Things I Bring: A Personal Packing List

Now, to contradict myself, a little. A few posts ago, in Less is More, I wrote extensively about why travelers must, absolutely must, bring less when they wander far from home, and then how to do it. Of course, there are things that I always bring when traveling. Here's that (long-ish) list.

  • Medicines and items that would require a doctors or physician's permission or the ability to clearly explain or understand complex medical information. Think about wandering around a pharmacy trying to decode medicine bottles in Greek or describing your (perhaps, delicate or embarrassing) condition/need to a pharmacist in your broken version of the local language. Bring any prescription drugs and over-the-counter aids for headaches, colds, GI issues, nausea, motion sickness, allergies. Extra pairs of contacts and contact solution. Eye glasses. Your preferred brand of feminine hygiene products. And, condoms, too. (Let's keep it real, people.)

Side note: The US Transportation Security Agency requires that, for all US air travel, any liquids, lotions or gels in carry on luggage fit in 3 mL containers or smaller, and that all contained liquids, etc. fit in a quart-sized plastic bag. (Checked luggage doesn't have any limitation on liquids, lotions or gels.) Because of this limitation, I've replaced as many liquid toiletries as I am able with a solid or powder format: a bar of soap, bars of shampoo and conditioner (find 'em at Lush), and powder cosmetics (I like Bare Escentuals & bare Minerals). I am looking for solid/powder options for lotion and a toothpaste, too! Any recommendations? A nice side effect of reducing liquids in the carry-on is less chance for your clothes getting ruined from spilled toiletries. You can find many of your favorite cosmetics in travel sizes at your local pharmacy. But if you want to save a bit of money, try The Container Store. They sell a plethora of reusable travel size cosmetics holders to which you can transfer a portion of your regular sized goodies. Many times outdoors stores will have cool travel stuff for the backpacking set that will work splendid for the trip-less-rugged. See REI, Patagonia, Flight 001, and your local mom-and-pop store.

  • A small comfort from home for your home-away-from-home, like fuzzy warm socks, slippers, a cotton robe or flannel pajamas.
  • Paper maps. Road maps, subway/public transportation maps, airport maps, maps of major landmarks. Hell, even Hollywood star maps! Know where you are, and know where you're getting to. If you'll be driving anywhere, especially in the countryside or in a country where you can't easily ask for/understand directions, there's no telling if your GPS or your smartphone will work or be accurate. Things tend to break at the moment you most need them.
  • Print outs of your itinerary, important receipts/invoices, boarding passes. Duh.
  • Packets of liquid laundry detergent. I know you don't want to spend your vacation doing laundry - but hey, you might want to wear your favorite blouse more than once. Also, stains happen. And, doing a bit of laundry means you can bring less stuff! Until very recently you'd see these lovely packets of Woolite at your local Container Store. Too bad they changed the packaging recently. The old ones gave the word "handwash" a whole new meaning! Ha!

  • Spare set o' clothes in the carry on. At the minimum, one extra pair of underwear. If you simply have to check in a bag, please do carry a spare set. Once I went to the Philippines with all my clothes in our checked luggage - I mean, I had every stitch of clothing in the checked bags, save for what was on my back. I didn't see my clothes until a week after I'd arrived. And if you've been to Manila, you know that getting to/from the airport is not a picnic. On another trip, after my carry-on was swallowed up by Dulles Airport upon my late-night arrival, I asked my cousin to bring me to a CVS to buy a three-pack of granny underpants. A funny memory, yes. But completely avoidable!
  • And speaking of carry-ons, keep your valuables on you: passport, cash, cards, electronics, jewelry & anything of sentimental value that you wouldn't want to lose over the transom. If you're going to be standing up in someone's wedding, bring the bridesmaid's dress on board, too. That would kinda suck to lose that.
  • My cabin survival gear: Earplugs and eye mask. A small towel and a bit of face soap, toothbrush and toothpaste for washing up when want to feel human again (before bed on a red-eye and after I deplane). Lotion & bottled water to hydrate (I rarely drink alcohol on an airplane for the same reason). My favorite reading material: a novel, GQ, Esquire, Vanity Fair. Some vitamin C supplements to keep healthy. A bit of perfume in a rollerball tube (look at Sephora) takes that stale airplane smell away. Something to neaten up/hold back my sometimes unruly hair. A pack of gum. And, if I'm traveling with someone, a pack of playing cards.
  • Antibacterial wipes/gel and packets of facial tissue, in case you have to use a sketchy, icky bathroom or cop a squat in the woods :)
  • Sunglasses. I paid $30 for sunglasses at the Grand Canyon. Boo. Unless you're going to SoHo where a knockoff of any pair of sunglasses ever made is available for less than $15, bring the Ray Bans.
  • Notebook (pocket/purse size) and pens. Jot down an itinerary of notes and locations here, instead of carrying the Lonely Planet guidebook around. I'm a writer so I want to be able to write down a few sentences whenever the inspirations strikes me! Also, if you're in a country where you cannot write the local language, it will be useful to have your home-away-from-home address written down to show cab drivers when you want to return.
  • Address book, old fashioned form or the smartphone. I love writing postcards to my family and friends. It's such a nice way to connect and make someone at home feel special. Plus the postcard pictures are usually much better than the ones I can take!
  • And don't forget sunscreen! By the grace of genetics and melanin, I'm hardly one to burn or peel with a bit of exposure but I'd rather not have a face that looks like a catcher's mitt in 10 years. Preserve the sexy.
  • Are you on vacation? Yes? Then, don't bring a laptop! If you have to do work, I understand, and I've been there before. But if not, DON'T BRING IT!
  • Plug converters and electronic chargers.
  • Camera and extra camera battery and/or extra memory stick. My digital camera's a bit older and the battery tends to drain faster now. The last thing I want to be concerned about when I'm out is limiting the number of photos I take.

But for goodness' sake: Put down the camera and just enjoy where you are! Create memories without worrying about preserving memories first. Live in the moment.