International travel is a marathon, not a sprint! Tune in for expert tips that ensure an exhilarating experience, not an exhausting one.
For those of you that have travelled overseas, you know the absolute drudgery of getting through customs both in and out of the United States. The golden rule when travelling overseas: Allow yourself time – and travel minimally!
With heightened security both domestically and internationally, you don't have much control. So make every attempt to control the way you approach your travel -- packing light is where you can start. Packing light means NO checked bag in the first place, it leaves room for souvenirs, and it saves your back as you trek through foreign lands looking for a place to crash for the night. Most trips overseas are over 12 hours, so, your carryon bag should hold all belongings you need both day and night.
Don't make the mistakes I did! I had no idea what to expect for my first Euro-trip with my cousins. I brought a large and heavy suitcase, and boy do I look back now and laugh. Everything in Europe is small, and efficient. And your large suitcase isn’t going to fit well on the subways and trains! Oh, you are going by taxi? They are even smaller. The shame of being evil-eyed by locals pales in comparison undo exhaustion from lugging your crap, or worse, being mugged when you are jet laggin’ .
Carryon Bag Options
This is the most important item you will be bringing with you on your trip, because you will be carrying it with you everywhere you go.
There are two main options to consider when looking into backpacks:
- traditional backpacking pack that opens from the top
- travel backpack that opens like a suitcase but still can strap to your back.
Backpacking Pack Pros
- Back support! This is one of my favorite things about taking a traditional pack overseas, because the weight is taken from your neck and shoulders and distributed throughout the entire pack. You will be thinking of me when you are lost somewhere in Cambodia trying to find a hostel for the night, and your back doesn’t hurt from the hours you have been walking around.
Backpacking Pack Cons
- You look like a tourist! This may be a con, or a pro but it definitely draws some attention to the fact that you are a foreigner in their land. But then again so would a suitcase.
- The top opening makes access to clothes tough.If you are hung up on the difficult access to your clothing, just use packing cubes like these ones, and call it even. I love my packing cubes!
Tip: getting fitted professionally at REI. This is key, as they come in many odd sizes, and feel differently once stuffed full.
Travel Backpack Pros
- Easy access to your clothing is a huge perk with this style of bag, and appeals to many people. I used this style of bag when trekking through France and Italy, and my bag was a little more organized than my husbands was (he was using an Osprey backpacking pack.)
Travel Backpack Cons
- Most of these packs are only meant to be used about an hour, and then they get very uncomfortable. If you pack them too heavy, you may not even get one hour out of them before they start irritating your neck and shoulders.
Travel Backpack Recommendations
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 60L
- Osprey Farpoint series (all different sizes depending on trip length)
- Osprey Waypoint bag. To see a full lineup on these bags, click here . The Kelty Redwing, and the Kelty Flyway are also great packs!
Tip: Walking instead of taking public transport everywhere will get you familiar with the city, the locals, and you will get a workout in too!
Everyone's overseas trips are so different, so I will hone in on my absolute essentials no matter the weather.Pinterest is great for country-specific packing lists, so check those out!
- (1) pair of running/hiking shoes that are comfortable enough to walk around in all day, or take it up a notch and explore in
- (1) pair of pants/long skirt for Holy sites
- (1) long scarf that can double as a shoulder covering for Holy sites, and a blanket/wrap for cold airplanes
- (1) pair of jeans -- don't overdo it!
- (1) black jersey knit, no-wrinkle dress that can be dressed up or down easily
- (1) swimsuit
The Toiletry Bag:
This has always been one of my favorite things to pack before heading overseas because I know how important it becomes once you leave home. My favorite toiletry bag to take is the Eagle Creek Pack It-Specter . It fits everything in the list below I usually take for my trip and airplane ride, so I do not have to pack two separate toiletry bags. It's nice to have it on the airplane because you can clean your tray table off with wet wipes before you park there for 12+ hours. It also allows you to freshen up to brush your teeth, as well as brush your hair after a long flight.
Travel size everything ! If you run out, there will be places to provide you the basics... I assure you!
- Toothbrush and toothpaste x2, floss, and mouthwash
- Hair brush
- Travel size straightening iron: This one is so very important, as most regular sized straighteners provide way too much wattage for most international outlets causing you to blow fuse in the hotel (yes I am guilty of this rookie mistake.)
- Make up- take your basics and no more!
- Deodorant x2
- Wet wipes
- Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash, Face Wash
- Hair ties and bobby pins
- Small Tide Detergent Travel Packs for sink laundry!
- Small Safety Kit: Bandaids,Neosporin, Advil, Benadryl, Immodium, Tums, Dramamine, and CIPRO (universal antibiotic just in case!)
- Kleenex (This comes in handy when you have to pay for toilet paper, or none is provided in bathrooms!)
- International Outlet converters for charging anything
The 2nd Carryon
This carry on bag is important because it will become your “day pack” when you hit the town during your trip. In some countries, you are required to carry your passport on you at all times, and others you can safely leave locked in your hotel room or place you are staying.
Either way this bag needs to have an opening and closing zipper to ensure your valuables are out of easy reach for thieves. A daypack is smaller than a regular backpack, but not too small to where you can’t fit your basics.
The daypack that I like to use ranges from North Face, to Osprey but they all give you exactly what you need. Take a look here .
- Passport, ID, Wallet, Cash
- Phone, Camera, and Chargers
- Toiletry Bag
- Entertainment- make sure it is light entertainment such as a book or magazine
- Inflatable travel pillow (lifesaver!)
- Gum, Lip Balm, Hand Sanitizer, and Water Bottle
- Copies of your passport and drivers license for yourself and anyone that is traveling with you. This will come in handy if you find yourself with a stolen or lost bag. Be sure to exchange them with people in your group so everyone has your information and vise versa.
Snacks are absolute lifesavers for many different reasons on your flight over as well as in the country itself. Many close friends and family who know me well understand I do not like fish. Well in Asia that is absolutely unheard of, and there were many fish options on our in flight menu one of them being “fish floss.” Lucky for me, I brought cashews and a protein bar to hold me over until the next meal was served! It is nice to have snacks to munch on when your body is trying to acclimate to new foods once you arrive at your final destination as well. Have fun with this one!
At this point you should only have your main carry on and your daypack, and that is it! It's amazing how light you can travel, yet have everything you need for an efficient and ADVENTURE-FILLED trip!
Other International Tips and Tricks
- Read up on the cultural norms and etiquette of the country or countries you will be visiting. There are many simple gestures that can come off as offensive to other cultures, so get updated!
- What’sApp is a great tool to keep family and friends up to speed on your trip for free. No need to spend extra money on expensive phone and data plans. Viber is also a free calling app that is great to use as well as Facebook.
- Walk around the country as much as you can, and get to know the people and cultural norms. Being ushered into a tour bus is one of the most sterile ways to travel and you won’t enjoy the culture as much.
- Buy from the local markets instead of eating in a restaurant each day. Many of the markets offer very healthy and fresh ingredients to make meals from. Take a cooking class, and you will be even more excited about the markets!
- Set up times to do your laundry. We wash a lot of clothing in sinks in the morning, and let our clothes air dry all around our room and even off of the balcony while we explore. If you wait until it’s too late, you may be moving onto your new destination with damp clothing.
- Depending on where you are, know that it is okay to bargain and tipping at restaurants is not always required! Be aware of these tips that could save you money during your travel.
- Don’t ever get into a taxi without a working meter. Just don’t do it.
- Buy your currency at your local bank, not at the airport! You will save a lot more money that way.
- Have FUN!
I am going to leave you with one of my favorite travel quotes, by the famous Anthony Bourdain -- he inspires many to step out of their comfort zones and embrace a culture so different from their own.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”