I have returned from a 10-day van tour led by Raul where we toured Mexico's famous Copper Canyon. A description of the tour would take much more time and space. I have taken several vacation trips and have learned much from the trips, from my daughter, Megan, and from fellow travelers. I have learned many Do's and Do Not's.
This document describes how I like to travel and I suggest my preferences to you. This paper is for land-based tours. Preparation for airline flights and long distance travel is a much longer paper.
Make up a list of what you intend to bring. This list should include every single item. My list is in several pages. A page for clothing. A page for cosmetics and personal care. And the last is for just things.
Make a list of contacts. This list should include telephone numbers for emergency contacts both for you and for the people you leave behind in case they must reach you.
A list of all of your personal information. Passport number. Visa. Credit card 800 contact telephone numbers (no need to include your account number -- they know who you are).
A list of your medications, doctors, and insurance coverages.
This is a tour. You will carry your own luggage. Maybe not all of the time but often enough. Pack carefully. I carry two back packs and never a suitcase. The smaller pack I use for my electronic equipment. Laptop, cameras, chargers, batteries, memory chips, etc. One change of clothes. I got my pack at Costco in the office supply.
The second pack is more critical. I bought mine at REI. It fits into the airline carry on space requirement box. This pack when properly configured fits into that box. But when it leaves the box, rearranged items make it twice the size.
With my two packs, I can carry one in my hand and have one on my back. I can also arrange my belongings in a manner that places the things I need near the zippers.
My CPAP respirator goes into the large pack with my clothes. This protects it from shock and it is near when I need to retire. If you have similar needs, I suggest that you duplicate your equipment. I have two CPAP units and periodically exchange them at home. Each unit is in its own carrying case with hoses, voltage adapter, etc. I can take either on a trip confidant that I carry working equipment. There are travel units available but mine are small enough that I am happy with just swapping them.
Read the label on your unit. Make sure that it can accept low and high voltages. If you are traveling outside the US, Canada, and Mexico, make sure that you have an acceptable plug adapter. I carry a 16 foot extension cord as in some hotels the only available outlet is in the bathroom.
You need to be conservative here. You are not going to a fashion show. Bring sufficient clothes to wear for the trip. If the trip exceeds 10 days, you may need a laundry. Clothing is critical. Know the climate on your trip. How much of the trip is inside the vehicle? Van or bus? Fair weather or foul? Hot or cold?
I find a "hoody", a scarf, and a pair of light knit gloves to be invaluable. A flannel camp shirt along with an over sweater pretty much covers my cold weather gear. My baseball cap and my REI collapsible hat take care of my head.
Shoes. I have two pair. One is light tennis's or strapped sandals. The other pair is for serious walking. Not hiking boots: walking shoes. High ankles. Composite. and nylon with good tread. And good, warm, cotton socks. My heels blister easily so I always wear two pair on walking days.
There are many not-so-obvious things to bring. I suggest a small pack of Ziplock bags of several sizes. They take up little space and can be used to protect your papers and other things from the damp or just plain wet. Damp and wet are frequent, serious problems. A white kitchen trash bag is good for dirty laundry.
I do not carry an umbrella. I carry a plastic rain poncho in a very small pouch.
I carry a new, small bottle of shampoo in a Ziplock baggy. Same for a bar of soap. I find that the hotel shampoos will often leave my hair gunky. I always carry Immodium and pain-pills. I carry my medications in their own bottles. I have found those pretty snap-section pill cases dump the pills into random collections among my clothes. I did see an interesting multi-colored screw together pill container at Walgreen's this week. For my next trip I shall have two of these. But I shall have copies of the bottle labels.
A small pocket knife and an extra pair of shoe laces do not take much space. I carry a small solar-powered flashlight.
This is up to you. I carry my laptop on the trip but it stays on the bus. I had one broken by the maid service in one hotel. Today there are tablets and other things that are beyond my ken. Take what you want but take nothing that you cannot lose. Copy pictures to extra memory at the end of each day.
Be prepared to take thousands of pictures. You can discard later. For this your camera needs an extra memory chip. You either need multiple batteries or a charger or both. Many cell phones have cameras -- bring the charger. You may not use the phone but you may need an instant picture..
I carry two cameras. The point-and-click cameras pick up dust (even in a camera case) and may randomly lock up. I keep my active camera in a Ziplock baggy and use a new baggy every day. I save the old baggy for other things but the camera always gets fresh.
This is important. Leave on your journey with enough cash in small denominations to cover all trip expenses. This includes meals and tips. It includes items that you purchase along the trip. I never give myself enough money for gifts and everyone back home expects a gift from my exotic trip. 15% to 20% of the tour cost is my estimate of what you need for this.
Remember: small denominations in your (secure) wallet when you start the tour. Your tour guide will not have enough to convert to the local currency nor enough to change large bills to small. If you do not come prepared with this money, you will be at the mercy of the merchants, the banks, the clock. You will be a burden upon those who did come prepared.
Read the fine print on your card contract -- and then never use the card. Credit or debit. This is a tour and not an overseas flight. The rules change. You do not want your cards stolen so if you take any, take only those you would use for an emergency. If you use the card, the merchant has the number and your name. If you use an ATM, the lurker may be waiting to grab your wad -- now or down the street.
Remember that the bank triple dips on foreign purchases. You get a poor exchange rate, you pay a conversion fee and the ATM will cost. Before you leave, call each card that you possess. Tell them where you are going, for how long, and if you will use the card or leave it at home.
I am a poor tipper. I must really remember to tip. Often I forget and then tip when I see others doing so. This is not good. Service people are always poorly paid. In the USA service people are often paid below minimum wage. If you can afford this tour, you can afford to leave tips. On my latest tour, I tipped the waitress on the first evening. Since the meal was included and the guide tipped the waitress, I did not see others tip her. In any case, the next morning I needed to leave the table for a few minutes. When I returned, my meal was delivered hot and ready. A tour mate commented that I must be special to get such treatment.
It takes so little to make someones day a little brighter. In America there are not enough "Thank You's". You can fix this if you try.
There is much to be learned here. Remember that you are fair game for pick pockets -- they are everywhere. They are so good that you may not discover for hours that your wallet has been lifted.
I never carry my wallet. I have a small, flat neck purse with a long strap. The purse itself sits under my clothes but outside my t-shirt if I am wearing three layers. Its bottom edge is just north of my belly button. This makes it very difficult for someone to grab the strap from behind and in one quick motion lift it over my head. Do not even consider a money belt: they can be easily lifted. Paranoid? The stories I could tell.
My (REI) neck purse has several sections. The large bills go in the large inside pocket. There are three pockets on the outside. The lowest has my visa and other cards. The middle has my passport in a Ziplock baggy. The top has a two-day money supply. I carry a small amount of bills in my pocket for soda and maybe lunch. I do not show off my purse but because there is so much in it, I may carefully pull it to the top to take what I need in front of a store merchant and then carefully return it to the lower position.
Back packs. Always zipper to one side. Never the middle. Two reasons. Zipped to the middle makes a weaker bond and may unzip or break under pressure. Two. A thief may walk up from behind, unzip your centered zipper in a single motion, and offer to help you pick your belongings up off of the street.
Never wear expensive jewelry. Never flash large bills. Never lag the tour group. Never walk alone. Never walk in the dark unless with the group. The night has eyes -- so does the day. And they are out there and they are waiting and the woman with the baby carriage that just obstructed the doorway has a partner that you did not see.
Your camera has a strap: use it. Any theft will ruin your day. Preparation and vigilance should replace worry. Enjoy the trip.
Count your change before you walk away from the counter. I carry a high-pitch dog whistle around my neck along with my medical medallion.
The REI store is designed for travelers. The REI store has equipment for the most rugged adventures but also items for the tourist. I have learned a lot from just walking through the store. You can get items from their web site but a store tour can give you much insight.
Secondly, I do not carry the lists I mention above on paper. Computer text files are small. I place my camera chip on my PC and copy the lists to a created folder on the camera chip. I protect the files with a password that my daughter knows. The password is also on a note in my passport Few people (and I hope zero thieves) would ever look on a camera chip for personal text information. Her number is listed as "ICE" on my telephone. The police and rescue people look for ICE numbers in emergencies.
Have a supply of bottled water: buy them as you travel. Check the seals at the counter. Carry a bottle at your side while walking or riding. Go to the washroom before entering the bus.
At the end of the tour all that you have is what you brought, what you bought, and your memories. So:
This is a trip of the lifetime. Enjoy it by starting it well prepared: make sure that Murphy is only a nuisance and not a spoiler.