By now I should be at least 83% of the following: A complete pro at security checkpoints or any kind of airport line for that matter, a suburb packer, fluent in several languages, a geographical genius, pursuer of insane travel deals, have a superhero like ability to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and an organizer extrodinaire. I’m almost there people, have patience.
I have put together things that I’m consistently finding that I forget or just blatantly ignore when traveling to put to bed the rumor that I’m not a 100% travel pro (like I said, I’m getting there) and the you don’t have to have every duck in a row from the start to be able to have a perfect trip.
1. Packing like a “pro”
Travelers (myself) that have lovingly named their suitcase “Big Red” are NOT talented packers. My number one problem is no matter how many times I pack, I can never triage enough items out of the bag to bring a seasoned traveler’s size suitcase. I am however talented at navigating an almost comical sized suitcase through just about anywhere, which is a special skill. I have two theories on this subject. The first being if I’m the one carrying it, pushing it or eventually because of complete exhausting throwing it why does anyone care if I’ve packed light or not? I despise pulling my luggage around the airport and then fighting for overhead bin space so I’m almost always checking a bag. I’m also usually at one location for a while so I have slow travel working in my favor and since I don’t have to lug a bag to a new city every day or two it makes packing heavy less stressful. I would say about half of my trips are with a larger bag so we know I have the ability to pack lightly, however, if I make a smart decision based on what kind of trip I’m going on it hasn’t made a difference. So that’s my “It’s my prerogative, I’ll pack how I want to,” view on the matter.
So now that the rant is over, the second side to the packing problem is if you travel enough, and head to enough more remote locations that if you didn’t pack light you’ll be wishing you had. There have been times I’ve come on and off small boats and waded through water to shore in Malaysia or walked up several flights of stairs in a small Parisian apartment where I’ve thanked the luggage gods that I didn’t bring 50lbs worth of stuff. So I’d say instead of packing like a pro, or packing light for the sake of packing light, pack smart. Know where your going, where you are staying, the climate, and what you’ll be doing there and then decide if it’s worth bringing everything or practically nothing.
Disclaimer: I have and will pack lightly if I need to but otherwise I usually end up “kitchen sinking” it.
2. A Lock for My Big Ass Suitcase
No, TSA worker, I don’t leave my luggage unattended, just ignore the above photo. Once you hand over your checked bag you don’t see it again until it comes barreling towards you on the carousel several hours, and most likely multiple flights later and for some people this can be unnerving. I have to be honest I really didn’t think much of locking my bag until I was in Bali and read an article about an Australian woman who was arrested for smuggling drugs and she claimed they were planted in her unlocked suitcase at the airport in Indonesia. Ok, so now you’ve got my attention on bolting up my baggage.
If you do lock your luggage, this sounds silly but DON’T pack your key inside of your locked bag. Also if it’s a coded lock, make sure you use a passcode you’ve already memorized and are familiar with. We had a faulty lock once in Ireland and the concierge sent up a handy man with enormous hedge clippers to snip the lock so my friend could get into her bags.
Not good with codes or keys? Check out this lock only James Bond could love with a key card entry HERE
HERE is what the TSA has to say about locked luggage
3. Organized Documents
I work multiple remote jobs while on the road and am involved in several nonprofit organizations so it’s in my nature to be organized and if not the threat of leaving my nomadic lifestyle behind puts the fear into me to be that way. One thing I lack however is coordinating all of my necessary information in one easily accessible place. I rely heavily on my phone to provide me information while I’m gone and occasionally that backfires if I can’t access wifi or my email like Verizon says I’m supposed to.
Tips and suggestions that I should be doing that I’m always leaving until last minute and never getting around to until it’s too late:
~ Copy your passport in case the original gets lost or stolen
~ Copies of your itinerary (addresses and numbers of hotels, flight information)
~ Sending a copy of said itinerary to your mother (another emergency contact person) to help the poor woman sleep at night. Sorry mom, I WILL get better at this, I promise!
~ Calling banks and credit cards to update them on travel dates and cities to keep access to accounts open while traveling. Nothing is worse than trying to use a card that the company froze because of suspicious activity and then having the hassle of correcting it.
3. Travler’s Insurance
Every mother or professional worrier is reading this and now squirming in their seats. This should really be listed at the top because it’s the one thing I keep looking into doing and then never following through with, shame on me. So far, the few times I have received medical care while away have been good experiences, including my recent story about my brush with Rabies in Borneo.
Read advice from the expert, my friend Christine’s travel crush, and by way of his guidebook a silent fifth wheel on our Italy trip, Rick Steves, for tips for insurance when abroad.
4. Mobile Mishaps
I envy those of you who are taking a vacation and you can leave your phone behind, shutting off communication to the outside world. Because my work is with me, I am always needing access to cell service and I have relied on Verizon to continually overcharge me for international fees and data usage for far too long. Make sure if you are going to use your phone you call your provider and find out how exorbitant the fees really are so you don’t wind up in Malaysia your first week there with over $400 in data usage charges.
6. To tip or not to tip
Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Abbie you don’t know when to tip, are you an idiot?”. I guess I should explain that this would be more of a tip about tipping than something I necessarily forget to do. Be prepared and get on the interwebs and look into the customs of the country so you have an idea of what is expected before you arrive. Then you don’t find yourself lets say, leaving a cab with your hands full of luggage because you didn’t adhere to tip #1 and the kind cab driver is helping you with said heavy things and you haven’t figured out if it’s customary to give extra cash or if he would find that odd or rude.
I was recently at an all inclusive resort and the draw for a stay there is that everything is prepaid and you don’t have to worry. Don’t forget about tipping in these scenarios too, as the staff is most likely underpaid and 99% of the rest of the guest who are sitting poolside drinking fruity drinks donned with umbrellas have probably forgotten about this too.
One thing I will say I can never remember is leaving money for maid service in my room if I’m not staying in a hostel, it is a constant “palm-to-face” moment as the shuttle leaves for the airport. The Marriott Hotel chain recently included envelopes in their rooms to remind people like me to not forget your behind the house team that makes your stay great!
BONUS TIP! Here I thought I knew everything I didn’t know until just two days ago I decided to add this to the list…
7. Bring a rain coat or umbrella
You’d think with all of my over packing that I would wise up and bring a proper coat or an umbrella with me on my journeys but no, that would mean being fully prepared. For some reason I have yet to either purchase an umbrella or dig mine out of storage and thankfully because of some deal with the devil and I have only gotten caught twice where I was regretting not having one.
Over the weekend in Gozo, Malta it rained something fierce and it was the first time since Easter the little island has seen any wet weather so to say it was torrential downpours was an understatement. This is me during the storm, drenched, wearing a beach cover up over my head waiting for a bus back to my hotel, a bus that was over 20 minutes late (the Maltese are not known for being prompt apparently). FYI, I’m smiling in this picture to keep from crying. Mother Nature, you win, I bought an umbrella.
Have any advice or do you regret not doing something to make your travel smarter, easier or more fun? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions!