Let’s face it – packing for a trip can be very stressful. There are so many questions you might ask yourself, such as “Do I really need to bring that new set of encyclopedias with me? How about an extra laptop? Hmmm, how will I survive without my favorite set of bowling balls? What if I get caught up in a freak blizzard, or if a swarm of locusts suddenly attacks?” The truth is you only need the essentials to be a happy traveler, especially if you are visiting urban areas. On the other hand, you don’t want to have an epiphany halfway to your destination, and realize that you forgot something you really need. I, Buzz the Bumblebee, an experienced traveler, have decided to compile the following list of items to bring on every journey, excluding the fairly obvious ones. Like a suitcase to put all the stuff in.
Here are top 10 items every traveler should bring along:
1. Swiss Army Knife
I can’t even remember the number of times this brilliant little device saved the day. Slicing bread – check. Opening wine and beer bottles – check. Opening cans – check. Plus it fits in every pocket, unless you go overboard and decide to get one as extensive as the one in the picture. Although I’m sure you would never get robbed if you actually decided to carry one of these, since the thief would burst out laughing as soon as you would pull it out, I recommend a more compact version.
2. Inflatable Traveling Pillow
Those long plane/train/bus rides don’t need to be uncomfortable at all. An inflatable neck-supporting pillow such as this one can make sleeping in your seat a pleasant and relaxing experience. There is really no need for mandatory soreness in your neck and shoulders if you try to sleep in such places without this little fellow. You can also use it in a horizontal position, replacing a “regular” pillow if you don’t fancy the ones you got in your hotel room. Be sure to carry a little repair kit with it, since punctures just happen. Don’t use it as a floating device though, unless you’re desperate.
3. Reliable Map
Sightseeing isn’t much fun if you can’t find your way around. This can be especially difficult in large cities you have never visited before, even if your sense of direction is excellent. Therefore, a good foldable map can be invaluable. Don’t rely on maps you can get for free at the local tourist offices, since most of these will be more detracting than helpful. You’ll be doing yourself a favor if you purchase a well-marked city plan beforehand, possibly even marking things on your own as you plan which landmarks you’d like to visit. A GPS system or a mobile device with access to Google Maps, for example, is a better, but pricier option. Unlike bumblebees, humans have to actually navigate the streets, which is quite unfortunate. For you.
4. Local Guide
Each country has a specific culture and its own set of “unwritten” rules. The mentality of people varies from place to place. No two cities have identical subway & tram lines. Bummer. I’m guessing you don’t want to offend anybody, so it may be wise to consult a local guide for some insight about your destination(s). You can get a lot of relevant information from online guides, like Bumblehood, or you can opt for a well written country-specific guide, such as Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Frommer’s. Read at least the basics before the trip, since you will want to explore when you reach the destination, not read the guide and miss out on the real experience. Meet the locals and see the sights – don’t just read about them!
5. Comfortable clothing & shoes
How many times did you bring too many pieces of clothing on a trip, “just in case”? And how many times did those “cases” actually happen? Right. Only bring the things you feel comfortable in, and which are adequate for the season and climate of your destination – don’t bring your entire wardrobe. Yes ladies, this is an inter-species appeal to you from males around the globe. Choice of shoes is especially important, since you will probably do a lot of walking. A sturdy pair of traveling shoes with thick soles can really help avoid the pain in your feet after a long day of sightseeing, so buy the best ones you can afford. Don’t forget to bring adequate headgear – a hat or a baseball cap will protect you from the sun during summer, while a woolen cap (+ gloves!) will keep you warm during winter hiking sessions. Remember, he who would travel happily must travel light!
6. Quality Sunglasses
Chances are you will need some form of eye-protection regardless of the season. Unless you’re going for a skiing trip, in which case you’ll need goggles, a pair of quality (and stylish, of course) sunglasses will be well appreciated on a sunny day. What good would it be to stare at, for example, the Eiffel Tower if you can’t see anything because of the glare. Or to squint and hide in shadows as long as the Sun is up? Just be sure to actually bring these babies, since they are often left forgotten somewhere at home. Or is that just me? And bring along with suitable wiping cloth, so you don’t scratch the lenses while rubbing them against your jeans.
Traveling is oh so much better if you have actual hard evidence that you really visited the locations you claim, so you can brag about it with some credibility. Any camera, be it digital or just plain old analogue, will do the trick, but the bigger your budget the better your pictures will be (obviously). On the other hand, you might not want to bring really expensive models on a trip, since it might get lost or stolen (ignore this line if you are a Japanese tourist). A small tip – if you plan to make hardcopies of your picture, you might want to purchase a photo album in the city/country you are visiting, to make the memento even more authentic. Or you could just upload the whole thing to your Facebook / MySpace profile. Or both.
8. Compact Dictionary
Here is one pearl of wisdom from my big box of pearls – the locals will be more willing to help if you address them in their own language, even if your grammar is not perfect – you just need to show good faith. Unless you speak the language in question, this effort would be impossible without that dictionary in your pocket. You can opt for classic, printed versions, or even electronic dictionaries if that is your fancy. The latter may help you translate the word you are looking for a little faster, but a quality printed dictionary will never fail you by running out of battery power. Beware of tricky phrases though; if your statement comes out something like “I like to bone that sheep” when you meant “I would like to board that ship” people might want to get away from you as soon as possible. But hey, it’s all traveling experience and you can at least get a few laughs afterwards.
9. Secure Belt & Pouch
Seriously, only kangaroos and other marsupials have no need of such a travel accessory. This bumblebee never crosses a state line without one of these babies. Money, a small notebook & pen, aforementioned swiss army knife, city maps, a compact camera and all other small essentials can easily and securely be kept in such belts, and they will always at hand when you need them. Beats the hell out of stuffing your pockets and wondering where you left any particular item. Be careful when putting it down somewhere, in a bar for example, because they are so practical that people tend to forget they even exist. When it’s not attached to your waist, always keep an eye on it! You don’t want to mess around with embassies when your passport gets stolen, believe me.
10. Water Bottle
Even though water is most likely readily available at whichever urban destination you happen to be in, it never hurts to keep a bottle of your favorite liquid by your side. Especially during hot summer days. If you already carry the belt mentioned above (and you should!), you can easily attach the bottle to it with an appropriate clip. You never know how long that museum visit is going to last. If you want something, ahem, stronger, you can replace the plastic bottle with a metallic flask full of firewater of your choice. Either way, you’re sure to save a few dollars on overpriced drinks.