Category Archives: Travel

Know Some Signs You Have a Packing Problem

Have you ever paid an excess baggage fee, left your passport at home or cleaned up a messy shampoo spill in your suitcase? If you’ve encountered any of these packing crises, chances are your suitcase-stuffing strategy could use a little work. To help your trip preparation go more smoothly, we’ve pinpointed the warning signs of four common packing mistakes and identified a few easy, effective solutions for each.

Warning Sign No. 1: A Wrinkled Wardrobe

Who wants to waste time slaving over a steaming iron at your hotel when you could be out exploring a new destination? Occasional wrinkles are an occupational hazard of traveling, but if your clothes come out of your suitcase looking like they’ve spent weeks in the back corner of your closet, it may be time to reevaluate your packing strategy.

Top Tips:
Stick to wrinkle-free clothing rather than ordinary cottons and linens, which are prone to creases. You can get wrinkle-free garments from travel suppliers such as Magellan’s or TravelSmith.

Before your trip, lay your clothes out ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need — but don’t actually put them into your bag until shortly before you’re ready to depart. That way you’ll minimize the time they spend scrunched up in your suitcase. On the other end of your trip, be sure to hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive in your hotel. (If they’re looking a little rumpled, hang them in the bathroom while you take a shower — the hot, moist air will relax away most minor wrinkles.)

When you go to lay your clothes in your suitcase, don’t simply fold and crease each garment individually — that’s a recipe for wrinkles. Experienced travelers use a variety of packing methods, including rolling (which works particularly well in backpacks or duffel bags) and interlocking (folding multiple garments together so that they help cushion each other against wrinkles). Other travelers swear by tissue paper or plastic as a buffer between layers of clothing. Read more about these methods in Packing Tips and Packing Tips from Our Readers.

Warning Sign No. 2: Damaged Goods

There’s nothing worse than arriving home only to find that the gorgeous blown-glass vase you bought in Murano has been reduced to a pile of colorful shards in the bottom of your suitcase. Travelers who’ve suffered the loss of a favorite souvenir or had clothes ruined by a messy spill may need a few lessons in packing with extra care.

Top Tips:
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Never put breakable items into your checked luggage. Instead, wrap the items carefully in newspaper, bubble wrap and/or clothing and stow them in your carry-on bag. Smaller items can be slipped inside a shoe and cushioned with a balled-up pair of socks.

If you’re buying a fragile item that’s too big to fit into your carry-on, have the merchant ship it home for you. Stores that frequently handle tourist purchases are pros at packing their goods for shipping — and you’ll often be able to insure your item and receive compensation if it’s damaged en route.

Anything with leak potential — shampoo, sunblock, toothpaste, perfume, you name it — should be sealed tightly and packed in a zip-top plastic bag to keep spills contained. (We knew those TSA liquid and gel rules would come in handy for something!) See our story on the Five Worst Packing Problems for more tips on coping with spills.

Warning Sign No. 3: Too Much Baggage

packing suitcase vacation trip No, we’re not talking about emotional baggage! We’re talking about the carry-on bag that takes two flight attendants to lift into the overhead compartment, or the suitcase that’s stuffed so full you have to enlist your children to sit on it before you can zip it closed. We don’t need to remind you of all the perils of overpacking — excess baggage fees, anyone? — so if this is your major packing weakness, read on to learn how to lighten your load.

Top Tips:
Your first packing mistake might be the suitcase you’re using. If you often find yourself edging toward your airline’s weight limits, it may be worth purchasing a lightweight bag to give you a few extra pounds to work with. See Choosing the Right Travel Luggage for more tips.

Do your homework to prevent packing unnecessary items. If the weather forecast calls for nothing but sunshine, leave the umbrella at home — you can always buy one if you get caught in an unexpected shower at your destination. Call your hotel to ask which amenities will be in your room; odds are you won’t have to pack your own shampoo, soap or hair dryer. For more help, see What Not to Pack.

Pack clothes that can do double duty — like black shoes that are comfortable enough for sightseeing but dressy enough for dinner, or a shirt that can be worn twice with different accessories. Stick to neutral colors so your garments can easily be mixed and matched.

Take your suitcase for a test drive. Pack it with everything you want to bring and then walk with it around the block. If you’re huffing and puffing after a quarter-mile, chances are you’ve packed too much — and there will be a few items in your suitcase that suddenly seem less essential.

Warning Sign No. 4: Pre-Trip Panic

Do you lie awake the night before a trip, terrified that you’ve forgotten to pack something vital? Or, even worse, do you arrive at your destination to find that you actually have forgotten to pack something vital? Pre-trip panic is often a sign that you haven’t done enough preparation for your trip — or that your preparation was too rushed. Staying organized and giving yourself plenty of time to pack will help cut down on your pre-trip anxiety.

Top Tips: Don’t make the mistake of packing the day — or the hour! — before your trip. Instead, begin making a list of items you think you’ll need about a week prior to departure. Starting early will give you time to go shopping for any items you may be missing.

checklist check list box markerUse our interactive packing list to jog your memory about items you may have forgotten.
Mentally walk through your trip itinerary, putting aside each day’s outfit and identifying any accessories or equipment you’ll need for the day’s activities. As each item goes into your suitcase, check it off your list. (You may even want to bring this list with you on your trip to make sure you don’t leave anything in your hotel room.)

Finally, keep your worrying to a minimum by remembering that outside of a few admittedly vital items — such as prescription medications and your passport — there are few things you can’t purchase on the road if you forget to pack them.

All About Car Rental Tips

Need wheels on your next trip? Renting a car can give you freedom and flexibility when you’re traveling, and in some parts of the world it’s the only feasible way to get around. But a rental car can also add complications to your trip — like trying to find the best deal or sorting out exactly which insurance options you need. Read on for our practical tips on saving money, understanding your rental agreement and avoiding problems with your car rental.

Choosing a Vehicle

Think carefully about what kind of vehicle you’ll need. If you’re traveling with children or with a lot of gear, you may want a large sedan or SUV. If you’re simply looking to save money on rental rates and gas, you’ll want to reserve the smallest available model.

But size isn’t the only factor. Looking for something environmentally friendly? Many car rental companies now offer hybrid vehicles. Can’t drive a stick shift? Be sure to reserve a car with automatic transmission. (In many countries, a manual transmission is the norm — so read the fine print before booking. Learn more with our International Car Rental Tips.) Also, be sure that the company from which you’re renting offers any extras you might need or want, such as a ski rack, car seat or GPS system.

Booking Your Car

You’ll find major international car rental agencies all over the world — think Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty. But depending on where you’re traveling, locally owned companies could offer lower rates; before booking, read reviews to be sure their companies are up to the standards of the majors.

Always shop around. Check the major booking engines and aggregator sites (such as Expedia, Priceline and Kayak) to get an idea of what rates are available, but you should also visit the car rental companies’ websites as well — they often offer exclusive discounts.

To lower your rate, ask about discounts for any major national organizations, frequent flier programs and credit card programs to which you may belong. They’ll frequently offer deals on car rentals. (Those offered through AAA can be very good.) If you’re employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.

Before you book online, do an Internet search for coupon or promotion codes to put into the booking engine of your car rental company’s site. Just type the name of the company followed by “coupon code” into the search field and you’ll often find special promotion codes that could save you anywhere from 5 to 20 percent off the cost of your rental.

Tips to Pack for an Active Outdoor Vacation

Hitting the great outdoors, regardless of the season, can be an exhilarating vacation. But the sheer complexity of gear can leave you stumped — and your suitcase overflowing. Your main concern will be staying dry and warm while keeping the amount of stuff to a minimum, especially if you’re the one hauling it.

hikers view
Overall Plan: If you’re spending a significant amount of time outdoors, layers that fold up easily are key. Camping enthusiasts will want a backpack, preferably one that’s ultra-light with an internal frame. But even if you just buy a daypack, make sure that you load it and road test before you go. What seems light at home will seem five times as heavy after you’ve been carrying it for eight hours.

What’s Essential? While blue jeans may seem like the ultimate outdoor outfit, they can get wet and heavy. It’s better to get pants that are water- or wind-proof, or can be converted into shorts. A pair of tights or long underwear add an extra layer. Look for T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies in breathable, synthetic fabric that absorb sweat better than cotton. You’ll want to pack an emergency poncho or some other form of rain gear to protect from sudden storms.

Your footwear will depend on what kind of activities you are doing. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots can handle many conditions, but you might need something sturdier for rockier trails. Kayaking or rafting trips could demand durable water shoes. Scarves, gloves and hats can make a big difference in comfort at higher altitudes, even in the summer. Insect repellent to prevent bites — and anti-itch cream to soothe them — are must-haves.

Secret Weapon: Pack multiple pairs of non-cotton hiking socks to keep your feet dry. Adhesive bandages and moleskin can go a long way toward keeping blisters from ruining your hike (make sure you expose them to the open air during the night). Bring some Neosporin to prevent infection.

Safety First: When you’re heading into the back country, bring a whistle for bears or other unsavory creatures, especially if you’re a woman traveling alone. Dehydration can be a problem on the trail; bring a reusable water bottle and refill it often. (You may need a water purification method to make sure your water is fit to drink; see Drinking Water Safety for specifics.) Bring a flashlight or headlamp for night hikes, along with plenty of batteries. And be sure to check in with rangers if you’re going to a remote area.

Leave at Home: It goes without saying that this is one trip where you won’t need heels or dress shoes. No one on the trail cares what you look like. And while I’m a big fan of using an e-reader to save space in your luggage, I wouldn’t lug a Kindle, iPad or laptop into the wilderness. You should be unplugging anyway, right?

Tips to Pack for a Beach Vacation

Sun and sand top the list of favorite summer vacations. But it’s hard to feel fully free when you’re dragging too much stuff around. Let other people sweat the small stuff, and streamline your list of hot weather must-haves so you look cool, even when the temperature isn’t. Here’s what to pack for the beach — without overpacking.

flip flops towel beach
Overall Plan: Light and breezy items should dominate your wardrobe choices. While you want to be comfortable, skip the faded and raggedy T-shirts and instead aim for a summery look that’s polished, not dumpy. And while you may want to concentrate on getting there, make sure you spend some time thinking about how you’ll transport wet and sandy items back home. There’s nothing worse than a suitcase full of sand.

What’s Essential? You might hate shopping for them, but no beach vacation is complete without a swimsuit. Buy more than one so there’s always something dry to wear, and bring them along in your carry-on. Women should pack cute cover-ups, both to wear on the beach when it gets too hot and to walk along the boardwalk without too much exposure. In the evenings, costume jewelry can add just enough glamour to a sundress. Men should bring a lightweight button-down shirt for nicer restaurants; Tommy Bahama is always an upscale choice. For your feet, bring flip-flops, sandals or canvas tennis shoes, depending on the type of beach you’re on.

Choose a mesh or nylon beach bag with a distinctive pattern so it’s easy to spot among the crowds, and make sure it has inside pockets, preferably waterproof, to store valuables and small electronics such as your cell phone. Speaking of gadgets, make sure that they’re waterproof or have protective covers. A soft-sided insulated tote for drinks and snacks is easier to carry than a bulky cooler. Pack some disposable wipes for quick clean-up. Plastic bags can be your best friend: Use them to bring food to the beach, and then carry wet swimsuits and towels on the way home.

Secret Weapon: If you wear corrective lenses and your beach sessions involve exploring reefs for colorful fish, you’ll want to invest in a prescription snorkel mask. Having your own mask can also prevent communicable diseases (I once got a wicked case of pinkeye from a tainted snorkel mask in Costa Rica).

Safety First: No matter how good it feels, the sun is not your friend. Load up on sun protection with a strong sunscreen that you can reapply often. If you’re traveling to your destination by plane, look into sunscreen towelettes that won’t explode or leak. When you’re lathering up, don’t forget your face. Add lip balm, and wear sunglasses and a hat.

Leave at Home: Being on the beach is an excuse to cut loose; avoid bringing clothing that’s too stuffy or structured. If you’re staying at a hotel, find out ahead of time if towels and other beach amenities are included. Many vacation rentals also have “house” items such as camp chairs and barbecue grills so there’s no need to bring your own.

Tips to Pack for an African Safari

Ask a travel agent what appears on most people’s bucket list, and a trip to see the Big Five in the wild ranks way up there. While there’s no need to go full commando in camouflage when you’re on safari, you’ll want to pack clothing that stands up to the heat, yet protects you from some of the landscape’s smallest predators: mosquitoes and tsetse flies. Read on to learn what to pack for a safari.

lion africa safari
Overall Plan: Loose layers and accessories that protect you from the sun and biting insects are your priority. Choose these items carefully, as many safaris require transportation on small planes or vehicles that have strict luggage restrictions (most lodges and hotels have laundry facilities). This is not the terrain for a wheeled suitcase; instead, invest in a duffel or soft-sided bag that can be placed into small compartments. Carry everything that’s valuable in a daypack.

What’s Essential? The African sun can be brutal. Bring a pair of polarizing sunglasses that can protect your eyes. During the day, you’ll want a hat that covers not only your face, but also your ears and neck. Look for one that has a cord so it won’t fly off as your Jeep sprints across the savannah. Those roads can get bumpy, so women might want to pack a sports bra.

The African bush can be chilly during the mornings and evenings; be sure to bring a windbreaker and long pants. You’ll want to pick your shoes depending on the type of safari you’re taking; while heavy hiking boots are necessary for a walking trip, you’re better off with light hikers and sports sandals if you’ll be spending most of the time in a vehicle (sandals are also great for walking around the camp at night). A small flashlight or headlamp can also assist after hours, as many lodges and camps run on generators. And finally, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t bring a pair of good, mid-size binoculars. Look for ones that are sturdy enough to survive getting dropped.

Secret Weapon: So common back home, batteries can be a priceless commodity if you run out of them in the bush. Pack some extras — and buy an extra digital camera card while you’re at it. You don’t want to run out of space right when you’re ready to take that close-up of a lion.

Safety First: A small first-aid kit full of bandages, hand sanitizer and medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, may be your best friend. Consider including ibuprofen, Dramamine and Imodium; ask a doctor if he or she will give you some Cipro (for intense stomach problems) and/or Ambien (for sleeping on the plane). Pack an extra travel toothbrush in case you forget and use tap water. And it goes without saying that insect repellent and malaria medication should be on your list (ask your outfitter if mosquito netting is provided).

Leave at Home: The colors that you wear on safari are almost as important as the actual clothes. Anything white and bright will distract the animals, and black and blue (including jeans) attract flies. Stick to olive, green and khaki. Forget your formal clothes; things are casual out in the bush, even at upscale lodges.

Tips to Pack for a City Sightseeing Vacation

The cafes of Paris, the shops of New York, the restaurants of Tokyo: there’s nothing like a city break to bring out the sophisticate in all of us. Whether you plan to hit up every museum in Florence or hop the food stalls in Singapore, you’ll want to make sure that you have clothes with you that mark you as a savvy insider, not a country bumpkin. Here’s what to pack for a city trip.

Overall Plan: Think chic and simple. Look for items that pull double duty, with colors that complement each other; in most cities (the Southern U.S. excepted), it’s hard to go wrong with basic black. Try not to overstuff your bag, as there’s nothing worse than trying to wrestle a monster suitcase onto a bus or through a subway turnstile.

What’s Essential? Invest in a pair of good walking shoes that could also be worn to a nice restaurant (Merrell and Clarks have great ones that have an urban vibe). Try them out before you go, as you don’t want to be limping through a city with blisters.

For women, you can’t beat a pair of skinny jeans and stretchy black pants that can be worn while walking around during the day, and then out again at night paired with a dressier blouse or top. Instead of a backpack, look for a purse or bag that has a thick shoulder strap that can’t easily be cut, and can be worn messenger-style against the body to ward off thieves. For men, a lightweight travel blazer or sport coat can be all that you need to go from a museum to an evening out (wear it on the plane to save suitcase space).

Secret Weapon: A couple of colorful scarves don’t take up too much room, and can transform a blah outfit — or hide the fact that you’ve worn it already.

Safety First: A rubber doorstopper can be a girl’s best friend in an unfamiliar city. Stick it under the hotel door if there’s no security lock, or under the door of an adjoining room.

Leave at Home: Even when it’s hot out, women might consider skirts or loose-fitting, lightweight capris instead of shorts, especially if you’ll be visiting churches or other religious structures. And while men might not go anywhere back home without wearing their showiest watch, it’s all too easy to take a wrong turn in an unfamiliar city. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t want to lose it, don’t bring it.

All About Winter Travel Tips

Successful winter travel is all about successful navigation of winter weather. We want all our readers to get to and from their destinations with minimum trouble and maximum enjoyment — and, most importantly, to always arrive safe and sound, no matter what sort of snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain you may encounter. To that end, here are some winter travel tips and tactics to help you avoid spending the season stuck in airports or on roadsides.

an older couple looking off into the distance wearing winter hats and scarves
Tips for Winter Air Travel

1. I have found that the worst winter problems for travelers frequently occur at connecting airports. If your first outbound flight is canceled and you end up returning to your own home from your local airport, that’s one thing; if you are stuck in your vacation hotel hoping to get a flight home, that’s a bit worse. But when you’re stuck in a connecting airport in Texas calling hotels and praying for a place to stay, you’re in what we call yer worst-case scenario, pardner.

For this reason, you should fly nonstop whenever possible. To find nonstop flights, do all your initial flight searches with the “Nonstop Flights Only” button checked. If you also use search options like “Show Nearby Airports” and “My Dates Are Flexible,” you’ll have a very good sense of how best to get from Point A to B without Point C for Connection.

2. If you absolutely must fly with a connection, watch your layover times carefully. If a weather delay causes you to miss your connection, you might be out of luck, as the airline is not necessarily obligated to find you a seat on the next flight, and often cannot logistically do so if flights are full or unavailable. If you have a really tight connection time and your flight is running late, let your flight attendant know, and he or she may be able to make arrangements to hold your next flight, or at least get you off your first flight quickly.

3. Again, if you must fly with a connection, check weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. We all want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but for the same reasons stated above you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks threatening, contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so.

Your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best. Don’t count on a gate agent to know about or search the schedules of other airlines.

4. Try to book your connection through a southern city where weather shouldn’t be an issue. There are no guarantees here, as northern airports tend to be better equipped to deal with winter conditions, and a snowstorm can almost wholly shut down an airport that more often suffers from too much sun. However, your odds are better in places that rarely see ice or snow.

5. Choose a morning flight, for two reasons: First, you are far less likely to have your flight affected by problems at other airports. Second, if your flight is canceled or badly delayed, your options for alternate flights are greatly increased, improving your odds for getting on a different flight by the end of the day.

6. Consider alternate airports. Very often the problem is not solely weather, but also the overall volume of passengers and flights. In places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston, second-tier airports aren’t too far out of town and are tied into the transportation grid.

7. Get ahead of the game at security. Before you even get in line, put all your gear and spare coins into a pocket of your carry-on bag. With so much valuable stuff getting dumped into plastic bins all day, every day, it’s inevitable that some of that stuff gets left behind, dropped, damaged, broken or even stolen. If you take 15 seconds to stow everything, you’ll make the time up twice over on either side of the security gate, and won’t risk losing cell phones, wallets, keys and the like.

For more tips, see our Airport Security Q&A and 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster.

8. The annual holiday gift wrapping rule: Don’t wrap gifts — security will have to rip them open. With the TSA searching checked bags as well as carry-ons, this applies to all of your luggage, not just what you bring onto the plane with you. Consider shipping your gifts ahead of time or wrapping them once you get to your destination.

9. Finally, avoid peak travel dates as best you can, particularly holiday weekends.

Winter Driving Tips

1. Put some extra clothing and emergency items into your vehicle; these will come in handy if you break down in cold weather. It doesn’t take much — assemble a basic kit including a pair of gloves, weather-resistant pants and/or coat, maybe an old pair of boots, a blanket, jumper cables, a flashlight with some extra batteries, and a windshield scraper (and maybe a de-icer), and you should be in good shape. You might also toss a few nutrition bars in as well; those things won’t spoil until the next millennium, are packed with calories and can bail you out in a pinch.

snowy road
2. Make sure your car is checked over for winter weather readiness. In particular, you or a mechanic should inspect your tires before the first big winter storm.

3. Once your vehicle is inspected and equipped, follow this advice we heard a while back from Montana’s snowplow drivers: “See and be seen. Keep your headlights and taillights clean, especially in stormy weather. Keep windows clean and make sure defrosters work well. If snow has built up on your vehicle overnight or after a break from driving, clear it away so it doesn’t blow off and obscure your windows.”

4. Slow down. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends slowing down by about 50 percent in bad weather; additionally, leave extra space between you and the car in front of you.

5. Remember that not all stretches of road are created alike. For example, many recently built small bridges and overpasses have been designed to blend into the surroundings, with a gradual or nonexistent change in elevation. These bridges nonetheless remain susceptible to icing over much more rapidly than regular blacktop. Look out and look ahead for these short stretches of road when temperatures approach or drop below freezing. If you don’t know the ropes of driving on icy surfaces, read this primer on how to drive on black ice.

6. Some features of modern automobiles may actually serve you poorly in bad conditions. In some SUVs and four-wheel-drive vehicles, for example, you may have better traction when the vehicle is under way, but the four-wheel drive won’t help you stop any faster. Also, skip the cruise control; your cruise control feature may accelerate when you least want it to, such as when you are climbing an icy bridge.

7. Some safety experts recommend putting a bag of kitty litter in the trunk, both for added ballast to offer better traction, and to put under the wheels if you need to get yourself out of a slippery spot.

8. If you are stranded and have to stay in your car, you can run the engine for heat, but make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow or mud. If you prefer not to have the engine running the whole time, close the windows to keep heat in, and run the car for 10 minutes every hour, cracking open a front window when you do so.

9. If you are parking at your hotel or near attractions in bad weather, opt for a spot in an indoor parking garage when available.

Important Things to Pack When Traveling Alone

In many ways, packing for a solo trip isn’t that different than packing for a trip with someone else. If you and your partner always use packing cubes, you’ll probably still rely on them when you’re by yourself. Can’t travel without your Kindle, no matter who you’re with? Of course you’ll bring it along.

woman traveler with view of verona italy
But there are certain concerns that become more pressing when you’re traveling alone — particularly when it comes to personal safety. If you don’t have a companion to watch your back, you’ll want to take a few extra precautions and consider packing the following six items when you travel alone.

1. Door Stopper

Because deadbolts and other security features vary widely from hotel to hotel, packing your own door stopper can help you add an extra layer of protection. (This is especially true at many motels, where doors open to the outside, and at budget properties with shoddy locks.)

The DoorJammer Portable Door Security Device weighs just eight ounces and can be wedged under your hotel door to keep an intruder from opening it. The SABRE Wedge takes it a step farther by including an alarm that goes off when pressure is applied to the door.

2. Dummy Wallet and Money Belt

When you’re traveling with a companion, you can split your money and credit cards between the two of you so there’s less impact if one of you is robbed. But if you’re alone, you’ll still want your valuables to be in more than one place.

We recommend carrying the bulk of your cash and cards in a money belt hidden under your clothes, while keeping only what you need for the day in an inexpensive wallet, which you can put in a front pocket or in a crossbody bag that’s difficult to steal. If you’re mugged, you can toss this dummy wallet away from you without giving up all your valuables.

You may also want to keep some emergency money (perhaps a $100 bill, or the local equivalent) in a place that a mugger would be unlikely to access — tucked away in your shoe or bra, for instance.

One money belt we like is this RFID-blocking option from PEAK. (RFID stands for radio frequency identification; passports and some credit cards have RFID chips in them with sensitive data that could be skimmed by opportunistic crooks.) If you’re looking for crossbody bags with anti-theft technology (such as slash-proof straps), Travelon offers a number of options.

3. Medical ID Card or Jewelry

If you become incapacitated during a solo trip, you won’t have a companion to speak on your behalf to medical personnel — which could be life-threatening if you have allergies or health conditions a doctor needs to know about. That’s why it’s vital to have your medical information in a place where first responders can find it easily.

NomadSOS is a medical ID card that you can customize with information about your blood type, allergies, medications and emergency contacts. Or try a service called My Important Information, which gives you a card with a QR code on it that first responders can use to access your medical and other essential data.

You may also want to consider wearing a medical bracelet or necklace engraved with important health conditions such as heart disease, severe allergies or diabetes. (Amazon offers numerous medical necklaces and bracelets.) And, of course, we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance.

4. Inexpensive Wedding Band

Wearing a wedding band may help deter unwanted attention, even if you’re not actually married. And some travelers who are married buy cheaper wedding bands to wear on the road in place of sparkling engagement rings and diamond-crusted bands. A plain band will attract less attention, and if it’s lost or stolen, it won’t be a big loss.

Plain stainless steel bands are available for less than $10. Titanium bands are also sturdy and very affordable.

5. Whistle/Personal Alarm

We don’t recommend carrying pepper spray when you travel, as it’s illegal in many countries (as well as on planes). However, having a whistle or other noise-making device can help scare away an attacker or draw the attention of others in an emergency.

This personal alarm has a backup whistle that you can use even if the battery dies, and it clips onto a purse or backpack. You can also buy a simple safety whistle such as this one from Fox 40.

6. First-Aid Kit

We recommend that every traveler bring a few medical necessities, but it’s even more essential when you don’t have a travel buddy to run down the street to the nearest pharmacy on your behalf.

Tips to Pack for a Winter Vacation

If you read travel publications and trawl the web for packing tips, you can find millions of words of sometimes commonsensical, sometimes scolding and generally somewhat vague advice on how to pack for a winter vacation. Don’t pack too much stuff, dress in layers, pack a hat and gloves — but you know all that stuff already.

winter vacation travel car suitcases packed
To help convert general packing advice into a usable packing list, I have some tricks you can use to help figure out where to start. We’re not talking about packing for a ski trip — that is its own special challenge — but most travelers should find these winter travel packing tactics simple, straightforward and useful for a more general vacation.

Hats — the Secret to Staying Warm

Back when I used to go to concerts that weren’t scheduled on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., I went to a LOT of concerts, year round, mostly in the northeastern U.S. Wearing bulky clothes into a music bar, concert hall or jazz club isn’t that different than doing the same on an airplane. I learned that a light fleece and a warm hat were all I needed to get from car to club, through the line and back again without freezing on a city street in February — the same goes for sprints through airports, short walks for breakfast in the morning cold and more. If you don’t want to freeze your bum off, wear a good hat.

Requirements for a good travel hat:

– Covers your ears
– At least partly covers the back of your neck
– Has no flaps, fluffballs or other wasted mass
– Is made of thin, modern materials for maximum warmth

There is nothing quite so brutal as a freezing cold noggin, so if you choose one item very carefully, make it your hat. Amazon offers numerous options, such as this Carhartt watch hat for men or this fleece cap for women.

Shoes — Your One Heavy Item

Given that your feet are on the front line of most weather you will encounter, this is the one area that I recommend you be unafraid to go big. A solid, decent-looking pair of low-frills winter boots that you wear right onto the airplane will come through for you again and again during a winter trip.

Requirements for good winter travel shoes:

– Weatherproof — Gore-Tex gear can be pretty styling these days
– Light on lacing — you still need to get through security, so a pair of shoes or boots that can be worn loosely and don’t require a lot of tying and untying will help
– Dark colored, so they won’t show stains from mud, slush or getting thrown on filthy security belts

There are plenty of decent boots that hold up well enough to hike through snow in, but look good enough to wear to dinner; find them and wear them when you walk out the door for the airport. Examples include this option for women and this pair for men.

Gloves — Thin, Light, Breathable and Waterproof

The days of massive mittens and wool gloves are gone, at least for smart travelers; you can get a great pair of warm, waterproof, yet very thin gloves that weigh only a few ounces and will take up only a few square inches of your luggage. The breathability makes them wearable across a wide temperature range, the waterproofing makes them useful in the worst weather, and the tight packaging makes them very low impact both when packing and when carrying them around.

I use Sealskinz Waterproof Gloves (available for men and women). They’re great for everything from taking photos in the predawn cold to making good, strong snowballs.

Requirements for travel gloves:

– Weatherproof
– Breathable
– Extremely light and low bulk
– Quick drying
– Have some type of grip

Between your hat, boots and gloves, your vulnerable extremities are covered.

Clothing — Morning Paper Trick for Layering Up

Almost every collection of tips on how to dress/pack/stay warm/etc. in winter includes advice to dress in layers — which sounds great, but how do you go about it? Where do you start, and where do you stop? Without a plan, you could layer yourself up until you look like the Michelin man. To get a handle on how to pick and choose from the clothes you already own, try this trick.

winter couple
When traveling during winter, use a “morning paper” approach to figure out what to pack:

– Light long- or short-sleeve shirt (or T-shirt) for reading the paper indoors
– Long-sleeve top over that for grabbing the paper from the stoop
– Fleece (or sweater, though wool tends to be bulky) over that for getting the paper from the curb
– Light wind- and waterproof outer shell over that for getting the paper from the curb in the rain

If you pack such that you can get the paper in any weather, and then add and remove items as you go in and out of doors, you will have enough and the right clothes to layer up for pretty much any weather you will encounter, indoors or out.

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Some Accessories to Consider

– Polarized sunglasses: Even weaker winter sunlight, when reflected off snow, can be rough on your eyes. In addition, the sun is lower in the sky, so is more likely to be in your line of sight or become a problem when driving during the short daylight hours. In those conditions, polarized glasses perform extremely well.

– Sunscreen: Sunscreen in winter? Absolutely. A windburn, or a sunburn from reflection off of snow or ice, is every bit a rival of a summer sunburn.

– Lower-body base layer: If you are going to be spending extended time outdoors, consider packing a base layer to keep your legs comfortable in the cold. They are harder to shed than a top layer, but don’t take up much packing space and are essential if you’ll be outside for hours at a time.

– In harsher weather, a scarf can be a small and light but very effective addition.

Resist the Urge to Pack Your Favorite Gear

I have an oversized black wool jacket that I would take around the world if it didn’t weigh about eight pounds and take up enough space to half-fill a suitcase. Every winter trip I look at it and think, yeah, it won’t be that bad if I carry it on … then I wise up.

Some Household Item Can Repurpose For Travel

I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).