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What should I pack?**

To my absolute shock, after I wrote some travel blog posts and books, one of the things people ask me is what to pack for international travel. I really wasn’t going to reply until someone sent me a link to de-cluttering goddess Marie Kondo packing a suitcase by rolling underwear into little suishi-shapes and stacking them sideways. Apparently you’re only supposed to pack stuff that “sparks joy”—but there was absolutely no sign of electronics or coffee so I’m not sure what is going to spark.

My own approach to packing has changed over the years.

1970s: Sometimes, you just have to go with the pros…

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”—Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971 [Image credit: Open Culture]

**[NOTE: Actually, I usually put a couple of scarves into my backpack. They could be tied into halter tops and wrap skirts. Plus I would throw in pair of shorts, for that day when I absolutely had to wash the jeans. Add a toothbrush, a couple of primitive, manually-operated artifacts we called “books”, and I was good to go to Europe for months.]

1980s: We were outnumbered

We travelled with three young children, so the only packing tip I can clearly remember retaining is that those inflatable water-wings you put on the kids so they won’t drown actually make great packing-wraps for bottles of booze. And—three kids, remember?—you WILL be needing those bottles. Plus if you’re down at the hot tub late at night and you need some floating bottles…well, I’m certainly not going to judge.

[Image credit: Ottawa Mommy club]

[NOTE: from one of my columns for the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette in 1991.]

For all you amateurs out there planning a summer car trip with your children—we recommend at least three under age six—here are a few professional tips.

PACKING: Make two piles, Essential and Nonessential. The first thing to put in the Essential pile is several industrial-sized packages of diapers. You never know when you’ll be in some foreign locale (anywhere it’s a toll call to your pediatrician) where they might not have disposable diapers.

Also, your children will naturally want to bring several mementos of home. You can refuse them, at least the first couple of hundred times they ask. In the end, however, you’ll find it’s easier just to go ahead and add the Ms. Dolly, Miss Baby, and Mr. Ernie dolls, plus all the kids’ bedding, clothes, books, toys, and electronic gadgets to the Essential pile.

This pile should also contain large stocks of snack foods with the average nutritional value of carpet lint. Relax! Only total strangers will actually see you feeding it to your kids, and the odds are they won’t mention it to your in-laws. These snacks will allow you to go for extended periods without stopping the car, sometimes 16 to 18 minutes at a stretch.

In the Nonessential pile, you can put the road maps and your clothes, if you want. But there won’t be enough room in the car for them, so really…why bother? I advise slipping in a change of any underwear that will fit into that little pocket in the driver’s door. Something unisex works well here.

1990-2000s: Kids were teenagers.

Best for all if we draw a curtain—one of those really thick, blanket-lined blackout ones—over any vacation attempts. (Some of the lawsuits are still pending.)

Now: Grownup Travel

I only have one travel secret—always go with other people who know what they’re doing. So I asked my two travel buddies, Janine and Jaya (from our India trips) for their lists of what to bring. Here goes:

Jaya: Toilet paper, washing powder, bungee cords, medicines (anti-diarrheals, anti-emetics, all kinds of antibiotics, anti-allergies, pain relievers, band aids etc.)

Janine: Toilet paper, warehouse-store mega box of granola bars, several boxes of Starbucks instant coffee, three identical pairs of ladies walking sneakers, iron lung, and ventilator.**

three pairs sneakers

Sneakers. Three pairs. Of course.

Barb: Toilet paper, laptop and power cable. (And phone, backup power bank, Kindle, power outlet strip, international power converter which will only sort of fit the Indian sockets so everything will have to list to the side a bit, power cables for all of the above, child-and/or-monkey cancelling headphones, plus this really clever 3-way USB cable charger that IKEA practically gives away. And okay—a backup battery for the laptop, and maybe another emergency box of Starbucks instant.

Well, what do you pack?

All of us: toothbrush, mobile phone, and hat. Okay, and a few handfuls of paper napkins from the last three places we ate, in case we run out of toilet paper.

METHOD: stuff your underwear in around the pharmaceuticals, and top with a spare t-shirt and leggings if there is any room left. If not, don’t worry about it—this is India, so if the next roadside stand doesn’t have what you need, they will know someone who does. (**Janine was kidding about the iron lung and ventilator. She knows perfectly well that they will be available—at very nice discount once Jaya has finished bargaining—from a roadside stall where you can also get additional minutes for your phone SIM, plus coconut water.)

India: why pack when you can get anything there?

(Except for a hamburger, of course, but I still wouldn’t advise packing that.)

Roadside pharmaceuticals plus toothpaste and…

Roadside phone minutes, coconut water, sweets, and…

What is the ONE thing you would never travel without? 

Packing: essentials only
[image credit: Tenor]