The first thing to do is buy a guidebook for your destination country. Go to Amazon.ca, pick one out and order it on-line. Lonely Planet, Moon Handbook, Frommerís and Rough Guide are usually good. A guide book will help you find places to stay, places to eat and will help you decide where to go, what to look for and what kinds of things to do. You will find it invaluable and will want to carry it with you every day. We use the guidebook to get a rough idea of what parts of the country we want to see and to plan a tentative itinerary. That is not to say you canít do something else once you arrive and find out what it is like, but a general plan helps to make the most of your travel time.
We always book a place to stay for a night or two at a new destination. Arriving in a foreign country after a long flight is stressful enough. Knowing where you will be staying, helps to reduce the stress and gives you a chance to get oriented. Additionally, most countries now require you to indicate where you will be staying on the immigration card. Look for suitable accommodation in a guidebook or on the internet. On arrival, you only have to find the address or you can hand it to a taxi driver. Many hotels and guesthouses will have someone meet you at the airport if you request it. There will be someone holding up a sign with your (probably misspelled) name on it. Always ask for a business card from your accommodation, when you check in. When it comes time to find your way back, you can show it to people to get directions.
If you do any amount of traveling, we strongly recommend that you apply for a NEXUS card. It costs $50.00 and you have to go to an international airport for a brief interview, but it will more than repay itself in convenience and time saved waiting in line at security checkpoints and immigration queues. Most airports have a NEXUS priority line at security which saves you from winding through the regular interminable line-up. It also allows you to pre-clear immigration to both Canada and the U.S. using automated kiosks at most major ports of entry.
The most valuable piece of advice we can offer is to travel with only carry-on luggage! Once you try it, you will be amazed at the ease and simplicity and you will never want to check a bag again. You will be first in line at customs and out of the airport while others are still waiting for their suitcases to appear. And you NEVER have to worry about losing your luggage! We havenít checked a bag in over ten years. If you canít fit it in a carry-on, leave it at home! Doug Dyment, a Canadian, has created a website which contains a wealth of information about traveling light. http://www.onebag.com/This website also contains an Annotated Packing List, which is an invaluable resource. http://www.onebag.com/packing-list-introduction.html We have created a Pack List by trial-and-error that works well for us. Click on the PACK LIST link above to see the list that we use.
Buy a bag that is designed to fit international carry-on limitations. Length + width + depth = 45 inches will conform to most airlines and is the largest bag you should carry. Smaller is better! A backpack-style of bag with shoulder straps is very useful if you have to walk any distance. Some bags look like a regular suitcase, but have hidden shoulder straps, which allow them to be carried like a backpack. Doug Dymentís website contains an excellent section on choosing a bag.
Make a few colour photocopies of the first page of your passport. Leave one copy with someone at home. Carry other copies in different places than you carry your passport. If you lose your passport, the copy will make replacing it MUCH easier. Your passport is the property of the Government of Canada. You are required to SHOW it to a policeman or other official, but you are NOT required to GIVE it to anyone. Giving an official a photocopy of the first page will usually suffice. Make a list of credit card numbers and the phone numbers to call if they become lost or stolen. Leave a copy of the list with someone at home and carry a couple of copies in different places with you. A good suggestion is to email the list and the copy of your passport to yourself before you go. You can retrieve the message off the email server if you ever need the information.
It is a good idea to have some sort of secure pouch or money belt, which you can wear under your clothes, to carry your passport, some cash, airline tickets etc. It is much safer than carrying these important items in a purse, handbag or wallet. Some prefer a pouch under their shirt, on a string around their neck, but the string is usually visible with most clothing and can be easily snatched by a determined thief. I have a sturdy pouch from Mountain Equipment Co-op that I wear on my belt like a holster. It is very strong, and convenient to access, but is still visible. When I was younger (and and my tummy was flatter) I wore a money belt under my shirt. Now, it wonít stay where my waist used to be, but slides down below my belt. Where I once could undo a shirt button to slip my passport out, I now have to unzip my fly! Not nearly as inconspicuous!
We carry our cash in several different places: some in a wallet, some in a money belt and some in our travel bag. Some people carry emergency cash (US$50) under the insole of a shoe. It is virtually undetectable and if everything else were stolen, you would still have some cash to get organized. We havenít been victims of crime yet, but it is always a possibility. In the past, we used travelerís checks, but they have really gone out of fashion and are now cumbersome and expensive to cash. ATMs are found virtually everywhere now. It doesnít hurt to carry debit cards from more than one bank as an ATM will sometimes refuse one card but accept a different one. If your debit card doesnít work in one ATM, try different ones. VISA or Mastercard will work in nearly every ATM. You can pre-load your credit card by creating a positive balance before leaving home. Then if you need to withdraw money from the card at an ATM, there shouldn't be any interest charges to pay.
Go through your wallet before leaving and remove all cards, documents, etc. that you donít need on the trip. It reduces the work to replace everything, if your wallet is lost or stolen. Never carry a national identifier like a social security card as it will place you at risk of identity theft. If you plan to rent a car, motorbike or scooter, obtain an International Driverís License from CAA. Some countries wonít accept your provincial license and others charge an extra fee for a local permit.
A purse or handbag can be a real nuisance when travelling. It is just one more item to keep track of and it is a magnet to thieves. A better solution is a small packsack that leaves your hands free and is much harder for a thief to yank away from you. A small packsack is also very handy to carry your rain jacket, sweater, guidebook, sunscreen, water bottle etc when you are out for the day. Some people like to wear the packsack on their front in crowded situations to better protect the contents from thieves.
Carry a few Ziploc sandwich bags in your suitcase. Before going through airport security, put loose change, keys, jewellery, glasses, watch, etc. in Ziploc bags and place them in your carry-on bag. Then you donít need to unload and reload everything out of your pockets at the security counter. Leave the Canadian coins in the Ziploc bag until your return, so they donít get mixed up with foreign coins. I put the items I will want during the flight: netbook computer, Kindle, earphones, inflatable neck pillow, eye mask etc. in my small packsack. It qualifies as "one personal item" and easily slips under the seat. Then I rarely have to access my carry-on bag in the overhead bin during the flight.
A really useful item is a LED headlight (like a little flashlight that attaches to your forehead with a strap). It is very helpful when trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night, in a strange house, during a power outage. (Guess how I found this out) Also, useful for reading under the 25 watt bulbs that are standard in many countries, or on a bus or plane.
We put just enough powdered laundry soap in tiny Ziploc bags to wash out socks and underwear in a hotel hand basin. Very little detergent is required to do a sinkful of laundry. Too much will require many rinses. A flat, universal sink stopper is an essential item. There are virtually no sink stoppers to be found in developing countries. I always carry a roll of toilet paper in my day-pack. I remove the cardboard tube to save space and put the roll in a Ziploc bag. Surprising how many times it comes in handy.
Liquids are a problem at airport security and are heavy to carry. Look for alternatives. Try a crystal deodorant stick (available at WalMart). Use tooth powder (or baking soda) instead of toothpaste. Journey's Travel, in Winnipeg, sells tablets for cleaning teeth. You crunch one of the tablets and in your month and then brush. I tried them on my recent trip and they worked great. Several brands of bar shampoo are available (regular hand soap works perfectly well for hair washing). Many other products such as make-up, perfume, insect repellent etc are available in non-liquid form. Go to onebag.com for suggested sources.
SURGICAL LATEX BRAID CLOTHESLINE
This is one of those items so perfectly designed for its purpose that you wonder why we're not issued with them at birth. If you've never seen/used a good travel clothesline, you're in for a treat; it may well change your (travel) life. Get the right type, though ("Flexo-lineģ" is the recommended brand), one made from three strands of surgical latex rubber tubing, braided (not twisted) to form a clothesline, with reliable attachments at the ends. It packs small, stretches l-o-n-g (if you need it to), and holds your damp laundry all by itself (no clothespins needed: you tuck edges of the clothing between strands of the braid, and the latex rubber grips them firmly). Plus, every laundry night, you get to exercise your creativity by discovering the two optimal line attachment locations! Inexpensive carabiners ó you don't need a heavy-duty mountaineering version, the type sold for key rings is fine ó will increase your clothesline's attachment options. Carry some light cord to extend the clothesline reach.
Rolling wet clothes in a towel, and wringing the towel tightly (with clothes inside), is an old traveller's trick to extract water and thus considerably speed the drying process; the towel both absorbs the moisture and protects the fabric from damage due to wringing.
If some item of clothing isn't quite dry when you're ready to depart in the morning, do as they do in the army: put it on anyway. Though it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, you'll be amazed at how quickly it will dry next to a warm body.
Travel stores, such as Journey's travel and others, sell underwear and socks which are easy to hand wash and dry very quickly. These items are fairly expensive, but they are very good quality and also comfortable to wear.
A small viscose towel (or even a piece cut from a larger one) also makes a good washcloth, an item fairly uncommon outside of North America. The Packtowel is available from Cabelaís
A web forum hosted by Travel Gear http://www.walkabouttravelgear.com/tips.htm also contains a wealth of valuable suggestions.