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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It

For most of my life I have been lucky enough to travel (for school, work, fun) to places near and far in conditions that run the spectrum from luxurious to Spartan.

Back home for a few months, we are again in the process of planning another complicated trip in November, and I have spent the afternoon filling out visa applications to various countries.  Trip planning reminds me to check and update my carry-on bag of necessities. 

Before setting off on exotic or even semi exotic travel, here are ten necessary things I don't leave home without:

1. Medications.
Pre-departure, get your inoculations. Also pack hand sanitizer, aspirin, “Z-pack,” eye drops, sunscreen, and tummy meds to address problems in both directions.

2. Headgear.
A hat or scarf and a folding umbrella for rain and sun protection. A head covering is sometimes needed for women to enter certain houses of worship or cemeteries.

3. Cash, Credit and/or Debit cards.
The few ATM machines we have encountered in Africa and Central Asia had rather low cash withdrawal limits. US dollars and Euros were accepted everywhere we’ve traveled, and we do not always purchase much local currency (especially if it is not readily convertible back to dollars). In Europe and Central Asia, Visa cards seem to have more acceptance than MasterCard or American Express. But, the more remote the location, the fewer merchants accepted plastic.

4. Toiletries.
In addition to the obvious basics, take soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion -– don’t assume that hotels and inns provide any or all of these. Some hotel soaps can be tiny and very perfume-laden; shampoo can be limited and conditioner almost unheard of.

5. Tissues.
Take along many pocket-sized packages of tissues –- always have a packet with you. Even better if you buy them in Europe, where they are 3-ply. Need one explain why?

6. Shoes.
Comfortable well broken-in walking shoes that you should be willing to discard at the end of the trip. When you realize just where those shoes have walked, you will never want them to step on your floors or carpets. Also, take a pair of disposable slippers to use in hotel rooms.

7. Old clothes.
While one dressy outfit will come in handy, focus on taking casual comfortable older clothes that can be layered for warmth or coolness and that can be discarded if you need more room in your suitcase for all those “must have” souvenirs. Also, I’d advise against shorts and low-cut tops. While many countries seem secular, cultural norms are different -- more conservative than in the west. There is no need to insult the local people or to call too much attention to oneself.

8. Flashlight
A good small flashlight comes in handy when walking on dark rutted streets -– even the paved ones are uneven. It can also illuminate architectural details or art in dusky buildings.

9. Wires.
Camera batteries, mobile phones, laptops, all need to be recharged; we put all of our wires and plug in a separate zippered bag that we keep with our carry-on luggage. If you don’t have your wires with you, odds are you’ll be off the grid.

10. Sense of Humor
Despite the inconveniences, travel is an adventure. Most people we run unto are decent and friendly. Things can go wrong, misunderstandings arise, and paper work can be complicated. Transcend the negatives –- they are not forever; enjoy the countless positives.

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