Travel tips

10 Non-Essential, Non-Electronic Travel Items

On my summer tour of Ireland, I sat in the back of the tour bus with an older woman who was a veteran traveler and tour group organizer. Not only was I amazed at her vast travel experience, I was in awe of everything she managed to pack in her single suitcase and carry-on. Anything someone needed while we were touring, sh had it. I think she managed to pack everything except the proverbial kitchen sink. After we enjoyed a long hike on a beach called Inch Strand, she even pulled out a brush to knock the sand off our shoes before we boarded the bus.

I decided not to write a post of ten travel essentials because, quite frankly, you probably already know what they are and no doubt, you have your own ideas about what makes something a “travel essential.” On my own list, I would include money, travel documents, prescription medication, quart-size plastic bag of toiletries, walking shoes, all-weather jacket, minimal clothing in mainly in black, underwear/socks, camera, and cell phone. With just this pared-down list, I think I would be ready to go on any tour, but it’s nice to have some extra items. Little things do mean a lot when you are traveling.

Here are my ten non-essential, non-electronic travel items:

Postcards for sale

via Gail Ingram

1. Travel Pillow- I have a travel pillow filled with buckwheat hulls and covered with a fleece cover that can be removed for washing. Since I sleep on a buckwheat pillow at home, I have just what I need for a good night’s sleep in all those unfamiliar hotel beds. This pillow is great on long plane, train, and bus rides. I can put it around my neck or in the small of my back to make any seat more comfortable.

2. Handkerchiefs-I like to carry a couple of soft, cotton handkerchiefs when I travel. Most Japanese people carry a handkerchief to mop their brows if the weather is hot and to dry their hands since many public toilets do not have paper towels. You can use one to spread on your lap if you are eating a picnic lunch. They are easy to wash at night and they are very eco-friendly. (If you need tissues, you can always get them from your hotel room. Be sure you stuff a few in your pocket before you leave for the day just in case you get stuck in a toilet that does not have what you need.)

3. Travel Towel- I have a medium-sized microfiber travel towel that I use when I go to the gym and when I’m traveling. It’s only the size of a hand towel, but I can use it to quickly dry my hair. I could very well use it on the rest of my body because it does a good job just soaking up the excess water. When you are partially dry, that makes the flimsiest of hotel towels seem rather luxurious. That towel came in handy in some of the Italian hotels I stayed in. Those towels were not made of terrycloth so I felt as if I was drying off with a tablecloth.

4. Bubble Wrap- You can buy bubble wrap or you can use what comes in packages you might receive in the mail. I always recycle my bubble wrap. Bubble wrap comes in handy when you are buying something breakable as a souvenir and it’s too big to fit in your carry-on. It’s also what you need if you buy liquids such as olive oil or balsamic vinegar (my favorite souvenirs from Italy). I’ve been fine wrapping some breakables and liquids in my dirty laundry, but if you have a spare corner in one of your bags, try packing some bubble wrap just in case. You can throw it or give it away if you don’t use it.

5. Cardboard Mailing Tube- My classroom is covered with travel posters I purchased on my tours. They all managed to come home smooth and unwrinkled because I brought along a cardboard tube. You can also use the tubes from paper towels for smaller items. The best souvenirs are often free like some menus, placemats, and other paper items that will remind you of your tour.

6. Plastic Bags- You can cover that one pair of shoes in your suitcase or carry-on with a plastic bag from the grocery store. No need to buy shoe covers. Stash another bag or two inside those shoes and use it to separate some dirty laundry from your clean clothes. If you have a bit more room to spare, roll up some extra Ziploc plastic bags in case you need a new one for your toiletries. When I was in Ireland last summer, I bought several boxes of tea from a local grocery store. I took all of the tea bags out of the boxes, tore off the labels to put in each bag, and crammed the tea in individual Ziploc bags. Those bags went straight from my suitcase to my freezer.

Fruit Bowl

via Gail Ingram

7. A Small Flashlight- I have conducted many bed checks in dark or dimly hotel corridors. On more than one occasion, I was worried if I was knocking on the wrong door because I could not read the room number. On one tour, my group and I stayed in the Hand Hotel in Llangollen, Wales. I love these kinds of charming, older hotels as opposed to the multi-storey, purpose-built hotels now being built all over Europe. Doing bed checks at the Hand Hotel without a flashlight is something I will never do again should I ever return. While I was wandering in the darkened corridors, the hotel’s haunted past made for a pretty creepy experience! Other good uses for a flashlight is being able to make your way around the hotel room if your roommate is fast asleep and being able to read in the dark.

8. Healthy Snacks- In the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Japan, all of the hotels have tea and coffee making facilities. It’s nice to have a hot drink with a granola bar or small bag of nuts after a long day of touring. It’s also nice to have a snack in your bag if you know that you will have a late lunch or plan to skip lunch to do some shopping during the break. Part of the fun of traveling is buying the local snacks in a shop. Whether you pack or buy your snacks, try to go for the healthier ones.

9. Address Labels of Family and Friends for Postcards- There is very little down time on an EF tour, but you can manage to find a minute or two to write a postcard to the folks back home. Even if you return home before the postcards arrive, they are still nice to get in the mail. “Snail mail” is getting scarce these days, which is a shame. Letter-writing is fast becoming a lost art, too. You can certainly let someone know how you feel about them by mailing a postcard while you are traveling. If you are lazy about keeping a travel journal, you could mail a daily postcard home to yourself detailing all of your activities for that day.

10. Family Photographs- You would be surprised how many people you meet while you are traveling who would be interested in looking at your family photos. They are often more than happy to reciprocate by showing you their own photos. You could include photos of your home, school, pets, students, and anything that shows a person from another country a slice of your life. Sharing photos is a universal experience.

Readers, what are your non-essential, non-electronic travel items?

Flickr photo via Annie Mole, [Crewe]
(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.)
Topics: Travel tips

Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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