What Do You Really Need to Bring?


There are so many “lists” of what to bring an extended vacation to a foreign country. If you brought everything that everyone recommends you’d need a few additional suitcases! Everyone has different needs and desires…

There are multiple articles on the internet with suggestions … and even books if you need more help (see below!). On the other hand, I strongly suggest take ONLY what you’ll NEED. Europe, Asia, South America, and most of the world have grocery stores, pharmacies, and plenty of shopping opportunities. Chances are many of the things you’ll need, and see on other lists, you can get in at your destination. And if it’s disposable and low cost, just toss it before you head home. In today’s age of tighter luggage restriction and baggage fees, it’s less costly to travel as light as possible.

If you need more help packing, you might look at these books:

I have a copy of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler I picked up a few years ago. It offers some solid tips. Erik Torkells’ 399 tips in the The Smart Traveler’s Passport could be a helpful guide. I want to know How CAN you “use Ziploc bags 13 different ways?” We now travel in Europe on small, local airlines with tight or luggage restrictions so our packing practices have certainly changed. We do carry FAR less than we used to and pick up things as we need them. On to the Essentials…


The Proper Paperwork

You’ll need your passport (or required country ID), for most drivers possibly an International Driver’s Permit if you plan to rent a car and also your current driver’s license, a print-out of your plane tickets, and print-outs of all your reservations and travel contacts (hotel, car rental, tour group, etc.). You also should bring copies of any prescription for medicines, glasses, contacts, etc. These can often be replaced during your travels if necessary. This is perhaps the minimum “paperwork” list of what we bring.

For safety and assistance, many people carry photocopies of their passport and a couple passport-sized pictures (in case you lose your passport or need a specific transportation ticket, for example). There are other preparation steps you might take for your credit cards, luggage, etc. before starting your journey.


A “Personal Security” System

That title sounds rather ominous… but this is an important part of your preparation. When you’re traveling, you are carrying perhaps “more” cash, your passports, ID, and credit cards. Losing any of these in a foreign country will put an immediate damper on your vacation. So you need to protect your assets. Do so with a “personal security” system like a money belt, a neck pouch, a pocket device, or whatever works for you. The key is to get this item NOW and start wearing it – NOW! Yes, practice BEFORE you get on the plane to foreign destination and find what works for you.

It’s no good to buy that fancy, multi-pocketed, thick money belt only to get on your vacation, put it on for the first time, and find it so uncomfortable… you just can’t wear it! Now, you’re caught between being uncomfortable or being unprotected – Neither is a good feeling. So buy in advance, wear it around town, practice getting money in and out of it, and feel good knowing you’re prepared! Here are just a few “security systems:”


Credit Cards, ATM Cards, and Some Local Currency

Yes, you’ll need these. And many of you may have credit cards you probably don’t want to use in a foreign country. Why? Because the fees associated with them may be an unpleasant surprise when you get back home and total up your expenditures. Credit card companies call these charges by many names: currency-conversion fees, foreign transaction fees, a flat percentage for foreign transaction (often 1-3%), overseas transaction fees, international transaction fees… Know the add-on fees BEFORE you travel.

The best answer: call you credit card company and ask very specific questions about what you will be charged if you use your card overseas. If you don’t like what you hear – and chances are high you may not – then get a NO-FEES card like the CapitolOne card. I got a CapitolOne card years ago and it is the ONLY American credit card I use on many of my travels. No fees, no conversion rates and no added-on percentages to my purchases. No, you ONLY pay what the vendor has the set the price as. I have had my card for almost 8 years and it is the first item that goes into my money belt.

CapitolOne is not the only company out there offering these deals. Check with your bank and if you’re unhappy, go get one NOW – while you still have time to apply and receive your NO-FEES card. A helpful hint: When in a foreign country and paying with one of these cards, decline the “option” to pay in US Dollars. The conversion rate used by the vendor – who appears so helpful – is far worse than your NO-FEES credit card. Simply decline and pay in the local currency.

You’ll need an ATM card if you want to get best “exchange” rates on your cash in a foreign country. Gone are the days of traveler’s checks and bringing “dollars” to exchange. The exchange fees are just too high – if you can’t find a bank that will do an exchange – and the “dollar” does not have the buying power (and desire) it used to…

It’s also a good idea to bring a little local currency – especially for your first arrival point. You’re tired, jet-lagged, disoriented, maybe even exhausted. You do not want to have to go searching for an ATM just so you can buy a drink, a bus/metro ticket, jump in a taxi, or pay/tip your private shuttle driver. Have enough “local cash” to get you into town to your first accommodations. Then, after you “recover” you can find the closest ATM. Check with your local bank for currency exchange options. You might look at the Resources Page of this website for multiple ATM locators.



Okay, I have to admit, we have WAY too much luggage. Yet when we “moved” to Europe, we brought everything IN our luggage. So we probably have a scattered 13-15 pieces. And I find myself still looking for more. Why? Because today’s luggage has so many great features, is so LIGHT, and incredibly durable. My older, clunky pieces sometimes weigh half of the allotted carry-on allowance… EMPTY!

So it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead and get some lightweight, easy-for-you-to-use luggage. I’ve ordered many pieces from US vendors and had them sent to my son’s home. Then, when we’re visiting, we simply fill up that piece (with essentials like Peanut Butter and ziplock bags) and bring it back. Maybe that’s how I’ve accumulated so many pieces?

I like carry-on only (when possible). The dimensions for most carry-on luggage restrictions in Europe and Asia are slightly smaller than the US (although these seems to change and get smaller almost daily). Do check with your airlines for the most up-to-date information on luggage restrictions.

To me, picking out luggage is like selecting a putter. Golfers can relate to this. It’s an intensive, personal search. My wife DOES NOT understand – she just throws things in the bag I hand her. Fortunately, the web has many options. Again, I’ve sent many items to my son’s house for eventual pick-up (luggage, camera, hard drive, 2 laptops, and…) so I have too much experience. The vendors I like include Luggage Online, LuggageBase.com, Samsonite, and Magellan’s. Of these, I’ve probably ordered most from LuggageBase.com. I’ve had great success using this company and have also saved a lot of money.


Walking Shoes

When you go on a trip, you’re probably going to walk – and walk and walk. For many Americans, this is “unique.” I can remember living and working in the US. My “walking” consisted of exiting my kitchen door into the garage to get into my car… and then walking from the-closest-parking-space-I-could-find (even if I had to cruise for 5 minutes) to my place of work or the mall. It’s different here and you need to be prepared.

You’ll be on your feet – and on cobblestones and uneven ground perhaps – for most of the day. You need good walking shoes. I have three pairs of Mephisto’s I love that I’ve about worn out. I also have ecco, Rockport, Josef Siebel, Merrell, New Balance, and a few others. I don’t often wear “sneaker” type walking shoes (which are very popular) when traveling because we primarily do carry-on and I need a shoe to wear with different outfits as my luggage space (and weight) is limited.

The key is to find what feels comfortable for you – and BUY THEM NOW! You need to “break these shoes in.” Don’t wait to come to Europe to do it – you’ll be miserable – and in pain. I have to admit to trying on a few pairs and then ordering on the web. It’s often so much cheaper. Here are a few best-sellers for men:

Ladies, I hesitate to even offer suggestions (I sure don’t for my wife). You might consider looking at a couple of bigger online vendors like Famous Footwear and Shoes.com.  I have to admit that by the time summer came around in Rome, during the day my “hardened, seasoned, used-to-walking” feet were usually wearing Mephisto sandals. But I walked 5-8 miles a day… so make sure you’re prepared if you go this route!



A good guidebook will make a self-directed trip more enjoyable! Buy it well in advance and wear it out. Write it in, tape page markers to it, add paper-clips – whatever will make your vacation easier. Once you get onsite, you’ll probably be overwhelmed if you have not prepared.

You definitely want to get your guidebook BEFORE getting to your “destination.” I once helped some folks who had lost their Rick Steves Italy book, seen above for $16.49. I think the list price on the book was $17.95. The price in Rome for this book: €24,00. At that time, this was more than $30 for the same book – almost double the cost



A guidebook can tell you about what you’re looking at; a good map will get you there. Getting a map in advance and familiarizing yourself with your “daily” walks will help you tremendously – and alleviate stress! Getting lost is fun… but it’s always good to know how to get “un-lost.” See the Resources Page again for multiple online mapping options and information on Map.com, the Largest Online US Map Store. They have 10,000+ maps you can choose from.

Like a guidebook I advise you to “use” your map before coming to your destination. Write on it – mark your hotels and sites you “must see.” Add bus numbers if you have read about them. Don’t wait until you get to a city and use the “hotel” map. It probably provides you more advertisements than assistance. And the print is also SO SMALL – wish the advertisements were not there so the map was bigger!

If you’re driving a map is helpful, and a GPS unit is better. Rental cars in Italy do have GPS units. But often if the local rental vendor is a franchisee, he/she wants to get their GPS-unit cars back as they generate extra revenue. So if you’re looking for a one-way rental, many car rental vendors may not allow you to use a GPS equipped model. The alternative is to bring your own. For many people this is better because you can practice in your own hometown. Nothing is harder than mastering foreign locations AND a GPS WHILE driving. Do make sure the GPS unit you purchase does come pre-loaded with European Maps. here are a few examples:

I have the Garmin 1370 I ordered it online (and had it sent to my son’s house) and I’ve been happy with the unit’s performance. It’s a basic model but it gets me where I’m going. There are many, many options available. Garmin and Tom Tom seem to have the most models with European maps.

Again, since I’ve spent so much time in Italy, if you need a specific Michelin-Italian map, click on any of the following links –  listed by number –  #351 – Piemonte, Valle D’Aosta#352 – Liguria#353 – Lombardia#354 – Trentino-Alto Adige#355 – Veneto#356 – Friuli-Venezia Giulia#357 – Emilia-Romagna#358 – Toscana #359 – Umbria, Marche#360 – Lazio#361 – Abruzzo, Molise#362 – Campania, Basilicata#363 – Puglia#364 – Calabria#365 – Sicily#366  – Sardegna,  #561 – Northwest Italy,   #562 – North East Italy#563 – Central Italy#564 – Southern Italy#735 – Italy (Country Map).


Electrical Connectivity

If you’re headed to to a foreign country from the USA, power supplies are different. Hopefully, all your electronic gear is dual-voltage. You can check by looking at the power supply (or bottom) of your device. If it says 110v-240v, then it’s dual voltage. If it only says 110v… then you have a US-current device and you’ll need a converter. Converters require MORE research, so it’s always best to purchase and use dual-voltage devices when traveling.

We had perhaps 6-8 USA-purchased electronic devices hooked up at our apartments in Europe. All but one of these was dual-voltage. So for each of these, all you need is a simple “plug adapter” to convert the US “square” prongs to the rounded, European plugs (We’re talking specifically Italy here as other countries may be different). Better to get these plug adapters before you come over, as sometimes finding them can be a challenge in a foreign language. Here are a few of the standard options that fit many European countries (but not the UK…):


As you can see, there are many different plug adapters available. Converters are even more diversified and you have to be careful when using high voltage products with a converter. Converters have different voltage capabilities so read the fine print before using. A few converter options include:



If you’re coming from the US, you may be in for “toilet-shock.” Yes, for you first-timers, toilets in other parts of the world are probably somewhat different than what you’re used to. I’ve been in many bathrooms, standing at the urinal, and an older lady has come in and started mopping around my feet. Yes, the first couple of times it was a little disconcerting but you adapt.

Suffice to say, sometimes it’s good to bring your own supplies. You can find products in any foreign grocery store but this seems to be an area where “personal preference” and “personal supplies” comes in handy. So here are some handy travel packs that save space and perhaps enhance your “comfort” level.



First Aid Kit

I have to admit that when we travel my wife takes care of the first-aid supplies. If I get cut, I’m looking some scotch tape, or even duct tape. Duct tape fixes everything! But for a more sanitary and probably effective solution, carry a small first-aid kit, or at least the minimal supplies you’ll need. For some, that may just be bandages and aspirin. For others, especially if you have children on your trip, you have to be “more” prepared.



So that’s a starter list. We travel with the above items – except for perhaps the toilet needs (After living overseas you learn to adapt, so we’ve done so). There are many, many other things you could add to any list – and we haven’t even talked about clothes. My recommendation, including clothes, is to bring as little as possible.

We’ve been forced, by the smaller European airline carry-on restrictions, to adjust and thus we now travel extremely light – and laugh about the HUGE suitcases we used to drag behind us. There are Laundromats available to wash your clothes – or utilize your hotels’ services. Most of what you can get in your hometown you can find in a grocery or pharmacy in other countries – often even the same brand name. So a month or so before you depart lay everything out of the bed and say, “Will I use this?” Get rid of the “extra” stuff… Then, do the same exercise two weeks before you leave and “reduce again.” You’ll be glad you brought less, not more! Good Luck in your travels.

copyright (c) 2012 by Ron Phillips Travel LLC – luxury travel and consultancy. All rights reserved. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, Contact Ron Phillips Travel