As some of you may know, we’re currently in Laos. For those of you who didn’t know, we’re in Laos! We’re in the beautiful capital city of Vientiane. Here’s a map for some geographical context:
We’ve been here about a week so far, and plan to be here a few more days. I totally love it here, but I’ll save all my gushing for another post.
The other day, our friend saw our hotel room, and he was teasing us about how it looks like we’re quite settled in, because our stuff is absolutely everywhere. I assured him with an oft-heard Heather Page refrain: “don’t worry, I have a system”. But the thing is, I totally *do* have a system. And a few months into this work/travel lifestyle, it’s gotten pretty darn good.
So, with the aim of sharing my knowledge and experience with others, here’s a run down of the tools and habits/systems that we swear by in order to cut the stress out of travelling:
- Agoda.com – this is the site of choice for booking accommodations when travelling in South East Asia. There are tons of listings for hostels and hotels, and they usually have really good flash deals/discounts
- GoogleMaps – Probably the most important tool that we use. Kevin has an Android phone, so he’s able to pre-load maps. How? He views the whole geographical area on the map, and then types “ok maps” into the search bar, and clicks “enter”. This downloads the whole map onto his phone, so he can access it without wifi, allowing us to navigate with only his GPS. Pretty darn convenient. You can also star locations on googlemaps (on the phone or in your browser), and it will remember them.
- TripAdvisor – Y’all already know that I’m crazy about Trip Advisor. Before we head to a new destination, I’ll go through the top 30 listings or so, and look at locations near our hotel. From there, I’ll make a list of places we’re checking out.
- Wikitravel: a real-life travel guide to cities written by fellow travelers. This advice on this site tends to be realistic, honest, and super practical. Some articles are better than others, but Wikitravel is a great, simple resource for answering questions about cell phone service, neighbourhood dynamics, and transit.
The most important thing, that I cannot stress enough, is that for Kevin and I, travelling has become a serious team effort. We both do research that we share with each other, and we each execute different parts of our systems. A lot of our strategies are things that one of us learned or came up with separately, and then brought to our collective system of travel survival. Anyways, here are some things we do to keep ourselves in order.
- Cash: When we travel, always make sure we have at least a bit of cash. That way, we can exchange a bit of it in the airport and enter a country prepared.
- SIM Cards: One of the first things we do is purchase new SIM cards, get them into our phones, and then save each other’s new phone numbers. This is a big one for safety and convenience
- Bring a pen: This is simple but super useful. When flying into a new country, you have to fill out paperwork. They’ll give you this paperwork on the plane, but they rarely have writing utensils. If you don’t have a pen, you either have to borrow a pen from a neighbour, of you have to wait until you get to the airport and use the pens there. By bringing a pen, you save yourself a ton of time going through Passport Control/Customers. Essentially, be prepared and get to the front of the line.
- Know what you’re doing and where you’re going: Don’t wander out of the airport looking lost or confused. Know where you need to go, and have studied a map well enough to know what direction it’s in. This isn’t the most important thing of all time, but it’s a good rule of thumb for keeping safe and not getting ripped off.
Packing our suitcase
- Packing clothes: I usually end up packing a variety of clothes, many of which I’m conscious of wrinkling (unless, of course, I just leave all of Kevin’s dress shirts in our closet, in which case wrinkling is the least of our worries). The best strategy I’ve followed so far is to just roll things up: dress pants, dress, shirts, etc.
- Packing non-clothing items: It’s all about Ziploc bags. I can never have enough Ziploc bags: the medium and large sizes. Somehow when I was packing to come to Asia, I brought 6 or 7 bags, and I am SO grateful that I did. I use them for all of my non-clothing packing needs. It’s a great way to keep the suitcase clean while also keeping things organized, and knowing where things are. On top of that, it makes re-packing that much easier when getting ready to leave. Combined with my 2 makeup bags, it’s my best system yet:
- Makeup bag: larger products that will mostly be used only by me, like large makeup stuff, hair products, bobby pins/elastics (in their own smaller bag, of course), contact lens solution. Toothpaste and toothbrushes usually go in here as well.
- Medium Size Ziploc Bag: Anything remotely medicinal. This includes Advil, bug repellant, Tiger Balm, polysporin, band-aids, medical tape, cough drops, Imodium, among other things
- Large Ziploc Bag: Things Kevin uses. This includes his infamous hair wax, baby powder, nail clippers, a comb, asthma puffers, and anything else he might look for over the course of a trip.
- Other Larage Ziplock Bag: this one rarely has much in it. I usually keep 1 additional bag available while I’m packing. As I wrap up, I sometimes notice a few random items that I’ve forgotten, and I’ll toss these in the bag. The purpose here is to pack small things without losing them in the process. By tossing small but necessary random items into a bag, they become less lose-able.
- Okay. We packed the suitcase, made it swiftly through the airport, and arrived at the hotel. What’s next? Some preparatory unpacking
- Step 1: Sit the suitcase on something (a suitcase holder, or a bench, a chair, anything will do) and open it up
- Step 2: Take out the dress shirts and pants, unroll them, and hang them up. Most hotels have at least 3 hangers. If they don’t, go ask the front desk for hangers. 3 is always enough to layer all Kevin’s shirts and pants in the closet, to avoid wrinkling. If there’s an extra couple of hangers for my dresses, that’s a bonus.
- Step 3: Release the bags! I open the bags and move all related items to the right place. My makeup bag goes straight for the bathroom, along with half the stuff in the “Kevin” bag. The other bags sit in the suitcase, piled beside stacks of shirts and pants. All shoes are removed and placed near the entryway.
- Check the bed sheets and mattress for bed bugs. Not sure of strategy here. This is a Kevin-led process
- Make sure the air conditioner works. You can also open the air conditioner and clean out/dust off the filter for max A/C. Again, not sure of strategy.
- Get your electronic chargers out and ready, so they’re already there when you need them. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to charge your phone because you were in a foreign space. If you need an adapter and don’t have one, sort that out right away. Ask the front desk, as they usually have spares, and if they don’t, they can point you to the nearest convenience store to pick one up.
- Check the WiFi and make sure it works. If it doesn’t, start figuring out where the nearest good WiFi spot will be. Pre-travel research is super helpful in this case.
- Keep photo copies of your passport with you. If you have a travel visa, get a copy of that as well.
- Don’t let the front desk keep your passport. When you check in, they’ll want to take a copy of your passport. From my experience, this is usually non-negotiable, though sometimes they’ll accept a drivers license. If they ask to just keep it and give it back to you later, insist that they instead make a copy right away. Make it clear that you don’t mind waiting, and you won’t leave without it.
- Be mindful of the weight of your bag, and repack as needed. This is especially important if you’re travelling with a non-rolling suitcase and/or going somewhere that rolling isn’t always an option. We always travel with backpacks, which we use to carry heavier items.
- Be patient with each other. Travelling is stressful. Be forgiving and be willing to help the other person, because in the long run it will make everyone’s travel experience better.
That’s all I can think of for now. Did I miss anything? Have questions? What other strategies do y’all follow? Comment away!
Also, here are some photos of our packing strategy in action: