10 Things I Pack When Traveling (And 10 Things I Leave At Home)

Monday, November 7, 2011

1) Extra ATM Card with $100

I was this close to being stuck in a sleepy town in Cambodia with little more than a pair of shoes and a passport to my name. The ATM machine ate my bank card, and with the upcoming bank holiday on Monday, I could’ve been stuck for three days, penniless, if I didn’t have a backup card with me.

Loaded up with just enough money to get me through a couple days, that day I transferred all the money I needed from my primary bank account into my backup and I was set. Save yourself the hassle, and bring an extra card along linked to an account with $100. If it gets stolen or missing, it’s not a huge loss of money.

2) Earplugs

Earplugs are great for plane rides, helpful for bus trips, and essential for hostels. Be smart and bring a whole pack to dole out to others to make instant friends.

3) Lonely Planet Guide Book

I’ve tried other guides, but the classic Lonely Planet guides consistently deliver what I need from a guide book: accurate lodging options, basic maps, transportation information and plenty of blank pages in the back for notes. Plus, I like the way all my LP books looks together on my bookcase.

4) Backup Contact Lenses

Sure, I’m bringing my glasses with me, but if a lens gets knocked out by a wayward elbow or dislodged during an ill-advised midnight swim, I want to have a backup pair of contacts so I don’t have to worry about fumbling around with glasses. Plus, given their size, it’s not a hassle to store them in my toiletry bag.

5) LED Mini Flashlight

LED mini flashlights are small, light and last forever, and they are great if you stay in hostels. Use them to read, check the time or pack up your bag early in the morning, all without waking up your roommates.

6) Large Book I’m Prepared Not to Crack Open

I inevitably set aside that large book in my bookcase for my trip, thinking that I’ll finally have time to delve in. Of course, by the time I’ve ended my trip, I realize I’ve been too busy meeting others, watching the landscape out the window and planning my days to crack open that copy of Midnight’s Children orInfinite Jest. But I bring them anyway. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get stuck in jail and I’ll need some reading material?

7) Gorilla Tripod

Bar none the best accessory for your camera and camcorder. Set up shots of yourself or of you and a friend even when no one else is around, include yourself in video shoots, and never worry about looking for a flat surface — I’ve stuck mine on a pole, in a tree and on a rock before.

8) Too Many Pairs of Socks and Underwear

For obvious reasons, they are small, light and essential in life, let alone traveling when cleanliness and laundry are usually hard to come by.

9) Day Bag with Lots of Pockets

I always carry along a day bag that has enough pockets to hold my camera, guide book, sunglasses, extra clothing layer, camcorder and book, and will be able to serve as a pillow should I happen to find myself somewhere needing a nap. Messenger style works best since it hugs your body more (backpacks just call out for pickpocketers), and their smaller size does wonder for my back.

10) Flip-Flops

Flip-flops are great whether you’re staying in hostels (for the shower), going to the beach (easier to pack than big sandals) or exploring a hot region (less burdensome than sneakers).


Things I Leave At Home

1) Phone

I have my phone on me almost every second of my normal life. Traveling Matt loves to get disconnected and not be distracted by e-mails and social media.

2) Backup Paper Documents

A year ago I scanned in my birth certificate, passport and immunization shot card and uploaded them all as PDFs to Google Docs. Rather than worrying about carrying around a bunch of extra documents and photocopies (where they could be lost, ruined by rain or stolen), I know that I’m just one click away from printing out copies.

3) Computer

I’m always surprised how prevalent internet cafes are around much of the world. Save yourself the weight and worry of bringing along a laptop or tablet device and rely on cheap internet cafes and hotel/hostel computers for your internet needs. Sure they cost a little bit and you may have to wait a bit to use them, but it’s worth the hassle, plus you’re likely to make new friends while there.

4) Watch

I love not knowing the time when I’m traveling. Sure that make me be a bit less punctual than Normal Matt, but it’s amazing how liberating it is not to be shackled by time constraints.

5) Preconcieved Notions

This goes without saying: When traveling, drop the attitude and judgment, and take things in stride. Better yet, try avoiding any preconceived notions about the place you’re headed. This allows you to be pleasantly surprised and avoid let-downs when expectation aren’t met.

6) Nice Shoes

Of course it’s nice to have a nice (or at least decent) pair of shoes to wear in case you head out to a restaurant or hit up the club, but their bulky size just isn’t worth it. Be content with being the person in casual shoes at the nice place — chances are no one will even notice.

7) Money Belt

I really wish this travel accessory could be un-invented. Yes, pickpocketing can occur while traveling, just as it can when you’re walking the streets back home. That’s no reason to dress up like a Navy Seal. Stick your cash and cards in your front pocket and be aware of your surroundings, and you can avoid getting annoying mid-body nylon irritation and looking like you’re frightened of the outside world every time you need some cash to buy a bottle of water.

8) Heavy Coat

Opt for the sweatshirt or my favorite, the American Apparel track jacket, over the bulky coat. You can stow these away in your bag as the day warms up, or use them as blankets while on a plane or bus, but still be comforted in knowing they’re taking up a fraction of the space in your suitcase then a heavy coat would.

9) Things You Can Buy Anywhere (Medical Supplies, Tissues, Soap, Snacks, Etc…)

You’re traveling to Saigon, not the Gobi Desert. Don’t waste the space packing every conceivable medical supply and backup toiletry item in the world. If you need something, chances are you can find it wherever you are in a matter of minutes, and probably at a fraction of the price.

10) MP3 Player

What are the two things that seem to always get stolen by travelers? The answer is cameras and iPods. Leave your MP3 player at home and avoid being a giant target for thieves. Plus, want to know the best way to avoid meeting new people, making new friends and fully taking in your surroundings? Try walking around with a pair of earphones in your ears.

By Matt Stabile


About the Author

Matt Stabile runs TheExpeditioner.com. You can read his writings, see his videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at TheExpeditioner.com.

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