As you read this, I’m currently in the process of getting ready to fly to London. I’m flying out of Dulles so I took the commuter train to Union Station in DC and then the Metro to the furthest stop on the silver line and then a bus to Dulles. It’s an hour or so drive to get to Dulles but that’s a pain and a half because of traffic around DC and the train is just easier. Plus I’m just carrying a backpack so it’s no big deal to hop on and off these trains and busses (plus I love to travel by plane, train AND automobile all in one day).
I got back from New York last night around 10 p.m., started some laundry, and chilled before going to bed. Today I took a shower (it’s just something that helps me to travel better. If I’m clean I feel better about myself), finished the laundry and repacked everything. I left for the train around noon because it’s going to take a bit to actually get to Virginia.
It’s a bit of a quick turnaround and that’s okay. I figure I can sleep on the flight, right? Right.
In today’s post I want to talk about how to pack for trips, how to stay safe, things you need to do before you leave and how to plan an itinerary. Just little details that can easily turn your fun trip into a frustrating one if you don’t think about them ahead of time.
Each of these things could be turned into a much longer post which I might do in the future but for now I’ll just focus on the basics. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll try to elaborate on things that are confusing.
First off, packing.
This is going to be different for everyone but a huge tip I’d like to leave is that if you’re a budget traveler, being able to just use a carryon is going to save you effort and money. Being able to just have all of my things on my back is actually quite comforting for me because it means I can go anywhere I want to, whenever I want to. I should specify that I do specifically mean a backpack, not a wheelie carryon. A wheeled carryon is just annoying at the end of the day, trust me.
I carry a backpack made by Tortuga Backpacks which is a small company that was founded by backpackers and career travelers. Yes, it cost $200 but for the quality and design, it was completely worth it. I specifically wanted to get a backpack that didn’t look like I had just hiked out of the wilderness and I wanted one that would unzip and open like a real suitcase instead of opening from the top. The Tortuga Backpacks fit both of those requirements, the company has values that I can get behind, they have a great warranty and customer service and sheesh, the bag got here in two days, it was amazing. They aren’t paying me to say anything about them, I just really, really like my pack.
As you can see in the third photo there, the straps will all tuck into a pocket on the back of the pack which is something I adore about this bag. There is a handle that you can use to just pick the thing up and carry it like a normal suitcase and the inside is roomy with so many useful pockets.
I researched a lot of backpacks before settling on this one and finally did choose it because of its size (45L), the ability to use it like a normal suitcase, the styling (it almost looks just like a normal backpack), and the company (a small business whose owners are active on Reddit). Not to mention the quality.
This might not be the right bag for you and that’s fine, but please don’t just randomly choose any old bag that you have lying around and don’t just purchase the first one you come across. This bag is going to accompany me to many different places and I want to love it, not hate it.
As far as what to put in the pack, that’s going to depend on you. Here is my regular packing list:
- Four shirts
- Two pairs of pants
- Underwear for each day of the trip
- Bag for dirty clothes
- Lightweight jacket (or thicker if I’m traveling somewhere cold but I’ll wear that on the plane so I don’t take up space in the bag)
- Two pairs of shoes (one of which I wear on the plane)
- Socks if necessary
- Earrings (don’t wear these on the plane, it will get uncomfortable if you’re trying to sleep)
- Pajamas – shirt and pants
- Chapstick/Makeup (keep this in a waterproof, sealed bag just in case everything spills)
- Blanket (I have this green blanket that has literally been everywhere with me since college, I don’t travel without it)
- Glasses/Contacts/Extra Contacts (travel in glasses if you have them, it’ll make your eyes feel a whole lot better. You can change into contacts when you get to your final destination)
- Sunglasses (wear on the plane if you aren’t already wearing glasses)
- Flip-flops (because showers)
- Toothbrush/Small toothpaste/floss (because being able to brush your teeth on your layover is the best thing ever in the entire world)
- Deodorant/Wipes/Lotion (because being able to freshen up on your layover is glorious)
- Razor (you’re gonna need one)
- Chargers for whatever electronics you’re taking
When you pack your four shirts and two pants, the idea is that you can match any shirt with either pair of pants and any shoe with any outfit. You should pretty much be able to blindly reach into your bag, grab one pair of pants, one shirt and one pair of shoes and have an outfit. Getting dressed in the morning should literally be that easy. Bring neutral earrings that will go with everything (I’m talking simple studs here, people) and you only need one small makeup palette with neutrals that you can wear with everything. Get travel sized mascara and bam, good to go.
Things I do not pack:
- Shampoo/Conditioner (buy in country, will save you much hassle at security)
- Blowdryer/Straightener/Curler (again, buy in country, will save you tears when dealing with adaptors/converters/electricity)
- Face wash/body soap/moisturizer/contact solution (yep, buy in country)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, stopping at a store is one of my first stops. I do usually plan out what store/what products I’m going to get so that I’m not super frustrated when I land. I enjoy going to just a regular store that the people who live at my destination visit because you can hit up an ATM that’s going to give you the regular exchange rate (don’t exchange money at the airport, more on that later), buy some food that is cheaper than tourist food and actually experience what it’s like to be from wherever you’re visiting. Side note – souvenirs will be more unique and cheaper if you buy from grocery stores. Just buy weird candy for everyone.
Make sure you check out what the weather is going to be like wherever you’re going. Sure, weather isn’t 100% predictable, but knowing if it’s probably going to be 50 degrees and cloudy is helpful for packing, even if it turns out to be warmer. You can always take layers off but you can’t just add layers you don’t have.
And then again, remember, you can always buy stuff when you get wherever you’re going. That’s one of my strategies when traveling because I’d rather really immerse myself in the country than rely on things that I brought from home. This doesn’t apply to everything of course, that’d be very expensive, but I do always plan on buying at least some clothes, possibly some shoes, jewelry and other products. Anything else you purchase that you really want to keep you can mail back to yourself at the end of the trip.
Secondly, having money for this trip:
Speaking of buying things, you’re going to want to save money for these trips. I like to have about $1000 to spend beyond what I pay for tickets and lodging. I go on these trips to enjoy myself, not to be frugal. I can be really frugal throughout the rest of the year in order to have a grand time on my trips. I like to splurge on really good food, good tours, interesting activities and things to bring back. If you’d really rather go the budget route and spend as little as possible, that’s 100% fine, but just make sure you have a decent plan for what you’re going to do for food.
For my trips I figured out how much I wanted to have to spend and then worked out how many paychecks I had before I left. After that it was a question of simple division to figure out how much I needed to save each paycheck. The trick, of course, is to actually do the saving. You don’t have to have $1,000 like I wanted and neither are you required to spend any particular amount of money on your trip. I just know that I have expensive tastes and I want to do some expensive things so I’m going to save up more than I think I need.
Going back to my statement from earlier about not exchanging money at airports, the reason you don’t do that (or at least exchange as little as possible) is because the ATMs and money exchange booths are not going to give you the best rate. If you can wait, find an ATM in a non-touristy location (a convenience store frequented by locals, a grocery store, a bank, etc) and withdraw money there. Those ATMs are used by citizens of the country and are going to be the best rate you can get.
Thirdly, before you leave…
Before you leave you’ll need to notify your bank of the fact that you’re leaving the country or wherever you normally live, especially since your spending habits are going to change drastically for a short period of time. Good banks will keep an eye on what is going on with your accounts and if they notice a sudden rash of ATM withdrawals and large purchases from outside of the country, they’ll put a freeze on your cards and you won’t be able to get access to any of your money. If you just call them a few days ahead of time and tell them where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, they won’t do that. If you don’t do this and your cards are frozen, it’s a bit of a hassle to get them unfrozen, especially if your bank is difficult to work with.
Depending on how long you’ll be gone, you might want to get your mail held. If you don’t normally get a bunch of mail and you’ll only be gone for a week, maybe have one of your trusted neighbors grab your mail or just leave it be. If you are expecting anything valuable (a package, a paycheck, etc) go to your local post office and fill out a card to get your mail held. They’re pretty flexible with this and it’s free. You’ll just need to go pick your mail up when you get back into the country.
If you’re worried about your house, arrange to have someone come by every couple of days to check on things. If you’re concerned about someone breaking in, some police departments will do vacation checks where you call in to your non-emergency line and they’ll fill out a form for you and have a police officer drive by your house every once in awhile. You can also set up a timer so that your lights go on and off on occasion.
Now, being safe.
Let me just start this section out by saying that anything can happen to anyone, anywhere. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re safe and just because you travel out of the country doesn’t mean you are automatically in danger. You need to have the same common sense in a foreign country as you do at home. No one travels somewhere new and just lets their guard down. Be aware of your surroundings and be careful who you trust. If you are traveling alone, be careful of how much you drink and make sure you have a way to get back to your hotel no matter what. Thieves are as real in another country as they are at home so don’t flash large amounts of cash, keep your purse/wallet/cellphone close and be aware. Seriously, just use common sense.
Let me just tell you right now, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to fly with any sort of weapon on your person. Also, unless you know the laws, really, really, really well, do not attempt to take a gun with you into a foreign country. Best case scenario, they just confiscate it from you. Worst case scenario you’ll do some jail time. Also, just as an aside, you aren’t doing yourself any favors with a knife unless you actually know how to use a knife in a fight. At the end of the day you just need to do your best to stay out of situations like that. Don’t be a hero, don’t be stupid, just be safe and go back to your hotel if necessary.
It will help if you do your best to blend in and not look like a tourist. Dress nicely (particularly if you’re in a large city where such a thing is normal), don’t be obnoxious with your photos, be polite and don’t be overtly loud. If you can blend in you’ll be less of a target.
If you overthink the danger part you aren’t going to have any fun at all. You shouldn’t be any more scared in a foreign country than you are in your hometown as long as you’re being careful, using common sense, being aware of your surroundings and being as safe as you possibly can be.
Lastly, how do you decide what to see?
Well, depending on where you’re going, you might not be able to get everything in during one trip. The first thing I like to do is just research some of the things that are available to see. Just make a whole long list of what’s out there, don’t be picky just yet, just make the list.
Next, find the things you absolutely must do while you’re on your trip. For me, these things are street markets, historical sites, famous museums, landmarks and some sort of high end shopping and food. Eliminate things you don’t really care about and then keep the rest for just in case.
Next, organize things by date and location. If, for example, you have several things clustered together in a similar area, try to hit all of those things in one day. If some things are only open on certain days (street markets, for instance, are usually only open once a week), make note of when those days are and slip them into your itinerary on that day. Any extra space on your schedule can be used for the activities that aren’t close to anything else and don’t have any time limits.
Make sure to leave just a little extra time in your schedule for things that you discover while in country. You never know what you’re going to come across while you’re wandering around and you don’t want your schedule packed so tightly that you aren’t able to break away and do something different.
Other than that, I don’t do much more planning. Part of the joy of traveling to new cities is just wandering around and seeing what it’s like to be there. You might not enjoy that sort of trip and that’s fine, you do you. If you need a more structured itinerary, by all means create one. But you aren’t required to do so, just have an idea of some of the things that are available so that you don’t end up just hanging out in bars the entire time. 😉
I’ll be back in the USA for the next post and I’ll be showing off all of the pictures I took and talking about the things I did. If you have any questions about the things I talked about here or want to know more, please let me know! If you have any tips for travelers or things that worked well for you in the past, please leave a comment in the notes!
Also, follow me on Instagram @watchlizgo to follow along with me as I travel around! I’ll post the most interesting things I can find for you to enjoy!!
Have a great week, everyone!