When I leave town for two or three days my preparation depends on two factors: How am I going (by car versus by air or train), and what will I be doing (business versus pleasure). My usual MO is to pack two bags: Clothes and sundries in one, electronics (photography and computers) in another. Depending on how I travel I will pack differently – if I am driving I don’t need to be anywhere near as efficient as if I am flying, because I can just throw things into the trunk.
When I leave town for a week or longer I have to be more careful; will I have the ability to do laundry where I will be, and so on. However aside from that, the only thing that usually changes is that for more than three days I will take a proper suitcase instead of throwing my clothes and kit into a backpack.
What about longer trips? As I write this I am less than a week from getting onto a plane that will take me away for nearly two months. I will be going to a different country with a different culture, different language, and different customs. There are several factors I have to consider for a trip of this magnitude, and a lot more planning goes into it.
I am going to Japan… one of my favourite countries in the world for sure, but definitely a different culture. So here are some of the things I planned for, and hopefully will help you the next time you head out on the road:
1) There’s no question about it… I can’t get away with a single suitcase. The reason isn’t as simple as I need more clothes – although I do. However other things that will go into my suitcase will include my small laptop bag and my messenger bag, because I like to carry most of my electronics on me (and especially my computers and camera equipment) as carry-on, so rather than just carrying on a small and unobtrusive laptop bag, I start with the fact that I need two carry-ons – one for my camera equipment (which is a full sized backpack), and one for my computers… even though both of my computers are very small, there is a lot of extra gear that I will take with me. On the other hand, once I am in Tokyo I do not want to have to lug my large Briggs & Riley laptop bag (which when empty weights three or four pounds) back and forth from the office to my hotel.
2) You never know… and that’s the problem, you do not always know what you will be faced with once you get to the destination. That goes for both camera equipment (and so I am taking two camera bodies and five lenses), and computers (which is why I will take a docking station, external speakers, as well as a plethora of cables and connectors and adapters (and not to mention a wireless network switch). Why? Because I might need to connect to HDMI… or VGA, or Display Port. I will likely want to watch TV and movies in my hotel, but that will mean downloading them to my computer, and then watching them (hopefully with my computer connected to the hotel’s TV). I need a PowerPoint remote for when I present, and I need a ton of other things that I can’t think of… but don’t want to have to buy again (I remember arriving in Hong Kong only to discover I had forgotten my wireless presenter mouse, and had to buy a presenter and a mouse).
3) Cell phone woes… If I were going to the USA for seven weeks I wouldn’t worry about it because of my cell phone plan. However I wasn’t sure with regard to Japan so I called my provider and asked, and sure enough, there was no good way for me to use my Canadian cell phone in Japan. The first thing I did was had them unlock the phone for me, so that I could just get a SIM card to put into it in Japan. I asked my colleagues in country to look into the best way to do that, and they did. However what I wouldn’t have thought of before was this… My cell phone plan costs about $140 per month. I will not be using it for the next two months. I cannot cancel it… but what I did do was change the plan to the least expensive one they offered. It leaves me with enough data for the week until I leave, but no more. Rather than having the lavish 10GB per month plan with unlimited North American calling, I now have a 1GB plan with ten hours per month.
**NOTE: If you are going to do this, you also have to make sure you change it back at the tail end of your trip. I put a reminder in my calendar to call them back the day I get back.
4) Renew prescriptions! If you are my age there is a decent chance you have at least one medication that you take daily. Make sure you have enough for the entire trip.
**NOTE: Insurance may screw you on this. In speaking with my pharmacist last night I found out that insurance plans often will not allow you to renew your prescription until you are 2/3 way through your last refill. Make sure you don’t get dinged.
5) Weather the whether… or whatever. I am leaving for Japan on October 14. I know what the weather will be like this week. However I also have to anticipate what the weather will be like in Japan in six weeks, so that I am not stuck wearing shorts when it is 5C outside. If you are traveling across seasons, make sure you have enough appropriate clothes for both seasons.
6) SHOES ARE IMPORTANT! I always pack with the philosophy that whatever I forget I can just buy when I am there. When I was preparing for my first trip to Japan my boss warned me that I will not be able to get shoes in my size in Japan, so I made sure to take an extra pair… just in case.
7) The last time I went away for a long period of time I lived with my family. Now that I am living on my own it is important to make sure someone is checking in on my condo every couple of days. Let’s be honest… the one bamboo plant I have does not need watering; however it is important to make sure that there are no leaks, that the pipes don’t freeze, and that nothing goes wrong. Every few days should be enough, and that is taken care of. Also, rather than ‘stopping my mail’ it is a good idea to have someone bring the mail from the mailbox into the house.
Traveling abroad for longer periods can be fun… even when you are going for work. Planning for every contingency is impossible, but giving it a bit of thought will make your trip more enjoyable. As they say, Luck favours the prepared mind!