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Traveling Light
 If you hope to travel light your packing should be done in a systematic manner. Don’t just toss in this and that. If you take a little time to be well organized you’ll be able to more effectively keep what you carry down to a minimum, yet not find yourself in a foreign country lacking some vital item that you should have packed, but didn’t. When you’re preparing for travel, draw up a packing list which itemizes everything that you’ll need.
 
Organize your packing list by categories, such as documents (passports, vaccination certificates, credit cards, plane tickets, travelers checks), touring items (tourist brochures, maps, paper and pens, camera, and sunglasses), clothing, and toiletries. If you’re on a budget and want to save money by going to supermarkets, add a food category for things like a can opener, a bottle of water, plastic spoons and snack foods.
 
Once you’ve finished compiling your list, go over it carefully and cross off all the items that you may depend on in everyday life, but could really live without for a week or two. Such things as jewelry, cosmetics, and electrical devices can be eliminated. You may want to include a column for things that you must remember to do before your trip, such as arranging for your pets to be cared for, or stopping mail delivery. When you’re finished, write out your final list and use it as a checklist while you’re packing. You might want to photocopy it, to have spares for use on future trips, or you may want to have variant lists as well, such as a special packing list for camping trips.
 
You can reduce your packing list so that everything fits into one small easy-to-carry canvas backpack per person. Advantages to this type of backpack include their sturdiness, they are lightweight, and they’re small enough to be carried onto airplanes and kept by your side or under your seat while on planes and trains. Small backpacks also often have a variety of inner compartments and zippered outer pockets that facilitate organization.
 
Items that you may need frequent access to, such as prescription medications, reading glasses, a few band aids and a comb, can be stored in an outer pocket, while clothing and toiletries fill the main compartments of the backpack. Always keep some paper and a pen at hand. You’ll need them to jot down information that you come across. They may also be useful for communications when you can’t speak the local language. If you want to buy a train ticket, but can’t properly pronounce the name of your destination, you can write it down and show it to the person at the ticket window. If you need directions someone could draw you a simple map.
 
Identification documents like passports and other critical papers need to be kept together and ready for quick access. You’d be amazed how many times you need to pull them out and show them to authorities as you wend your way through airports or ferry customs offices, cross borders by train, and even when you check into some hotels. When at airports and border crossings I may keep passports and tickets inside a buttoned shirt pocket or a specific compartment of my backpack, but I find that the best place to store vital documents is in a secret pocket within my clothing. First I choose a loose-fitting comfortable pair of trousers. Before the trip I use some scrap cloth to create a large pocket and I sew this secret pocket into the inside of my trousers (in effect behind the existing external front pocket) and add a couple of snaps to keep it securely closed. There it is hidden from view, and I can use it to store anything too precious to contemplate losing or having stolen. It means never having to leave such valuables in a hotel room during the day, it is invisible to passers-by on the street, it is inaccessible to pickpockets and, if my pack is stolen, I won’t lose key documents that are difficult to replace. Knowing that these objects are safely hidden under my clothing gives me more peace of mind when walking unfamiliar streets, particularly if I inadvertently stray into a questionable neighborhood or deserted area. I can be more relaxed and I can enjoy myself more. I always keep enough cash in a buttoned outer pocket to use for purchases made during each day. That way, I do not reveal my hidden secret pocket. Also, if I was mugged, hopefully a thief in a hurry would be satisfied with the amount of cash I handed him and not suspect that I had more on me.
 
If you’re using travelers checks, a copy of your check numbers should be kept separately from the checks. If the checks are stolen you’ll have the numbers to report, to be reimbursed for your loss. A photocopy of your passport is a good idea, as well. It will help you with the authorities in case your original is lost or stolen. There’s always a balancing act between keeping such necessary papers separate from the originals, without increasing the risk that one or the other gets stolen, as there’ll be two different locations to protect from vulnerability, perhaps via a second secret pocket in your travel partner’s clothing.
 
When you are loading your backpack before a big trip, forget about using special little cases such as toiletry handbags or purses. They add unwelcomed weight and bulk. I always use regular plastic bags to keep each type of item separate. It keeps everything well organized and easier to find, plus it protects everything in case the backpack itself gets wet. Carry plenty of spare plastic bags to separate clean from dirty laundry, opened from unopened packages of food, mealtime foods from desserts, and to hold picnic trash until you come across an outdoor trash basket.
Try to be practical as you pack, but go ahead and allow yourself one or two personal extras that mean something special to you. These might include photos of loved ones and pets to reduce your homesickness and a travel journal to record your adventures.
 
With judicious planning, and by resisting the urge to pack everything, budget travel can be carefree travel. You can pack lightly and compactly to minimize the risk of theft and the discomfort of traveling in exotic places so weighed down that you can’t properly enjoy them. Have a great trip!