Travel Tips

I’m not a world traveler yet. But I started travelling more or less on my own when I was 16. From road trips across the USA to mission trips to the developing world to a couple months abroad I’ve acquired a few travel tips.


For a 4 day trip to New York City: Only pack carry-on

For a mission trip of 1-2 weeks: Only pack carry-on

For a trip which requires living abroad for a couple months: Only pack carry-on

And for God’s sake if you’re planning a back packing trip through Europe: ONLY PACK CARRY ON!

But there are a few rules, first you have to look up TSA guidelines for what you can take. Buy a small suitcase (or backpack depending on your needs) that fits the requirements. I have a rolling suitcase that doubles as a back pack, but it’s not ideal for backpacking.

Second, you really also have to look up the guidelines for every airline you’re taking. In my experience all US airlines match TSA and other places in the world are less restrictive.

Third, do NOT stuff that bag with crap. I only took carry-on to China and I can tell you right now when I was dragging it all through the airport, through the subway station, and down a couple miles of dirt roads in Beijing to my hostel, I wished I had less stuff!


I read in a travel guide that this guy never took anything with him that he hadn’t first tested out by carrying it all with him around his own town. I’ve never done this, but I sure would if I was back packing.

And I know what you’re think “oh but I’m not back packing through Europe, I’m going straight to a hotel.” Straight to a hotel is never quite that simple. You have to get all of that stuff through the airport, into a taxi or car or subway and lug it. Don’t count on other people to carry your stuff. They won’t be happy.

There’s a couple reasons to do this. First your luggage won’t get lost in transit. The odds are probably against you if you have complicated connecting flights. I’m about to take two series of 5 connecting flights through a couple of countries. Secondly, if you aren’t weighed down by luggage you can do more things, keep track of your stuff, and you probably won’t be a likely victim of theft. And lastly, no fees!

A few more tips:

–You really only need a week’s worth of clothes. If you won’t wear it more than once, it’s probably not worth it. Anything more than a week, just figure out how to do some laundry.

–Once you’ve cut out unnecessary clothing items, roll your clothes tightly and tuck them into your bag or suitcase. This is supposing that your clothes will be your biggest items. On the way back I often will wrap gifts and souvenirs with clothes around them. But you always want to make sure you have extra room in your bag for those items. Worst comes to worst buy a bag abroad and check it on the way home. This is an especially good idea if you’re going to China or South America. I can’t make a voice for countries in Europe.

–You don’t need all those liquids. Small amounts will do fine. If you’re going for a week, travel sized is all you need. Buy those little bottles that are refillable if you’re really concerned about your hair or whatever. If you’re going longer than that, buy what the locals do. Wear that Wang Lee Hom Twisty Lady hair gel! If you’re some place where it’s a real concern, like the bush, you probably won’t have access to a shower anyway. Which brings me to my point about wet ones. They’re good for everything from wiping down on a long plane ride, to cleaning your dorm, to being out in the boonies for a few weeks. Don’t sweat it. Just live how the people around you do. It builds character at the very least. And most places are developed enough to sell a quality brand of soap.

–If you can buy it there, DITCH IT HERE. First, save on crazy converters. If you need a hair dryer, buy one there. If this is a trip to the third world, go without. You’ll survive. And if you’re going to China… They make everything there, so it’s cheaper to just buy it in China.

Here’s how I roll:

Pack all alike items together. Little baggies of things helps if your stuff is being searched. After hours of going through security in Bolivia, Panama, and Miami, you’ll absolutely be glad.  Some places will open your bag and search everything. In Miami my Stephen’s guitar case was opened, searched and someone else’s random yellow bag got mixed in. If you have tiny things they could get lost and be hard to access on a layover or a night in a hotel.

The previous tip is essential for liquids for carry on in the US. They must go in a quart sized baggie.

I usually only bring two pairs of shoes. If space is incredibly limited wear big items on your person (coats, shoes, etc)… I did this when I had to pack my own sheets, blankets, winter clothing, and toilet paper for 2 weeks in Colombia and only took small backpack. But most of the time I wear the flip flops. Slip on shoes are easy for airports.

The carry on item which will go in the over head bin should not have to be accessed until the final destination. Your personal item can be a large purse or a backpack. I just recently took a tote bag as my personal item to Bolivia.

Experienced travelers do this. Check a bag on the way home if you buy too many souvenirs. Or give away your stuff. A friends of mine just left most of her clothes as a donation in Bolivia. I tossed out a pair of worn out shoes and most of my liquids… almost every time I travel.

This time I will be packing a bit more than the last time I went to China. This time I need some business attire, I’ll be at the university a bit longer, and I”ll be taking ballet classes. I’m determined to fit all my ballet clothes, high heels, favorite clothes, and my laptop into my bags. If it doesn’t all fit, something will go.

The only true essentials are your passport and your paper work. (I pack these in a tiny purse that goes over my shoulder. My Stephen put his in a ziplock in an accessible pocket of his bag, which also worked ok.)

Finally, make it all easy to carry at one time. Who knows how far you may have to carry it. Also, taking nyquil helps beat jetlag 😉