Packing and travelling light

58You might have read that the happiest traveller will be one who can fit their bag/pack under the seat of a bus or take it as hand luggage on a flight. You may not believe this is possible, especially when first throwing a few things in a bag. However, after learning the hard way with 70-90 litre packs, every subsequent trip you always try to take less and less and still lament having too much. Then at last you manage to get everything (with a few secrets that are shared here) into a 35-45 litre pack that fits neatly under a bus seat or overhead bin and are truly a free and happy traveller who would never ever even consider taking a ‘standard’ backpack again to a developing country. A small portable backpack really is the difference when it comes to independent travel. The freedom it offers and hassle it removes is worth what you sacrifice in not taking ten times over. Not to mention the fact that you will be the envy of everyone you meet! Don’t believe it? Sceptical? Read on for some reasons why you should, if nothing else, pack light.

The famous saying goes, everything is essential, only some things more than others. You will have no idea of what you actually need and how little you use when you are away when sitting at home. Everyone says pack light, but the vast majority of backpackers don’t until they have learnt the hard way – ten reasons why you really should:

Your bag is your life, or at least becomes it. The smaller it is the less it sticks outs and the less vulnerable you feel. The closer you can stick to it and less cumbersome it is the happier you will be. Imagine you are on a bus. Do you want your bag under the seat in front of you or in the luggage hold or roof above/below/under you?

A large, bulky, full bag gives less room to fill with souvenirs, becomes a nightmare when using motorcycle-taxis/rickshaws and has to be checked in (often at extra cost) and waited for, when taking flights.

The thought of wearing the same thing day in, day out may seem terrible now, but it gets easy with the right clothes, and is always preferable to unpacking your entire bag. Circumstance are different when on the road with everyone in the same boat. Nobody cares if they see the same T-shirt two days in a row! There is no need to take too many clothes as they can be easily washed and dried, normally overnight.

You will need to walk with your pack on freely (sometimes quickly avoiding touts/traffic), sometimes right across town or from hotel to hotel and it’s often hot, really hot. When you do take transport, you can swing a small bag over your front and jump in a taxi/rickshaw with ease, quickly and without having to separate yourself from it. In addition, leaving your pack in lockers can be a problem if it is huge.

Carrying a large, heavy, bulky bag onto a bus may sound alright, but when it is packed you cannot and are therefore normally separated from it (it goes on the roof, underneath or is left at the back next to god knows what). It is normally okay there, but this can make you a little paranoid about theft as it does happen.

When using mini-buses that stop at the side of the road – a common way of getting around in many countries – they are normally crowded and have no luggage holds, so your bag comes on with you. If crowded you’ll whack everyone in the face [with bag] finding a seat and might need to buy an extra seat for a large pack. The same is true of public transport (notably metro/underground and/or tram systems) in rush hour where you find the same issue and may have to pay a surcharge a large bag.

If your pack is full it is difficult to get to things without pulling other stuff out, so you don’t use what’s at the bottom, it being easier to wear what you had on yesterday or what is at the top.

You will be uncomfortable moving from town to town (short hops) not being able to jump on and off small buses/taxis. Not to mention that a giant oversize bag does not exactly make you the most confident as you will always feel like you are sticking out.

You will not believe what an advantage it is to be able to travel from A to C with a quick stop off to see a sight at B carrying your bag, rather than having to do it in a separate day trip, wasting time and money.

Quite simply you’ll spend a good deal of time on the road thinking, ‘if I had a huge pack or one like that girl/guy we saw at xyz I could not do this’ – of course you need some bulky items, but there is no need to have a 60 plus litre bag. Not unless you are camping and if so why?

Passport Information

6When Do I NOT Need a Passport?
A passport is required for all international air travel and for most land or sea travel as well. However, there are a few exceptions:

– U.S. citizens on cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S. will only need to display proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID. (You may still need a passport to enter other foreign countries during the cruise.)

– Children 16 and under arriving by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean may present proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).

– A passport card may be used in lieu of a passport by adults traveling by land or sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean. See below for more information on the passport card.

Note: A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol tells us that copies of birth certificates are acceptable if you are unable to bring your original. Also, for adult cruise passengers, if the name on your birth certificate doesn’t match the one on your driver’s license (for example, if the former has your maiden name and the latter your married name), it’s a good idea to bring along documentation of your name change — such as a marriage certificate.

Visit the Passport Center

First-Time Passport Applications
If you are applying for your first U.S. passport, you must apply in person at either a regional passport agency or at one of the thousands of facilities around the country that accept passport applications (such as courthouses and post offices). To find the nearest passport agency or facility, use this search tool from the U.S. State Department.

When you apply, you will need to provide the following documents:

– Proof of United States citizenship or nationality such as a certified copy of a birth certificate (one issued from a government office, not a hospital) for applicants born in the U.S., a Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or an expired U.S. passport.

– Proof of identity (photo ID with signature) such as a previous U.S. passport, a Naturalization Certificate, a valid driver’s license, or a valid government or military identification card. You’ll also need to supply an 8 1/2 x 11 inch photocopy of this document (both front and back).

– One passport photo taken within the last six months. The photographs must be 2×2 inches with your head sized between 1 and 1 3/8 inches. Photographs must be a front view, full face, taken in normal street attire without a hat or dark glasses, with a plain white background.

– A completed passport application form DS-11 containing all the requested information except your signature. This form must be signed in the presence of an authorized executing official. You can fill out the form online, but note that you must print it out at the end and apply in person; there is no online application at this time.

Passport Renewals
post officeApplicants who have had a previous U.S. passport issued within the past 15 years, and who were 16 or older when the passport was issued, may be eligible to apply for a new passport by mail provided that they can submit their previous passport and that either their name has not changed or they can legally document a name change. If these statements do not apply to you, you must follow the procedure for first-time passport applications (above). Documents required for passport renewals include:

– Previous U.S. passport

– One passport photo (see photo requirements above)

– A completed passport application form DS-82 that contains all the requested information and is signed and dated

9 Tips to Remember When Traveling to U.S. National Parks

51. Know when to go.

National Geographic adventurer, photographer, and filmmaker Jimmy Chin has been exploring and photographing national parks for years. Solitude is something he values, especially when you’re trying to get away from the human hustle of the city streets to enjoy nature.

“Go in the shoulder seasons right when kids go back to school or right before they get out,” he says. “When you go right off the main season it tends to be quieter, but still beautiful. September is one of the best months to plan a visit.”

For those with families, such as Ford Cochran, director of programming for National Geographic Expeditions and an expert on our National Geographic Ultimate National Parks Expedition, planning a trip for early spring and fall can be challenging.

“If you are a parent like me with kids in grade school you need to plan your trips around when they are free, which will be in the summer during peak tourist season,” he says. “There are crowds at popular spots, but you can go at unusual times. Go early in the morning or late at night with a full moon. Everything is quieter and you can feel almost as if you are alone.”

2. Go with a mission in mind.

When planning a trip to a sprawling national park, especially one as vast as Yellowstone, it can be overwhelming deciding where to start. Instead of fretting over how many historic landmarks you need to fit into your trip itinerary and driving yourself crazy with time allotments and schedules, pick one thing you want to accomplish on your trip.

“If you are going to go to a park and know how much time you have, do a little homework and pick one objective and commit to it,” Chin recommends. “When you show up at a park and don’t have any idea what you want to do, you don’t end up doing much.”

If you want to take a hike and see Old Faithful, for example, plan a hike that overlooks this landmark. You’ll also successfully avoid the crowds and combine objectives so you can do more with your time.

3. Travel light.

There is nothing worse than packing too much. When you are traveling to a national park, less is more.

Photographer Drew Rush, an expert on our National Geographic Ultimate National Parks Expedition, has been making it his goal to travel lighter. It makes for fewer headaches and adds to the flexibility you have when traveling.

“Don’t feel you have to pack a lot of clothes and streamline the equipment you are taking with you,” he says. “Most parks have laundry facilities on-site.”

4. Bring the best gear.

It’s not just how much you pack that’s important, but also what you bring with you.

“Pack headlamps,” Rush says. “They are much smaller and lighter than a flashlight and you can wear them around your head or neck to keep your hands free.” Rush also recommends a water bottle, a small pair of binoculars, a backpack that’s comfortable to carry with you on hikes, and batteries.

Louise Johns, a photographer who shot Yellowstone for a May 2016 National Geographic magazine feature, recommends brands such as Marmot, Patagonia, and North Face, and anything a good outdoor gear store such as REI would sell.

“The individuals working at these stores are experts and should be able to point you in the right direction for gear that matches your trip and budget,” she says.

5. Stay at a national park lodge.

“I love the national park lodges,” Cochran says. “Then you have the early morning and late evening [in the park]. You wake up and step out of your front door and you see the Grand Tetons right in front of you.”

Book early to stay at a park lodge; many fill up quickly. If you’re trying for a lodge that’s already full, check back every day for cancellations.

6. Check in with park rangers when you first arrive.

You may plan your trip perfectly and know exactly where you are going, but it is still wise to check in at the visitor center when you first arrive. Park rangers will have the insider info you need to make sure your trip goes down without a hitch.

“They will tell you which roads are closed or areas of the park that are under construction,” Cochran says. “They can also help you figure out what hidden trails to try or the best place to watch the sunset.”

“Consider getting an annual park pass when you first arrive,” Chin adds. “It gives you access to all national parks for a full year from the date of purchase, and a side benefit is that money goes directly to funding the National Park Service, which is a great thing!”

7. Go camping.

Johns, Chin, Cochran, and Rush unanimously agree that the ultimate thing you should do when visiting any national park is to camp under the stars—even if it is just for a night.

“The benefits outweigh the discomforts,” Chin says. “You engage differently with people when you are camping as you are forced to unplug and to be present. You connect with nature and other people and that’s really special.”

Johns recommends packing these items:

A tent
A sleeping bag and sleeping pad
A stove (such as the MSR PocketRocket Backpacking Stove)
Flashlights (or headlamps)
If you are in bear country, a bear bag
If you are camping in backcountry, a water filter
If you want to camp at your park of choice–whether in the backcountry or at a designated campground–you need to call in advance. If you are camping at a campground, you’ll need to reserve your spot in advance as they have a limited number of spaces. If you plan on camping in the backcountry, call to check with the park about extra equipment you should bring (such as a bear bag) and what else is required. You will almost always be required to get a camping permit, which is a relatively easy and on-site process.

8. Download the best apps for your trip.

Social media is a spectacular way to share your adventure, and there will be plenty of Instagram-worthy moments on your trip. Here are some other apps recommended by our experts:

National Parks by National Geographic: Comprehensive park guides plus interactive maps, park secrets, photo tips, and more.
Nike+ Running: Great for tracking your runs and hikes.
AllTrails: Shows you all the trails you can take, tracks your progress, and displays comments from previous hikers.
Compass: Perfect for wayfinding.
Weather Channel: Good for planning ahead for the day.
Snapseed: Edit your photos on the go.
Wi-Fi can be spotty in some locations, so it’s always wise to bring old-fashioned maps and guidebooks on your trip. Consider National Geographic’s own Guide to National Parks of the United States.

9. Leave the park better than you found it.

As Cochran says: “I’ve been traveling the world with National Geographic for 25 years, and there is no place I love more than America’s national parks. They offer everything for everyone: Huge mountains, coral reefs, wetlands, seashores, glaciers. There is so much to see and do.”

General rule of the land: Leave the park better than you found it. If you see trash, throw it out, and don’t disturb animals or habitats. Remember: These parks need to be protected.

What to Pack

10It’s not easy getting your head around what you need to take. Deep down you know over packing is a terrible idea, but when you have no idea of what may await you it is easy to be scarred into packing for as many possibilities as you and an over-active imagination can fathom. Let’s be frank, there’s a lot of crap written on travel packing and a lot of scare mongering often featuring on travel sites/blogs, many of which are aimed at mid-range travellers on city or beach trips, or featured in travelogues as examples of ‘I took this’ or ‘am taking this’ whether or not it is was useful/necessary. Anyone who has travelled before will feel nothing but disdain at short, ambiguous packing lists in travel magazines, guidebooks and charlatan websites.

Nonetheless it is not easy putting together a list of items to recommend to take. We are all different, with varying needs and destinations. However, it is amazing at just how similar needs are and that probably 95% of independent travellers (especially those with more time than money) will be be heading to the same locations and doing roughly the same things. If you are the other 5% you will know it.

Deciding what to pack really should not be a big stress. If you departed with only your passport and ATM card (assuming there is some money in the bank) to any major hub (be it Asia, African or Latin America) you will be able to find pretty much everything you need – and what you actually ‘need’ is very little. Of course this is not recommended and laying your hands on the best possible items when away and possibly pressed for time is not always easy. Likewise it is always great to have more that you actually ‘need’ and to be able to bring some organisation, security and creature comfort with you.

Content of this page:
Skip the introduction and why to pack light – jump right in and go straight to:

Clothing and
other essentials.
First aid and cosmetics,
all things electronic,
other bits and forgotten essentials.
A few last tips and some recommended manufacturers.
..or find a basic (check-list) list here without any of the detail or discussion.
WatchingIt is easy to forget we live in a modern, globalised world where many Asian cities are becoming more (not less) modern than the Western world. A world where tourism is the largest global industry and everything possible to cater towards (and make money from) visitors is done – including providing any items for sale specific to local circumstances or the whims of those that pass through.

So there you have it. You can relax. Or can you? You probably still have those niggling doubts and it is worth looking at why we have all become so brain-washed into thinking we need to pack as if we were having dinner with the ambassador one evening, hitting the disco after and heading into the woods to live wild the next. Well part of it is our own bizarre expectation of what the world is really like.

Nepal, Thailand, Kenya or Guatemala may sound strange and exotic, but all (and most countries on the planet) feature big modern cities with a [okay often small] part of the population living as you do. Another core issue is that most packing lists – if they are not trying to sell you something – have yet to catch up with just how small, well travelled [in places] and globalised the world has become over the last ten years as emerging markets/countries took huge leaps forwards.

And lastly we have good old vanity to thank. Wearing the same items of clothing a few days in a row seems strange at home, whilst travelling no one cares! Washing clothes or buying the odd new outfit is much easier than carrying around spares. Girls may feel strange without make-up or something to do their hair, but again: no one cares. If you really do get caught out and need something warmer, smarter, cooler, or to make you more beautiful, just look locally.

Get the Best Hotel Rate

9While even cars have gone the way of reliable sticker prices, hotel accommodations remain a haggler’s game, with arcane and confusing rules and terminology that seem aimed to sneak dollars out of your pocket even when you think you’re making out well. Take the term “corporate rate,” for instance. Corporate employees travel a lot; they must get a good rate, right? Well, some of them do, but probably not the ones who ask for the corporate rate.

Following are some tactics for getting the best hotel rates any time you travel. Your mileage may vary, and some hotels are more flexible than others, but these 15 tricks should keep you on the winning side of the bargaining table.

1. Ask for a lower rate.
This sounds simple, even doomed, but very often works like a charm. Ask whether the hotel is currently running any promotions or packages, and then see if any of the following special rates might apply: AAA, senior, family, hotel membership, weekend, government discount, frequent flier, convention, shareholder or corporate. Hotels sometimes even have what is called a “fallback” rate for travelers who are resisting the quoted rate.

2. Shop around online.
For the latest hotel bargains in locations around the world, be sure to check our discount hotel deals daily. In addition, check the Web sites of your favorite hotel chains; often they will run promotions exclusively for Web bookings.

Hotel discount reservation services like can also help you save considerably on hotel rates, as can general travel booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity. Note, however, that these sites may charge booking fees, so often your best strategy is to shop around to find the lowest rate and then call the hotel directly to see if they can match it.

You may also want to check aggregator sites like Kayak or Mobissimo, which search a wide range of hotel chains and travel sites, and then send you directly to the provider for booking.

Hotel Tipping

3. Book by price, not by property.
If you care less about a specific hotel than getting the cheapest deal, you may want to consider choosing your own price on Priceline or shopping the anonymous (but deeply discounted) hotel inventory on Hotwire. On these sites you often won’t know which hotel you’re staying at until it’s booked, but you can request the general location and quality (three-star, four-star, etc.) — and you could save a significant amount of money over other booking sites.

4. Call the hotel directly.
Many times specials are offered at the hotel that can’t be submitted through the 1-800 central reservations system. The 800 agents have no direct access to room availability, and are often not authorized to negotiate. Hotel agents are generally more in touch with availability and specials, and are therefore more flexible with rates.

Many chains allot only a select number of rooms to the central reservations system, so 800 agents may even tell you a hotel is sold out when in fact the hotel is discounting rooms because of low booking rates!

5. Be flexible with your dates.
Hotel rates can vary widely based on the time of year and the time of week when you travel. If you’re staying at a property that serves mostly business travelers, you may find great weekend deals, while B&B’s and other leisure properties tend to have lower rates midweek. On a broader scale, know when the peak seasons to visit your destination are — such as wintertime in the Caribbean or summertime in Europe. Rates will be sky-high at those times of year, so scheduling your trip for a less popular travel time could save you big bucks on your hotel.

6. Take advantage of last-minute specials.
If your travel plans are flexible, you could get a great rate by waiting to book your hotel until the last minute. Hotel managers are often willing to lower their rates to fill their last remaining rooms.

7. Consider a package deal.
If you’re looking for both airfare and hotels, shop around and see if it’s worth booking the two together as a package deal. You may not have as many hotel choices as you would if you were booking your lodging separately, but the discounts could be worth the lack of flexibility.

8. Consider a private sale.
Private sale sites and offer exclusive deals on hotels and resorts, but you must be a member to access them, and most sales don’t last very long. If you’re open-minded about where you want to go and when, these sites can help you land deep discounts at upscale properties.

new orleans courtyard9. Look beyond the big hotels.
If you’re seeing high rates at big chain hotels, consider some alternatives. These could include bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, hostels or independently owned small hotels — most of which can’t be found on big booking engines. For advice on how to research these, see our guide to finding hidden hotels.

10. Know the full cost.
You may think you’ve found a great deal, but keep in mind that the base rate isn’t the only thing that will determine your total bill. Be sure to ask what taxes, resort fees, parking costs, energy surcharges, and other odds and ends will apply to your final tally. Even if one hotel has a lower base rate, it may end up being a more expensive option once all the extras are added in. For more information, see Hidden Hotel Fees.

The 10 Rules of Packing

4When you’ve spent more than a decade on the road, you get asked some pretty interesting questions. The one query I get most, though, is about packing: what to take, what to leave, where to put it. I’ve taken scads of trips, but every time I get back, I know I could have gone even lighter. Let’s save you some trouble and start with the basics of my lessons learned.

The 10 Rules of Packing

1. The Golden Rule: Take half of the clothes you were planning to bring and twice the money. I cannot stress how true this is.

2. Take only what you can fit in a carry on. We’ve all lost luggage before, and it’s a pain. But when it’s 3 degrees in Poland and you’re rocking those horrible sweats you insist on wearing on long flights, hearing “as soon as we find your bag, we’ll send it to you” can really put a damper on your first day. And — no offense to the Polish — but having to buy an entire wardrobe in Warsaw might not be exactly how you want to spend your travel pennies. This also means you’ll have luggage with wheels, which is worth its weight in gold.

3. If you simply must check luggage, ask them to put a “Fragile” sticker on it, which helps ensure your bags will be put on top of the pile and be first off the plane. Also, yours is not the only black suitcase, so slap a sticker or red ribbon on it — anything that will help you pick it out in the crowd. Think airport security is scary these days? Try making it through customs with someone else’s bag.

4. Mix and match. Bring three shirts and three “bottoms.” That’s 9 outfits.

5. Books are sexy. So are vinyl records. But save yourself the extra pounds and fill your Kindle with every book/country guide you need and stick to your iPod.

6. Don’t be a diva. If you’re the type who has to travel with your own hair dryer (and won’t use the hotel’s), then I might suggest a weekend in the Smokies over the Alps.

7. Jackets and sweaters take up a lot of precious bag space and weigh you down. Unless you’re going to Russia in winter, layers work just as well.

8. If you can bear it, stay away from jeans. This is huge and I should have moved it up to number 2. They absorb dirt (and odors), are bulky and take days to air dry. Cotton and khaki are the way to go.

9. If it’s important and can’t fit into your daypack, leave it at home. Stuff gets stolen no matter where you go. As big as a pain as it is, I am constantly carrying my computer, cameras, etc. on my back — and in crowded places, as ridiculous as it looks, in front of me.

10. Every country I’ve ever visited sells soap. And shampoo. And socks. And t-shirts. I.e. What you forget, you can buy.

One last thing: those plastic gardening shoes that somehow made it into the acceptable mainstream of fashion footwear? Do your country a favor… and don’t.

My Travel Essentials

3I’ve spent the night in four different countries this week.

I went diving on Mexico’s coral reef, was interviewed on French-Canadian television, did laundry in Washington, D.C., and then flew to Buenos Aires for last night’s marvelous dinner at La Cabrera.

Though the life of a modern-day nomad sounds extremely fun, it is also a little hectic. Like traditional nomads, I live in the moment but I am also always thinking about what comes next. Tomorrow brings new adventures with new demands—today’s scuba gear won’t fare well on the Tokyo subway or on horseback in Patagonia.

Thus the contents of my pack change all the time. In the past, I’ve openly shared what I carried for a bus trip to Antarctica and all the gear that lives inside my Digital Nomad office-in-a-backpack. This time, I’m showing you my travel essentials—my basic travel accessories that I almost always have with me.

Now I’m a firm believer that things don’t make you a better traveler, but certain things can make life on the road a lot more comfortable. This is what I’m carrying for my current journey:

Passport (with extra pages). Everybody should have a passport. I ordered mine extra thick, but I still cringe every time a customs official fills up one of my pages.
Cash. When it comes to money, travelers have come full circle with money. Gone are the days of personalized traveler’s checks and easy-breezy global ATM cards. With bank fees as high as they are, I tend to carry more cash to cover anything my credit card won’t.
iPad 2/ I waited a while before I bought an iPad, but it’s great for showing other people pictures.
Sunglasses by Persol/ I bought these in Australia and have been traveling with them ever since. I use these everywhere, from the Arctic to the rain forest.
Moleskine miniature notebooks/ It’s all marketing with Moleskine, but I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t use them. When digital fails, I always rely on paper. I like the smallest ones and have them stashed in various pockets.
Pens/ I go through 4-5 pens per travel assignment, either because I bleed them dry or lose them. I write only with black ink and I always travel with a Sharpie. Always.
iPhone 4S/ I do half my work on my phone, including photography, video, and even editing and publishing this blog. The current leopard-print case is to camouflage my phone in one of my destinations to come.
Gillette Fusion ProGlide Razor/ I shave on the road because I have to. Beards are fine on short camping trips, but I clean up when I’m making a TV appearance, giving a lecture, meeting foreign officials, or hosting other travelers. This particular razor claims that a single cartridge lasts five weeks, which happens to be the length of my next journey.
Shaving cream (travel size)/ I know a lot of travelers who use hot water and soap to shave, but I just can’t do it. I’ve found this tiny 2-ounce TSA-approved bottle lasts over a month.
Deodorant/ Never mind the 4-ounce size is technically over TSA limits. Somehow it always gets a pass. Only once has my deodorant been confiscated and in my opinion, the confiscator probably needed it more than I did.
Toothbrush and toothpaste/ Obvious, but important. After a 12-hour flight, I feel gritty and greasy, but something about brushing my teeth makes me feel clean all over.
Mouthwash/ When brushing my teeth is not an option, mouthwash saves me.
Shampoo, conditioners, and shower gel. My favorite brand? Molton Brown (when I can get it) or Miller Harris (which I shamelessly collect from Fairmont Hotels).
Mojito Compact Travel Wallet/ This little leather sheath holds all my cards and has a tiny pocket for folded cash. It’s a great way to keep my most valuable items stashed neatly. I love this thing.
Atlas of Remote Islands/ (by Judith Schalansky) Here’s a blatant clue about one of my upcoming destinations. I received this book last Christmas and find it one of those bookshelf classics that I love to pull out and read from time to time. I can also (meekly) boast that I have actually already traveled to half the islands in this book.
XShot/ This monopod extender is a very simple tool, but I use it all the time to make videos and take pictures. Also, no other object gets me stopped at airport security more than this. Under an x-ray, it looks like the barrel of a gun.
National Geographic Traveler Guidebooks/ Although I rarely travel with guidebooks, I like reading the National Geographic Traveler series to familiarize myself with a place and to get me thinking about what I want to see and do. I’m currently carrying this copy for my upcoming destination.
Hat/ I always need a new hat, no matter where I go. This is not because I’m a fashion victim but because I have a tendency to leave hats in taxis and hotel rooms.
Sleep mask/ Everyone asks if I can sleep on planes and the answer is yes, but only when blindfolded. I slept seven hours on my flight to Argentina because my world was blissfully dark.
Mophie iPhone charger/ Many of you ask how I can tweet for 12 hours nonstop. This is my secret — the Mophie portable charger doubles the time I can use my phone unplugged.
Lacie 500 GB Rough & Ready Hard Drive/ I use about one of these drives per assignment, filling it up with all my backup video and pictures. They are far more durable than any other hard drive out there. I know because I have dropped them from great heights and exposed them to intense heat and cold without affecting their performance.
The Complete National Geographic/ Traveling with the CNG is like packing your entire grandfather’s attic into your backpack. I can look up any article anytime on this 1-terrabyte hard drive. People often ask how I know some fact about some place–well, because I look it up on the CNG.
Hohner Harmonica/ My friend Pam encouraged me to learn how to play the harmonica so I picked this one up in Cajun country, Louisiana. I’m still learning to play, but I find that making music on the road is a good way to unwind after a busy day. I apologize to all those people who beat on the walls of my hotel room and ask me to shut up.
Malarone/ I’ve taken about every antimalarial invented and this is my favorite. Why am I traveling with antimalarials, you ask? Follow me and find out!
Hand sanitizer/ I don’t overuse the stuff, but when you’ve been petting dogs all day and then get ready to sit down for some pork tacos, it’s a good idea.

Traveler’s Tummy

7It’s probably the most unpleasant minor traveler’s malady. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the most common.

Call it what you will — traveler’s tummy, Montezuma’s revenge, the traveler’s trot, the Toltec two-step, Delhi belly, the runs or the commonly accepted TD (for traveler’s diarrhea) — but don’t call it fun. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Further, it can be dangerous, causing severe dehydration, malnutrition or worse.

woman with stomach ache
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 30 and 70 percent of international travelers suffer some form of TD. A vaccine against E. coli, the most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea, has been under development for more than a decade now — and there’s no sign that it will be released any time soon. Until then, here are our tips for preventing, identifying and treating traveler’s tummy.

What Causes Traveler’s Diarrhea?

A new diet, dehydration from flying, a change in climate, stress and even lack of sleep can cause simple traveler’s tummy. The most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea is bacteria, particularly E. coli, but many other microbes can lead to intestinal distress.

In most cases, traveler’s tummy is easily treated, a mere inconvenience in your travels. However, more serious ailments are possible, including dysentery, cholera, giardiasis and other intestinal disorders. See below for more on these conditions.

How to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea

Skip the ice cubes in your drink, pass on salads or other raw foods in developing countries, and seek out bottled water rather than drinking from the tap. For more tips on avoiding traveler’s diarrhea, read Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling and Drinking Water Safety.

Worldwide Risk Levels for Traveler’s Diarrhea

Note that in high-risk areas, it may be all but impossible to avoid some incidence of traveler’s tummy, even if you’re careful about what you eat and drink. Certain risk factors (such as worker hygiene in restaurants) are simply out of your control. Here’s a breakdown of your risks around the world:

High Risk: Most developing countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia

Intermediate Risk: Some Caribbean islands, some countries in Eastern Europe, South Africa, Argentina and Chile

Low Risk: The United States, Canada, Northern and Western Europe, some countries in Eastern Europe (including Poland and Slovenia), New Zealand and Australia

For more details, check out the CDC’s destination-specific health information.

Identifying Traveler’s Diarrhea

As outlined above, symptoms can include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be relatively severe, but should not persist for more than a few days, or become particularly violent. Even simple traveler’s tummy can be life-threatening under some conditions, so consider seeking medical attention if symptoms worsen or continue for more than 48 hours.

Common bacterial diarrhea usually sets in very rapidly and without warning and is not typically accompanied by bloody stools. About 80 to 90 percent of TD is considered bacterial diarrhea, according to the CDC.

Five Foods to Avoid Before Flying

There are other, arguably more serious maladies that cause similar or identical symptoms to common traveler’s diarrhea:

Amebiasis (amebic dysentery): The appearance of blood or mucus in the stool is a sign of potential dysentery. In this case, you should seek medical advice.

Giardiasis: This is a somewhat more complex intestinal disorder that can recur repeatedly for weeks after the conclusion of travel, as the protozoan that causes it has a longer incubation period than most bacteria. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, bloating, abdominal cramps and more, and may not appear until a week or two after the protozoan is introduced into your body. If you find yourself having repeated outbreaks of diarrhea even after your trip is over, or if your symptoms persist longer than a few days, seek medical attention.

Cholera: The appearance of severe, watery diarrhea spotted with mucus can be indicative of cholera. Other symptoms might include leg cramps and vomiting. It’s important for cholera sufferers to quickly replace their body’s lost water and salts to prevent dehydration. They may also need medical help.

Other conditions accompanied by fever, lethargy, persistent diarrhea lasting more than 48 hours, or severe diarrhea may require treatment with antibiotics and are cause for medical intervention.

How to Pack for Weekend Trips

2Packing for a weekend away isn’t an exact science. I’m not going to tell you “bring two dresses and a pair of jeans.” So much depends on where you’re going, the weather, and your personal style. But I do have some tips I can offer to help you pack for success.

If I’m traveling, I’m usually working, so I have to bring my laptop. Once you know what you’ll actually need, you can start thinking about things you want to bring. Bottom line: Pack what makes you feel your best and what won’t hold you back from adventure.

Here are seven things to think about while you’re packing for your next weekend trip:

1. Keep calm and carry-on. If you remember your passport, credit cards, and medications you might need when you’re running around before a flight, you’re halfway to golden. Most everything else can be purchased later if left behind. But don’t you dare check a bag on a weekend getaway! Even if you’re not flying, you don’t want to be weighed down. That said, quality luggage is one of the most important investments a traveler can make. Luxury hotel inspector Tiffany Dowd and Erik Wilkinson, a director of sales for Eton of Sweden, both swear by Tumi. The Quintessential Tote is Dowd’s favorite because it’s “stylish and durable,” while Wilkinson prefers the International Carry-On, a bag he reports holds a surprisingly large amount of clothes. Dowd’s also a fan of the brand’s luggage recovery program which identifies your bag with a unique registration number.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of a plastic bag. I put everything from chargers to jewelry in plastic baggies. I also always keep a plastic bag filled with essential toiletries — like contact solution, lotion, and toothpaste — at the ready en route. Bigger plastic bags double as laundry hampers on short trips, but for those of you who want to class it up a bit, Wilkinson recommends trying Flight 001 Spacepaks. “You fold everything in on one side of the bag on your outbound journey and then your dirty clothes go on the other side on your return,” he said.

3. Accessories are your best friend. On a weekend trip, neutral color palates — tans, blacks, whites, grays — can maximize your options while keeping your carry-on, well, carry-able. Then, all you need is a fabulous selection of accessories to brighten and vary your look. “Great accessories are my secret,” Dowd said. “You can add a pop of color to a simple black dress with some vibrant Prada pumps, then change up your look by adding a long Chanel necklace and some high-heeled boots the next night.” I also love adding to my collection when I’m away: Picking up a scarf from a London shop or a bracelet from a market in Dubai remind me of my travels long after I’ve returned home.

4. Wear the same outfit on both flights. Picking out your “plane uniform” is important business, and can help you conserve valuable carry-on space. For instance, always wear your heaviest items, like winter coats and big boots, on the plane. Travelers often end up in quite a different clime when they disembark at their destination, and planes themselves can be chilly, so layering your clothing is always a good way to go.

5. To thine own self be true. Identify and embrace your must-haves. Confession: I own way too many black dresses — but they’re just so easy when traveling, and I don’t care how often someone sees me in one. So when I know I’ve packed a few of them, I feel at ease. And, since I have yet to come to terms with my Medusa-esque head of curls, I always bring a flat iron along with me. Wilkinson, on the other hand, subscribes to something he calls “the blazer effect.” “If there’s a better table to be had at the restaurant, I get it wearing the blazer,” he said. Same with hotel upgrades. “My wife and I laugh about it now because it happens so often.”

6. Be prepared. Part of my power-packing strategy for weekend trips is invisible to the eye. When you only have a few days, you want to spend them wisely, so I do a lot of research about my destination ahead of time. I save tweets, articles, quotes, friends’ advice, and more in documents and spreadsheets, then use SugarSync to link my laptop to my phone so it’s all at my fingertips. Even if you’re a see-where-the-day-takes-you traveler, it always helps to have some idea of what you want to do, especially when it comes to securing reservations at that fabulous new restaurant or tickets to that gonna-sell-out show.

7. Keep it light. This rule is both literal and figurative. In addition to not weighing myself down with checked luggage, I make a habit of leaving books behind on short getaways. Instead, I bring my iPad and buy magazines at the airport for take-off and landing. Dowd, who gave the best advice of all — “Leave any stress you may have behind!” — reminded me that weekend getaways are about enjoying life and getting some rest. Amen, sister.

Gear Tips for Tech-Savvy Travelers

1In this tech-boom age, every season brings a new set of products that promise to simplify our lives.

But technology can be a double-edged sword. Travelers fond of the newly unveiled iPhone 5 and other state-of-the-art gadgets can be wary of bringing all that expensive gear along with them when they go abroad.

That’s why I put this list together — to highlight some stand-out gear that will fit easily into your carry on and make your next trip virtually stress-free.

Here are my recommendations for the tech-savvy traveler in no particular order:

Keep your gadgets charged and in check with the AViiQ travel bag. (Photograph courtesy AViiQ)
1. The last thing you want to be doing on that once-in-a-lifetime trip is untangling a bunch of meddlesome cords. AViiQ’s portable travel bag charges your phone, camera, and other electronic gadgets via a USB hub and comes equipped with a cable rack system that will keep your cords in check.

2. Misplacing your hotel key, wallet, or smartphone is a surefire way to ruin a vacation. Keep a digital eye on all your important travel accoutrements with the Cobra Tag. Just attach the device to your keychain — after downloading the accompanying (and free) mobile app — and it will remind you when you’ve left something behind.

Hitcase lets you go anywhere you want on your travels. (Photograph courtesy Hitcase)
3. Whether you’re skiing in the Alps or surfing in Cabo, the waterproof and shock-proof Hitcase has your iPhone covered. Hitcase Pro even comes with an extended wide-angle lens that will let you capture more of the action – even underwater. You can even mount the Hitcase-enclosed iPhone to your helmet to document your adventures.

4. Music is a universal language and, in the beach-party towns like Sao Paulo and Barcelona, can heighten your appeal with the locals. NuForce’s cube-shaped speaker is tiny, weighs less than a pound, and comes in four vibrant colors. If you have a connector, you can hook up your iPod Nano and groove to a custom soundtrack on your travels.

Respect your seatmates with a set of Vers headphones. (Photograph courtesy Vers Audio)
5. If you can’t live without music while you travel, but don’t want to create a scene, investing in good earphones is the way to go. The Vers bamboo and hardwood earphones isolate sound, so you can truly enjoy your getaway. Plus, the company has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 100 trees for every tree used to create their products.

6. When you’re traveling, it’s easy to overwhelm your laptop, tablet, and smartphone with memories from your trip. Fear not. The new Drobo Mini was built with globetrotting videographers and photographers in mind. The “world’s most portable storage unit” weights just 2.5 pounds and can hold up to four hard drives, so you can snap away without the worry.