Congratulations! You’ve booked your dream vacation! Maybe it’s to Europe -France, Italy, Spain. Or Hawaii or Belize or the UAE or any of the myriad destinations in this wide world. Here’s to hoping you’ve got your hotel & transport booked and have figured out those tricky visa situations. Today is all about packing.
If you’re like me, when it comes to packing you’re neither a diva nor a spartan. You just want to take all the cute clothes to be hip and fashionable while abroad but also buy some fun things to bring back. This, my moderately involved but slightly lazy populace, is the guide is for you. Now that I’m nearing double digits in trips abroad, I’ve got my packing protocol down to a science. Through my trials and tribulations, here’s what I’ve learned for a “How To Travel Overseas” packing tips.
Checked Bags -Don’t Do It
Checked bags are the worst. Not only are you often charged for them, but they’re a hassle. You have to wait in line to drop them off. You have to wait in line to pick them up. You have to carry them around with you while you travel. Even worse, they limit your mobility should your flights be delayed and rerouted. Carry-on only? You can get on any flight where the gate agent has availability. Checked bags? No sir,please wait for your state sanctioned reroute.
“But I like to take a lot of stuff!” Like what? Most hotels have hair dryers, and there are travel size versions of all your must-have shampoos and conditioners. Oh you wanna bring 10 pairs of shoes? Yeah, I can’t help you there. Without a checked bag, you’re allowed a carry-on and a personal item. There are no restrictions on the personal item other than that it must be able to fit under the seat in front of you. Using a large hiking backpack for the carry-on and a regular backpack for the personal item, I have packed for 13 day trips with ease. I have faith in you.
“But I want to bring stuff back!” While you’re in your destination country, buy a cheap bag from a thrift store or flea market to check on the way back. Depending on your flight fees, you’ll save money for not having checked one both ways. The only exception I offer for the checked bags rule is this: Do you plan to bring back something breakable? Whether we’re talking about indigenous pottery, Venetian glass or, my favorite souvenir, exotic liquors, having a hard pack suitcase can be a lifesaver. I don’t recommend them for carry-ons because you can’ maximize your space, but I will concede when merited. Better to have the assurance of safe arrival than carrying economy on occasion.
Carry On Liquids
I have super sensitive baby skin and picky hair. I don’t trust the abrasive sulfate ridden soap offered at even the luxury hotels, so I always bring my own. According to the TSA, you are allowed one quart sized bag of liquids not to exceed 3.4 oz per container. This is the size of a one quart bag. This is the size of the bag I travel with. Do you think that bag is a quart? Real question -do you think the TSA has time to argue with me about the size of that bag? They don’t. It’s close enough, so it counts -move along ma’am. I’ve taken this thing on every flight for the past 7 years with no issues. Find yourself a similar miracle bag and you’ll never have to worry about hotel soap again. Want to fit a few extra mini-bottles to enjoy at the airport before your flight? It’s good to have that little bit of extra space.
Money and Passports
Always, always, always keep a copy of your passport with you when you travel. Rather than keep a paper copy like some places recommend, I keep a copy in my email so it’s always available and not trapped back at the hotel. When you’re overseas, try to avoid carrying your passport with you. Preferably, your hotel will have a safe installed somewhere in the room so you can keep it locked up. Use your standard driver’s license during the day if you need it to validate…something? Reservations? I dunno. I’ve never had anyone check my ID in Europe for anything as long as I had a ticket.
As far as money goes, you can ask your bank to provide currency for you before you leave. But let’s be honest, that takes forethought and planning and going to the bank. Bleh. Five years ago, it was rare for restaurants to let you pay with a card. Now, at-the-table readers are ubiquitous. Get a credit card that doesn’t charge international fees and use it for most places (hotels, restaurants, museums, etc.). But cash is king so it’s always good to have some local currency. I have an online bank that waives ATM fees because they don’t have any branches anywhere. You won’t be able to get away from the currency conversion fee here, but it does make it easy and a little bit cheaper to get money out. It’s good to pack some spare American cash for the return home just in case, and depending on your destination of choice, American currency might even be the preferred. Maybe be suspicious of devaluing US currency and funding cartels with cash, but I leave that decision to you.
Phone and Internet
Hey, we’re all dependent on the internet now. I typically switch my phone plan to an international plan for my country of choice. I go basic so it’s not terribly expensive, and I like the buffer it gives me in case of emergencies. Europe is mostly hooked up with free Wifi available most places. Keep your phone on airplane mode and utilize free Wifi only. Another option -bring an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM card. I have’t done this since Germany in 2009, but it should get you a little more data for a little cheaper than your American International plan.
And there you have it. My top tips and tricks for overseas packing. Next time? Planning your overseas vacay! Maybe we’re a little backwards, but I’ve got to go enjoy mine real fast. Then we’ll be back and I’ll be set to planning another to include you all in the process.