One of the greatest discoveries as you enter into retirement is that now you have the time to travel. Possibly you have traveled during your work life. But much of this travel may have been work-related, and what was not travel for work, may have been rushed and stressful, or worse, an “on the bus, off the bus” group trip. None of these forms of travel would have given you much of an idea of how glorious and engaging travel can be when it is not work-related, rushed and stressful, or tethered to a group.
Now, as you enter a period when your travels may be more extensive, your questions may become more pressing. You have your bucket lists of travels to accomplish, and you know that it is essential to undertake your travel adventures while you are still energetic and agile. Of course your questions will likely start with: “Where shall I go?” Next you may ask: “Shall I travel independently or in a group?” Then you will inquire: “How shall I plan my trip so it will be an enjoyable and memorable experience?” And probably your next query will be: “What shall I take with me?”
Each of these questions leads to its own set of issues and considerations, all worthy of discussion. This article will focus on what to take along with you on the road. Although what to take with you may seem to be a relatively minor concern compared to the others, it actually will have a high degree of impact on the ultimate enjoyment and success of your trip. Becoming expert at preparing well for travel will yield high benefits and ensure that you enjoy your trip fully while you are taking it. Determine to become expert at this, and you will become a happy traveler. If travel is about to become an important part of your way of life, you need to get really excellent at doing it.
A good way to think about what to take with you on a trip is to enlist your own well-developed expertise about how to live a comfortable life in your own home. It is typical to furnish a home in terms of functions, establishing an orderly and comfortable environment where you have a way to meet needs and accomplish the basic tasks that you encounter in your day-to-day life.
At home, you have readily available not only clothes for getting dressed in the morning, but also outfits that serve you in other important functions– taking a vigorous walk, dressing up to go to the theater, staying warm when you take a boat ride on a chilly evening. If you need to clear your head from congestion, you have only to walk to your medicine cabinet to find your antihistamines. When you are thirsty, you head to the refrigerator door for ice water to stay hydrated. On days that are too pretty to eat inside, you pull out a table cloth and your picnic gear, and head to a park or out to the table in your backyard.
At home, not only do you have everything that you need, when you need it, but you also know exactly where to find it. Shirts are hanging in the closet and pants are on the shelf. Socks and underwear are in the drawer and shoes are on your shoe rack. Plates are in cabinets, utensils are in drawers, antihistamines are in the medicine cabinet. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
If everything seems so easy at home because you have gathered together and organized your belongings based on function, the same is also true for traveling comfortably. Start with what you will want to be able to do, listing the functions you will need to carry out over the course of your trip. Then determine what you need to take with you to support each function, and where you will keep it so you will know exactly where to find it when you need it. Think function, not packing list, and you will find that you already know very well how to do this.
Functions you will need to carry out as you travel include being prepared to:
- Dress comfortably, for cool and warm days, sunny and rainy weather.
- Walk many miles a day, including up and down hills, and possibly across cobblestones.
- Navigate your trip, with maps, essential information, and a detailed trip plan.
- Manage your money, credit cards and passports safely.
- Access critical trip documents, including passports, plane and train tickets, confirmations, addresses and phone numbers, taxis and drivers, and dinner reservations.
- Communicate and stay connected.
- Use and recharge electronics, converting to the power system in the country you will be visiting.
- Stay healthy for the duration of your trip, ready to handle a variety of possible physical challenges without lost days.
Taking each of these functions individually, here are some guidelines about what should earn a place in your suitcases, keeping in mind that everything you take along you will need to carry or drag, on and off trains, up and down stairs, and sometimes across cobblestones. If your destination happens to be Costa Rica, you may even find yourself hauling your bags down steep muddy banks to board boats that take you up a river or across a lake.
Be prepared to dress comfortably for cool and warm, sunny and rainy weather
Avoid taking either too many or too few clothes. While on your trip, you will want to feel good about how you look. So take some of your favorites. Don’t bother to stick with neutrals unless these are your personal taste and style. Take along the colors you like, but have in mind multiple ways they can be worn together and layered with each other.
A good rule of thumb is to divide the number of days you will be traveling by three, and take that many outfits, all ones that you like to wear. Of course, you can consolidate further by counting a skirt or a pair of pants as part of multiple outfits. For women, take along a few scarves and necklaces to mix it up a bit. Or, even better, plan to purchase these during your trip.
Put blouses and shirts in a packing envelope so you can transfer them to a drawer or closet shelf as a unit, and disturb only those items that you actually wear. This way part of your repacking will already be out of the way when it comes time to move on to the next stop. Roll skirts and pants and pack them to they form a single clearly displayed layer in your suitcase. This will enable you to locate and remove your selections while leaving the rest undisturbed, again saving you repacking time.
Take along any additional pieces you will need to dress in layers and be comfortable in both warm and cool weather. Certainly, carry along a sun hat and an umbrella. Every day on a trip is precious time. You will not want to be sidelined by sun or rain. Select clothing that does not wrinkle or that will not show wrinkles, with a preference for textured or blended cottons, not synthetics.
Pack enough underwear for a week, in a zippered pouch of course, and plan to do a mid-trip wash. Even if you do not have a washing machine in any of your accommodations, it is a simple task to fill the bathtub with water and liquid soap or shampoo, and wash your clothes that way, hanging them to dry around your room. To be prepared for this function of doing the wash, take along a small container of liquid soap and a stretchable clothes line designed to be used without clothes pins. Keep these laundry items together in their own zip-lock bag so you can readily put your hands on them.
All of this pre-organization of your clothing will make unpacking and repacking go quickly, so you will have more time to be where you are.
Be prepared to walk many miles a day, including up and down hills
Traveling can tire out your feet fairly quickly. You will be walking farther, and over more varied and challenging surfaces, than is your custom at home. Take along multiple pairs of comfortable walking shoes to keep your feet happy for the duration of your trip, and swap out your shoes regularly. Happy feet make for a happy trip.
Spend the money necessary to purchase very comfortable shoes, with memory foam to ensure an equal distribution of pressure to the feet, and an anatomically-shaped foot bed to eliminate pressure and friction. And make sure that at least one pair of the shoes you take has a closed-back heel and fastens securely with ties or Velcro closures. When you are walking up and down steep hills and steps, slip-ons can become treacherous.
Be prepared to navigate your way through your days smoothly
Carry with you a full set of Day Pages with the day-by-day details of your trip. These will be your “ace in the hole” – an essential ingredient to your having a smooth, stress-free journey. They will give structure to your travels, and optimize how you navigate through each day, always knowing what’s coming next, with all the addresses, telephone numbers and closing times you will need, together in one place.
A good set of Day Pages includes orienteering instructions so that in each new destination you can immediately begin learning your way around. These include small Google-map walk-arounds, starting at the door of your hotel. Their purpose is to help you get your bearings quickly, including where to find your own neighborhood bakery, wine shop, fresh market, deli, and café, as well as the nearest ATM.
Be prepared to handle your money, credit cards and passport safely
Money handling is an important function while traveling. You need to have a system for keeping your money, credit cards, and passport safe, while also having convenient access to them. When traveling in another country, exchange enough cash in advance of your trip to get you started when you arrive. Then use ATM machines to replenish your cash supply as needed. Plan to use the ATM machines and debit cards that minimize foreign exchange fees, with bank ATM machines being the best option.
Call all debit and credit card companies before you leave to give them notice that you will be traveling so they will not deny your transactions. Make copies of your cards and passports, front and back, so you can immediately report any theft or loss. Keep these paper copies in a separate place from your cards.
Be prepared to access all critical trip documents
You will need to be able to access your critical trip documents quickly–to be prepared to locate and board your train and present your tickets to the conductor as required, to call ahead to your hotel and give its address to your taxi driver, and for all the many additional critical connecting points of your trip. This means you will need all of your trip documents where you can find them without delay, including passports and insurance papers, plane and train tickets, hotel and tour confirmations, addresses and phone numbers, taxis and drivers, dinner and concert reservations.
To keep your travel documents completely organized, purchase a zippered passport wallet and always return your passport to it throughout your trip – no exceptions. Use clear plastic sleeves for itinerary and accommodation information, keeping the next needed information visible through the front, for easy access even in the rain.
Use an accordion folder for train tickets, vouchers, confirmations and reservations. Designate a separate portfolio for each destination’s upcoming Day Pages, and another one for days that have been completed. Take along an empty coupon holder for receipts, and a small journal to keep track of them. The key is to get organized and stay organized. This will considerably reduce stress during your trip.
Be prepared to communicate and stay connected with the right phones
It has become easier to communicate abroad now. Country SIM cards are readily available to be installed in your iPhone. Or, as an alternative, you will be able to purchase an inexpensive pay-as-you-go cell phone, complete with a country SIM card and generally some complimentary minutes. “Topping off” your cell phone minutes as needed is a simple matter of stopping by a newsstand. If you plan to use your smart phone and install a country SIM card at your destination, be sure to unlock it before you leave on your trip.
Sorting out your communications during your trip is essential so you can stay connected when you get separated from your travel companions or decide to head in different directions. Also you will need to call ahead to hotels, make reservations for restaurants and tours, and call taxis when you need them.
To keep track of all your communications paraphernalia, including charging cables and portable power banks, designate one zippered pouch or large zip-lock bag for this use only. These are items that easily can get lost in a suitcase, or left behind in a hotel room. Before leaving each location, check your designated communications pouch to make sure everything is there in its place before you go.
Be prepared to use and recharge electronics
Designate another zippered pouch for everything else you are carrying that pertains to electronics. Into this pouch put all of the power adapters, converters, charging cables, extension cords and multi-socket extension plugs that you will need to keep your electronics functioning throughout your trip. Keep all of these wires neat and compact with rubber bands. And, again, check your electronics pouch before you leave each hotel to ensure that nothing essential gets left behind.
Be prepared to stay healthy for the duration of your trip
Another zippered pouch should be reserved for everything you will need to stay healthy, inside and out. Put in your prescription drugs and supplements. Also carry a supply of cold medicine, Tums, pain medicine, and any other types of medication you could possibly end up needing. Take foot powder for sore feet, Band-Aids and Neosporin for various mishaps, and lotion to protect your skin. Depending on your destination, also pack bug spray and/or sunscreen. Last, but not least, take along a bottle of melatonin to overcome jet lag and to control sleep irregularities caused by time changes or other unfamiliar sleep disturbances. Consolidate these items in zip-lock bags to cut down on packaging and conserve space.
Traveling can be strenuous. You may develop blisters, various aches and pains, or even sniffles. By taking along a selection of items to handle various contingencies, just in case you need them, you will be ready to prevent small complaints from slowing you down.
Some additional advice
Any comfortable home needs storage space. This is also true when your home is your suitcase. During your trip, your storage space definitely should not be in the suitcases you are carrying with you day after day. Do keep everything you need with you. But lighten your load whenever you can. Yes, this will cost money, but not as much as you might think. And you are worth it!
Designate a zippered pouch for mailing supplies – at a minimum packing tape and address labels. Then, periodically, as your suitcases begin to take on weight, mail home a box. Purchase the box at the local post office and get one large enough to do yourself some good. Into this box put anything you will no longer need during your trip – past Day Pages, brochures and booklets, shoes that didn’t turn out to be comfortable, books you’ve finished reading, treasures and gifts you have purchased along the way. Tape this all up and address it to yourself.
This advantage to give yourself when traveling is well worth the cost and bother. Each time you lighten your load, you will feel your burdens lifting. And, of course, you will free up room for additional treasures that you may discover along your way.
As you enter your prime time for traveling, what you take with you, and how you organize it, is critical to the quality of your travel experience. Before you depart on a trip, look back through your list of the functions you will need to perform while you are traveling to ensure that you are prepared to carry out each of them. And then you are off!