I received a lot of good advice when I first joined Google. This post is not about that.
This post is about my favorite advice:
- Always pick the dessert in the cup (it’s really the best)
- There’s always more food tomorrow (to defend against too many cup desserts)
- When you travel, always bring a swimsuit
The last one always seems to draw laughs and immediately controversy from my travel heavy friends. Why does a swimsuit get a place in my 10 travel essentials?
The holy trinity
The bare minimum required to function in a foreign country is:
- ATM card (ideally one with no foreign transaction fees)
- Cell phone with international plan
Note that this is also probably the priority order you want: money can get you a new phone or a taxi ride to the embassy. I always appreciate the “wear a Rolex since you can sell it anywhere for cash” but I’m not sure how true those stories are…
My specific implementation of this list is:
- Fidelity Cash Management (debit) + Chase Saphire Reserve and Capital One Venture (credit)
- Passport w/extra pages, Global Entry and ABTC
- iPhone on Project Fi
Some countries, like Japan, require cash, so you’ll want an easy way to get money from an ATM with minimal overhead. The CSR is for food and transit, and the Venture is for all other purchases.
Global Entry and the APEC Business Traveler Card (ABTC) are the secret weapons of any business traveler: skip lines when coming back to the US, as well as when entering certain Asian countries. The $100 for Global Entry and $70 for the ABTC is probably the best money I’ve ever spent, given how many long lines I’ve skipped. There doesn’t appear to be a European equivalent (beyond trying to get dual citizenship).
Fi on an iPhone is a strange combo (and indeed, there are a few quirks, like no MMS messaging), but otherwise, it actually works surprisingly well. Carrier switching seemed to have problems in foreign countries, and the iPhone doesn’t allow for this feature, so problem solved! It’ll also hotspot, so if new friends need connectivity or the conference WiFi is spotty, it’s perfect in a pinch.
Rounding out the top 10
- A nice pen
- Transit cards
- A sleep mask and melatonin
- Nice headphones
- Dopp kit
- A universal power adapter
- A swimsuit
A nice pen
You’ll be filling out a lot of forms, so make sure you’ve got a pen that’s easy to write with and won’t leak after repeated cabin pressure changes. You’ll occasionally get up to the Immigration kiosk and discover that you didn’t fill in the form fully, or be required to kill out something else. It’s time consuming to go back to the back of the line and embarassing to hold the line up while begging for a pen.
I hate carrying cash (coins are even worse!), but unfortunately many public transit systems are cash only. Buying a transit card is a quick and easy solution to that problem. I’ll usually withdraw ~$100 of local currency, and load $20 onto a transit card, so I don’t have to worry about buying the right tickets (destination or line) or holding up the lines. They’re lightweight, so I just keep them in my backpack and swap the correct city into my wallet when I land.
A sleep mask and melatonin
When you’re traveling, you’ll often be stuck trying to sleep in brighter-than-desirable environments, or will be jet lagged to hell. A sleep mask is the first tool, and melatonin is the second if that fails (or you want to be extra certain). I use my recycled Lufthansa first class sleep mask (super opaque, wide band to prevent pinching, soft inside), and 0.3mg of Melatonin taken 30 mins before bed. I really enjoyed reading [More than you ever wanted to know about melataonin](), and it convinced me to give it a try.
More important than these tools is understanding the flight schedule and the timezone you’re landing in. If it’s an overnight flight, consider skipping the meal service and sleeping the whole flight so you’re ready to go when you land. If you’re doing a transpac, try to stay up on the way to Asia and for the next few hours to try and adjust properly to the schedule.
In addition to the brighter-than-desirable environments, you’ll also likely spend time in lounder-than-average environments, so you’ll want some way of blocking out the noise.
I opt for a pair of Audio Technica M50Xs. Good sound at a great price and they fold up so they’re easier to pack. I don’t sleep with headphones so I don’t need in-ear, and I don’t really need a dedicated noise cancelling headphone.
I travel fairly light in terms of toiletries: deoderant, electric toothbrush and toothpaste, chapstick, and pomade and a comb. I have a safety razor at home, and I can’t carry it on (nor do I want to check a bag or scrounge for blades in foreign countries), so I mostly ask for a razor when I check in to a hotel.
Note: always pack your toiletries in your carry-on. You never know when the airline will lose your bag and it’s much nicer to have familiar toiletries when you’ve got to buy a whole new wardrobe. Better yet, never check a bag…
Universal power adapter
I can’t count the number of times I’ve landed in a foreign country without the correct adapter and dongles for my various devices.
Luckily, I’m getting close to USB-C nirvana (my iPhone being the limiting device–here’s hoping that 2019 phones will get rid of Lightning), so my adapter situation is:
- Universal adapter
- Get one with a two-prong US style plug, otherwise it won’t work in Japan
- Ideally get one with USB ports
- Macbook Pro USB-C charger
- Lightning cable
I also used black electrical tape to tape over the insanely bright light attached to the adapter; otherwise, it’s the brightest object in a blacked-out hotel room by far.
Last but not least… I actually use Lululemon shorts as my “swimsuit” since they do dual duty as swimwear and activewear. Go for a run in the morning, a swim in the ocean after, shower the salt out, lay outside to let them dry, and you’re ready to do it again tomorrow.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got everything accessible and ready to go. When you’re running out the door on a last minute trip, if everything isn’t in it’s proper place, it’s likely to be left behind. Ironically, this past trip I forgot my ABTC because I ignored my own advice. Don’t do this!
Pick a bag that’s light enough to carry around, but big enough to keep the essentials above (maybe leave the swimsuit out), and give everything a place. Learn to find everything by feel: when you’re in a hotel room with blackout curtains or reaching deep into the overhead bin, you don’t want to spend an extra few minutes unpacking your entire bag to find something that’s migrated to the bottom because it doesn’t have a place.
Enough about my routine: What are your top 10 travel essentials?