Thursday 30 Jun, 2011

Packing Tips for International Travel – Part 2

Colorful Suitcases stacked

In case you missed part one, click here.

For my very first EF tour, I borrowed a large duffel bag from my husband. It was large and cumbersome, and I felt like I was carrying a body bag. After watching me drag my bag up and down the stairs in our first hotel, one of my students took charge of my bag for the rest of the tour. At the end of the school year, when I was working on my final grades, that young man came up one point short for passing my class.  There was no way he was going to fail with a 69! I gave him the extra point for his thoughtfulness and help. Perhaps he knew all along that I would come through for him in the end.

I hate to pack a suitcase that needs to be checked. Once you travel with just a carry-on, it’s hard to go back to the dark side of check-in luggage.  Even my check-in bag is much smaller than what I see coming off the baggage carousels. What do people pack in those huge suitcases? I know some group leaders who require their students to travel with just a carry-on. That is so impressive!   I’m not worthy to be in this esteemed circle of group leaders Most first-time travelers over pack and they need to be guided with some tips to lighten their load.

  • Use Packing Cubes: I’m a fan of the packing cubes. I can roll my clothing inside each one and then place them in my suitcase.  I fold my pants (no more than three pairs for a two-week tour) and put them at the bottom of packing cube. You can also use the packing bags that will compress your clothing. The gallon-size plastic bags are great for packing a t-shirt, underwear, and socks for each day. The dirty laundry can go back into the same bag. I believe in keeping the dirty laundry separate from what’s clean. Even packing an old pillowcase can do the job for you. I still remember watching one of my students as he sprayed all his clothing with Febreeze and stuffed everything back in his suitcase. He told me he could not tell what was clean and he obviously did not mind his clothing marinating in chemicals.
  • ribbon on luggage

    Identify your luggage with a ribbon

    Make your luggage easily identifiable: If you have a black suitcase, make it easy to identify if you check your luggage. I tie a bright red scarf on mine and for my student tours, I tie a length of the fluorescent  surveyor’s flagging plastic tape you can find in any hardware store on each suitcase. At baggage claim, the students can recognize the suitcases that belong to our group and they just grab them as they see them go by on the carousel.

  • Plastic bags for souvenirs: Carry a quart-size plastic bag to store your flat or “paper” souvenirs. Group leaders can create an interesting bulletin board to advertise their overseas tours with what they collect in their plastic bag.  If you plan to buy some posters or prints, pack a cardboard tube so you can roll your purchases.  I never cease to be amazed at the souvenirs my students will buy. Try to steer them away from things that are just a waste of money and luggage space. On an Italy tour, my son (or one of his friends-I can’t remember) purchased a balloon filled with cornstarch from one of the street vendors. How do I know the balloon contained cornstarch? On the plane, the guys were playing with the balloon and it exploded in their laps. The flight attendant walked by them and just looked at them with disgust.
  • Bring one extra pair of shoes: Don’t pack more than one extra pair of shoes and use the space inside them to stuff a few pairs of socks. Be sure to wear shoes that are easy to remove when you go through the airport security checks.  I do not allow my students to wear flip flops on tour.  In the 1990s on my United Kingdom tours, some of my students loved to purchase Doc Martens and they would wear them on tour to break them in with the obvious results. You should wear and pack only shoes that are already “broken in.” On the subject of shoes, I had a “big-and-tall” student who went in an Italian shoe store to buy a nice pair of leather shoes. He told me that there were no shoes in his size and that the clerk went in the back to get the entire staff to look for his enormous shoe size.
  • Travel smart with your paperwork: I limit myself to one travel guide when I travel and I will pack photocopies of travel information in a plastic sheet protector. I also keep any paperwork for my tour group in a plastic sheet protector that I fold and pack in my travel purse (a black shoulder bag I can wear across my chest). I know lots of group leaders love to take their blue EF “GL bags” on tour and I have seen more than one teacher pack a 3-ring binder they use for their tour notebook. Group leaders need to economize when it comes to their books and paperwork. I love to read when I travel and I hope someone gives me a Kindle for Christmas. In the meantime, I carry paperbacks and magazines that I will leave behind for another traveler who is desperate for something to read. When I was an exchange student in England, I spent a week on a farm by myself and I found a copy of Clive Cussler’s book, Raise the Titanic. When I was not working on my essays for school, I took time to read that book. Imagine my disappointment when I got to the end of the book and found that someone had removed the final chapter!

Readers, I’d love to hear from you on this topic.  Comment below with your top packing tips.

Flickr photo via centralasian, Xelcise

(Editor’s note: Add Gail on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)