All the Small Stuff
Do not forget to pack those small things that come in handy on your travels. They will not weigh down your luggage, but definitely will come in handy – when you need to pack up muddy clothes, take out a splinter or open up a soda bottle, read in the dark, plug in your hair dyer or tidy up a child who tossed his cookies in the back seat of a taxi.
Small plastic bottles – Do not bring full -size shampoo or hand lotion bottles. Transfer your shampoo, hair conditioner, hand lotion, liquid face or hand soap into small bottles. Use clear small bottles so you can see how much is in each one (do not start on a trip with a nearly empty shampoo bottle). Label the bottles so you're not confused what's what – conditioner and shampoo can look remarkably alike. Give a small shampoo bottle to each child to carry in his luggage. If one bottle gets left behind, you'll have another.
Ziploc bags – Ziploc freezer bags are indispensable . Buy them in pint, quart and gallon sizes, and use them to organize things in your luggage. Ziploc bags are clear – you can always quickly see what's inside. The quart size is ideal for toothbrush and toothpaste or shampoo, hand lotion, things that could ooze all over when the top is not screwed on tight. Pack swim suits or flip flops in the gallon size – you might have to pack them wet. Put Lego in small bags – helps keep from losing pieces. Zip up journals or sketch books in bags – if your luggage gets damp in transit, things inside will stay dry. Bring extra Ziploc bags for souvenirs – write your kid's names on each bag. Tip: Quart size Ziploc bags are perfect for the current carry-on regulation for toiletries, which must be displayed in a transparent bag.
Wash cloths and soap – Always packs your own small wash clothes and travel size soap. These items come in handy for all sorts of things, and are essential when you check into hotels that do not stock either soap or wash cloths (for example, in London hotels, wash cloths are not a standard item in hotel rooms).
Adaptor plugs – When you travel to other countries, the electrical plugs and voltages are different. In the North America, the voltage is 110 / 120v. For Europe, Asia or South America, the voltage is typically 220 / 230v. Many devices, such as electric razors, hair dyers, personal computers, cell phones, either you can just them in plug in, or they have dual voltage settings, but check for sure before you go. If your device is only single voltage, bring a conversion plug.
Even with dual voltage appliances, you will need adaptor plugs. Sockets and plugs are different around the world.
Travel hair dryer – Some hotels provide hair dryers, but for the most flexibility, bring your own (unless you're one of those lucky ones whose hair looks perfect without blow drying). Your best bet is a lightweight dual voltage dryer, which lets you select either 110v or 220v. And do not forget to set the voltage correctly. Even if you have a dual voltage hair dryer, if it's still set for 110v, and you use it in a 220v socket, your hair dyer will go up in smoke. Do not forget to bring your adaptor plugs too – there's nothing more frustrating than wet hair in the morning because you can not plug in your hair dryer.
Water resistant watch – A waterproof or water resistant watch is very useful while traveling. Wear a watch that can take wear and tear, and has an easy to read dial (for those occasions when you need to wake up early to catch a train or plane). I wear a Swiss Army watch all the time – the watch goes anywhere. Tip: These Swiss Army watches last longer than a leather watchband. You can also order up replacement watchbands from the Web site – the new band will be just like the original.
Binoculars have a variety of uses. They're are not just for sighting lions or leopards in a game park, looking at waterfalls in Yosemite, watching birds on the wing, or spotting gray whales in the Pacific. Take them for standing in line at the Sistine Chapel in Rome – you can look at the ceiling while waiting, or spy on other people in line (vastly amusing). Binoculars are also especially good for Gothic cathedrals and churches in general – focus in on the carvings way high up. Bring along inexpensive, light and portable binoculars, so kids can have their own pair (and it's not a big deal if something happens to them).
Flashlights and headlamps – Take along at least one flashlight, but a flashlight for each family member is not a bad idea. Flashlights come in handy when you're exploring ancient ruins or to keep next to your bed in your hotel room. We always take along "Mini MagLite" flashlights.
For camping, headlamps are a must. These powerful little LED lights light the way, your hands are free, no more struggling in the dark with a flashlight in your teeth. And best of all, you can read in the dark for a long, long time! My favorite, the one I use, is the Petzl Tikka LED headlamp – very elegant, not at all clunky, and it can adjust down to smaller head sizes.
Pocketknife – I always carry a Swiss Army pocketknife while traveling, and it's essential for a camping trip. The "Classic" model has scissors (very handy), tweezers to remove splinters, a nail file (a rough nail drives me nuts), and small blade. The "Picknicker" knife is perfect for picnics – use the opener to open soda bottles or the blade for slicing cheese, peeling carrots or cucumbers. Tip: Be sure to put pocketknives in checked luggage – in your carry-on bags, it will be confiscated at the security check-in.
Combination locks and cable lock – You do not want to worry about your luggage, so get suitcase locks with a combination (keys can get lost). A cable lock is also handy. When you cable together five or six pieces of luggage, no one is likely to run off with your stuff. On one occasion, we could not check into our hotel, the kids were hungry, so we cabled all our bags together and left them in the lobby, while we went off to get a bite to eat.
Laundry bags – It's amazing how quickly the dirty laundry mounts up. When you paw through your clothes, you'll want to tell at a glance what's clean and what's grubby. Smelly underwear and socks should be tucked away in a laundry bag, (unless you want your clean clothes to smell like dirty socks). Laundry bags can be sturdy plastic shopping bags (I often use Gap bags) or buy a nice lightweight cloth bag. Have a laundry bag for each person in the family, then it's easy to grab up everyone's dirty clothes to wash. Tip: Also tuck in some plastic supermarket shopping bags – they come in handy when you have muddy shoes or clothes.
Packable duffle bag – Do not carry more bags than you can manage easily, and do not cram your bags full at the outset. But what to do about all those cool souvenirs you pick up along the way? We always take along a "packable duffle" bag, a mid-size nylon bag that folds up. Somewhere along the trip we expand into this bag to hold all our treasures. Last summer in northern Europe, our expandable duffle was crammed full of goodies for the whole family, fur hats, colorful Russian shawls, chess sets, wooden dolls, painted eggs.
Cotton towels – Take smallish light-weight cotton towels (not bulky hard-to-dry terry cloth towels). Use them for beach towels, picnic cloths, or something to put over a sleeping child. If you have an infant, and need a place to change a diaper, use your towel. A cotton towel is also useful to mop up after a child who has motion sickness on a windy road. Very useful!
Travel umbrella – Unless you're going to the Sahara Desert, bring travel umbrellas (lightweight, fold up small) for everyone in the family. You do not want to get soaked when you least expect it, nor do you want to rush around in the rain looking for umbrellas. I should have taken my own advice when we were caught in a summer downpour our first day in St. Petersburg one summer. I spent some time locating a department store to buy a second umbrella so we could comfortably stroll the Nevsky Prospect.