As in so many other instances, the words you are about to read were sparked by something that took place over the last few weeks; in this case, it was me joining my better half on a business trip to Las Vegas. I could spend the next 1200 words telling you how entertaining it was to spend three days in a place where hotels have wedding chapels, an amenity I have never once encountered anywhere before, and where the hotel room had a corkscrew and a bottle opener in place of the usual coffeemaker. I could share how fascinating it was to stay in a hotel with guests for both the Wrangler National Rodeo Federation and an Indian tribal conference, drawing a variety of interesting people wearing all sorts of unusual attire.
But I will spare you those details and, instead, give you my thoughts on those don’t-leave-home-without-it articles, the things to stash in your suitcase no matter where you fly, because you just never know when you might need them.
First and foremost, it pays to spend two minutes doing your homework before you even start packing – one of the benefits of living in today’s fast paced age of information is checking the weather forecast for a relatively decent idea of what kind of clothing and gear you are actually going to need. Years and years ago I made the mistake of going to Miami in January with two little kids, figuring that warm weather meant that they just wouldn’t need coats, as it happened, the weather was in the high 80s, and they were way overdressed in corduroy. Go online or put a weather app on your smartphone so that you can get a general overview of what you can expect at your destination and pack accordingly.
If you are staying in a hotel, make sure you pack slippers. I try very hard not to think about who might have stayed in that room before me, or what kind of gross and icky substances could be embedded in the floor even after housekeeping has given it the once over with a vacuum. I promise you, I am not one of those people who panics over germs, is bothered by bugs or anything like that, but the thought of standing in my bare feet on a floor that could be housing all kinds of mysterious bacteria or other unappealing gunk is more than a little disturbing, so no matter how much room they take up, there is always a pair of slippers in my bag.
You will probably all laugh at me, but number one on my packing list is an extension cord. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have stayed in hotel rooms where the outlets were few and far between, a problem for someone who never travels without a laptop, an iPad, an iPhone and a backup power supply and who has nightmares about traveling without any charging cables. Being faced with an insufficient number of outlets leaves you faced with the choice of “hmm… whose phone gets plugged in and whose doesn’t?” a surefire way to diminish the fun of any vacation. My extension cord has been a lifesaver in many an airport, giving me the ability to get work done even when I am not right next to an electrical outlet, although I should warn you that it pays to check in advance if a regular cord will meet your needs or if you need one that can accommodate three pronged plugs, a lesson I learned the hard way a few years back. If you are traveling to any foreign countries, make sure you have any voltage converters and plug adapters you might need, and for those of you wondering why my laptop comes with me on vacation, that is an excellent question and when I come up with a good answer, I will let you know.
No matter where you are going and how much kosher food is available at your destination, it still makes sense to take some basics with you, with an eye towards things that are non-perishable, compact, filling and easy to throw in your pocket or bag. Around here we take a few single serving sized peanut butters, whole wheat crackers, granola bars, nuts and instant oatmeal packets because you never know when you might need a quick breakfast, a grab and go snack, or something to tide you over while waiting at the airport for a delayed flight. Round out your stash with an assortment of plastic silverware, a few small disposable plates and bowls, Ziploc bags in a couple of sizes, a small can opener and an average sized insulated bag which takes up virtually no space in your suitcase when folded up, but can make all the difference in the world when you are venturing out and want to pack up a meal to go.
And then there are those small items that you may or may not need, but can be a lifesaver when you are far away from home. A pocket-sized package of tissues, because you never know when you might need them. A small collection of commonly used medicines, like Tylenol and/or ibuprofen, something to soothe upset stomachs, Benadryl for the allergic among us, or whatever you or your family members use most because you don’t want to have to start running around trying to find what you need in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar city should the need arise. It might seem silly, but it definitely pays to throw a few plastic shopping bags into your suitcase, they are infinitely useful and take up zero space. In addition to using them for dirty laundry, to corral trash in your car or to carry stuff when you head out, I squashed my down jacket into one, wrapping it up tightly so that it took up a minimal amount of space during our trip, using another to flatten a pair of soft sided sneakers into a neat little bundle when we were packing up to head home.
A poll of my Facebook friends came up with some other travel faves. High quality coffee topped the list, with Wendy Levinson of Riverdale packing Starbucks VIA coffee singles, Marsha Motzen of Englewood keeping a mug, non-perishable creamer and all of the makings for drip coffee in her bag and Leah Zagelbaum of Brooklyn taking disposable coffee brewing bags and a collapsible, dual voltage electric kettle in her carry-on. Also making the list were Motzen’s folding Israeli travel Shabbos lamp and a Hot Logic Personal Oven, a small-insulated bag that can heat up food in foil, glass or plastic containers, that Zagelbaum takes everywhere. Take a cue from my always-prepared sister-in-law who never travels without a spare pair of glasses because you don’t want to be 3,000 miles from home and have your glasses break or disappear. Contact lens wearers bring along an extra pair if you have them, for the same reason and if by any chance you forgot to bring a lens case with you, know that plastic caps from 16.9 ounce water bottle make great substitutes (and yes, that is the voice of experience speaking.)
Of course, the most important part of any list, especially one like this, isn’t making it – it is having it readily available for when you need it. So make your list, take a picture of it on your smartphone and maybe email yourself that photo for safekeeping and then tuck it inside your suitcase. That way, when your next trip rolls around, you will be ready to hit the ground running and, hopefully be prepared for just about any eventuality.