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Travel packing hacks

After 55 days on the road, 14 flights, 2 train journeys, 2 bus trips, thousands of kilometres of driving, hundreds of photos and far too much good food and wine, I finally got to unpack the other day and have realised that no, I don’t really travel light at all – but I do travel prepared for most things and don’t have the nickname ‘MacGuyver’ for nothing. Going on a trip and need some travel packing hacks?

I’ve got quite a few below for you, but first, a few of the things that I’ve realised after doing two round the world trips – one in 2003, the other 15 years later in 2018…

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Getting around: it used to be Lonely Planet Guides, paper train and bus timetables and tickets, old school foldable maps. Now? It’s an iPhone. Google maps makes navigating (especially when you’re driving alone) SO much less stressful and the need to plan days ahead almost obsolete. With a few spare hours with a car in Invermere, I googled ‘best views in Invermere’ and 20 seconds later was driving towards this stunning view.

According to Google, the ‘best view in Invermere’…. it wasn’t wrong!

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Staying connected: it used to be finding an internet cafe once or twice a week, then choosing the one that was the most empty so that you’d get the fastest connection. Waiting for hotmail to load you’d sit there wondering whether anyone had replied to the group ‘travel updates’ email you’d sent out the week before, or who may have sent an ‘I got your postcard!’ message. Now? You spend a lot of your downtime deleting junk mail and wading through the hundreds of emails, notifications and updates you get on a daily basis. #bringbackthegoodolddays

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Choosing where to eat or stay: it used to be using the Lonely Planet Guide or asking the dude at reception in the hostel you were staying at. Now? Most people travelling use Trip Advisor, Yelp or the myriad of apps that will tell you where the best restaurants are and what their star rating and signature dishes are. Me? I travel to people I know and eat where they eat. Never a bad meal when you’re eating at your friends’ favourite establishments or cooking delicious meals for them with fresh local produce in their own homes!

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Deciding what makes up your 23 kilos of luggage: last time I went around the world I had a mini-disc player, a stack of mini disks, a number of Lonely Planets, a few novels and clothes to get me through 10 months of work, play, summer and winter. This time? It was a little bit different. I’ve got sections below on Power and Charging, Drinking Vessels, Practical Tools, Down-time Tools, Bags and What to Include in your Hand Luggage. Got any tips you’d add to the list? Add them in the comments!

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Power and Charging

You could literally fill your hand luggage with adapters and chargers; this is the combination that saved me the most space:

• an Australian power-board or double adapter, (so there’s no need for multiple adapters),

• one universal (multi-country) power adapter, (so you don’t have to travel with different ones for each country),

• more than one power/USB cable for each type of device you need (they break, get lost, stop working randomly when you least expect them to – carrying a spare saved me a few times on this trip), and 

• small power bank for those times when you’re out and about without a power source – this saved my butt quite a few times arriving in places with little battery power left – hard to call an Uber or work out what train you’re supposed to be on when your device is dead…

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Drinking Vessels

You may think it a bit strange to have a whole section dedicated to this and to be honest I’ve rarely travelled with any of these items but after this trip I wouldn’t leave without them (especially if you’re on a trip with lots of long haul road trips or air travel…).

• Travel Mug: I’ve never travelled with one of these before but they’re AWESOME. Most coffee places offer a discount if you bring your own mug these days, you’re saving the trees, they don’t spill, they fit in most car cup holders, and best of all they keep your cuppa warm (or cold!). This one is the Contigo brand and is awesome as it has a double locking mechanism so you have to push a button to be able to drink from it (which auto closes after you release it), then you can lock it off so even that button doesn’t work – you can literally throw it into your bag upside down full of hot coffee and not worry about it. Brilliant!

• Flask: I’ve never travelled with one of these before either, but when I saw this in a shop in Canada I couldn’t leave it there (read the inscription on the front of the green flask in the picture). Brilliant for being on the road, filling with hot water before you leave your accommodation so you can brew yourself a cuppa when you’re on the road! This one kept the water boiling for hours – literally!

• Water bottle: so many places on this trip had free re-fill stations for drinking water – rarely any need to actually buy bottled water which is great for the budget but also for the planet 🙂

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Practical Tools

This section is dedicated to the types of things that just make your life easier when you’re on the road; being able to switch off, or repair things quickly often saves you time, money and a whole heap of frustration. 

• Headphones: noise-cancelling, bluetooth, foldable, over-ear 1000MX2 Sony headphones (pictured) for flights, airports and other places where there are lots of people and noise. I also carry a set of in-ear $40 Marley headphones with built in microphone for taking calls and speaking with clients, but the over-ear Sony numbers are BLISS for shutting out the world around you and getting some peace. Well worth the (duty free) expense.

• Multi-tool: because you never know when you’re going to need a pair of pliers or a bottle opener #macguyver

• Sewing kit: because buttons fall off, fans break, backpack zips split and clothing rips (all of those things happened this trip, and that kit fixed all of them)

• Manicure kit: nail files, clippers and scissors can be used for many more things than just your nails #repairhacks #clippersaresharperthanscissors

• Hand fan: because it weighs nothing, slides into your handbag and when you’re A) a hot blooded half Italian half Irish/English whose body wasn’t designed for the heat, and B) land in a place like sunny Hawaii from freezing Auckland, it’s much more pleasant to whip out a hand fan than stand there waiting for your luggage looking like a beetroot and dripping with sweat 🙂 #trustmeImasweatybeast

• Business cards: because you never know who you’re going to meet when you’re waiting for your luggage #coolasacucumberwithmyhandfan

• Sarong: the ultimate travel tool, becoming whatever you need it to be – impromptu towel, makeshift robe, laundry bag, picnic blanket, skirt, hat, pillow, I even used one once to rescue someone caught in a rip #myothernicknameisPamela 

• Weighing scale: because you don’t want to be one of those people unpacking in the middle of the check in line, trying to move one or two kilos from your main luggage into your hand luggage. Maxing out the kilos you’re allowed to stow means carrying less in your hand luggage which is always a good thing!

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Downtime Tools

Because when you’re on the road, you get a lot of opportunities to sit and just be. These tools helped make that time more comfortable and enjoyable for me while I was on this trip.

• Yoga: travel yoga mat with a yoga class on the iPad – because there’s nothing better than finding a beachside park and just sitting, stretching and enjoying the view.

• iPad: loaded with loads of Kindle books, Netflix and Recolour (a colouring in app) – for the times when you’re on the road or jet lagged and not sleeping.

• Meditation: Singing bowl, Soul Guidance Cards, some Palo Santo, Jade, Moonstone and Rose Quartz – because getting your woo on, isn’t something you just leave at home.

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Bags

What type to take? A suitcase? A backpack? Wheels? Go to any travel luggage store and you’ll be assaulted with choices. Here’s my picks:

• Wheels: travelling with your main luggage as a backpack is really only useful if you’re on and off buses and trains, having to walk long distances with your whole kit, or you’re on an actual hiking holiday. I decided to re-live my youth and travel round the world again with the same backpack I used last time. Here’s my take on that decision: madness. Take wheeled baggage. Period. Having said that, I have muscles now I didn’t when I started this trip so it wasn’t a completely ridiculous decision! #findasilverlining

• Enviro bag: for laundry, shopping, when one of your bags breaks, when you just need enough stuff for a few days away and don’t want to take your whole kit, throw a couple in they come in handy more often than you’d think.

• Packing cells: I cannot travel without them now – I have a general rule for my main luggage – cells hold clean ’like’ clothes (one for tops, one for dresses, one for underwear, etc); if it can be worn again it doesn’t go back into a cell and if it can’t, it goes into the laundry bag. That way you’ll always know exactly how many outfits (and changes of underwear more importantly) you have until you need to find a laundry. You can also organise your hand luggage into sections for cords and chargers, another for cosmetics and medical bits and pieces – your hand luggage never needs to be a tangled mess of bits and pieces ever again as mine always used to be. Best way to buy them is in a Kathmandu sale as they tend to be fairly pricey but you can also pick them up in a lot of $2 shops these days… do some hunting around, buy more than you think you need in all different sizes and allow your inner systemiser to shine!

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What to include in your hand-luggage

Quite simply, follow this advice. I didn’t, and I suffered!

• Wheels: unless you’ve got a 2 kilo rucksack, take something that has wheels. Carrying 7 kilos doesn’t sound like hard work but when you’re standing in a queue for half hour, that 7 kilos will get heavier as time goes by.

• Change of clothes: or at least underwear, especially if you’re travelling to or from somewhere hot. I did this for every leg of my trip – until the last one, when I thought – I’ve done this for the other 13 flights and never needed them… guess which leg I lost my luggage on? Yep. The last one. Landing in hot, sweaty Singapore in clothes I’d already been wearing for 24 hours. #winning

• Medication: see the point above. Included in this would be some tablets to help you get off to sleep. Didn’t need them on any of my flights, until the last 14 hour leg when I really needed them and they were safely stowed in the belly of the aircraft!

• USB cables for your devices: most airports have charging stations these days, and many aircraft have USB ports in the seats. Land with a powered up device, especially if you’re banking on using that device to find the people/place you’re headed for.

• Noise cancelling headphones: with an adapter for the double plugged aeroplane headphone sockets –  they really do make crowded, noisy, children filled cabins much more enjoyable places to be.

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And apart from a whole heap of clothes for various seasons and purposes, that’s about it! Got any tips you’d add to the list? Add them in the comments!

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