I just got back from a three week vacation. Traveling is a great way to de-stress and rejuvenate. Whether you’re going on a grand trip or a “staycation” (a trip in your own town), packing smart can make or break your trip.
The month prior to leaving for Venice, I made endless lists of what I needed to pack. Keeping in mind that it was going to be complicated, as it involved one adult (me), two children (ages 14 and 8), a one week cruise (with the requisite dressy evenings), getting ourselves and luggage from the cruise ship terminal in Venice to the train station and traveling to Milan, and then hooking up with an organized tour via motorcoach for two additional weeks. I had no intention whatsoever of doing any laundry during the entire trip either. That meant a lot of luggage.
As it turns out, I packed way too much stuff. I was happy that I took a lot of dresses and outfits, but not at all happy that our luggage was big and bulky and the wheels didn’t work so well and hauling from Point A to Point B was a nightmare. Some of the things I packed were a big homerun; others, not so much. Since I never want to forget the lessons learned on this trip, I’ve made a list of the essentials.
1. Cosmetic Bag
Buying a great cosmetics bag is imperative. I actually keep my bag packed with “extras” at all times so it’s easy to pack and go quickly. I also bought one for my 14 year old daughter, too, so I don’t need to pack for her at all- it’s her responsibility. I prefer the hanging bags because it’s easier to see everything in it. I bought mine at Ross for less than $10.
2. Travel Neck Pillow
If you are going to be sitting on an airplane, bus or train for more than a few hours, a travel neck pillow is a necessity. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at all. (Actually, trying to sleep on an airplane if you’re sitting in coach is nearly impossible but the neck pillow helps a lot.) I bought cute ones for me and both of my daughters and we used them many times throughout our trip. We love them. I bought ours at Ross for $6.99 each.
3. Fuzzy Socks
Sitting on the plane, in hotels, and even on the cruise ship, my feet were always cold (even though it was very hot outside). I wore my fuzzies every night for three solid weeks. I should have packed several pair. They take up almost no space, after all. I bought my fuzzies at the Dollar Store for, you guessed it, $1.
I purchased stylish backpacks for me and both of my daughters for the trip. I called it our “fun-packs.” In it, we packed up things like a book, our iPads, a toothbrush and toothpaste (I have to brush my teeth several times on long flights because I feel so dirty and grimy and it helps), and essential documents (like passports, money and credit card). These packs go under our seats on the plane or we take it with us on tours (with things like extra shoes, a sweatshirt, water and camera/cell phone). They are very versatile. I purchased my daughter’s backpack at H&M, and mine and my youngest daughter’s at WalMart. None were more than $20.
5. A Folder With Your Full Itinerary
A simple manilla folder with all the info for flights, cruise, hotels, and more kept me organized and sane.
6. A Bag for My Meds
I purchased a small bag for all my meds and kept it with me at all times. I took many over-counter meds with us, like meds for pink eye, colds, sleep aids and motion sickness. Thank goodness I did because we all got sick.
7. International Charger
If you’re traveling outside the USA, invest in a good charger. The cheap ones just don’t work.
8. Earplugs & Eye Mask
It helped me sleep whenever I needed it– on a plane or bus. If you have long travel itineraries and across time zones, any help with sleeping is a Godsend.
9. Good shoes
On this trip, I packed up running shoes and lots of sandals and flip-flops. Except it was hot outside and I hated wearing those running shoes. I ended up spending a small fortune in Lugano, Switzerland on comfy walking sandals for my daughter and me. So unnecessary because we had great shoes sitting in our closet at home. Bummer.
10. Travel Journal
I went to Ross and purchased a cute journal for $3 to take on my trip. I wrote down learning moments, observations, and travel tips for myself on the trip. It’s priceless to me.
11. Oversized Envelope for Receipts
An oversized envelope to keep all those receipts is an essential. Otherwise, it becomes almost impossible to keep them from become a disasterous mess in your suitcase.
12. Something to Keep You Warm
Without exception, every time I’ve traveled in the summer, it is boiling hot outside and frigid inside. One year, we took Amtrak across the country and it was 52 degrees on the train and 110 degrees in Washington, DC. I used to take a sweatshirt with me but on this past trip, I upgraded to a beautiful red wrap. I used it throughout my trip and it folded up nicely right into my fun-pack. They’re are easy to find on Amazon. Mine cost $65.
13. Hand Sanitizer
I carried a tiny bottle of hand sanitzer everywhere we went and used it countless times a day.
14. Sunglasses/Reading Glasses
Not only is good eyewear important, if you’re like me and lose them easily, take backups. I managed to lose two pairs of sunglasses and one pair of reading glasses on my trip. I had to buy another pair of sunglasses in Como, Italy and they weren’t cheap!
15. Good Luggage
I really messed this one up. Our luggage, though they had wheels, was terrible. Bulky, the wheels didn’t always work right, and hard to lug around. When we got home, I tossed two of our suitcases in the trash. I am on the lookout for really high quality pieces and they’ll be worth every penny when I find them. (As a side note, make sure there’s extra space in your luggage to bring back items that your purchase on your trip. My favorite souvenirs? Magnets! They’re inexpensive, take up almost no space, and are easy to display on your fridge when you get home.)
16. Dressy Outfit
Take at least one dressier outfit with you on must of your trips. In the area where we visited in Italy, most everyone dressed up for dinner. I was happy to have lots of dressier clothes from our cruise but otherwise, I wouldn’t have thought to pack up clothes like that. I think one dressier outfit “just in case” is a great idea. Plus if you’re going in churches in many parts of the world, you simply can’t go in if you’re wearing shorts or not dressed properly.