Ten Items for International Travel


People often ask me what I pack when traveling to foreign countries.  Naturally, many things are the same as what I pack when travelling around the US.  I take a lot of camera and computer equipment with me so the remaining space and allowable weight in my luggage is restricted to what I absolutely must have.  Small, lightweight items are preferred and if they replace something else I would have carried anyway, even better.  Here’s my list:


1. Electrical Adapter


Electrical outlets vary a lot from country to country so I always carry an electrical adapter kit that allows me to make the appropriate adapter.  It is made by Wonpro. I make sure that all my electrical items like chargers and computers can handle both 120 and 240 volts so I don’t take anything to convert voltage.  I also take a tri-cube outlet, a small cube with 3 standard American outlets, that I can plug into the adapter to give me 3 outlets to use instead of one.


2. Hygiene / Medical Kit


My shaving kit carries far more remedies than I would need to carry closer to home.  That’s because it’s hard to find many of the items or brands outside of the US.  I try to be ready for any medical problem to minimize the need for foreign care or medicine.  For example, I pack both Ciprofloxacin and Azithromycin antibiotics to cover most food borne and airborne infections.  I also pack antiseptics, itch relief, sunburn relief, antihistamines, decongestants, expectorants, sleep aids, motion sickness drugs, rehydrating salts and pain medicines in addition to my normal daily vitamins and prescriptions.  I pack tweezers, nail clippers and folding scissors along with a sewing kit too. 


3. Locks


All of my luggage is locked with TSA approved combination padlocks.  This includes both checked and hand carried luggage.  This does not eliminate the possibility of theft but it greatly reduces it.  Most thieves are looking for an easy score such as an unlocked bag.  My bags stay locked when they are in transit, in storage and even in my hotel room if I am not there.  I also carry a cable lock with me just in case I need to lock all my luggage together.  It’s much harder to steal 3 or 4 bags at once.  This is reserved for very basic accommodations that I feel are not otherwise secure such as tents or guest houses.


4. Travel Wallet


When traveling outside the US, I always replace my wallet with a travel wallet.  It is much smaller and easier to keep in my front pocket where it is safer.  It still holds ID, money and credit cards but it’s only ½ inch thick.  Brookstone has an excellent selection of travel wallets, especially in their airport stores.


5. Clocks and watches


I always travel with an old Timex watch and I don’t wear any jewelry other than my wedding ring.  Expensive jewelry and watches attract unwanted attention.  My cameras attract enough attention but thieves prefer things that are easier to sell.  I also pack an ultra small alarm clock with backlighting.  I can’t always count on a wake up call for my early morning photo shoot.


6. Light


I always take a very small but powerful flashlight.  Surefire makes the flashlights that many military and police units use and they make some very small ones that can emit a very bright beam.  I usually take a head light too.  A head light is very handy when my hands are full of camera equipment.


7. GSM Phone


I carry a small unlocked GSM phone with me.  The GSM standard is used more than CDMA so I can generally buy a prepaid SIM card to use the phone on a local network for each country.  Calls on local networks tend to be much less expensive than a world phone brought from home and my inexpensive phone doesn’t attract unwanted attention like an iPhone would.


8. Money


You always take money with you but when you travel outside the US you need to think about which currencies will be accepted.  US dollars are almost always accepted or easily converted into local currencies so I usually take enough clean $100 bills to make sure I’m covered.  Many places will not accepted worn, marked or torn currency so I always go to the bank before each trip and buy the cleanest looking bills I can find.  In some places $100 bills get a better exchange rate than smaller bills so I take mostly $100’s.  I have stopped taking travelers checks because they are not accepted everywhere and often carry a less favorable exchange rate.  If I have local currency left over from a previous trip, I take that as well.


9. Credit and debit cards


Credit cards are not as widely accepted in many countries as they are here.  Places that do take credit cards may only take Visa so I make sure one of my cards is a Visa card.  I take other credit cards with me but I do not carry all of them in my pocket.  At least one credit card will be left in a safe or locked luggage so I have something to fall back on if needed.  Debit cards that utilize international ATM networks such as Plus or Cirrus are the most useful because ATMs are available almost everywhere now.  In fact, this is my preferred way of getting local currency.  When I arrive at an airport, one of the first things I do is get several hundred dollars worth of local currency from an ATM.  This allows me to save my US dollars for places where I cannot get local currency and credit cards are not accepted.


10. ID


When I travel to other countries, naturally I must take my passport but there are other items of ID I must consider.  In some countries a visa is required so I always check out the process for getting one.  If I can get it online, I will.  If I can get one on arrival in the country, that is my next choice.  Finally, if I have to get visa in my passport before I leave the US, I must allot the time necessary to send my passport to an embassy or travel document service company for processing.  This can take weeks so I can’t wait until the last minute to do it.  When traveling to countries that allow visas on arrival, I carry passport photos and my international vaccination certification with me in case I need them to get the visa.  I also carry laminated copies of my passport identification page in my wallet and in my luggage so I don’t have to carry my passport on me all the time.   The ID on my luggage is always covered.  This prevents wandering eyes from identifying ‘American’ luggage - a more desirable target of thieves.


The items on this list are based on years of travel experience and are included to enhance the safety and enjoyment of the travel experience.  They are not always needed but I always keep them in my bag – just in case.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


     Roger Nelson