Travel Life: An intrepid unintentionally picky eater

Have a weak stomach and can’t leave home without popping a few Tums Tablets?  That’s me but I don’t let it get in the way of my wanderlust

Mezes in Damascus
Mezes in Damascus which were excellent and no regrets

Fresh fruit juices, grilled kebab, ice cream, “healthy” green salad, drinks with ice cubes and the list goes on.  These are just a few things that I can’t eat when I’m far from home.  The eating part of the itinerary unwillingly promoted itself to the priority section of most of my pre-trip planning. A few very uncomfortable food related instances happened early in my adventure travel days had a profound effect on how I travel today.

I have always wanted to see as much of the world.  Still true but minus the visit to the local shaman with an interpreter in tow.

Food Market in Yerevan Armenia

A good amount of travel research time is usually spent figuring out where and what to eat a the next destination.  The location of my hotel/hostel hopefully is very close to a good food establishment whether it be a grocery store or restaurant.  There’s an added bonus if the restaurant is located in the hotel/hostel just for jet lag and precautionary reasons.   When I am starving, have just recovered from another case of food poisoning or just got off a 30 flight I usually  want a restaurant to be literally within crawling distance.

String Hoppers for breakfast
String Hoppers topped with spicy Coconut Simbal for breakfast in Sri Lanka
Pistachio Pastry in Alleppo
Pistachio Pastry in Aleppo – Worth the belly ache I got later

The back story and the naive beginnings of a hungry traveler

I decided early on that I’m not an adventurous eater –  wimpy eater is more like it.  I got burned trying to be like Anthony Bourdain.  I was on a three-week trip and going to meet a friend of my then boyfriend who was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.  This was a great trip in between all of my food mishaps that is.   It didn’t ruin my whole trip but I just have memories and wasn’t up to taking pictures.   The theory that everything bad happens in threes was proven.

Airplane food

First, minor but not so fun bout of sickness was a flight from Istanbul to Bucharest.  I was having a pleasant chat with a Turkish guy sitting next to me.  Lunch came and went and I was too busy talking that I just automatically ate what was in front of me.  Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that chicken salad sandwich on that Air Tarom flight.  The gentleman proceeded to eat my travel companions sandwich he smartly declined.   Lets say I missed a day of sightseeing in Bucharest.

Lesson:  Bring my own food and don’t eat any meat/egg dish that has salad attached to the name on the menu.

Japanese Matsuri food outside of Tokyo
Not so tempting Japanese Matsuri food outside Tokyo

Doing too much to fast leads to bad things

Second, was the trip to the local doctor in Sofia.  I had just met Kathy for the first time and she was wonderful.  I realized that all the travelling from Bucharest to Sofia had taken its toll on me.  I was feeling well and we had a long trek ahead.  It was time to see a doctor again.  In short,  the doctor only spoke Bulgarian and at least Kathy was there to help.   I was glad to get to a doctor  after a very awkward back and fourth translation of my symptoms.  He gave me some mysterious pills,  I took them regardless and we were on our way. Luckily,  they  did the job.  I was a little terrified to eat for a day and a dropped a few pounds.  The beer I drank later made up for the lost calories.    The locals here think that  Rakia sipped while eating shopska salad (both very dubious)  cures everything.  I think they might be on to something or just like a reason to drink Rakia.

Lesson:  Bring Cipro and think about eating just bread and bottled water after a long rail/plane trip.  They are both available just about anywhere.

Fish sandwich cafes along the Bosphorus in Istanbul
Looks innocent right? Well they are still there a couple of years after my incident selling sandwiches

More food problems at the end of a rocky journey

And the third.  The 2.5 weeks were filled with seeing wonderful sites and meeting new friends (doctors too) along the way.  It was the last leg and the worst was behind me.  A friend had mentioned that one thing you can’t miss in Istanbul is the fish sandwich sold on small boats just off of the Bosphorus.  We found the boats like he said and grabbed a couple of dubious grilled fish sandwiches served in a very crusty bun. The fish just fileted, grilled and put inside a white bun with sprig of lettuce and slice of tomato.  No sauce.  I should have stopped after a couple of uncertain bites. The next day, I ended up waking up with a face that was so swollen that I could barely see in front of me.  It was a pretty frightening sight.
The only real adventure was a trip to the local ER in Istanbul early that morning.  The American Hospital of Istanbul is a comfortable facility and I highly recommend it to others in need of care – whether it be of itchy hives or other travel illnesses.  One dose of Cortisone IV – $5M Turkish Lira  – Relief from hives on my face for 24 hours – Priceless.

Lesson:  Make sure to know where and if there’s an ER near by just in case.  Resist those local dishes especially made with fish.  Additionally,  try to eat fruit with skin or  properly clean fruit without it when traveling.  There are many microbes that hideout on the surface of food and in liquids.  They are are usually harmless to locals but could be deadly to those without built up immunities.

What can a traveler do besides just drinking tea and eating bread the whole trip?

There’s always plenty of chai where ever you go

We all have our weak moments when that chocolate covered banana at the street fair in Tokyo looks too good to resist and we want to try to eat like a local to save money.

Japanese Matsuri Food outside of Tokyo
Yummy Japanese Matsuri food outside of Tokyo

In the end, all that travelers can do is take preventative measures, use some common sense and have a good time. Here’s a few things I think about and do these days when I travel that seem to help me:

–  Be organized and plan the  exact route on how to get from customs to your bed

–  Get all required vaccinations and don’t be cheap on things like Malorone Pills

–  Bring your own food.  Remember you can even get food poisoning on the plane.

–  Take it easy when you first arrive and set out a reasonable plan of attack

–  Ease into the local food

–  Stay hydrated and try and skip that glass or 3 of wine on the plane (these days it’s hard to resist after the hassles travelers have to go through to get on a plane etc.)

Stay well and have happy and safe travels in 2012!

A typical day for visitors on a guided tour of Iran

What does a typical day on a guided tour in Iran look like?

Curious on what actually goes down when you are an American on a mandatory guided tour in Iran?  It’s not as bad as it sounds and there’s no choice in the matter since we are Americans. My husband and  I, like many travelers,  usually prefer to go at my own speed when we take a trip.   We get typically get by with help from good pre-trip research, a guidebook with a good map, on site pointers from other travelers we meet along the way and the occasional internet search at the local internet cafe/hostel.

Many who are considering a trip to Iran wonder simply what a day is like when you need to be escorted around by a local guide.  I found plenty of videos; pictures; blog posts about traveling in Iran but little information about how a typical day went down.   I understand it may not be very exciting material but I hope it gives others a little more insight on how things roll along during a typical day.  I travel independently so tours aren’t usually a part of my travels except for the occasional organized day trip to a protected area which requires a guide.

My typical day:

7am: Get up  and wait for our guide to do the same.  The first few days the time was more like 3am but it worked its way eventually to 7am. I like early starts even if it means chilling out for a couple of hours waiting for our fixer.

9am:  Meet our sleepy-eyed guide for breakfast which hopefully includes eggs, fresh bread, cheese, butter, jam (hopefully not of the carrot variety) and of course cups and cups of tea.  I’m excited when things like hot soup, real coffee and pastries are there as well.  This happened a couple of times.

Shiraz Niayesh Traditional Hotel
Dining area of the Niayesh Hotel in Shiraz early morning…it’s 7am..where is everyone?

10am ish:  Or somewhere around that time…Check out the sites until it gets really hot which usually coincides with lunch hour at high noon.

12pm – 1pm:  Many things that require an entrance fee close at this time anyways.  It’s a good time to have lunch when everyone else does.  Lunch usually is the biggest meal of the day and the choices are very much like dinner.   The vegetarian menu typically has been limited to rice, bread, yogurt/Doogh and the usual plate of  Kookoo Zabzi –  sometimes the cook has other choices but usually it means meat dishes where the meat is literally picked out of the plate.  I decided I had enough Kookoo Zabzi and alternated with kebab.

12pm-late afternoon: Our guide goes to the gym and lets us have some time to ourselves.  This is when I have a few minutes out of the sun and let my hijab down.  It was hot that day but no complaints.  The hijab kept my head safe from the suns rays.

Mid day in Persepolis

3-4pm:  We take off again to see sites in the best light and before evening prayer time.

Shah Cheragh Mosque
Evening prayer time at the Shah Cheragh Mosque in Shiraz

Around Sundown:  We have dinner and check out what goes on after the sun sets.  This is when I hope to find something sweet like Saffron Ice cream and get some good night shots.  The evenings are when most cities typically come alive.

Our view of the Sweeping Mosque or Bibi Dokhtaran Mausoleum near by
Our view of the Sweeping Mosque or Bibi Dokhtaran Mausoleum near by in Shiraz
Shiraz Market near the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
No pistachio Ice cream but plenty of other sweets to choose from in Shiraz

Rick Steves and other thoughts about Touring Iran

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

Rick Steves managed to get himself and a film crew journalist visas to Iran back in 2008.  He too seemed apprehensive about the trip even with his travel resume and years of teaching others how to travel.  They were allowed to film 10 short days  and brought PBS viewer a very thoughtful piece about travelling to Iran.  It was a very bold move on his part since his target audience is made up of those who think European travel is exotic and a trip to Iran is not included in many of there bucket lists.  This show was all about going  in the front door of Iran with the promise that he would shed some positive light on country who can not escape its past thanks to western media.

The U.S. does it’s best to discourage its citizens from travelling to Iran.   The U.S. State Department Consumer Affairs site at least informing its citizens of the risks involved with travelling to that region and where the hot spots are.  It’s words should of course be taken seriously.

Taking risks is a part of everyday life and where you travel to may increase the likelihood of being harmed or taken advantage of.  Being well-informed and confident helps prevent such things happening.  Of course, personal safety is a concern for most travelers who venture away from home and into the unknown.  U.S. official warnings made me question what motivates me to travel to areas where there are potential dangers for me as a U.S. citizen.  The U.S. does it’s best to discourage its citizens from travelling to Iran.   The U.S. State Department Consumer Affairs site at least informing its citizens of the risks involved with travelling to that region and where the hot spots are.  It’s words should of course be taken seriously.

Is traveling to Iran was the smartest thing to do right now if ever?   The answer is yes there’s never going to be a good time it seems.   Researching the h@#ll out of it.  What else are you going to do while awaiting for the Fed-ex delivery person to come?

Thanks Rick Steves

Breaking the news to my family that a trip to Iran was going to happen was another thing.  Rick Steves  made it look so tempting since it’s been on our minds for years and guess what – my husband and I are going.   Couldn’t think of any reasons not to go – unlike family and friends who have lots of opinions on the subject.

The application process was underway and the journey itinerary with Pars Tour Agency in Shiraz on May 22nd.  I have to thank many including Rick Steves, a few supportive friends and family, and the large amount of positive trip reports made by others who had done the same journey for giving me the push to go.   I soon be relaxing in tea houses, getting lost in the alleyways of the souks and visiting Zoroastrian caravanserais and fire temples.

Surprisingly, many say that it’s common for US citizens to get rejected but this chart displayed on says otherwise.   We were well aware that we could get our visa within days of our scheduled departure.  A Persian-American friend of mine confirmed that we could be getting our visa one day and boarding a plane the next.  There’s nothing like watching airfares go up and down and not being able to take advantage of any deals.  No visa – No sense in buying tickets.

13 weeks later, our passports are back in our hands.  It’s late August and we leave in 2 weeks.  The scramble begins. We promptly booked tickets to Shiraz via Istanbul just in case we got rejected at upon arrival.  If we thought it would be wise to put Istanbul in the plan just as a back up.  It’s a pessimistic move but I’m getting practical in my old age.

The problems between the U.S. and Iran will unfortunately not be resolved anytime soon since some old wounds seems to take a very long time to heal.  History shows that there’s not good chance of the two countries will not be buddies anytime soon.  The most recent media circus involving a used Persian car salesman nicknamed “Scarface”, members of a Mexican drug cartel and an attempt to kill a Saudi Prince baffles me and many others.  I’m not sure what to make of it all.  Now, there’s even more travel warnings posted on the U.S. Travel site, the media and U.S. politicians are having a field day as the war of words resumes we have seen since the 70’s resumes.

Make sure and check out the travel warnings listed by the U.S. and even Great Britain but remember to also balance these warnings with some current information from those who have traveled to such areas.   Blogs and travel information boards found on the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor sites are a great source for new and experienced travelers.   They are full of current information,  allow travelers to hopefully get answers to specific questions  and it’s a great place to contribute and help others in need of information.  Remember,  information is your friend.

Inspiration to travel to new regions, like Iran, sometimes comes from unexpected places like travel shows by Rick Steves and posts made by like-minded strangers on travel boards and blogs.    Do yourself a favor and diversify the information sources as much as possible before taking off.  You may even discover some “back doors” Rick is always going on about or make time to go off the beaten path and view the lesser known sites others usually miss.

The Skinny on the Iranian Travel Visa for U.S. Citizens

The process sort of reminds me of what it takes to get a Russian Travel Visa.  It involves some cash up front, a form of letter of invite, a detailed itinerary, and patience.  The Russian one seemed more to do with cash since it took a just few minutes to fill out the application, a few hours for a credit card transaction confirmation and later you have a letter of invite.    Iranian visas involve almost as much cash but require a little more patience.  In the end, a visa holder will be free to travel to a country full of hospitable people,  beautiful sights and see for themselves what goes on in a country who doesn’t get too much love from the mainstream media.

Here’s a breakdown of the Visa process:

Have plenty of patience because it can take some time to get your visa

Find a tour company that suits you and your budget.   Pars Tour Agency is our choice since they are based in Shiraz and came recommended..  Pars begins by providing the letter of invite aka Authorization Code for a small fee of 30 Euro.  It’s a requirement for U.S. citizens and the fees are different depending on who you use.

Wait for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran to fax the authorization code to the Consulate of your choice.

If not approved, the agency can resubmit the application again and hopefully it will go through this time.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will then fax the approval document on to your chosen consulate office.

If approved, send or bring the following within 3 business days to the chosen Iranian Consulate Office:

  1.  Application form (my case #101)
  2.  Money order of $112/ applicant and $20 return postage fee made out to the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  3. Single Passport picture (ladies this means one with hajib and remember…no smiling) and your passports (see below)

It’s longer to get the authorization code  from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran then it is to get the visa from the consulate.  Visas get issued by the consulate with a week of sending your passport, appropriate photo (women need to obey Islamic code which means donning a Hajib and remember…no smiling)

Ultimately, everything works out and the scramble to get everything done and the real fun begins.

Short list of WHO WHAT WHERE and HOW for Iran Travel

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Here’s my list of online sites which inspired and kept the dream alive while waiting to see if Iran wanted me to come or not.  I hope they are useful to others looking to go:

US Travel Warnings

British Foreign Office Travel Advisory


Destination Iran Tour Site

Traveler Nico from Scotland’s Flickr Stream

Soorm’s Flickr Photos of Iran


Rick Steves Journal – Iran

WikiTravel – Iran

Wikipedia – Iran

Journeywomen’s Blog


Uncornered Market Trip to Iran Nov 2011

Why we travel by Paul Theroux


Iran Railway Infomation

Pars Tour Agency

Magic Carpet Tourist Information

The Unlikelihood of Attractive Convertible Travel Pants

Trying to work the Convertible Pants
Packing for a trip that goes from a week to a year is pretty easy, provided that you keep a zen state of mind.  It’s all about keeping the bag as light and as carefree as possible so that you can focus on the import things, you know like enjoying yourself. Having a ‘light state of mind’ can involve some sacrifices and for some this can become a very emotional task.  I spend a great deal of time on choosing my travel clothing.  I need them to look good, fit well and be appropriate for where I’m traveling to.
Travelers should first figure out type of clothes are going to work out best and at the same time trying to keep the bag light.   For myself, choosing pants is always biggest obstacle.  My trip was going to be taking me to places where the temperatures didn’t go below 50 F and could reach 110 F and it could be dry or very humid.  This meant the pants needed to be lightweight, easy to clean, wrinkle-free, the right colors and fit well. To my horror,  and after countless hours of online research the unlikely match for me ended up being the unfashionable convertible travel pants. The kind that transform into shorts in a matter of minutes. I and many others associate those who wear them as being big travel dorks.  I reluctantly purchased the pants since they were what I needed but oh so ugly and expensive.
These pants that set me back $75 USD soon became my only pants and for 6 months.  When I wasn’t wearing them,  I would wear the long skirt I had made for me in Vietnam. The way I saw it, who was really going to care what I wore and how I looked.  In the Middle East, temperatures on most days went well over 100 F degrees.  These pants kept me comfortable in the desert heat and protected me from the scorching sun.   In the end, I found that without those convertible pants I could have never gone hiking inside the canyons in Petra in the middle of the day, walked down the streets of Damascus, seen the towering Pyramids at Giza or the inside of any of the numerous mosques and churches along the way.
For many, it’s difficult to figure out what to bring and to leave behind.  Many refuse to buy the convertible pants because they are indeed ugly.    Companies like Patagonia, The North Face and LL Bean have all put out a great selection of travel/hiking gear that are both light and fast-drying but basically produce the same style.  If they would only put some effort into the style and look of women’s travel pants.   We women need ones that don’t ride up and have a little more give to them.  This should be simple, right? Myself, along with many other traveling women, are waiting patiently.

5 Travel Tips for New York City

I’ve lived in this amazing city for the past decade and have managed to hold my own when I’m out and about.  I like most people living and working on this island do a lot of walking.  Not only is it the best way to get around but it’s sometimes the fastest (weather permitting of course).  This list gives some advice on how to get around this wonderful city as it’s a little intimidating.

Pay Attention

I’ll say it again, “Pay Attention”.  This is one of the most important thing to keep in mind when running around Manhattan’s busy streets and sidewalks.  The locals are just as guilty but pay attention to everything around you.  Not only will you avoid any run-in’s with a vehicle, skateboarder, rollerblader, dog, bicyclist (not uncommon to see them going the wrong way on a one way street or sidewalk), or other people busy texting.  Accidents that involve pedestrians and moving vehicles happen often throughout the day in the city and some end in fatality.   Here are the most common things that I come across just about everyday.

  • a cyclist is going the wrong way and off-roading
  • taxis, commuters in their own cars, police cars, fire trucks, cyclists trying to beat the red light
  • cars exiting out of a parking garage and traveling too fast and not remembering that they are crossing over a sidewalk

These points may sound frivolous but just beware that the are all common and if you aren’t paying attention then there’s the risk of  having an accident.  The reward for paying attention (if you care about these things) is the not so common spotting of a “famous” person or two.  There are  many well-known personalities who are just like us.  They walk around town like anyone else but they count on the fact that most don’t pay attention and are busy looking at flashing signs and tall buildings.

Pick a lane

One common faux pas city visitors make is they don’t know how to walk on a sidewalk.   In most cities the sidewalk rules are like driving rules.  If you were driving would you travel down the wrong side into on coming traffic?  Hopefully not.  Most drivers travel in a line when traveling with a group of vehicles not side by side.  There are some sidewalks in the city that can fit 3-4 people across but not many.    Be considerate and share the road.

Mind your manners

New Yorker’s disreputably are rude, loud and arrogant but not everyone is and there are plenty back home just like them.   Some bloggers in the city are quick to point this out to get people to click on and read and continue to back the myth up and write posts like this 13 things not to do in New York City written by P. Ling.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Let’s be fair.  Many New Yorker’s are just busy trying to get to work.  They sometimes have to get up at ungodly hours to get the commuter rail in, go to work, take that 2 hour train ride back home and do it all again the next day.  A slight change in weather, traffic or personal issue can all make a hellish commute even worse.   Be sensitive and considerate to them and try to get out-of-the-way.  This is a crowded and stressful city.  Don’t take it personally if someone isn’t eager to help if you need directions especially at rush hour.  Just move on and find another person to ask.  Storekeepers and police officers are good people to try first.  I would try MTA workers last.  They aren’t usually the most helpful unfortunately.

Study the layout of the city

This holds true with anywhere you visit.  Would you arrive in Paris or Tokyo without any idea of where things are.  New York was reconfigured over a couple of hundred years ago (Commissioners’ Plan of 1811) and it’s streets above Houston where reset into a grid fashion.  The numbered avenues go east to west and streets go north to south.  If you just remember a couple of things like if the streets are higher in number you are going north and if the avenues are getting higher you are going west.  There are some names thrown in there but by memorizing a few avenue names you are all set(streets downtown below Houston and some way up town)  There are always maps inside the subway stations, so they are a good back up if you forgot yours.  A local map and a city-wide map are usually found before the entrance gates down in the station.  They are hopefully in good enough condition to read. Not always guaranteed.

Get Organized before you hit the streets

First, put together a make a list of the places you want to visit while in the city.  Then check out a good city map and chart out each listings address and if some or all are in the same area.  It’s good to see what is where so you can make the most of your time.  It’s also good to figure out when the best hours will be to visit each place.  Like most cities, New York City Museums are much busier on the weekends so it’s best to go during the week.  There are some free hours and many suggest ticket prices so do your homework and save money.

When it’s time to head out for the day, figure out exactly how to get there before leaving your hotel or starting point.  I find that walking the route if is the best way to see the area since you never know what you are going to pass by along the way.  It could be an interesting place to eat, store or museum that’s not on your list or popular enough to put in a guidebook.  I would also figure out when the local hours of commuting are at their peak.  It might be nicer sitting and relaxing for a few more minutes than dealing with morning commuters.

There are so many interesting and fun things to see and do in New York City.  Plan well and don’t worry if you don’t get to all of them.  There’s always next time.

How do you afford to Travel?

This is a question I get from time to time.  It’s simple and it only takes a little sacrifice, motivation and organization.

Here are some of the things I do to save for the next trip.

1.  Manage Eating out. Eat at home as much as possible, take lunch to work and instead of dining out with friends, try doing to brunch instead.

2.  Things add up. Walk/Bike instead of taking taxis and subways.

3.  Fully utilized Twitter and local blogs Local blogs/twitter are good resources for free/alternative entertainment

4.  Visit your local Library Even with budget cuts they have a lot to offer

Squat Toilets…what’s all the flush?

The reward for the best Squat Toilet scene in a movie by no doubt goes to Slum Dog Millionaire.  It’s actually a very big smelly problem in countries like India.This is a great video from YouTube done by user rahulbrown that gives a good understanding of how valuable something most of us take advantage of everyday.

Toilets along the way

Yeah… it’s something everyone thinks about if you are on a crowded public bus or van in a foreign country.  “How long is this trip really going to take, will we stop for a toilet break and what kind of porcelain throne will be put before me?”  Being a women who occasionally gets sick (ok…let’s say I make sure I have a good amount of Cipro with me on each trip) it’s always on my mind for one reason or another.   There’s never a need to panic when it comes to using the least favorite option:  a swat toilet.  Just let it be clean.

It’s all in the technique

Just make sure you correctly use it, don’t flush anything down the toilet if it does flush (that’s what the bucket is for or is it for the flushing part or both?  Just do what you think others have done before you)  Travelers going off the beaten path will most likely encounter the squat toilet in some shape or form.  They can even be found in rural areas of Europe and Japan.  There not just South Asia.  Travelers need to just get over it when to these places.  It’s a good reason to get those inner thigh and glut muscles toned before the trip and get use of the face mask if it’s smelly. Just be sensitive to those who have no other options.

Here’s some supposed healthy reasons why you should use the squat position.  The best thing a woman can do is like the Army ad says be prepared.  A good tip for women is to bring along a long skirt since it’s difficult to keep your pant bottoms from hitting the squat toilet floor (icky)  There is a reason why most women around the world just wear dresses and skirts (men too).  Or, just use some common sense and roll the legs up before entering then take a deep breathe and focus on getting things done.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the TP and that person hanging out isn’t just hanging out.  They probably have the job of selling TP and or cleaning up.  Do them a favor and give up some coin.

It’s all a part of the experience.  If anything, mastering it makes for good travel anecdotes at the end of the day.  I wish I had some pictures of toilets I have mastered but I usually didn’t want to stay to long and/or accidentally drop my camera in the bottomless hole (see toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire)

Happy Squatting and remember to wash those hands.

Top 5 things an Adventure Travel Girl can’t go without

There are so many things a girl can do without when it comes to adventure traveling.  This list is long and it’s better to focus on the top 5 most important things bring along when going on an adventure trip.  In adventure I’m talking about one where you will have to carry your bag more than a few yards from the taxi to the hotel.  This will be a trip where you will maybe  find those things  you wish you had brought at your destination but if not oh well.

1.  Clothing made of synthetic material

Clothing that is not made of cotton but a material which keeps you cool or warm but will dry fast, not wrinkle and be compact.  The clothing should  have a neutral shade and be able to mix and match with other pieces.  Who cares if you are wearing the same pants and/or shirt two or more days in a row.  It’s good if  you are able to wash them every night and know that they will be dry by morning.  Look at it this way.  This will free up some space in your bag and give you an excuse to buy something locally. Besides, it makes a great souvenir.

2. One pair of shoes

This is not counting the light pair of Havaianas you have as well.  It is best to invest in a comfortable pair of nice looking travel shoes made of a durable material such as leather.  There are some great shoes that look good and function as a low-level hiking shoe.  Even if you are not going to hike up a mountain there is a good chance you will be walking a lot.  Another thing,  make sure this isn’t the shoes maiden voyage.  The shoes need to get worn enough to break them in and to make sure they will be suitable for the journey.

3.  A Good Hat

A hat has many functions while traveling.  It will block out harmful sun rays and heat of the sun, cover your head when it’s raining, cover your head when you are visiting a holy site, makes it easy to hide under when visiting countries where as a woman you don’t want to make eye contact, and it hides the fact that you are having a bad hair day.  The hat should have a wide rim on it so it can protect you and be also made of a breathable material.  It will get dirty so wash it along with those fast drying pants when needed.

4.  Cell phone with a good camera

Having a cell phone that you can slip in your pocket and use with a local SIM card can come in very handy.  You may have packed away a camera that takes better pictures but it’s handy to have one that fits discretely in your pocket for some quick shots of food or places where you may want to leave the more expensive camera back at the hotel in a locked safe.  A traveler can find that having a local cell phone number is convenient with booking a hotel that doesn’t have a website or to use in emergency situations.  The rates vary from country to country but they usually are reasonable.  A cell that is bluetooth enabled is key.  If there is a strong or strong enough wi-fi signal you can set up an account with Vonage or Skype and keep in touch with folks back home.

5.  Good bag with TSA approved locks

Your bag is one of the best investments you will make.  It’s worth the time and money investment.  I prefer one that is light in weight, has a protective cover which extends over the bag and locks, has strong zippers that can secure easily and not allow any gaps, made of strong material that resists tearing especially by a knife or other sharp edge, and fits well to your body type.  Some other helpful features are a bottle holder or hook for one, a small inside pocket in the inside lining which can fit dirty laundry, and be waterproof.

This list is short and is very subjective since everyone has their own priorities on what they need to take to make them feel comfortable in a foreign land.  These things are what I have narrowed my list down to over the years.  I used to bring much more when I started to travel but over the trips I have found that many things are best left at home.  It’s a life lesson to find out what you as a person really need to have to live your life.  It’s less than you would think.