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Packing Outside the Comfort Zone

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"Glad I Packed" items (left), "Should've Left Behind" (right) (Photograph by Carolyn Fox via the uSketch iPad application)

I don’t consider myself an over-packer. But when I showed up for an eight-day trip in a country (Jordan) and region (the Middle East) I’ve never been to with a bag twice the size of the ten other travel writers in my group, I figured I still had a few things to learn. Here’s what I didn’t need, what I could have used, and what I’m happy I didn’t leave home without.

Excess Baggage 

  1. High heels: After a day of hiking through nature reserves and ancient ruins, my feet wanted nothing to do with a pair of pointy, four-inch black heels. The pair of bronze flats I brought were much better suited for going out at night — and provided a welcome break from my sneakers.
  2. Laptop AND iPad: With a jam-packed itinerary, I spent less than an hour a day screen-gazing. Looking back I wish I had bought an iPad Camera Connection kit so I could have downloaded my photos onto my iPad each night…and left my heavy laptop at home.
  3. Hair straightener: Not once did I take the time to straighten my wavy hair. I barely took ten minutes to use the hotel blow dryer in the morning. Next time I’m sticking with a brush, a few bobby pins, and three hair elastics.

Woulda, Coulda, Shouldas

  1. Sealed shoes: I thought I had comfortable footwear covered with my Asics and steel blue Converse. But it soon became clear that I had underestimated desert sand, and its uncanny ability to find its way into the smallest holes and crevices. The next time I travel to a country where I know I’m going to hike, I’ll be taking sealed shoes along with me.
  2. All-in-one converter/adapter with a USB port: In the not-so-distant past, international travelers had to buy a converter and an adapter. As I learned from my traveling companions, there are now all-in-one options that include a USB port for charging mobile devices.
  3. Washcloth: I was surprised to find that not a single hotel offered washcloths (including two American chains). A fast-drying towel (like the Trekr Travel Washcloth) would have come in handy as I went through my nightly ritual of scrubbing a thin layer of dust off my skin.

Trip-Saving Surprises

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Me sporting my trip-saving skirt and bag. (Photo by Mike Richard at
  1. 100% cotton maxi skirt: It occurred to me that I might be crazy taking an off-white skirt to a place where I’d be confronting several varieties of dirt, but this flowing, anti-wrinkle number protected my legs from the sun while respecting the country’s conservative dress code. It worked at the beach, on a boat, in the city, and could be dressed up for a nice dinner out. Plus, I could soak it, hang it over the shower rod, and it was good to go the next morning.
  2. Cross-body bag with pockets: I bought this lightweight, $15 bag at Target. The two slip pockets in front were perfect for my water bottle and notebook; my hat, windbreaker, scarf, SLR camera, extra lens, and shopping buys fit in the main compartment; and the zip pocket provided a safe place for my passport and cash. For those of you who are less than enthused about backpacks (for reason related to security, style, or comfort), a bag like this is a great way to go.
  3. Extras: I thought I was going overboard by packing enough toiletries and medicine to last me two weeks, but my travel companions were happy I brought extras: Tissues for bathrooms with no toilet paper, Pepto tablets when someone was having a hard time adjusting to the country’s cuisine, and ibuprofen after a long day hiking (or a long night enjoying a few beers).

Do you have a must-bring recommendation for outside-the-box travel? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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