Saturday, February 7, 2009

Travel: What to take, what to leave at home, and other weighty decisions

#9 in travel series

See the following websites mentioned in last week's post for current and helpful

If you have special needs

I've traveled by air recently along with my crutches and wheelchair, so we have used special mobility services and appreciated them. Airlines are very helpful if you have special mobility needs. Some have contracted those services to outside firms, and if you’re assisted by one of their employees, tips are appreciated (and probably expected). Other airlines continue to offer wheelchairs and escorts as part of their regular service. If you do need assistance with mobility, be sure to call in advance so the airline can be prepared to meet your needs. You can request a cart or wheelchair online, as long as you can give them 48 hours notice.

Also contact your airline about special medical devices such as CPAP machines and diabetic supplies. For passengers who need supplemental oxygen, ascertain what the airline provides. If you travel with your own wheelchair, the airline will provide specific requirements that determine whether you must check it at the gate or whether it will fit in the plane's cabin.

Be sure to ask how these items will be screened at security, and when you reach security, tell the agent you are carrying them in your bag. Remember that when your carry-ons are searched by hand, you must stand back from the table or not touch any of your possessions, no matter how tempting it might be to help the agent. You can explain questionable items to them but remember to keep your hands to yourself. Otherwise, your helpful gesture could be construed as a threat, and . . . well, let's just not go there. Suffice it to say, missing your flight would be the least of your worries.

What to Leave Behind
The list: Make a permanent packing list and use it every time you travel. The more you use this list, the more relaxed you will be when you leave home. One excellent way to determine what you'll really need on a trip is to make a list of what you actually used on a previous trip. Do this as you unpack. It will help you to analyze, in black and white, what you need and what you don't really need. If you're a "kitchen-sink (everything but) traveler," the way I used to be, this will help you to make logical decisions, instead of relying on emotional decisions when you pack.

It’s a good idea to empty your wallet of anything you don’t need such as library cards, grocery discount cards, etc. If you should lose your wallet, you wouldn’t have to replace everything you usually carry in it at home. And photocopy all credit cards, your license, passport, visa, etc. and put the photocopies in a different place than the originals. Having the photocopies copies will greatly expedite their replacement. Write down the phone numbers of the credit card companies and other emergency numbers on a small card and laminate it. Again, place this card in another spot than your wallet.

In an earlier column(March 20, 2008, I mentioned the state-issued picture identification cards which you can obtain through your state's Drivers License Department. I travel with my state ID card and leave my driver’s license at home. If I were to lose my license, it would be much more difficult to replace than the state ID card. it's a good idea to obtain state ID cards for all family members. And unless I know I’ll be using it, I leave my temple recommend safely at home.

Handy Items to Bring
It’s a good idea to keep address labels in your wallet. If you want to add more luggage tags to your bags when you check in, simply peel off a label and stick it on the airline’s paper tag. It’s usually more readable than your hurried handwriting. And if you buy something that you want to mail home, the label is perfect for that purpose as well.

I always pack my own small travel battery-operated alarm clock. I know how to set it, and I often can’t figure out the settings on hotel alarm clocks. Just be sure to adjust the clock for any change in time zones.

About digital cameras
Memory cards are going down in price, so pick up a few extra if you plan to take many pictures. Don't forget a small battery charger and extra rechargeable batteries.
Empty 35mm film canisters (remember the days of film?) are great for holding jewelry, as well as quarters for vending machines or coin-operated washers and dryers. If you have room in your bag, measure some laundry soap into zip-top plastic bags, and, just to be safe, double-bag them. Laundry soap is expensive to purchase in coin-operated laundromats, and you’ll need all your quarters for the washers and dryers anyway.

Have you ever heard announcements over the PA system for travelers to come back to security and claim items such as cell phones, etc.? I certainly have. Read the security sections in the websites mentioned at the beginning of this article for the best way to identify them. Again, be sure to tuck some kind of ID into your bag. A business card works well, as long as it's your business card. Something larger, such as a full-size bright piece of paper with your name, address and phone number written on it, can simply be the last item you slip in before you close your bag. It will be the first thing someone sees when they're trying to identify the owner. Your bag will be found and returned to you sooner if it's easy to identify.

If it's lost or delayed and you have to file a claim for your missing suitcase, the airline will want you to describe the bag and its contents. "Well, let me see, it's kind of black with wheels, and it has clothes and shoes and . . .” There's not usually much inside or out that distinguishes one bag from another, unless you make sure to include it. Try to put unique tags (several) as well as something bright and distinctive (i.e. luggage strap, yarn pom-pom, etc.) on the outside of your bag, but realize that it could be torn off in handling. It's happened to us. We use brightly striped straps, sometimes more than one, to make our bags stand out from others.

Tag it!
I visited our local pet store and used their automated machine to print small metal pet tags with our name, address and phone number and attached one to my camera strap. These little tags and the rings that come with them are quite sturdy, so consider the many ways you might use them.

Most cell phones have small recessed hooks where decorative chains can be attached; consider slipping a small pet tag there. Call your cell phone company and ask how they suggest you identify your phone, and and how they would recommend you list emergency contact phone numbers in your cell phone's directory. Remember to bring a car/and or wall charger for your cell phone.

Stick address labels or business cards inside small cases (i.e. for glasses or sunglasses) if you don't want to be obvious and label the outsides. We've wondered how many sets of bifocals have piled up at the Amsterdam International Airport since my husband's were left there . . . And another trick: use colors that stand out when you buy eyeglass cases, camera bags, etc. You're less likely to overlook them when you exit a plane or check out of your hotel room. Some experienced travelers suggest that bright colors could be more obvious targets for thieves, so that's something to consider, too. Another wise idea is to travel with inexpensive sunglasses.

I have considered ordering a personalized "Going to Visit Grandma" bag for my granddaughter that has her name embroidered on it, but that could also pose a safety risk. Check with your local child-safety police officer about the wisdom of having a child's name in a highly visible place. If the kids are just piling into the family car for their visit, that's one thing. If they're in a public airport, bus or train station, that's an entirely different security consideration.

Weighty Decisions
It's always a good idea to weigh the bags you plan to check at home, before you leave for the airport. There are usually different weight allowances for domestic vs. international flights. Most airlines will allow you to check heavier bags, but will charge extra for them.

Next week: Everything in one (pink) backpack!

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