Khaki cargos or jean shorts? Your tortoise shell glasses or contacts? Travelers' checks or credit cards? Whoa, Nelly! So many things to consider, so little time. Here are some essential packing tips from the obvious, to the not-so-obvious.
Before you start daydreaming about all the great outfits you're going to pack for your trip, here are some things you should actually leave behind:
- Anything you would kick yourself for losing; that expensive watch, the Tiffany's locket your dad bought you for your birthday, unnecessary credit cards, wads of cash, your Social Security card, and any other valuables.
- Copies of your travel documents. Leave a copy of your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver's license, the credit cards you're taking, serial numbers of your travelers' checks, insurance information, as well as the addresses and phone numbers of the places you'll be. Having copies of these documents at home will allow your family or friends to contact you or help you in case of an emergency. (Carry additional copies of these documents with you on your trip, separate from the originals.)
- Anything that would be considered a weapon. Even a pocketknife can result in a serious weapons charge while on foreign soil – even if the knife is found during a search or arrest for an unrelated offense.
- Toiletries and amenities that may already be available at your hotel. We know you only use your favorite brand of Vanilla Chai scented lotion, shower gel, and shampoo, but if you are only traveling for a short time, find out if your hotel will provide in-room amenities like a hair dryer, towels, an iron, soap, shampoo, etc. You’ll have less to carry around, plus room for any presents that you bring home!
- Handbags and fanny packs. (Yes, there are still people who wear fanny packs.) Wearing a big purse or a fanny pack is like wearing a neon sign that says, "Rob me!" Your passport, cash and credit cards are most secure when locked in a hotel safe. When you have to carry them on you, inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer. Another safe place to keep valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
Now that we’ve talked about what you shouldn't bring overseas, here's what you should bring:
- Many other countries use 220-volt electricity while U.S. appliances use 110-volt electricity. If you plan on bringing electric gadgets like a hairdryer, electric razor, or even a laptop, keep in mind that you will need to purchase a "converter" or a "transformer" to be able to use your appliances. Plug prongs can also be different abroad, so you may need a “plug adapter” as well.
- Pack an extra outfit in your carry-on just in case your luggage is lost, or if you are separated from your travel gear.
- Do you have a prescription for a medication you literally cannot live without? Make sure to bring a back-up supply in case you are delayed during your trip. Keep it on you when you travel in case you and your luggage get separated. All prescriptions should be clearly marked in their original containers. In fact, you should contact the embassy of the country you are visiting to get a list of drugs that are considered illegal narcotics – just to make sure your medication is not included. Get a letter from your doctor listing your medications and explaining why you need them. Also, carry instructions for treating any allergies or other unique medical conditions you might have.
- Pack appropriate clothes. Find out what the weather conditions are for your destination, and pack accordingly. We wouldn’t want you in your hat, scarf and gloves at the height of your destination's summer season. Remember that just because it's one season here, doesn't mean it's the same elsewhere. Also, know the local dress code, especially for holy places. Whether it's a mosque in Dubai, a cathedral in the Vatican City, or a temple in Tel-Aviv, you may want to avoid bare shoulders and shorts, and you may be required to cover your hair.
- Don't forget the little things. It may be a good idea to bring a small first-aid kit, sunscreen, and a mild pain reliever. You never know when these things may come in handy.
- Make sure your luggage is labeled with your name, address and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to avoid becoming a target, and if possible, lock your luggage. Check the Transportation Security Agency homepage for guidelines regarding locked luggage and other current airline travel regulations.
- If you decide to take a pet abroad, you should check with the embassies of your destination regarding specific requirements that must be met before a pet may enter the country. Many countries have strict health, quarantine, agriculture, wildlife, and customs requirements and prohibitions. A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available for your reference.
- Bring an international calling card to make phone calls. It is a convenient and inexpensive way of keeping in touch. You can even purchase one before you depart and then call your loved ones to let them know that you arrived safely!