TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN
I know… children aren’t packing-list items, but a lot of people ask about traveling light with children in tow. With toddlers and smaller (who will need diapers, favorite toys, etc.) it’s a daunting challenge. I suggest renting a car. If you have a choice of destinations, choose those where you are likely to want a vehicle anyway (Ireland, say, or the Provence region of France, where you will want to visit areas not well served by public transportation). Note that foreign rental cars should, if at all possible, be booked in advance (from home); doing so after you arrive can be much more expensive. Your chosen guide book will often suggest lower-cost local alternatives to the major auto rental companies. Don’t assume that theft and collision coverage on rentals works the same way as at home; your own policy is unlikely to be valid in foreign countries, and the automatic coverage provided by some charge cards is also very country-specific, and should be verified in advance.
Things that must be plugged in are conspicuously absent from this packing list; they add bulk and weight rarely compensated for by usefulness. Try hard to eliminate them. If, however, you just can’t live without your electric shaver (a small bottle of shaving oil and a razor are much more appropriate), or your hair dryer (think about towel/air drying, or even a more travel-friendly hair style), don’t forget that electrical power varies throughout the world. Most countries use 220 volts at 50 Hertz, though several (including the U.S.A.) use 110 volts at 60 Hertz; moreover, there are more than a dozen styles of wall socket, each requiring a different type of plug. You also need to worry about power (wattage) ratings.
In the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the list of items that may not be brought into aircraft cabins has grown considerably longer, and the actions of security personnel more zealous. Although the Transportation Security Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transport) publishes an official list of both prohibited and permitted items, their existence doesn’t necessary predict what will happen at the airport, where the personal views of random security personnel may have a greater impact on your travel experience.
Items in this section definitely fall into the “optional” category, the need for same being very much a function of one’s personal interests and the nature of the trip. This part of the list could, of course, be arbitrarily long; I have restricted it to the few items that are of extremely broad interest.
camera (lenses? flash? tripod? film? extra batteries? charger?) I’d recommend a state-of-the-art “point and shoot” camera, unless you really want to lug that SLR around. Philip Greenspun offers an extended and helpful discussion of this topic.
You don’t have to pay porters and the like to carry stuff around for you. You will be more able to take public transportation, rather than taxis and limos (where you often pay extra for luggage). You can even walk. All of which will also bring you into more intimate (and thus rewarding) contact with the people and places you have come to visit.
By not having to check baggage (or otherwise entrust it to the care of others), you are much less likely to lose same (or its contents) to theft, damage, or misrouting. Would that peace of mind was always so easily acquired!
You needn’t arrive at airports as early. You can board trains, trams, and coaches with alacrity. You can more easily deal with delayed transportation and missed connections (because you can choose alternatives without worrying about what will happen to your belongings). You can travel as an air courier. You can sell your seat (by volunteering to be “bumped”) on full flights. You will be among the first to leave the airport for your destination, while others wait for baggage delivery and long customs inspection queues. And you won’t feel compelled to take the first hotel room offered; you can easily walk out when the reception counter person quotes an unreasonably high price.