“You wouldn’t believe the weird stuff people recommend taking along on trips,” Rich commented over breakfast this morning. He’d just spent half an hour perusing travel blogs and was still shaking his head in wonderment. “Bed sheets, dryer sheets, a steam iron.” His eyes strayed to the screen again. “Condoms; well, somebody thinks they’re getting lucky! Here’s one: a headlamp. Where are they traveling, down a mineshaft?”
“I suspect those are younger travelers,” I said. “But yes, I’ll never understand other people’s packing styles. I read a post by one woman who says she never goes anywhere without a wine glass, and not a plastic one either. I always assume the first time her bag gets manhandled by a taxi driver, she then has to discard half its contents because they’re full of shattered glass.”
When it comes to packing, I’m convinced that less is more. Just taking essential clothing, shoes, and electronics pretty much fills my little roll-aboard bag, leaving scant room for bulky extras like headlamps and bed sheets. However, I will admit that Rich and I always tuck in a few small items that might not be strictly mandatory but add a little extra comfort, hominess, and ease to our lives.
Dragging around tons of excess baggage isn't much fun. This photo was taken at the end of a six-day luggage-free journey to France, when we brought nothing but a few essentials tucked in our pockets. On most trips, I travel with more creature comforts.
For instance, we always carry our silliest wedding photos in a small folding cloth frame. Over the years this precious object has become festooned with good luck charms and religious medals from every corner of the world and serves as a reminder never to take ourselves too seriously.
In my younger years, travel slippers were on my “optional” list, but I’ve now reclassified them as a must for overnight plane rides and downtime on the road. After a long day of hiking about, I appreciate a warm, cozy place to rest and so do my feet.
Rich originally packed gloves only for arctic destinations, but now he’s discovered wearing them makes it far easier to lug heavy bags, including groceries, so they’ve become staples.
And at this point, Rich insists I add duct tape to the list. We often have trips without emergencies (yes we do!) but now that it’s sold in handy, pocket-sized packets, it’s easy to take duct tape with us everywhere. Beware of cheap knock-offs! Last Thanksgiving in Seville, we staged a wind-up chicken race in our apartment’s hallway, marking the goal lines with ultra-cheap pseudo-duct tape. When the thrilling event was over and all the victory dances were done, we expected to simply peel off the tape and move on with our lives. Not so! The tape shredded and stuck, leaving gooey red stains on the marble floor, requiring hours of scraping and scrubbing. Lesson learned!
Like many people these days, Rich and I are attempting to avoid wasteful, single-use plastics whenever possible, so I always slip one or two ultra-light cloth tote bags in a zip compartment of my shoulder bag. That way I don’t have to choose between feeling guilty about getting a plastic bag at the store or juggling groceries in my arms all the way back to the Airbnb. To avoid the need for disposable plastic cutlery, we acquired some lovely lightweight wooden forks and spoons last time we ate at Wagamama in Gatwick Airport.
Of course, there are times when plastics are the only sensible solution. For instance, we always pack a handful of zip-lock bags for everything from food storage to transporting socks that somehow didn’t dry in time for our departure from the hotel. And to waterproof our suitcases on rainy days, Rich carries a couple of large garbage bags, which can be secured over our bags with (you guessed it) duct tape.
While we rely on Google maps for local navigation, we always carry an old-fashioned paper map showing railway lines and ferry service in the region we’re visiting. Without it, I could easily overlook interesting detours and connections (“Hey, there’s a ferry to Albania from here!”) that give our journeys that extra bit of zing. And I always carry old-school paper business cards with my email and web address. These days most people we meet simply photograph the card, but we occasionally find ourselves in areas so remote that (gasp!) not everyone carries a smartphone.
I'm fairly sure this brandy-maker we hung out with in rural Romania doesn't have a smartphone. But he really knows his way around a still.
Your list of underrated extras is probably quite different from ours, and we’d love to hear what you find essential to happiness on the road. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not looking for excess stuff to clutter my travel life; as the Spanish proverb says, “On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy.” But I am always willing to give a warm welcome to small objects that, as Marie Kondo so famously put it, “spark joy.” Because isn’t that what travel is really all about?
3/6/2019 07:10:10 pm
I always bring a cork screw : )
3/7/2019 08:45:23 am
Very wise, Kate. You never know when you're going to encounter a bottle of wine in need of liberating!
3/6/2019 07:52:36 pm
We are also very light travelers and second duct tape (fixed a child's jump rope in Nepal) and garbage bags (rain gear while trekking in Nepal and porters no where in sight). I also always carry a sarong (sheet, towel,bath robe, shawl, tablecloth ) and a bandana (reusable napkin, sweat wiper, bald head cover-er in a pinch). We are not young but also carry a headlamp that comes in handy when one needs to be hands free and need light (most recently used in Malta when our air bnb was in a dark alley with no street lights and an ancient key lock). Fits in the smallest spaces. I just measured it = 2.5" x 2 x1.5. I'm definitely adding a cork screw!
3/7/2019 08:55:44 am
Sue, your headlamp sounds much more practical than mine. I bought one for my California emergency kit, and it's bulky to pack, awkward to wear, and ridiculous-looking; it would require a real emergency for me to deploy it. Yours sounds like it's resolved all those issues! So far I’ve found my phone's flashlight sufficient for dark streets but may reconsider at some point. As for the sarong, I carry a big scarf/shawl for much the same purpose. It’s always great to have a nice big piece of fabric along, preferably in a cheerful print!
3/7/2019 08:59:03 am
Good advice, Conchy. We carry those, too. The old-school notebook and pen are so handy for jotting random information, like the address of a bar or a local dish you want to try, especially if you need to show it to someone later, like a cab driver or waiter. It's much easier than trying to get someone to squint at my phone's tiny screen!
3/7/2019 03:27:03 am
I always carry zip lock & trash bags, as well as corkscrew! I am also considering a plastic wine class tucked in somewhere in soft protected place...wine is never as good in other type of cup! Also cuticle scissors which generally works for my cutting needs!
3/7/2019 09:02:57 am
Faye, you are a woman after my own heart! Tote, zip, and garbage bags are always useful. It's amazing how much stuff we need to haul around while on the road. I haven't felt the need for a wine glass, as I seem to imbibe mostly in bars and my various Airbnb apartments, which always have their own, but if you do pack one, definitely make it plastic!
3/7/2019 06:52:40 am
I always tuck a few Band-aids, Neosporin, and aspirin in the bag and carry Scotch-tape. A few packets of Starbucks VIA (instant coffee) are a must. If checking the bag, I include a paring knife and screwdriver (both of which were confiscated for overnight safe keeping at the Meridian Hotel at the Cairo Airport when we arrived at 2 a.m. in the morning. Not a person but us and hotel staff in the lobby. I went to get them the next morning and carried them to my room to repack them through a crowded lobby. . .think that one through. Oh the joys of travel!
3/7/2019 09:08:52 am
Wow, Jackie. They confiscated your paring knife and screwdriver at the Cairo Meridian? For a start, how did they know you had them? And what did they think you were going to do with them, hijack the front desk? What a story. Glad you got them back eventually. As you say, the joys of travel!
3/7/2019 09:14:35 am
I never considered a valet tray; interesting idea. My custom is to have fixed places to keep things: reading glasses, Kindle, eye mask on the bedside table, earrings on the dresser, etc. But I can certainly see the value in corralling everything in one spot.
3/7/2019 07:41:08 am
So funny, but I always bring at least 100 condoms to Nica. There is a lot of teen pregnancy there. I have to hide the condoms though because if you are bringing something new, you have to pay taxes. And my headlamp is the best. Better than any reading lamp, great for hiking when it gets dark out and best of all it is hands free; no flashlight needed. I also bring old clothes and leave them. There are lots of donation bins in Seville and in Nica I give them to the family I stay with part of the time.Then I can buy stuff. Duct tape I wrap around my glue stick....and so on. Cheers!
3/7/2019 09:22:22 am
Kitty, I give you a lot of credit. Not sure I'd want to risk being caught with 100 condoms and trying to convince the customs officials they were for personal use. Good that you're doing what you can to combat teen pregnancy in Nicaragua; with 28% of women giving birth before the age of 18, it's clearly an urgent humanitarian need.
3/9/2019 01:28:12 pm
Yes, I too cart maps, a reusable shopping bag and some ziplocks. Great minds think alike. We aren't allowed to carry sharp objects on the plane but if going overland I'd certainly tote my multitool. Otherwise I have a small flat LED torch on my keyring - so useful for dark halllways. In the olden days, I always carried tights and sanitary towels to give to hotel maids in poorer areas like North Africa.
3/10/2019 09:11:26 am
Yes, great minds pack alike, Carolyn. Rich has a 12-in-one utility tool that has proved useful for all manner of small repairs and makeshift adaptations over the years. Between that and our iPhone we feel ready to cope with the random detours and back alleys of life on the road.
3/11/2019 12:46:42 pm
I never leave home without some of the above AND a foldable foam seat.
3/13/2019 07:39:23 am
I'd never considered a foam seat, Maria, but I can really see the utility of bringing one, especially in cooler climates. Do you make your own? Because I checked out Amazon and Travelsmith (my go-to sites for travel accessories) and don't see anything like this.
3/12/2019 09:59:51 pm
Binder clips to keep drapes together.
3/13/2019 07:44:05 am
That's a great idea, Jenny, especially for those who really like full dark for sleeping and find too much outside light bothersome. I carry an eye mask for such occasions, but binder clips on the drapes are also a good solution; I've used clothes pins for this as well.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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