e, $500 for 10 days of travel). But if you plan to buy a lot of souvenirs and snacks, you might double that amount.

I don’t usually recommend exchanging money until we get to our destination. You’ll usually get a better exchange rate in-country than you will at your bank or at the airport. We’ll make time to exchange money at the beginning of our tour and thereafter as we feel the need.

Your credit card will be useful in most settings. However, I recommend checking with your card provider to find out what the transaction fee is for international purchases (if any). For example, I have three charge cards. For international purchases, one card adds a 3% surcharge for each purchase, another adds 2%, and a third card doesn’t add a surcharge at all. At this writing the following credit cards do not tack on foreign transaction fees: Capital One Visa, Bank of America Travel Awards, Barclay Arrival Plus, Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Once you’ve chosen which card you’ll use, call its service center and inform them where you’re going and when. This will help prevent the company from blocking purchases you make overseas.

Traveler’s checks offer a secure form for carrying large amounts of cash. American Express Travelers Cheques are the most universally accepted. Be sure to get a wide range of denominations, mostly in 20s and less, and write down the check numbers in case you need to report them missing.

money belt or pouch is absolutely essential. I’ve always used a pouch that hangs around my neck under my shirt. It holds my passport and cash. In 30-years of international travel I’ve only lost my passport once, and it happened because I’d put it into my jacket pocket (instead of close to my heart in the pouch) between flights. It was stolen in a restaurant. I’d left the jacket on my chair when I used the restroom. Oops!

You may use your ATM card for cash in most overseas cities. However, you’ll want to check with your bank to find out what the international service fee is. It may cost you $5 per transaction, or more. My rule of thumb is to bring twice as much cash as I think I’ll need (half of it in travelers checks), at least two charge cards, and my ATM card, which I’ll only use in a pinch.

Please note: Many foreign ATM machines will not recognize a PIN number which begins with the number “O.” Please change your pin number if this is the case for you. Also, be sure to inform your bank that you’ll be traveling, for how long, and where you’ll be, in the event you need to use your ATM or debit card without suffering a block on your account.

Electric Devices: Two things: outlets and electric current. Most of the electrical devices you might take on tour which were made within the last 10-15 years do NOT need a power converter to operate in countries with 220v. Check the label of your device. It probably says that it will work with 100v (standard US current) as well as 220v current (standard elsewhere). However, you will need adapters for the outlets.  I recommend at least two. For example, you might want to charge your camera batteries and your cell phone at the same-time.

Here’s a link with info about electrical stuff and travel: www.traveloasis.com/world-electric-guide.htmlThey sell gadgets, but they also show you what you’ll need and what it looks like. And here’s another one: www.conair.com/travel-accessories-c-55.html.

By the way, take a look at the two prongs on the electrical cords of all of your devices. If a two-pronged plug has an enlarged prong (like a portable water heating device does-see below), you’ll need an adapter designed for that. It’s just a little larger than the regular adapter, and it doesn’t cost much more, but you’ll need it to make your device functional.

For things with custom batteries, like cameras, bring extras. And for things with fuses, bring back-ups, as they might be tricky and expensive and perhaps impossible to replace overseas.

Telephones: International service for cell phones is not cheap. Check with your service provider to find out what your options are. In addition, here are some other possibilities: (1) rent an international phone exclusively for this tour; (2) upgrade your cell phone to one with pre-installed international service; or (3) use Skype or similar computer-based service. This latter option is the best bet financially.

Please note: I provide telephone service to my travelers at no charge for emergencies.

Television: There will usually be a TV in your hotel room, but not always. Sometimes we stay in guest houses which are built with the uttermost simplicity. So, if you need some entertainment in your room before you go to sleep, you might bring an iPod or a tablet with a movie or a book.

Luggage: Please pack light! Every you need for a 2-week tour you should be able to get into a carry-on bag and a shoulder bag. Here’s a link for packing tips you might find helpful: www.onebag.com – “One Bag: The Art & Science of Packing Light.”

Concerning TSA restrictions, please see the TSA website and blog. Click on the image for more info, especially concerning the 3-ounce rule.

Taking a lot of luggage will burden you and it’ll cost you gobbs of money to check it with the airline. You’ll usually be responsible for your own bags, so please take this into account as your packing. Indeed, if you bring too much stuff, after a while, between flights, buses, hotels, and all, you’ll be wishing you had listened to your tour operator! So pack light and you’ll love yourself (and me!) later on.

Please note that when we stay in a guesthouse (versus a hotel) there may NOT be an elevator. If you have a condition which prevents you from climbing as many as 3-flights of stairs with your luggage, please let us know ahead of time. And please pack light!

If you’re going to be touring for more than a week, plan on washing clothes as you go. I recommend buying some shirts and pants made of the quick drying material common among outdoorsmen and athletes, as noted below under Clothing. So bring a small quantity of laundry detergent, a flat sink stopper, a small scrub brush, and a clothesline you can hang in your bathroom. Laundry services in hotels, by the way, are INCREDIBLY expensive (e.g., $10 per shirt).

Shoulder bags can be found with a variety of features which make them theft-proof, including knife-proof linings! These linings are made of a special fabric which can prevent a thief from slitting it open and unloading your valuables as you walk through a crowded bazaar or market. These kinds of bags are expensive, but having one may be a wise investment.

About Packing: Fitting stuff in is always easier if you roll instead of fold, for clothing is more compact and easier to fit into unlikely locations. A popular way to do it is to pack everything you think you’ll need, and then to halve it. And then to halve it again! Also, don’t try to fill up every inch of your carry-on, but save some room for the souvenirs you’ll buy.

Weather: Check the following link for info about weather during the time of our tour. It’ll help you pack. www.worldweather.org.

Clothing: Most anything goes in the metropolitan areas we visit. However, guys, shorts are not very popular except on the beach. In general, modesty is the best policy. For sacred spaces, like churches and mosques, for everyone, you’ll need to cover bare shoulders and knees, and women, you’ll need to cover your heads as well. This goes for Eastern Orthodox and Muslim sites. (Scarves are sometimes on loan in these locations.) On the Temple Mount in Jerusalem the women did not head my warning and found themselves buying onsite what appeared to me to be long potato sacks, which covered every square inch of their flesh from their necks to their ankles. It was humorous, well except for them because their arms were trapped inside of their potato sacks. So it wasn’t much fun. Please believe me when I tell you this is real.

The clothing I recommend for traveling is quick-drying. Check out REI for the most recent product lines. I like Columbia, ExOfficio, and REI’s own brand. Most of it hang-dries in a few hours or overnight.  And remember, you get what you pay for: The better stuff breaths when it’s hot, insulates when it’s cold, and is comfortable and wrinkle-free.

I recommend that you do NOT bring jeans and other clothing made of heavy cotton and denim. Or maybe just one pair of jeans, if you can’t help yourself! For they take up a lot of space and up to 2-days to hang-dry. And remember, as I’ve said before, laundry services in hotels are outrageously expensive!

To keep your bags light, here’s a packing strategy: 2 pairs of pants, 5-6 tee shirts, a windbreaker, a hat, and a week’s worth of undergarments. Voila! If everything is interchangeable (all of your shirts go with all of your pants), you’ll be stylin’!

To save space, try to bring just one pair of shoes and a pair of flip-flops (which might be especially helpful in a public shower or on a beach). We’ll walk a lot and so sneakers or walking shoes would be appropriate. Personally, I prefer really good running shoes. Even if you don’t run they are great because they have excellent support and can be worn every day without causing muscle fatigue. But make sure you break them in. Blisters are a traveler’s worst enemy.

Stuff to Pack

Basic List

What do I need to bring with me to survive? The answer is very little! Here are some suggestions for items you might bring along. The rule of thumb is to not bring anything you could buy for cheap at your destination (and then discard after you use it).

Sporting goods stores are great places for travel supplies, even if you’re not a mountain climber or fisherman! Below are some things to consider. Many of them may be available at discount stores like Target.

  • Backpack (a great alternative to a suitcase)
  • Small zippered bags for dividing up your clothes in your luggage; they keep clean & dirty clothes separate and make things easy to pack & find.
  • Clothing (see above)
  • Hat (one that crumples up real small is great)
  • Wash cloth – Please note that only in the USA are wash clothes provided in all hotel accommodations. It is very rare to find them in hotels outside of the USA except in 5-star accommodations. So bring your own wash cloth. My wash cloth is an MSR quick-dry microfiber towel and it dries very fast.
  • Mug:  It can be used for bailing out a boat (just kidding), it can be a receptacle for that large frightening insect, and, best of all, you’ve got something to drink from in a pinch. Please note that if you’re going to use a portable water heating device (below), a plastic mug will melt. I know, you’re glad I pointed that out!
  • Portable water heating device: I bring such a device and my own instant coffee and tea to brew when it’s too early to get something from the breakfast bar in the lobby and I need a mug of my favorite beverage. Note all hotels do NOT all have coffee/tea pots in their rooms.
  • Instant coffee or tea, if you like
  • Clothesline:  12-16 feet with suction cups and/or clips on the ends (clips are more dependable)
  • Money belt or pouch
  • Mini-sewing kit
  • Mini-first aid kit: band-aids, gauze, tape, Neosporin, peroxide
  • Bottle opener-cork screw (Don’t be surprised if you buy a bottled drink and it cannot be opened by hand)
  • Lens wipes (great for glasses and camera lens)
  • Water bottle
  • Food (energy bars are great on those long bus rides & flights)
  • Travel alarm (Do NOT depend on your cell phone clock! Unless you buy international service, it may be useless as a clock.)
  • Electrical outlet adapters – CLICK HERE for more info

Other Stuff to Pack: Besides what’s listed above, here’s a list of stuff you might want to bring along with you. But be sure to chant the following words as you pack, “Less is better!”

Books & Stuff

  • Bible (We’ll be doing Bible studies all along the way.)
  • Travel books
  • A novel for those times when you can’t sleep & nothing’s open (and remember, you might not always have a TV in your room)
  • Address list for postcards you’ll send during your travels
  • Paper & pencil/pen (for taking notes on your journey)

Personal Stuff

  • Flying accessories: ear plugs, sleep mask, inflatable neck pillow, motion sickness meds, sleeping pills
  • Extra set of eyeglasses or contacts
  • Body wipes (I love these things! It’s like having an instant shower available anywhere!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Laundry detergent
  • Flat sink stopper (These are often missing in hotel rooms. A flat stopper is better than a plug as drain hole sizes vary from place-to-place. You’ll need this especially for washing clothes in your bathroom sink.)
  • Toiletries
  • Mucinex (If you snore and if you have a roommate, consider this purchase. This is an over-the-counter expectorant which will help your roomy get some sleep!)
  • Dramamine (for motion sickness)
  • Imodium (for diarrhea)
  • Tums
  • Aspirin, Excedrin, Ibuprofen, etc.
  • Roll-less toilet paper (one roll should do it) (You can slip the roll out yourself (takes up less space this way) or buy it pre-slipped from REI. From time-to-time this might come in handy if you have to use a public facility and it’s short on supplies. It’s not likely, but it can happen.)

Clothing

  • Pants, shirts, undies, socks
  • Pajamas (Consider how you might have a balcony at your hotel, and how it might be such a pain to get fully dressed to go out on it, but PJs will be enough…see aren’t you glad you’re reading this 🙂
  • Swimming/beach clothing
  • Sweater or windbreaker (Check the weather for our destination using the link above.)

Gear & Stuff

  • Camera, bag & accessories: be sure to bring extra memory cards and batteries. If something breaks or gets lost or gets used up, replacing it might be impossible or crazy expensive.
  • Chargers: Cell phones, cameras, electric razors, etc. all have their power cords you don’t want to leave home without!
  • Small flashlight will come in handy for getting around in your room in the dead of night or reading without waking up your roommate. And sometimes we visit sites with tunnels, pits, or caves which can be very dark.
  • If we were going on a rock climbing expedition, this list would be longer. But we’re not! The goal for gear is to bring stuff that helps you to achieve your objectives in your travels. What do you need? Not much! Keep it light!

Shutting Down Your Home

Leaving your home for an extended period of time always involves some key and well thought out activities. The goal is to minimize surprises upon your return.

  • Stop mail and newspaper delivery
  • Pay-up all of your bills which will come due while you’re away
  • Suspend online business accounts such as Ebay, Amazon, & Craigslist
  • Get coverage for your pets and plants from a friend or service provider
  • Turn off the lawn sprinklers
  • Turn off the pilots for gas appliances (I bet you didn’t think of that one!)
  • Turn off your computer and unplug stuff that can burn your house down if it’s shaken up by an earthquake or another disaster (My iron turns ON when it falls on its side! Yikes!)
  • Turn off your home’s heating and cooling systems
  • Pull the drapes
  • Close and lock all of the windows
  • For your car, roll-up the windows and lock it, not leaving  any valuables out in the open if you park it outside
  • Consider a time-controlled on/off switch for a lamp in your home
  • Tell your best neighbor that you’ll be gone so that she can help you keep an eye on your place for unusual activity
  • Do NOT broadcast to everyone on your social network(s) (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) that you’re out of town and that your house is unoccupied!
  • Get a house-sitter, if possible.

And last but not least…

Flying & Luggage: Rule of Thumb: The following items should NOT be placed in checked luggage but should be kept with you in your carry-on: medicines, jewelry, cash, insurance information, official papers, electronic devices (video cameras, laptops, tablets, rechargers, cell phones, iPods, etc.), in general, any valuables or fragile items.

Duty-Free: The general rule is that all tax-free liquid items purchased at airport duty-free shops must be in a sealed, special plastic bag with the receipt. Do not open the sealed bag until the final destination. Otherwise, the content of the bag may be seized at the security check point. Check with our carrier for special details.

Please see our Links Page for lots of great resources and tools for your travel preparations.