Travel Planning and Preparation

My Travel Essentials

Travel is fun, and so is collecting useful travel gear/equipment. Of course, needs of each travel and each traveller are different so below is a list of what I consider my travel essentials. As the song goes ‘”these are a few of my favourite things…

Disclaimer: I do not receive any benefit from the products/businesses below unless specifically mentioned.

1. Maps Whether I intend to drive or not, I always download Google Maps for the area(s) I am travelling to. If I’m driving then I also use an app called mapFactor Navigator (as a backup). I consider Google Maps a must have to get directions (driving/walking/public transport), place info, ratings, reviews etc.

mapFactor has free open source maps and paid maps from TomTom. This came really handy in Morocco where Google Maps didn’t have navigation feature (only static directions, no turn-by-turn navigation). The maps are reasonably priced, have free updates, and don’t need a data connection to run. I have used mapFactor in Montenegro as well.

2. Universal Travel Adapter with 4 USB Ports

Like the one in the picture here. Takes in any kind of plug and goes into any kind of plug point, and since most devices nowadays use USB chargers, the 4 USB ports are really useful. I can simultaneously charge my laptop (using the plug point), 3 phones (my daughter’s, wife’s and my own) and a portable charger.

3. 10,000 mAH Portable Charger It is very important to me that my cell phone does not run out of battery. It has all my itinerary info, bookings, e-tickets, maps for directions, and connectivity with my family in case we are in different places. I carry a 10,000 mAH portable charger. It’s about the size of a cell phone and has enough juice to charge most cell phones at least 3 times from 0-100. Plus it has 2 USB out ports so my wife and I can use it at the same time if needed.

4. Travel Insurance from The Wise Traveller I have an annual policy with TWT that provides full travel insurance (that includes medical expenses etc. and not just travel cancellations/delays). It’s like a membership to a traveller’s club that comes with annual travel insurance among other benefits. Why annual insurance from The Wise Traveller?

a. I like buying annual travel insurance because it works out cheaper for the number of times we travel in a year. I get protection from flight cancellations/delay, loss/delay of luggage, unforeseen medical expenses, coverage of CDW deductible if renting a car etc. Additionally, for some visas, there is a requirement to have insurance coverage. On my recent long holiday, I had a luggage delay and medical expenses and was able to claim from my policy.

b. The insurance policy itself is underwritten by Tokio Marine Insurance and managed by Allianz Global Assistance, both well-known names in insurance. I am currently in the middle of a claim and the experience so far has been very positive. I could file my claims online (had to send original docs by mail for the medical claim) and the luggage delay claim was decisioned within 3 business days and paid out into my account within 8 business days.

c. I don’t like the insurance that comes bundled with credit cards. The qualifying conditions are strange/vague. The flight has to be booked entirely using the credit card. So, if I travel overland, or partially pay using my miles, or use a service like PayPal then I am not covered. Too risky. It’s a good additional policy as a backup or as an additional cover in case of death (since there is no limit on the number of policies one’s next of kin can claim from in case of death).

d. The Wise Traveller’s customer service has been excellent so far. Very responsive to email and they provided me special documents when I was applying for my Schengen visa.

e. And the best of all – the lowest price in the market for an annual travel policy. But it’s still best to compare using an aggregator like Go Bear.

5. Maxpedition Falcon-II Backpack Over the years, I have used many backpacks – well-known brands, unbranded, ‘theft-proof’, large, small, shoulder slings etc. I recently stumbled upon ‘tactical’ backpacks. After a bit of research, studying reviews, and a trial-and-error, I finally settled upon my ideal backpack for travel. Why is it ideal?

a. Spacious but not bulky. This 25L capacity backpack has a laptop/hydration pack pocket, a main compartment, a secondary compartment, an upper front pouch and a lower front pouch. Plus a lot of partitions and sub-pockets so that it is easy to segregate what you put in the backpack. Yet, it is not too bulky to carry or fit in under an airline seat, if needed.

b. Sturdy and water resistant. The bag is made of 1050-Denier water & abrasion resistant nylon, and is Teflon coated. What all that means is that the pack is sturdy, and doesn’t get dirty or wet easily.

c. Pockets open fully. All the pockets open almost fully on 3 sides making it easy to put in and take things out. If your raincoat is right at the bottom of the main compartment then just pull the zipper down all the way and pull it out.

d. Modular design. The bag is MOLLE compatible. MOLLE (pronounced Molly) stands for MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment. The Modular part of the design means that you can add pouches, clips, elastic bands etc. to the loops available on the front and side of the pack. Here are some of the uses I found for the modular attachments:

— I carry my family’s passports, boarding cards etc. in a separate pouch that is easily accessible while flying but can be taken off and left at the hotel. With this bag, I can clip it to the front of the shoulder strap using a carabiner and a loop. Secure, easy to access and easy to take off.

— I have attached a sunglasses case and a pouch for my swiss knife on the side (see pic) so I can easily access them when needed and not take up space inside the pack.

— I have attached a pouch for my portable charger and cables (can’t see in the pic; it’s on the other side) so it’s easily accessible and can be plugged into the phone without needing to take them out.

— Couple of small pouches attached to the waist strap (see pic) to keep coins, lip balm, gum, bus tickets etc. when on the move. Saves pocket space and easily accessible.

— I also have a few hooks, clips, elastic bands attached on a few loops that I use to secure things like my hat, gloves (when not wearing), flashlight etc.

e. And it looks so good!

6. Skinners (my kids call them sock-shoes)   I got these on Kickstarter when they were cheaper. Now they are a bit more expensive. They are worn like socks but have a thick sole that make these like flat shoes. As per their website, the body is made of anti-bacterial yarn with pure silver, and the sole is made of anti-abrasive Swedish polymer. I don’t really understand what that means but I have worn these in water, mud, dirt etc. They are easy to carry and easy to wash and can be worn inside the house or outside. They also act as a good non-bulky backup pair.

7. Platypus Hoser 3L Hydration Bladder When we travel, we normally leave our hotel/apartment in the morning and are back only by late evening. Whether it’s a warm-weather holiday or cold weather, staying hydrated is important (I get a migraine otherwise). I have found that, if I am carrying a bottle, the tedium of taking out the bottle, opening it, drinking, closing, and keeping it back, prevents me from drinking as often as I should. So, in the last couple of holidays, I started carrying a hydration bladder inside my backpack. It’s a large 3-litre one so it takes care of the hydration needs for all four of us for a day. Then get back to the apartment, refill, and repeat. A lot of hydration bladders claim to be odour free. I haven’t found any to be so. But this one lost its odour relatively sooner than the others I have tried.

8. Basic Medicines I have a small pouch that I carry in my backpack which always has at least 5 items:

a. Headache medicine – I normally use Naproxen Sodium as I find that most effective for my migraine. Roaming around the whole day is likely to trigger a migraine for me, especially if it’s sunny, or I haven’t been eating or drinking water sufficiently. I take one as soon as I start feeling one coming on to make sure it doesn’t escalate into a full-blown attack that can derail that day’s programme.

b. Pudin Hara – I carry three types of stomach medicine – one called Pudin Hara, which is widely available in India can be ordered online as well. Very effective for the more typical stomach problem of gas/indigestion etc. from overeating.

c. Amritdhara – The other one is an ayurvedic/herbal medicine called Amrutdhara/Amritdhara. It’s a spicy/pungent tasting oil made from 3 primary herbal ingredients that react with each other to become a liquid form. It can be taken straight (a drop or two) or mixed with sugar, or rubbed in the affected area. I find it very effective for slightly more serious stomach ailments, short of diarrhoea. You can read more about it here. It is available to buy online at a few places including indiameds and amazon.

d. Diarrhoea Medicine – The third is loperamide hcl tabs for severe diarrhoea. This is available over the counter at any pharmacy pretty much anywhere in the world under different brand names.

e. Band-aids – The humble band-aid is a must have, especially when travelling with kids because nothing soothes a minor cut/scrape for a child as well as a band-aid with their favourite character on it. Sometimes I think my kids get themselves injured only to get a band-aid.

9. Travel weighing scale

I bought my first travel weighing scale about 5 years ago and since then have never travelled without one. Almost every airline now is very tight about their luggage allowance and if it is anything more than 100/200gms above the allowance then they will likely ask you to repack. The weighing scale will, at minimum, save you time at the airport and could actually end up saving you money as well. I found this especially useful on a recent long travel where different airlines had different weight limits for the checked baggage so the suitcases had to be repacked and weighed every few days.

10. My ‘Car Kit’

I have a small pouch that has 3 critical items that are needed when I’m renting a car – car charger, charging cable and phone holder. I find it convenient to keep it in a separate pouch so that I don’t need to remember every time what to carry. If I’m renting a car then I carry my car kit.

11. When researching where to go, weather at the destination plays a big role. I like to know how hot/cold it will be, amount of rain expected, daylight hours etc. is an ideal place to get all this info. Apart from weather forecasts (useful if travelling within 10-14 days), they have annual averages to help choose which month would be ideal to travel, and monthly snapshots.

12. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife

This is a very useful tool for many reasons but it’s important to remember to pack it in your checked-in baggage (if taking a flight) otherwise it will get confiscated. The tools I have found most useful are the scissors, knife, bottle opener, corkscrew, and sometimes the screwdriver.

These are my favourite travel gear/essentials. Do write to me, or post a comment, if you have any other interesting suggestions. I love to gear up for travel 🙂

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