Tips & tricks from years as student, entrepreneur, consultant, and vagabond.
I’m fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel under various circumstances, packing everything from business suits to backpacking gear, sleeping anywhere from luxury hotels to a rental car, cleaning up under a trailer park hose or out of a train car sink. Here are some practical tips I picked up along the way.
Plastic bags for dirty clothes or a wet bathing suit.
Kindle because books just get beat up, plus you’ll always have more books than you can possibly read. I also setup Instapaper article delivery.
Ear plugs and head phones because you never know when you’ll be seated next to a crying two-year-old. I really like the Jarv NMotion Sport Wireless Bluetooth headphones to avoid cords getting caught.
Day pack that stuffs down. Ditch your big travel backpack and carry just the essentials while you’re out and about.
Two pens and scratch paper. Use pens that won’t leak. Folded computer paper is good, but notecards might be more durable.
Granola bars, almonds, and other TSA-friendly snacks for when you’re caught between meals, tired of airplane food, or not interested in a $12 sandwich in the terminal.
Portable battery for when you’re stuck without an outlet and need a few watts.
Power strip with multiple ports, USB, and ground. Never again feel sheepish asking if you can bump someone off the only outlet available because your phone is about to die but you’re so close to a new high score on Candy Crush. Nevermind, you should feel sheepish.
Drier sheets. Stuff a few fresh ones throughout your clothes to keep your laundry smelling fresh throughout the trip.
Rolling a bundle of clothes to avoid wrinkles. When shirts and pants are individually folded and packed, wrinkles are inevitable. Stack several dress shirts on top of each other, toss some t-shirts in the center, and fold the dress shirts around the bulky t-shirts to avoid sharp fold creases.
Pack loose. Even if you folded your dress clothes neatly, squishing them down can still leave wrinkles. Pack everything else tight and put your dress clothes in last and loose.
Dirty laundry bag. Preferably one that’s water and smell proof. Don’t rely on plastic grocery bags; get something a little more sturdy.
Take care of your fancy dress shoes. To avoid scuff marks, stuff them into large socks or wrap them in old t-shirts. To avoid smashing them or causing creases in the leather, stuff them full of socks and underwear for some internal support.
A duplicate set of all your toiletries. When you travel regularly, it gets stupid to continually pack and unload your toiletries. You’ll soon forget something. Stock a travel kit that you know to be complete and ready every time. Restock it after every trip. Instead of using some generic travel-sized shampoo and soap, buy reusable 3oz travel containers and fill them with the shampoo and soap you’re hair and body are used to. When you find a brand you like, always stock up on extras; running out of something you knowingly use daily is just a sign of poor planning. Consider putting these all in a heavy duty zip-lock in case something leaks or is still wet when you have to rush to the airport. For razors, put a large black binder clip around the blade portion to keep it from getting dulled.
Hit up the airport ATM. Before you leave the destination airport, get some local cash. Fees from your home bank and the local ATM are likely fixed (not percentage), so withdraw enough to make these fees a trivial fraction. Avoid the currency exchanges with their ridiculous rates.
Notify credit/debit card companies in advance. Ask for an increase in your daily withdrawal limit. You don’t want to be stuck on day one. Don’t assume it’ll work because you have a pin. Do this online or by phone a day or two in advance.
Split up your cards and cash. Keep a small amount of cash and one card in easily accessible pockets. The bulk of your cash should be either safely locked in the hotel or in a hard to access internal pocket. Consider for a moment if you get robbed; while you’ll likely be quickly let go, you may be searched for additional money and valuables. For the small amount of easily accessible money, consider that sticking your hand in and out of your pocket all day might cause the money to fall out. Partition your assets.
Eye patch and inflatable pillow. Catch some rest whenever and wherever.
Photocopy your passport. Put copies in all your luggage and carry-on. Write your contact information on these copies. Besides this backup copy, you want at least two forms of identification, and you want to store them in two separate locations.
Plan on doing laundry. Only pack clothes for 5-7 days. Even when traveling on some remote islands, I’ve always been able to find local services to do my laundry.
Band aids, neosporin, sunscreen, needle, & thread. For any trip with the potential for adventure.
Hijack hotel TVs When staying in a hotel, skip the annoying local network and TV guide and instead plug in your Chromecast/Fire/equivalent for full control.
Packing list. I tend to pack last minute, but to minimize the risk of forgetting something on a new adventure I will start days ahead creating a packing list of anything that comes to mind.
For more tips on everything from packing lists, planning adventure, and exercising on the road, I recommend posts from two friends: