As I write this, we are at T minus 106 and counting.
Yup, that is how many days we have left until Daughter #4, my baby, packs up her bags and heads off for a year in Israel. Having already sent three girls to seminary in the Holy Land, you would think I would be an expert on travel gear and accessories, but with so many innovative products having hit the market since I last did this seven years ago, it seemed like a good idea to start surfing the web and finding the latest and greatest to stuff into her suitcase.
Given that today’s travel realities mean flying with two fifty pound bags instead of three seventy pounders, we are doing our best to stick with the less-is-more philosophy, but there is at least one new item out there that will be added to our seminary packing list: the Travelfresh Sleep Sack. You know that unsettling feeling you get when you find yourself spending the night somewhere and you just can’t vouch for the cleanliness of the sheets you are about to stretch out on? Sleep Sack, a bed liner that is essentially a sleeping bag sewn out of sheets with a handy pillow pocket, is the answer to that problem. While it folds up into a relatively small bundle for travel, it is bed sized when unrolled, giving you the security of knowing that the linen you are sleeping on is fresh and free of things that make you go “ick” in the night.
Spending a year in Israel means there are going to be a lot of hikes and, let’s be realistic, those skimpy little water bottles just won’t cut it when you are going on a lengthy tiyul. Having limited packing space, however, means that creativity is essential; so you can stuff your water bottle full of socks or other small items, or you can go for the Platypus Meta Bottle. Available in both a .75 and a 1.0 liter size, there were three things that caught my eye about the BPA, BPS and phthalate-free Meta: the first was that it was leakproof, because drippy water bottles are so not fun to deal with. The second is that the flexible bottom half of the Meta is squishable, a suitcase friendly feature that really does save space. Finally, if you have ever tried to get a water bottle really clean and failed miserably, you will appreciate the fact that the Meta unscrews from both the top and middle, so your kid de-grunges the bottle in no time at all.
For many of those who are heading to Israel next year, it will be their first time on their own and being completely responsible for themselves, a reality that can create anxiety for both you and your kid. Cross at least one stressful situation off your worry list with the Cube, a Bluetooth tracker with a replaceable battery that works in conjunction with a smartphone and can easily be attached to a keychain, wallet, purse or backpack. If she can’t find her phone, hitting the Cube will ring it, even if the app isn’t currently running. Similarly, if the item that has the Cube tag goes missing, the app can help find it, as long as it is within Bluetooth range (if it is farther away, the app will show its last in-range location.) Of course, if your child, like mine, is going to a school where smartphones are off limits, this one isn’t going to work for you.
When it comes to items that take up more than their fair share of real estate in a suitcase, linens definitely top the list and while vacuum bags do a great job of squishing down airy blankets and pillows into something relatively flat, towels can still be pretty bulky. A whole new generation of microfiber towels have debuted in recent years that are super thin and dry in a flash, making them great for travel but, unfortunately, they typically lack that cozy towel-like texture that we all know and love. Thankfully, with its soft terry loops for just the right amount of heft, the PackTowl Luxe handily absorbs up to five times its weight in water while drying up quickly and without that dreaded musty smell. With its generous 25 by 54 inch length, Pack Towl’s body size was my favorite – long enough for the pool or the beach, but small enough to fold up into a cute little travel pouch for those occasions when you are on the go.
If you are sending a daughter away for the year, it is a pretty safe bet that there will be a blow dryer, flat iron and/or curling wand going with her to prevent those dreaded bad hair days, but just slapping an adapter on the plug of your 110/120V appliance to make it fit into Israeli outlets with their 220/240V current is a recipe for disaster. High voltage gadgets need a converter in addition to an adapter, unless you really like burning out your appliances and rendering them completely and totally useless. Understanding the importance of being able to count on your styling tools no matter where in the world you are, small appliance maker Conair developed a voltage convertor as part of its TravelSmart line that is designed specifically to work with high wattage appliances. Rated up to 1875 watts, Conair suggests using the medium wattage setting for hair straighteners and styling tools and the high setting for blow dryers.
In addition to spending their year broadening their educational and personal horizons, a year in Israel is an unparalleled opportunity for your son or daughter to really get acquainted with the country they have been learning about throughout their lives. While their school will hopefully plan outings for them, they will definitely have some free time and instead of spending it hanging out in Geula or on Ben Yehuda drinking iced coffee, pack some fun in their bag (or send it along later if you can find a friend or relative going to Israel with some room in their suitcase) with Scaventures Jerusalem, a do it yourself tour book/scavenger hunt. Exploring five different sections of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and Machane Yehuda, Scaventures offers in depth walking tours of each area filled with fun facts, detailed directions and full travel preparations, including how long the route is, what to pack and expect along the way and a realistic time estimate of just how long the walk will take. Also included in the book, written by veteran tour guide Tali Kaplinski Tarlow, are maps of each route and a copy of the Scaventures train game, a 90 minute adventure played at Jerusalem’s First Station, an outdoor mall at the site of the city’s original railroad station.
Last but not least, make sure to invest in a giant sized box of super-soft tissues and a really good box of high quality chocolate. But unlike everything else you have bought for the year overseas, don’t pack those items in their suitcases – those are emergency supplies for when you make that trip to the airport. And if by some miracle it turns out you don’t need them, be sure to find me, because I know I certainly will!