Packing and Travel Tips

Have you ever wondered how we pack for six or more months overseas?  I  just returned from Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  For this two week trip I packed the same size airline carry-on suitcase and same camera backpack as if my journey was for six months.

‘CLICK’ brand camera bag and carry-on suit case

We have traveled twice to Europe.  Each trip was for seven months and we generally move every week.  After reviewing travel sites, I know that qualifies me only as a rookie compared to many.  Regardless, there is much we have learned from these weekly moves.  Some home-free travelers find a good rental in a fun place like Paris or San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and stay there for months.  We have done that too but there seems to be a lot to see in this world, so generally we have kept on the move when traveling internationally.  Moving weekly requires a different routine, packing and preparation.  From the list below, I think even some experienced travelers can find something useful.


However, much of the reason for posting this travel and packing list is to solicit helpful responses from more seasoned travelers.  I know you have some good ideas, so let’s hear from you!



How Much to Pack:  No matter how many weeks or months you travel, your suitcase should be no bigger than an airline carry-on size.  My suitcase even carries a full sized tripod.  We each have a backpack.  Mine is made for, and is full of, camera gear and our laptop computer.  We switched our entire wardrobe to quick drying clothes.  No heavy cotton US style ‘Levis’ which would take too long to dry.  We bring small individual packets of laundry soap and do laundry along the way.


Negative Space:  We refer to empty space, like inside plastic drinking glasses or shoes or the Italian coffee pot as negative.  The goal when packing is to get rid of all ‘negative space’.  Fill these voids with pills or extra eyeglasses….  Yes, we are now traveling with our own coffee pot.


Airline carry-on luggage with bright bandanas


Unique Luggage:  Make your luggage easily identifiable from a distance.  On our two carry-on suitcases we’ve tied a green bandana and a red bandana to the handles.  One couple turned their grand-kids loose on their luggage with paint brushes for a unique and colorful effect.


Vitamins, calcium, baby aspirin: or whatever pills you take are impossible to find in stores across Europe.  In the England, aspirin is a controlled substance and laws limit the amount a family can buy day per.  We tested this law and found it strictly enforced by the store.  Therefore, when abroad for six months at a time, you may look like a traveling pharmacy.   Place pills in baggies and place inside shoes to fill negative space.


PACK THESE ITEMS which you may not normally think about:


Small flashlight for a key chain:  There should be zero USA based personal keys with you daily, no key chain other than the rental unit keys.  Hook this key chain flashlight to your rental key chain.  I’m surprised how often I use this tiny flashlight.



Night light:  When changing rental units so often you can stumble around in the dark in each new location, so we travel with nightlights.  Note this cheap appliance will need a $50 converter.  Expensive electronics like an iPhone or computer do not need such converters but cheap electronics do.


Regular USA style extension cord or surge protector with multiple plugs.  When we move into a place we establish a certain area called the ‘charging station’.  We avoid using numerous outlets throughout the rental for fear of leaving behind hard to replace electrical adapters.


Numerous plastic shopping bags:  Shoes should go inside these bags for packing into the suitcase.  Such baggies are often not readily available.

Extra zip lock bags, different sizes.  These come in handy when transporting leftover food like coffee from one place to the next plus many other uses.
many other uses

Pack a partial roll of duct tape and super glue.  Most everything can be repaired with these.


Plastic plates:  We designate an ‘important spot’ within seconds of moving into the new rental.  These brightly colored plastic plates are where you unload keys, wallet, next town bus tickets, tour tickets etc.  Plus, they can double as your picnic plates.

Manila envelope for documents like passport, international driver’s license, checkbooks, copies of everything in your wallet etc.  This should stay with your suitcase in one of the many outside zippered pockets.


Plastic drinking glasses for bathroom.  We do not like using glass in the bathroom for fear of breakage.  Plus they serve a multiple use for picnics.  (Actually, I do not recall going on any picnics…)


Cloth or heavy duty plastic ‘overflow bag’:  When not used, it gets rolled up and stored like a T-shirt.  Overflow items for this bag may include leftover coffee, crackers, napkins or TP.  Overflow bag is just for short in-between city trips via bus, train or car, not flights or cruise excursions.


Small Sewing kit:  Our overflow bag broke and I repaired it with the sewing kit.
Eyeglass repair kit:  I have three stored in different luggage pockets.  This is not something you want to try and find after you need it.  I’m certain I’m legally blind without my glasses.

Spare eyeglasses:  Could you survive without your main pair of glasses?  Carry spare regular glasses and computer glasses.   These get packed inside of shoes to help fill ‘negative space’.  If you use over-the-counter reading glasses, pick up several at the Dollar Tree store and place a pair in each piece of luggage.

GPS Device:  We named ours “Little Buddy.”  Since we are used to Little Buddy and how he operates, it is easier to use than a rented GPS.  The rented GPS is one more thing you’ll need to learn and is expensive to rent.  My goal is to eliminate as much stress as possible while traveling.  Plus with your own, you can keep the stored ‘way-points’ for future use.

Mosquito repellent:  I left Venice, Italy with over 100 bites.

Fly taunts my fly swatter

Fly Swatter:  Seldom will you rent a place with screens on the windows or central air.  When A/C is advertised, you feel a sense of relief, until you see it is a single wall unit in the living room and has no chance of cooling the bedroom.  Bottom line is mosquitoes and flies get in.  Killing them has been an evening’s entertainment in some places…..


Electrical adapters are an obvious necessity.  Make sure these include a USA style three prong to two prong plug adapter.




Buy a calendar date book:  We call ours the bible.  It has every rental address, contact phone number and name, amount we owe at check-in and any refundable deposit.  It can also be a diary of your travels on the non-moving days.


Your heaviest, most clunky shoes should be worn on travel day to lessen what you have to pack.


A backpack with a zippered computer slot is a requirement for whatever size laptop you will carry.


Eat what you have left, not what you wish to eat, the last couple days of each stay.  Try to pare down your food inventory to zero by the time you leave.


Necessary items during moving day should be readily available in a zippered pouch.  These include reading books, map or tourist book of where you are going, reading glasses, next Air B&B contact info etc.


Air B&B reservation info should be stored electronically in separate email folders.  Name these folders by the ‘Country, City where you are traveling, like ‘Spain – Barcelona’ or ‘Scotland – Isle of Sky’.


Twist ties on backpack zippers help secure the pockets from theft while on public transportation.  Major zippered pockets are locked.


Say no to the electric shaver and toothbrush:  You will have no room nor should you carry the weight of these items.  Plus, it would be additional items to be charging in foreign electrical outlets.

Be responsible for your own items during travel day.  Each traveler starts and ends the travel day with the same items they started with.  Switching midpoint or frequently during travel may lead to the dreaded phrase, “I thought you had that…”  There should not be more than 4 items each to keep track of, such as: suitcase, backpack, overflow bag and hat.

Travel the World



Credit Cards should not have any international transaction fees.  We use a Marriott card from Chase to also rack up free lodging nights.


ATM Cards should reimburse you for any and all access fees.  We use Charles Schwab Bank.  If my ATM withdrawal is for $100 and the ATM really takes out $104, Charles Schwab will place $4 back into in my bank account.


Do a verbal, audible count of personal items you carry when leaving a restaurant.  These important items should not total more than 3.  For example, count “wallet, phone, change purse”, or “wallet, phone, glasses” when leaving a restaurant. Make sure the credit card gets back into the wallet.  BOTH travelers must help with this routine.  Nothing is more frighting than returning to your Shanghai hotel only to discover you left your purse, passport and money in some nondescript Chinese restaurant.


Buy departure bus or train tickets when you first arrive at the bus or train station of your new destination, when possible.  At a minimum, purchase your departure tickets in advance as trains and buses fill up, leaving you stranded on travel day.  Find the car rental location prior to your departure day.  All this is to diminish stress and wasted time on travel day.


Do a ‘look back’ every time you leave a taxi, bus, restaurant table or park bench. Look back to see if you left anything.  Make it a game and do the verbal count once again.


Internet access is a requirement for our travels.  I’m convinced T-Mobile is the way to go internationally.  It is clearly not the best in the US, but is a real advantage in countries from the Galapagos Islands, across Europe to Romania and the Ukraine.  No extra fees and we get unlimited internet and texts, and most often phone calls are included as well.


If a taxi cab is part of the plan on travel day to the new location, enter the rental address in your phone to show the driver.  This also lets the driver know you have an electronic map.  You can then follow the route on your phone map verifying you are traveling in the right direction.  As you get close to your new rental unit, start looking for a grocery store which will be one of your first excursions after checking into your new rental.


Record the new condo location on your smart phone map.  Label this and save it to Favorites.  Wandering aimlessly through the 100 degree heat in Bucharest schlepping bags of groceries is no way to begin a pleasant stay. 


What are your favorite or unique travel tips?

I’m hopeful I can gather more travel tips from you experienced travelers….  We are still learning and wish to hear from you.  Thank you for any tips you may wish to share with us.  We look forward to your input and comments.

6 thoughts on “Packing and Travel Tips

  1. Thanks, Harold. I’d surmise that this list of tips is the product of many thousands of hours of research, thought, planning, trial and error, experiences, and fine tuning. Quite a gift for you to compile and publish, actually. Thanks.

  2. Love the article! We include a cooler bag that rolls up into a travel bag that I often use as a tote/purse.
    Happy, stress free travels to you guys!

    • Maybe we need to team up… Wanna go to Bolivia? I am very interested in your future travels with your trailer and hope to be able to see it ant talk to you about it. That is a big and brave step and I admire you for it. Good luck to you.

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