Traveling Tips PDF Print E-mail

So you have your trip planned, tickets bought, booster shots and a whole bunch of questions about what to take and how you will get it all there.  I hope my tips will help you sort out some details.  Even though my tips are from the mission trip perspective, I believe they will also help the vacation traveler.


Most people take too much stuff.  I have been on a quest, whether it is a vacation or on a mission trip, to travel lighter.  We should be able to go anywhere up to a month with one medium size piece of luggage (luggage that meets the airlines carry-on criteria) and a small personal item size bag.  These two bags should carry everything we need for our personal needs; all of our clothes, camera, toiletries, etc.  If you pack all of your personal gear in these two bags then there is no worry about lost luggage.

I try to travel with one carry-on piece of luggage, a backpack with dimensions adding up to 45 inches  (W+H+L=45 inches) and a small shoulder bag.  On mission trips to third world countries like Haiti, I usually carry one larger checked bag with supplies and materials but try to come back with my one carry-on and one personal size bag.  I only put in the checked bag items I can live without.

Most people think they have to pack for every possible situation.  In reality we can adapt or use what we have if we get a little creative.  You can usually purchase items that you may need or borrow from a traveling buddy.

How many times are you willing to wear something before you wash it?  I guess it depends on how much of a ‘clean freak’ you may be as to how many times you feel comfortable wearing a pair of pants.  It also depends on the type of trip, the climate and the type of activities.  Without getting too personal (second thought maybe I am), I am not going to wear underwear and socks more than a day if at all possible.  I am willing to put a few days of sweat and dirt on pants and shirts.  One quick hint: On mission trips, I take a pair of light pants that I wear around where I am staying.  As soon as I come in for the day, I change and let my day clothes ‘air-out’.

Another way to limit the number of clothes you pack is to wash (hand wash if necessary).  Wal-Mart sells travel packets of detergent just for travel in the bins where you purchase travel size toiletries.

A great website about traveling light is where you can explore this subject further. 

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The type of clothes depends on the climate and your planned activities.  Most mission trips seem to be in hot and humid climates.  Light cool clothing is recommended.  Many travelers to these areas like the 'wick-away' type shirts or the 'fast dry expedition' type clothing.  Personally, I want to dress comfortably but I do not want to stand out too much, which is usually hard to do.  Comfortable walking shoes are a must.  Open toe sandals are usually not recommended for third world countries.  However, sandals or flip-flops are great when you get back to your base.

I usually recommend long pants for men because in most locations the culture dictates the standard.  Women should check before they go if slacks are acceptable.  Do not just assume everyone dresses like you.  Check with your hosts or trip coordinator on acceptable attire.  In some situations and cultures, modest shorts are acceptable for men and women and slacks for women but again you need to check with your trip coordinator.  When in doubt dress conservatively.  Even in places where the dress needs to be very conservative, shorts will probably be acceptable at your base and of course in your room.  One pair is recommended.  Christians in foreign countries are usually quite conservative in their dress.

Normal attire for men would be long comfortable casual pants with short sleeve shirt (t-shirts are ok).  Tank tops and sleeveless shirts are not usually recommended.  At least one outfit for church service is recommended (khakis, shirt and tie is a good combination).

Normal attire for women would be a modest length skirt with short sleeve top.  Again t-shirts are acceptable but tank tops and sleeveless shirts or dresses are not usually recommended. Women should check to confirm if slacks are appropriate dress in the area they are visiting.

If you will be doing manual labor such a construction then you need to dress for the job.  Again check with your coordinator about acceptable attire.

A cap or hat is a recommended item in hot sunny climates.  They are great in hiding a ‘bad hair day’.

One important packing rule for clothes I use, is to pack all my clothes that match each other.  I can wear any shirt with any pants; that makes all combinations work.

Besides what I wear, I usually pack two pants, one sleep shorts, two collared shirts, six underwear, six pairs of socks, one pair of light pants (thin material with zip-off legs), four colored t-shirts, one leather belt, one pair of shoes, one pair of flip-flops and one tie.

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Wear comfortable clothes and shoes for the flight.  Remember, you will have to remove your shoes and belt with metal buckle for security at the airport.  I purchased a belt with a hard plastic buckle—it sure makes it a little easier going through security at the airport.  You can usually find them at some of the outdoor outfitter type stores. If you are going to be on a long flight, shoes that lace-up or have elastic adjustments may be best since some people's feet may swell.

I like to wear a shirt that has two button pockets.  It is a secure way to keep your passport handy during the trip.  I keep my passport in one and my boarding passes in the other.

Security will not allow you to bring bottled water past their check point.  Once through security you can take bottled water on the plane if you purchased it beyond the security check point.  I recommend bringing an empty water bottle and filling it after passing through security.  In some airports you can purchase bottled water on the gate side of security but not always.  Take a least one empty bottle with you in your carry-on and fill it before leaving the American airport.  On most mission trips, you may have a long hot ride from your destination airport before you get to good water.  I also recommend packing two extra empty water bottles for in country use.

If you are traveling from the United States in the winter to a warmer climate, try to avoid carrying a bulky winter coat with you.  I like to wear a small pullover fleece and once inside the airport pack it away in an outside pocket of my carry-on bag.  A large (3 gallon size) Ziplock storage bag is great for pressing out the air and reducing the fleece’s bulk.  I leave my bulky winter coat in my vehicle for the land trip home and use the small fleece to get me comfortably from the airport to my vehicle.

Do you realize how many black wheeled luggage pieces are in an airport baggage pickup carousel? If you have checked bags, it is wise to put something on your bag to quickly identify it. You can wrap the handles with blue painters tape.  My favorite is bright colored flagging tape tied on my luggage with some loose ends.  It is also a good idea to write your name on your bag with contrasting colors.  It is advantageous for everyone in your group to use the same color tape or ribbon so at your destination luggage carrousel it is easy to pick your group's luggage.

Another point, when traveling to a foreign country you will be filling out paperwork on the plane for immigration and customs.  It is a great idea to memorize your passport number so you can easily fill out the forms without fumbling around for the passport.  If you were to lose your passport, knowing the number would be necessary to get a replacement at an American Embassy.  Remember to carry an ink pen with black ink for your on-plane paperwork.

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One of the most important things you need is a security pouch that you wear under your clothing and around your waist.  You can purchase these from Wal-Mart or other stores in the luggage area.  You can carry your reserve cash, credit card and passport in this pouch.

Before leaving your room at the beginning of every day, take from the security pouch only the things you will need.  For instance, when flying keep your passport available in your pocket or shoulder bag and only an amount of cash you will need for that day.  While in country, keep your reserve cash, credit card and passport in the security pouch concealed under your clothes.  It is a good idea to put your passport in a small sandwich press and seal bag to protect it from sweat and rain.

Do not carry all your money in one place -- put some in your wallet, small amount in your pocket and most in your security pouch worn under your clothing.  If you do carry a wallet, carry a small one in your front pocket of your trousers instead of the back pocket.

Travelers’ checks are not recommended because they would be very difficult to cash in some areas.  Debit and credit cards are advisable instead of traveler’s checks.  One needs to contact their credit card/debit card company and advise them where you will be traveling.  Some companies will actually suspend your service when out-of-country transactions take place on your account.  In some third world countries debit and credit cards may not be used in some out-of-the-way places.  Check with your host about availability and concerning currency exchange.  American currency is sometimes accepted.  Correct change is difficult to receive, so be sure and carry at least (30) one-dollar bills and an assortment of five, ten and twenty dollar bills.

Always keep your passport in a secure place.  Make three photo-copies of your passport information page.  Take a photo-copy with you while in the field perhaps in your wallet, keep the other copy with your bags as a back up and leave one copy at home with your family.  If you were to lose your passport the information would be important to get a replacement.

While in country never travel anywhere by yourself.  Usually the larger the traveling party the safer you are.  Avoid traveling at night.  When possible have a local person to serve as a guide.  Do not give money to street beggars in crowded areas—you can cause a small riot.

Even though you may not be fluent in the language of the country you are visiting, it is a good idea to learn some simple phrases or words. Learn to dial internationally from the country you are going to visit. Also check with your cell phone provider to see if international services are available and be informed about the rates as they can be very expensive.  If you have a smart phone, you may need to put it on "airplane mode" to keep from running up data charges on your account.

Foreign Travel Medical Insurance is definitely an option one needs to consider when traveling abroad. Domestic medical insurance most likely will not be accepted in many countries. Medical care in many countries is substandard so medical evacuation may be needed in some emergencies. Check out the website of Seven Corners Specialty Insurance by going to for a free quote.  The inexpensive premium for a week stay is worth the peace of mind; the medical emergency evacuation if needed is well worth the small cost.

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The rules for bags are apt to change and may differ from airline to airline.  When you book your flights you need to double check the baggage allowance for your flights.

Checked bags on international flights are usually limited to one free bag with an added charge for additional checked bags.  A checked bag is limited to 50 pounds and a size of 62 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L).  Any hard cased luggage should be strapped.  If you wish to lock your bags you need to use TSA locks.  TSA locks are combination locks that have a key way for the TSA master key.

Carry-on bags are limited to one carry-on bag of 45 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L) and one personal item (briefcase, laptop computer, shoulder bag or small backpack).  The one personal item must be no more than 36 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L) and be able to place under the seat.  Both the carry-on and the personal item are usually limited to 40 pounds.    Other additional items allowed beyond the restriction includes: coats, books, hats, newspapers, etc.  Liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags must be in individual containers with a maximum capacity of 3 ounces.  These items must be placed in one quart size press and seal bag (8” X 8”).  Liquids, gels and aerosols in containers larger than 3 ounces must be packed in your checked bag.

I use a small shoulder bag for my personal item for my flying time.  Inside, I carry a small aptop computer or iPad, small Bible, water bottle, snack, camera, toothbrush and other personal effects.  Once in country, this bag can be used for a day bag to carry camera, water, lunch, small travel packet of tissue (great emergency toilet paper) and other needed items.  Whether, you carry a personal item size bag on the plane or not, it is great to have a small bag to use as a day bag in the field.  This day bag could be a small shoulder bag, fanny pack, small backpack, etc.

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Knives, scissors or other cutting instruments cannot be packed in carry-on luggage or carried on your person.  These items must be packed in your checked baggage.  Small round nosed scissors are sometimes allowed.

Even if you check some larger bags, be sure to include two sets of clothes and essential toiletries in your carry-on in case of lost luggage. Make sure your name and address is located on the inside and outside of the bag.  On the outside a name-tag works great.  On the inside a strip of duct tape with your name and address is sufficient. Do not put expensive items such as video cameras or expensive cameras in checked baggage but carry these items in your carry-on. All prescription drugs must be in your name and in pharmacy issued containers.

I always carry one medium size towel and one wash cloth. I hang both out to dry during the day and reuse for one week. It is a mission trip, right? A small flashlight with extra batteries is a must. You may need to take at least two rolls of toilet paper depending on who your host is. The small pocket size packages of tissue are great to have with you during the day for those unexpected nature calls.

How you pack your clothes is important.  Some people like the small packing bags or large plastic press and seal bags to pack their clothes.  It seems like the folding of your clothes takes up a great deal of room and does not prevent wrinkles.  My preferred method of packing is to lay your clothing items out flat on top of each other starting with my pants, then shirts and fold into one bundle that I hold together with a web belt.  I pack three plastic clothes hangers and upon arrival hang up my pants and shirts.  In a humid climate, the wrinkles 'fall out' pretty well.

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Safe drinking water is usually available for purchase in most places.  Be cautious when locals tell you a water source is safe because it may be safe for them but it may not be safe for you.  Bottled water is usually safe.  If water is not safe to drink, it is not safe to use in brushing your teeth.  Some mission bases will have the big jugs of water but you will need some 16.9 ounce empty water bottles for your personal use.  I try to carry three water bottles with me on a trip.

One product we have purchased is PUR Purifier of Water which is a small packet that can purify 2.5 gallons of water; see the following link for information:

For some great high tech water filtering systems that are travel ready check out

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One of the treats in going to a foreign country is to eat the food.  You usually need to avoid street vendors.  Restaurants and your hosts can provide you with safe food.  Snack foods may be hard to find in some areas.  I usually like to carry some food items when I go on a mission trip.  Many times only one or two meals per day is available so you may want some things to span the gap.  On mission trips to third world countries, I pack my food in my checked bag except for a few airplane snacks.

Foods such as fruits and vegetables, bread, soft drinks, bottled water and ice can usually be purchased easily in country.  Be careful with the ice, make sure it is frozen from good water.

Suggested items for lunch and snacks: crackers, peanut butter, cracker snack packs, fruit cups, pudding cups, granola bars, nuts, cookies, candy bars, candy, pop-tarts, canned cheese, raisins, dried fruits, small summer sausage, tuna, beanee weanees, pork & beans, vienna sausage, sardines, pringles, etc.

The best bread to pack is sub rolls and crackers.

Instant drink packages such as kool-aid, gatorade, instant tea and instant coffee are great.  Tea bags are great to take as well.

All food should be packaged in non-breakable containers.  Food containers need to be labeled.  Custom officers may question white powder in a press and seal bag.  Containers or original wrappers that could spill or tear need to be placed inside press and seal bags.

Another great idea for food especially if you are in a remote situation is to pack military style MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).  You can readily order these online from several companies.  One source I have ordered from is but there are others.  From these companies you can also purchase meals with included flameless ration heaters (a chemical reactant pad in a plastic sleeve that produces heat when water is added).  I have transported MREs with the flameless heaters on commercial airlines but only if they were sealed in the original complete meal packages and in my checked baggage.  Check with the latest airline and TSA requirements before packing these type heaters.

Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, sweetener, jelly and creamer is best carried in small packets secured in a press and seal bag or other container.

A big bag of hard candy is a great treat to pass out to children at church or in small villages.

Some other handy items to pack are: a few plastic spoons, a couple of disposable bowls, and a straw (for drinking coconut milk from fresh coconuts).  I also like a spork.

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As you experience your mission trip, be sure to keep a journal of your daily activities. The journal will be a valuable preparation tool for presentations you may make on your return. Also, in years to come, you and your family will be blessed by your recorded experiences.

Go with the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, go with the purpose of helping others and go with the purpose of enjoying the journey of life.

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