Travel Essentials

My Experience:

  • I have traveled for work and leisure for 35+ years.
  • I have travelled to multiple climates and multiple countries.
  • I have owned expensive luggage.
  • I have owned cheap luggage.
  • I have made my own travel gear.
  • I can’t forget the Boy Scout Motto (“Be Prepared!”).
  • I have a lot of opinions, right or wrong.

The award for the worst carry-on restrictions goes to RyanAir:

These guys don’t mess around.  Checked bags are expensive and the carry-on restrictions are tight.  We try to stay within these limits for all our european trips just in case.

  • Bag = 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (21.65in x 15.74in x 7.87in)
  • Personal Item = 35cm x 20cm x 20cm (13.78in x 7.87in x 7.87in)

My Favorite carry-on personal item:

I have two backpacks I use for personal items. I use one for business travel and one for leisure travel.

Things I look for in a backpack:

  • It shoud be about 35 litres.
  • It needs several zippered pockets so things stay organized and I can get to them easily (even when my backpack is under the airplane seat in front of me).
  • It must have a place to hold or attach a water bottle.
  • It should have room for electronics. I never check expensive laptops or cameras (they will wind up damaged or missing).
  • It shouldn’t have a waist belt. If your backpack is too heavy to carry on your shoulders, you overpacked.

My business backpack is a SwissGear ScanSmart bag.

  • When I travel for business, I carry a 15″ laptop.
  • I don’t worry about weight because I am usually not walking great distances.
  • The ScanSmart bags zip open so you don’t need to take out your laptop when you go through airport security.

My leisure backpack was from Walmart.

  • It is all black.
  • It doesn’t have a lot of technical webbing and attachment points.
  • It has a shoe compartment in the bottom. I use this to hold the rain shell of my North Face TriClimate jacket.
  • It has vinyl on the bottom portion so I can set it down on wet surfaces.
  • It has enough space to hold my mirrorless camera and my 11.6″ chromebook.

My favorite carry-on bag:

My carry-on bag is a soft-sided, zippered suitcase. I only use a carry-on bag when I am taking short business trips. I don’t really want to lug a bag around airports. I can’t fit more than a couple of days of clothing in a carry-on. You have to worry about removing liquids at TSA, etc.

I have owned expensive luggage that had a lifetime guarantee. I don’t recommend this. The bags will still wear out. The zippers will still fail. When you exercise the warranty, the company will send you the closest current model (not your original model or style). Pathfinder sent me a replacement bag that wasn’t even close to the suitor bag I used and loved.

These days, I buy most of my luggage at TJ Maxx (TK Maxx in Europe). They have some great, lightweight, decent quality options like the IT bags or the Mia Toro and you can save a lot of money.

My carry-on should have at least one zippered outside pocket large enough to carry my liquids so I can remove them easily at TSA.

My favorite checked bag:

I want my checked bag to:

  • be lightweight
  • have room enough for 2 weeks of travel.
  • be expandable to accomodate things I buy on a trip.
  • be rugged. Because luggage gets dragged, dropped, smashed, scuffed, and torn.
  • have backpack straps and a shoulder strap so I can carry it to the rental car building or to and from bus stops.
  • Have a large opening like a suitcase (not just a hole in the top).

I don’t need my checked bag to:

  • have lots of pockets or zippered compartments. I can organize with packing cubes.
  • have waist straps because I wouldn’t carry it up a mountain.

I have tried lots of different types of checked bags. I have used large roller suitcases. I have used large tactical backpacks. I have tried cheap duffle bags.

Roller suitcases are great on flat pavement. They aren’t so great when you have to get them on and off the bus, up and down stairs, or roll them down a brick or cobblestone street.

Soft sided duffles and backpacks are easily torn because they catch on everything. I just got back from a trip to Ireland and my monopod wore a hole through the outside of my tactical backpack.

A couple of years ago, I got a North Face Base Camp Medium Duffel as a business gift. I threw it into the closet and forgot about it. It is heavy duty, water resistant, and has backpack straps. It has compression straps so it fits the “expandable” requirement. It is missing two things that would make it perfect: A removable shoulder strap and a way to tie down the backpack straps so they don’t catch on things. Did I mention I have made my own travel gear? I think I can make a couple of modifications to this duffel to make it perfect. I am going to use this for my next trip.

Update, REI makes a great travel duffel that has all the features I was missing on the North Face. This is my new, go-to travel bag.

Chargers, Blow Dryers, and all things Electrical:

If you travel outside the USA, Canada, Mexico, Japan or the Caribbean Islands, you will need to deal with power adapters. There is a great reference online, here.

When you travel outside these areas, you face two problems:

  1. Your electrical plug won’t fit into the electrical socket.
  2. Your device may require a different voltage. In the USA, a typical household power outlet provides approximately 110V of power. In most of the rest of the world, they outlets provide 220V. Some 110V devices will spark, melt, smoke, and possibly catch fire when plugged into a 220V outlet.

This all sounds complicated and dangerous but it doesn’t have to be. You can solve all of these problems with a little advance planning.

You can purchase international power adapters at most big box or travel stores. These devices will adapt your power cords to the local electrical outlets. You may also need to convert the 220V power to 110V by using a Voltage Converter.

Voltage Converters:

I never use voltage converters. I don’t need them and I don’t like them. They are heavy, complicated,and prone to failure.

The only time you need a voltage converter is when you need to run devices with old fashioned transformer power supplies or devices with motors and/or heating elements like blow dryers and curling irons.

If you must use a voltage converter, make sure you read the instructions carefully and know the watts required to run your device.

Switching Power Supplies:

Many modern computer, tablet, phone and other power supplies use Switching Power Supplies. This technology allows them to run on either 110V or 220V power. The only thing you need for these devices is a physical plug adapter. You can verify your device has a switching power supply and is 220V compatible by reading the fine print on the side of the charging block. If the INPUT specification shows a voltage range from around 110V to a around 220V, you are already good to go.

Dual Voltage Devices:

For everything else like blow dryers and curling irons, look for items that run on dual voltage. You can purchase these at the big box stores and they aren’t expensive.

My wife carries several of these in her suitcase. Some have a physical switch that you MUST remember to move when you travel internationally and some, like her tiny curling iron are able to autosense the power and adjust accordingly.

You only need ONE physical plug adaper!

I always carry a small power strip so I can plug several devices into one outlet. Note: Most of the outlets in other countries don’t use a ground wire. I have modified some of my plugs to eliminate the ground prong. YOU SHOULD NOT DO THIS. I am not responsible for any harm that comes to you or your belongings from modified electrical connectors.

Cheap, lightweight power strip that runs 3 USA devices on a single power adapter.
If all of your devices are 2-prong, this is a great option.

Packing Tips:

  • Take a medium sized Space Saver style bag (about the size of your suitcase). I don’t use them to compress my clothes. I use them to store wet clothing or muddy shoes. They are stronger than a typical ziplock style bag and they seal well.
  • Place all aerosol cans in a large ziplock bag. If they leak on your clothes, they will remove the color just like bleach.
  • I take a nylon stuff bag for dirty clothes. This keeps them separate from your clean clothes and makes it easy to take them to the laundry.

Things I nearly always pack:

  • Vapur Eclipse Water Bottle
    • These bottles weigh almost nothing and roll up very small.  Carry them with you and fill them after you get through security at the airport.  No need to purchase expensive water at the airport.    
  • Sea To Summit Lite Line Clothesline
    • I like it because it is ultra small, light and functional.
  • Extension cord with triple tap
    • There are never enough outlets.  You can also use this to create three U.S. outlets with a single international power adapter. 
  • Leave the umbrella at home and get a decent rain jacket.  I love my North Face Triclimate Jacket
    • You can wear the outer shell as a rain jacket or the inner shell for cool, dry weather.  Both jackets together will save your tail when the snow starts to fly.  I carry a small stuff bag in the pocket of the outer shell.  I can stuff the outer shell into the bag and strap it to my backpack when I don’t need it.   
  • Stocking cap (winter), ball cap.
  • Liquid 311 bag with:
    • Travel deodorant
    • Hand / Foot lotion
    • Toothpaste
    • Lip Balm / Chapstick
    • Concentrated camping soap. Washes you and your clothes.
    • Shaving Cream (Note: Hotel Cream rinse makes excellent shaving cream.)
    • (You don’t need to take a lot.  There are pharmacies everywhere to replenish)
  • Medication:
    • Your prescriptions (Take 2 or 3 days extra in case your flights get cancelled.)
    • Benadryl tabs (helps with cold symptoms too)
    • Tylenol
    • I like these GoTubb pill cases
  • Gallon zip lock bag.  
  • One plastic zip compression bag for wet clothes
  • Dry toiletries in ballistic nylon and bag
  • 85% wool socks (just 3 pair)
  • 2 sets of Shoe inserts (full length so they stay put). Change daily.  
  • 2 thin long sleeve undershirts (medium warmth)
  • 1 thin long underwear (medium warmth)
  • Cop pants (black) black black and maybe tan
  • TSA pre check
  • Mirrorless Camera and lens filters.  
  • Charger cables (short)
  • Power bank
  • Tape measure.  (Engineer)
  • Corkscrew & bottle opener (domestic only, some international flights ban these)
  • Something to cut with. I like small, folding sewing scissors.
  • TSA friendly shoes and belt. 
  • Stuff bags in 3 sizes (shoes, pocket contents, dirty clothes.)
  • Collapsible bag or backpack.
  • Clothing folders.  
  • If you need to take a suit, dont forget:
    • Undershirt
    • Black socks
    • Black belt
    • Black shoes.  
  • Moleskin
  • Band aids
  • Pin to pop blisters (sewing kit)
  • Nasal rinse with detergent top
  • Tooth brush
  • Q tips
  • Eye glass and camera lens cleaner.  Spudz.  
  • Contact lens solution.

Packing Light – what to take – what to leave

  • The maximum you should pack is:
    • 2 pr of black pants.
    • 3 shirts
    • 3 pari of socks – >= 80% merino wool socks can be worn for several days in a row and can be worn wet and will still keep your feet warm.
  • Wear one pair of shoes and take on additional pair.
  • You really don’t need a travel towel.
  • Most hotels provide shampoo and conditioner. You should take 1 bottle of all-in-one body wash and shampoo just in case. You can refill this bottle with the body wash that most hotels provide.
  • You can take 1 travel can of shaving cream but hotel conditioner works well as shaving cream if you don’t have any.

Travel Tips and Tricks

  • Laundry
    • Take along powdered laundry detergent I use my food vacuum sealer to make packets of dry soap. I put about 1/2 a washing machine load in each bag.
    • Always wash clothing when you will be staying in one place for at least two nights. This will allow them time to dry in the hotel room.
    • You can wash clothes in the sink or the bathtub with dry laundry detergent or with hotel shampoo.
    • Ask for extra towels and, after wringing out your clothes, roll them in a towel to remove most of the mousture then hang them to dry.
  • When you forget to pack something, go to a drugstore like CVS and Walgreens. You can find an amazing number if items there. They even carry black dress socks.
  • Deodorant prevents chaffing. Put it anywhere you need to.
  •  Use shaving cream on eyeglasses to works to scrub away grime.
  • Create an emergency layover kit and keep it in your carry-on bag. Include things like extra underwear and socks and a days worth of any prescription medication. Use these when your flight is cancelled and you have to spend the night in an airport hotel.
  • 1 travel-sized deodorant lasts aproximately 7 days.
  • Passports – Make sure your passport still has 6 months left on it (after the time you get back from your trip). Make sure you have enough blank pages left for each country you will visit. Some will sticker visas to a blank page.
  • In many newer hotels and most european hotels there is a small card slot near the door and you must use your room key to turn on the lights and run the heat and air conditioning. This saves power when you are not in the room but it also means you may forget your key when you leave the room. You can substitute many things for a room key in the slot. You can use a business card or a room key from a previous hotel stay or cardboard from the hotel soap or shower cap box.
  • Compression socks and sleeves. Compressing your lower extremities prevents liquid from pooling while you are sitting for long periods or walking for long periods. I prefer to take 1 pair of Calf Compression Sleeves. You can wear the same pair for multiple days and just change your socks.
  • Take 1 or 2 regular asprin before long flights to prevent blood clots.
  • If you travel with a larger laptop, consider a backpack that zips open to lay the laptop flat in its own separate compartment. These are inexpensive and available at many big-box stores.
  • If you take more than one pair of shoes, consider taking a pair of waterproof shoes.

Medicines

  • You can mix pills and take them without the original bottles. I would take pictures of the original bottles so you can explain what each one is. Pills can be identified by their shape, color, and the numbers molded into them.
  • Liquid medicine should always be carried in the original container.

Money, Exchange Rates and Local Currency.

  • Take 2 Visa cards when you travel. Visa cards are virtually universally accepted but sometimes, you card can get marked for fraud and you will need to revert to another card while you negotiate with your bank to release the card.
  • Notify your credit card company before you leave for your trip. Tell them the dates and locations wherere you will be travelling.
  • Avoid exchanging currencies at a bank. Exchanging currency at a bank in your home country can carry hefty fees (around 10%). You will also pay another 10% to convert any remaining foreign currency into your local currency when you return. Your credit card company should only charge you about 1% for foreign transactions.
  • Use your Visa card whenever possible. If you are asked if you want to pay in your home currency, say NO. Always pay in the local currency. For example: when you are travelling to the European Union from the U.S., they will always ask you if you want to pay in U.S. Dollars or Euros. ALWAYS pay in Euros. If you try to pay in U.S. dollars, you will pay their inflated exchange rate and not the cheaper exchange rate provided by your credit card company.
  • Before you leave for your trip, purchase no more than about $100 in the foreign currency. Get the smallest bills you can. $100 should be enough to get you from the airport to your hotel or an ATM or to purchase a meal at a restaraunt that does not accept credit cards. Use your Visa card for all transactions. If you feel you need to replenish your $100, use an ATM machine.

Sailing through Security – TSA Pre

Known Traveler status costs about $80 dollars for 4 years and is easy to obtain. You can make an appointment onlineto answer a few questions and get fingerprinted.

The TSA will mail you your Known Traveler Number (KTN) a few days later.

When you add a KTN to your travel profile when you purchase airline tickets, they will print your “TSA Pre” on your boarding pass. A TSA Pre boarding pass allows you to use a faster queue at security checkpoints and typically allows you to leave your liquids and computers in your bag and allows you to leave on your (non-metallic) shoes and a light jacket. NOTE: TSA Pre is a U.S. based status and doesn’t really help with international travel.

What to wear

  • When you dress to leave for your trip, try to avoid anything with metal on it. For example, I wear a velcro belt that has no buckle so I don’t have to take it off when I go through airport security.
  • Wear loose fitting tennis shoes or slip-on shoes. They are easy to take off and put on and they will be more comfortable if your feet swell on long flights.
  • Always carry a small stuff bag in your pants or jacket pocket. Before you go through security, you can empty your pockets into the bag, add your watch, cell phone and other metallic items, and you will have a single place for all your items as they pass through the x-ray machine. It is easy to foget items at the security checkpoint when they are in multiple bins or loose under other items.

What to carry on and what to check:

  • Your carry-on should include any medicines you cannot live without. Checked bags can get lost for days or permanently.
  • You carry any valuable electronics like cameras and computers. These get stolen from checked bags.
  • You should add a package of one-time-use toothbrushes (wisps). These can be used without water or in the airport bathroom and they will make you feel much better after a long flight.
  • Carry 1 spare pair of undergarments (socks, underwear) in case your flight is delayed and you have to stay overnight.
  • Carry a battery backup for your cell phone so I can be charged before you land and you can use it for navigation.
  • Carry a short (6-inch) cable for each device you wish to power with your battery backup.
  • I typically don’t carry my CPAP unit on the plane but I have considered it.

What to check:

  • Heavy stuff. You don’t want to lug around a lot of extra stuff around the airports. Most of the time, you bags will find you so, if you don’t need it immediately or you can live without it permanently, check it.
  • Check as many liquids as you can. Most liquids are easily replaced. Check everyting except liquid medicines and contact lens solution.

Sailing through Customs

  • Foreign Customs officers will typically want to know the start and end dates of your trip, the major cities you will be visiting, and the purpose of your trip (business, leisure, etc.). Have this information ready before you approach the officer.
  • Things you need to know about U.S. Customs
    • You don’t need to keep a lot of tax receipts for goods you purchased outside the U.S. as long as you purchased $1600 or less in goods on your trip.
    • If you keep a short list of the things that your purchase, it will make it easier for you to answer the questions. You don’t have to be specific. The list should be like: two t-shires, two hats, a bottle of wine, and a sweater. You don’t have to list the things you purchsase to consume during your trip like shampoo or food.
    • Don’t bring anything back that is alive (plants, animals).
    • Don’t bring any fresh food back.
    • The Customs process is easy and, as long as you aren’t trying to import goods to sell, you should sail right through with just a couple of questions.
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