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Flip-flops, moleskins and a shawl

February 04, 2007|Susan Spano | Times Staff Writer

REMEMBER those old American Express commercials in which Karl Malden warned travelers, "Don't leave home without it" -- as if you were going to wind up in a Turkish prison or on the streets of Calcutta if you forgot your credit card?

That advice seems antiquated nowadays, because there's almost nothing you can't get abroad -- including credit cards. That's a good thing to remember when you're tempted to overpack. When I hit the road, I pare it down to the essentials:

1. A carry-on bag

One piece of luggage in whatever shape and style suits you. It should be big enough for one week's gear -- only. When your clothes get dirty, go to a laundromat. The bag should conform to airline carry-on regulations so it fits in the overhead bin, but it should also have some give so you can cram it full and check it on the way back.

Tuck a sturdy fabric carry-all into a pocket of your main piece of luggage to accommodate acquisitions along the way.

2. Medicines, glasses

Make sure you have your prescription drugs and vitamins; pack duplicate supplies in both checked and carry-on bags so if one gets lost you still have your meds. The same is true of eyeglasses and contact lenses.

3. Plastic baggies

I am a firm believer in the unparalleled usefulness of zip-lock bags -- for wet swimming suits, beautiful beach rocks, leaky toiletries, dirty underwear.

4. Sink stopper

Globe-trotters often need to wash intimate apparel in the bathroom sink. Many hotels, mostly at the high end, have leaky sink drains. If you pack a flat, rubber drain-stopper, you'll be happy even at the Ritz.

5. Sleep aids

Unless you can sleep anywhere, long-haul flights, jet lag and noisy, unfamiliar hotel rooms can turn you into a zombie. To fight travel insomnia, take earplugs and eyeshades. Check with your doctor if you think you need a prescription sleeping pill or want to try something homeopathic.

6. First-aid kit

I have a well-used travel medical kit with all the usual suspects: bandages, aspirin, antiseptic. A few other items aren't as obvious: a mini sewing kit, moleskin for blisters, insect repellent, Tiger Balm (good for achy muscles as well as a smelly loo, when applied underneath the nose) and Uncle Bill's Silver-Gripper tweezers with pinpoint precision to remove splinters.

7. Windbreaker

I rarely go anywhere without an old shell jacket that can keep me dry in a tropical downpour and warm in the Canadian Rockies, when worn with layers underneath. Many companies make these; get an unlined one so it can be wadded up and stuffed into a side pocket of your bag. .

8. Inexpensive sandals

Cheap rubber flip-flops always come in handy, whether you're at the beach, showering in a shared bathroom or just kicking back in a none-too-pristine budget hotel room. You can also wear them on the street and pitch them before you leave.

9. Little black jacket

This one's for the girls: Leave home wearing a simple black jacket in a wrinkle-proof synthetic blend and a shawl as part of your travel attire. (Packing them takes up too much space.) The eminently accessorize-able black jacket will be worth its weight in gold, and the shawl can double as a blanket or pillow.

10. A cuppa ...

Many of us need a jolt of java in the morning, but when it's unavailable, the caffeine in tea is a welcome substitute, and you can almost always cadge a cup of hot water at a hotel front desk. I keep an assortment of tea bags in a zip-lock bag: herbal to help me sleep, echinacea for when I'm under the weather and black for a boost.

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