For those of you who have traveled abroad for any significant amount of time, you can probably relate to what I call the Wal-Mart Panic Moment.
You know the scene: you’re about to take off to a place you’ve never been and can’t quite imagine. What’s more, you’ll be bringing one (read, ONE) piece of luggage bound by both the laws of physics and airline regulations to fit all your necessary belongings inside.
So there you are, standing in shampoo aisle with eyes as big as basketballs. What do you buy to take with you, other than everything?
Well, relax. As first-time travelers will learn and repeat travelers will learn again, your destination will provide for almost all of your day-to-day needs.
That being said, there are a few items that you really should cram into your suitcase before you board your international flight, and some of them might not seem as intuitive as five-blade razors or swimming trunks. This article is dedicated to those things — those annoying, mundane, or even obscure things that every person with a passport in hand should always bring along:
1. Two copies of important documents.
Right. This is boring and maybe even neurotic — I get that. But trust me, it’s worth the hassle. Because one of two things are likely to happen during your trip:
- You will be pick-pocketed, or
- You will leave something behind.
In either case, it can be pretty hectic trying to cancel bank cards and reclaim passports whose identification numbers you don’t have. Not impossible – with the Internet, all things are possible – but it will add undue amounts of stress to an already unpleasant situation. So be smart and don’t forget to print out two copies of important documents to stash away somewhere.
2. U.S. cash.
You’ll also want to bring along some familiar U.S. tender. If your debit card ends up not working or you find yourself stranded for the night, a couple of dollars will help you get by until you can grab some local currency. I’m not saying that you should be rolling in the Lincolns and Jeffersons — don’t do that — but bring enough to get by for a day or two. Also bear in mind that you might be offered better deals if you pay in dollars. In some places (hello, Peru), dollars are actually preferred. Read up.
This one is serious, whether you’re going to Iceland or Morocco, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a redhead. Regardless of your skin shade or whether or not you typically get sunburned, bring sunblock with an SPF of 45 or higher. This liquid gold tends to be more expensive in other countries, and sometimes not as effective. Hey, skin cancer is no joke.
4. Outlet convertors and adapters.
So you brought your iPhone and your laptop. But remember that these gadgets will just be extra and empty weight without a way to recharge them. In the U.S., we use a 110V/120V electric system and our own particular outlets, but other countries run on other voltages (most commonly, 220V/240V) and very different outlets. Check out Wikipedia’s handy guide to country-specific electricity regulations. If you plan on going abroad often, consider purchasing a traveler’s converter/adapter set.
5. Hand sanitizer.
This little guy isn’t very glamorous, but can be surprisingly difficult to find when you really need him. It’s good to always have a way to kill bacteria — there’s a reason your mom carries hand sanitizer in her purse. And, when a lot of the places you end up visiting lack basic soap, you’ll feel more at ease knowing that you don’t have to worry about such details.
6. Shower shoes.
Your feet get more wear and tear than you realize, and you will never appreciate that half-inch barrier between your toes and the floor more than when you are lathering up in a cold-water-only hostel shower. Bacteria travels, lodging accommodations can be uncertain, and you don’t want to end up in a hospital with a flesh-eating fungus. Nor do your loved ones back home want that phone call. Protect your feet.
Headaches/backaches/general pains are the worst, and can really put a damper on all of the awesome experiences that you’re going to have. While painkillers will almost certainly be available wherever you’re going, it’s not safe to mess around with unfamiliar medications sold under different regulations. In the beginning, at least, it’ll be reassuring to have some familiar ibuprofen on hand. Ditto for a simple decongestant and a sore throat remedy.
8. Face towelettes.
I never use these in my daily life. They’re weird, and I much prefer to wash my face with soap. But when I travel, sometimes I’m on the road for more than 24 hours or just really dirty at really random times. And in such cases, face towelettes are a simple, no-nonsense way to wipe the gunk off without the hassle of a restroom. They can make you feel like a new person. Really.
9. Ziploc bags (gallon size).
These are nice for any wet clothing that you have to toss into your bag when you’re on the go. They also make a convenient place for you to throw all of your bus tickets/museum passes/park entrance receipts. Even if you’re not the scrapbooking type, you’ll want to look back on them at some point. Storing them in one place is an easy way to keep track of all the spectacular things you’ve seen and places you’ve been.
10. A good fleece.
Weather can be crazy. If you’re going to a place that hosts varying elevations or low humidity, your body will be shocked by all of the subtle hots and colds it never knew it could feel. A cozy, breathable fleece will become your best friend. It will keep you warm on chilly (or freezing) nights and will still be light enough to easily stow away during the day.
What else do you always bring on your trips abroad?