This guest article for McCool Travel was written by Johnny Jet.
Pack Light – But Don’t Skip These Essentials
There is always a sadness about packing. I guess you wonder if where you’re going is as good as where you’ve been.’ – Richard Proenneke
There is a lot of mystique surrounding travel. As someone whose life involves mixing business and pleasure on one voyage after another, I can promise you that I LOVE to travel. I can also promise you that the time spent away from the predictability of home can be some of the most problematic, miserable, and potentially dangerous you will ever spend… IF you fail to prepare for it. Just as the beauty and grandeur of life is amplified by an epic journey, so can life’s pitfalls ensnare you more easily when you are the most alien, the most vulnerable.
You’ve heard that the first three rules of real estate are Location, Location, Location. For travel, that mantra should read: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. Join me for a lighthearted lecture on Johnny’s Jet-Setter Travel Basics. Then cast off with a much higher chance of safety, success, and a fantastic travel experience.
Part I: What to Leave at Home
People focus a lot on what to bring with them when they travel. However, in today’s society of ubiquitous convenience stores, internet ordering, and massive airport infrastructure, it can be easier to OBTAIN something than to keep it safe. With that in mind, here are some things it’s better to leave at home (or at least consider carefully before packing them).
I know. You want to look great in your travel photos, and what says ‘Hello from Cairo’ better than your Rolex or Cartier earrings? However, when it comes to valuables, you should go as light (and cheap) as possible. On top of the natural prospect that you’ll leave something sandwiched in the seat of your cab, thieves congregate at big travel depots and destinations. Trust me: they’re better at getting your stuff than you are at keeping it. Consider durable, rugged, and tightly fastening alternatives to your normal accessories.
This should go without saying, but in my experience it doesn’t. If something has huge sentimental value for you, don’t bring it on a trip. Ever.
Identification you Don’t Need
This may go against your natural inclination (and some well-intended advice). On any given day, you or I probably have at least a half dozen photo and non-photo IDs on us: driver’s license, passport, library card, credit card, loyalty card, etc. There are two issues at play here:
#1 – Identification can be very hard to replace when you are traveling.
#2 – Lost/Stolen ID can put you at a HUGE risk of dangerous and costly identity fraud.
Do some research and carefully select the IDs you need. For example, if you are going to be flying overseas, but not driving, leave your driver’s license at home and take your Passport. If you’re taking a cross-country road trip, do the opposite. Leave non-essential personal references (e.g. workplace IDs, loyalty cards) at home.
Credit Cards you Don’t Need
The US State Department recommends traveling with only ONE credit card when you travel internationally. Leave the others at home to minimize risk of loss and information exposure. When selecting your credit card, pick one that gives you the most rewards when you travel. If you do bring multiple credit cards with you on the road, consider packing them in separate pieces of luggage (or at least in separate compartments in the same item).
Part II: Picking your Pack
The most important piece of gear that you bring with you is the one (or two) that holds all the other ones. Before we get into my favorite never-leave-home-without-them travel essentials, let’s talk about your luggage.
Travel with Two
After years of living outside my home, I can tell you with confidence that two is the magic number of bags to maximize efficient, comfortable travel. My strategy is to always pack like I’m going to be carrying on a plane (even if I’m not). That means one larger bag/suitcase for clothes and any bulky or heavy items and one briefcase-sized bag (e.g. a backpack or travel purse). Always keep your most valuable (and essential) items in the smaller bag and never let it out of your sight/grasp when moving from point to point.
I love Rolling Pullman luggage. Believe it or not, until the early 1970s, it didn’t exist. A Massachusetts luggage manufacturer named Bernard Sadow had the revolutionary idea, and in half a century, Rolling Pullmans have changed everything about travel. The proliferation of the baggage style even forced every airline in the world to reinvent their passenger cabins.
If you don’t have one, I strongly suggest buying a Rolling Pullman suitcase that fits in the overhead compartment (it’s an industry standard size).
No, not armed. I mean that you should always consider how a piece of luggage will attach to your body when you move. For instance, both a classic hard-sided suitcase and a traditional briefcase are pretty awful pieces of luggage when it comes to secure, efficient, comfortable travel. The more straps a bag has (and the more versatile these straps), the more adaptable it is. Although it may not be the chicest travel look, I generally prefer a backpack for my smaller bag: a day or day-and-a-half pack from an outfitter like The North Face or L.L. Bean.
Part III: Johnny’s Travel Essentials
Now that we’ve talked about what to leave at home and what bag to pack, let’s address what to put into that bag. It may surprise you that I don’t suggest a lot of elaborate, niche gizmos. While there is plenty of great new travel tech on the market, when it comes to the essentials, the basics are, well… basic!
These days, most people eschew standard watches for the ubiquitous cell phone clock. While traveling, there are a couple of notable issues with that:
#1 – Time Zones. When I travel, I like to keep home-time and local-time. I’ll wear a watch that I don’t change when the time zone does and then let my phone clock auto-adjust to the new time zone. When you’re taking off and putting down in different times, it’s nice to have some consistency. Remember, this is the time your body feels.
#2 – Power. Heaven forbid you lose track of your charger (we’ll get to that later). While we all want to think of travel as this great, freeing wanderlust ordeal, the truth is that it can be very time-sensitive. Checking in for a trans-Pacific flight in a foreign country is a bad moment to lose track of time.
All that said, consider an analog watch or other traditional time-piece when you travel.
When it comes to packing clothes for savvy travel, there are two seemingly conflicting philosophies: pack light and pack for all conditions. The key to conquering both missions is layering. Think less about bringing multiple options as bringing different versions.
Let me give you an example. Instead of packing four different button-down shirts, take up the same amount of room with: a short T, a long T, a fleece, and a light jacket. Now you have over a dozen combinations that will ensure appropriate attire in as many temperatures and situations.
Unless you’re going to go totally ‘Into the Wild’ on your next expedition, you’ll want electronics and those gadgets will need juice. If you’ve ever left a phone charger (or ten) in a hotel room, you know that desperation-buys like accessories from airport tech stores can suffer from HUGE mark-ups. Even worse, you might not be able to find the right charging cable and then your whole trip becomes about that. Do yourself a favor and bring an extra. Or two.
ANCIENT TRAVEL TIP: If you ever find yourself at a hotel without a charger, ask at the front desk. They will have a whole drawer that guests have deserted in rooms upon check-out. Trust me.
Prescription Medicine and Eyewear
Nothing will bring an exciting excursion to a screeching halt faster than running out of a needed medicine or even a contact prescription while on the road. Pack extra and always double-check every time you move spots. Even better, back some in one bag and some in another (or, in the case of eyewear, bring contacts AND glasses).
Part IV: Good Talk. See Ya Out There.
I know this hasn’t been one of those super sexy travel articles. There are plenty of those to be found with a few key strokes. The truth is, you can’t enjoy Paris or the Pyramids or the Great Barrier Reef if you’re too busy dodging disaster.
Part of what makes travel exciting is the unknown, but there are good adventures and ones you’ll wish you never had. Stack the deck in your favor with a little research and some due diligence. After that, the world is yours. See ya out there.
C. Benjamin Lovell is a travel writer and contributor to the leading travel website JohnnyJet.com, and publishes the writing website gothicoptimist.com.