Editor’s note: Many of you know Marci Madsen Fuller, the former event organizer of the popular Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Marci has always been an avid traveler and she used to maintain a website called BirdBound. Ever since I saw this list on Marci’s website, I refer to it in the last panic-stricken moments before every major bird trip. It gives me peace of mind. We republish it here, with her permission.
PACK LIGHT / CARRY-ON ONLY
Pack light! Pack light! Pack light!
Reasons for this: You’ll walk more with your luggage than you ever expect—even on a tour. Also, carry-on allows flight flexibility—you can standby for the earlier flight that cuts short that long layover (not allowed with checked bags). Plus, avoiding checked baggage charges. Bonus: A liberating vacation from our daily burden of possessions—distill to essentials!
So! One carry-on size suitcase and one daypack per person. Buy the right suitcase (see Equipment). Lay out everything you think you need and take away a third. Strive for carry-on only. Don’t make excuses—there are a few situations where this is not possible, but most of the time it is.
The System: Suitcase-shoes, clothes. Daypack-optics, documents, meds, airplane needs.
The Technique: To actually pack the suitcase, roll most items, placing in one at a time and fitting to the spaces. Don’t fold, stack, and try to place entire pile in as a unit. Tuck socks and undies into shoes. Put raingear in first, sleeping attire on top. Larger items in first, centered, and smaller items rolled along edges. You’ll be amazed how much you can fit in. Keep reading for tips on choices…
Start wardrobe planning with shoes (I can’t say enough about footwear importance). 2 pairs plus flip flops or crushable sandals:
First pair – good quality waterproof walking/hiking. Wear this heaviest, bulkiest pair on the airplane (yes, it’ll take an extra minute in the security line).
Second pair – back-up that can be used to give feet a rest from first pair and when first pair get wet or muddy. Still need to be able to walk around London all day in this pair. There are some good packable options out there. Lastly – flip flops or sandals for pool-side, dirty showers, beach wear, around hotel. Water shoes or Teva types good option here too.
NEVER take new shoes on a trip. If you buy something – do it at least a couple weeks in advance and wear them a lot before departure.
Stay with a two-color system, with an accent color for variety. Black and white with yellow or red. Khaki and navy with red. Green and brown with gold. Make sure all tops go with all bottoms for maximum combinations out of minimal pieces. Look for reversible and convertible pieces—ie. zip-off pants and reversible knit cold weather layer in two colors. Choose a good quality rain parka with hood and drawstrings for outermost layer. No jeans – they pack thick and don’t dry readily. Scrutinize each piece for usefulness and packability.
Plan on buying local attire—a Mayan blouse, a Hawaiian shirt, a sari—and feel locale-connected. And plan on washing, especially socks and undies, along the way. Or another good strategy—bring items that are on a one-way trip and just leave them behind. Often someone in your host country will be glad to get them (or undies that needed discarding anyway) and then room for souvenir purchases magically appears!
Layers are the key for dealing with weather variations, rather than carrying a big thick coat (unless taking an Antarctic or more extreme trip). Start with warm weather layer and work outward: t-shirt or tank top first, then short-sleeved shirt and/or long-sleeved shirt, then warm layer (fleece, hoodie, reversible sweater, etc.), then rain jacket. Don’t start with a turtleneck (again, unless in a more extreme trip) because it’s hard to take off later in day when it warms up.
Pack for the best possible conditions, not the worst. Hold every piece in your hands, and ask yourself not will you wear it, but will you wear it enough.
*See notes in PACKING LIST for more tips…
__cash – small bills best, make sure they are clean of marks and tears
__credit cards – two types, in case one doesn’t ‘go through’
__travelers checks – optional, use as emergency funds and to convert
__drivers license – and International Drivers Permit if country requires (AAA issues)
__airline tickets, itinerary, hotel and rental car documents/information
__immunization records – if required, check carefully
__photocopies of above – trimmed and kept in separate place
__addresses/phones/email/emergency contacts/embassies – both home/abroad
__guidebook/maps (cut out appropriate sections only, trim)
__novel/journal/ebook reader, like Kindle (can hold guidebooks, too)/magazines
__luggage tags/TSA locks
__pouch or case/safety chain/raincover /lens paper or cleaning pen
__bird book, destination checklists and where-to-go information
__scope/tripod – optional
__pens, pencil, notepad
__antibacterial wet wipes, singles pack
__baggies – few large, few small, myriad uses
__bungee and/or rubber bands and/or paper clips and/or bit of duct tape
__thin nylon cord for clothesline
__alarm clock – travel style
__watch – cheap, w/ new battery or windup type
__compass – small, zipper clip-on type
__water bottle – empty, until through security
__plastic fork/spoon/can opener (may get confiscated)
__flashlight – small, or penlight
__nylon or net bag – flattens to almost nothing, for souvenirs, dirty clothes, etc.
__sewing kit – optional, without scissors
__deck of cards, travel games
__cell phone/charger – check roaming charges
__netbook/charger – optional
__flash drive or small hard drive device (for digital pic storage, etc.)
__MP3 music/birdsong system (can be on smart phone) / earplugs
__GPS, Navigation aid (Garmin type or smart phone)
__outlet adapter/voltage,current converter (ck for country visiting)
PERSONAL NEEDS, CLOTHING
__toiletry case – thin, waterproof
__3.4 ounce bottles in 1 quart clear baggie for toiletries (1 baggie/per person)
__soap – liquid works well
__first aid kit – small, combo of:
__insect repellent – no aerosols, look for stick type
__Kleenex – couple travel packs, handy for toilet paper at destination
__nail clipper/file (optional, can get confiscated)
__shaving needs, vaseline
__for women: feminine items/pocket mirror/lotion/hair clips or bands
__make up – minimal
__jewelry – minimal and not irreplaceable
__eye needs: contacts, solution/reading glasses/sunglasses/case
__raincoat – parka style with hood
__rain pants – thin nylon
__hat – crushable
__swimsuit – men can use zip-off pants
(tankini type works well for women – top can be worn alone)
__sarong, thin rayon-type – many uses (cover up, skirt, blanket, shawl)
__scarf/bandanna – many uses
__shoes – 2-3 pairs
__pants – 1 pair chinos (for airplane), 2 pairs cargo or zip-offs
__shorts – optional/use zip-offs
__skirts – 1-2, depending on preference, good for airplane
__t-shirts – 2-3
__shirts – 2-3 long sleeve, 2-3 short sleeve
__sweater/warm layer – choose carefully – make sure thin and packable
__socks, undies – 4-6 pairs/bra – 2
KID STUFF (limit to what child can carry in own daypack):
__small toys/games/playing cards
__handheld game device/charger or batteries
__small sketchpad/colored pencils/little sharpener
__Beanie Baby friend (not irreplaceable)
__small ball or nylon fabric frisbee