International Travel Tips

Now I’ve only made one long trek back to the states since we moved to China in July 2010, but thinking back on 2011, I realized that when all’s said and done I’ll have spent time in over six different countries this year (Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, China, the US, and next on my list, Canada).  That doesn’t make me an expert, but it does make me a frequent traveler, who’s put a little bit of thought into the not-so-fun pre-packing, and long flights.

Here are my tips…what are yours??

1.  Pack Light:  I know, this is obvious, but I always tell people, have you ever actually packed too little?  Most of us over-pack, so when you have the urge to edit that last sweater, go with your gut and take it out.  You’ll be thankful that you have lighter bags and more room to bring home fun things from your travels.

2.  Pack a little detergent, a clothing line, and do your own laundry!  This is one place I’ve definitely adapted to the Chinese lifestyle.  When I travel with Chinese friends, they usually pack just two changes of clothing, and do laundry in the sink every night.  I usually only wash my workout clothes by hand, but this saves me precious space in my luggage.  I also do undergarments in the sink, because I usually handwash some of them anyway.  Make sure to bring lightweight or dryfit clothes that dry quickly, so you can be ready to run everyday.

The travelista on packing light.

3.  Skimp on the clothes, go wild on the accessories: The travelista has a great visual for what it means to pack versatile items, and then pack enough jewelry, scarves, and light sweaters to make each outfit morph into three or four.

4.  Pack gifts!  Chances are you like to pick up a few souvenirs for yourself when traveling, so what better way to leave space in your luggage than pack gifts for those whom you’re visiting.  Another alternative is to pack a light carry-on, and then pack a lightweight bag inside, and then you can check the carry-on on the way back and carry the extra bag, but I’m sure your friends would prefer the presents.

5.  Save some work for the plane.  “Air plane mode” means no distractions from the web, phone calls, or facebook, which, with a little music to block out the din of the engine, can be a great work environment.  I get antsy with so much time, and I tend to squander it, so I find it’s good for me to plan to hit the work first, and relax later, structure my time a bit so it goes by quickly.

6.  On board survival kit.  It sounds obvious, but for overnight flights it’s important to pack all the little things you might need (contacts, solution, glasses, facewash, mouthwash, toothbrush & toothpaste, medications, allergy meds, eye drops, sleeping aids, and cold medicine) in a reachable place.  This means they need to be small– under 3.4 oz–so you can carry them on.

7.  Stretch and walk around.  On long flights, it’s important to do some chair stretches every couple of hours and to get up and walk a bit.  It may feel awkward but it’s healthy, so get out and roam.

8.  Don’t be anxious about getting sleep on the plane.  I know it’s hard to sleep on the plane, but the anxiety over “getting enough sleep” can be paralyzing.  Plan a few days into your schedule to acclimate to your new time zone if you’re traveling internationally, rather than expecting the sleep on the plane (usually sparse and uncomfortable) to be something it’s not (relaxing and satisfying).

9.  Do travel with your comforts.  When I travel in China, I like to pack Starbucks instant coffee, because they don’t have good coffee in most towns.  Although they’re heavy, I also love magazines, because I devour them with pleasure, and then I can ditch them to another happy reader.  For this particular trip, I’ve packed a rather bulky sweater, but it makes me feel at home.  Maybe you travel with a pillow that gives your neck support or another favorite item.  Whatever contributes to that comfort (think one or two small items), don’t skimp on it.  This is something you’ll actually wish you packed, and think about longingly, so you don’t want to leave it behind!

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