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The Organized Traveler
by Jill Ellen Shankar

Traveling for the 50 and over crowd has proven to be a delightfully rewarding and enriching experience for many folks.

Almost everyone who leaves home, however, reports frustrations due to lost luggage, missing reservations, departure delays and the like. Indeed, not every glitch can be prevented, but the organized traveler is well rewarded with the ability to handle most problems with a minimal amount of trouble.

All trips start at home. As such, below are some tips that will help you focus on what you need to do before you walk out of your door, regardless of your destination or mode of transportation. Oxymoronically, preparation breeds spontaneity, the magic that enchants your voyage and sweetens your memories.

1. Start your list.

Keep a running tab of the clothing, equipment, books, travel documents, and everything else that you want to take. If you are feeling especially organized, estimate which luggage you might use and make one list for each bag.

Your note-taking should begin long before you start packing-give yourself one planning week for each week of travel. The idea here is to jot down your ideas as they occur to you, not to sit down and plan your inventory in one sitting.

Security note: Leave your "rob me!" jewelry and other valuables at home. Thieves target people that appear to be rich, distracted or otherwise easy to stick-up.

2. Select your suitcases.

Be sure that you can manage your luggage by yourself. For trips of any duration other than just a few days, a good rule of thumb is to have one bag to check, a carry-on to hold a back up outfit and toiletries in case your checked bag is mis-routed, and a briefcase or smallish bag to hold your wallet, travel documents, reading materials and snacks for the trip.

Suitcases on wheels are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Most importantly, they are a fabulous investment, saving you tons of physical effort and trouble; you can handle much heavier cargo in a rolling bag than in a standard suitcase.

Another great item is a backpack. They distribute weight evenly and keep both hands free, minimizing fatigue.

Proper luggage identification is critical, not only for security, but to be sure your bag is not accidentally carted off by the wrong owner. Put your name, address and phone number on the inside and outside of your bag. Brightly colored ribbon or twine around your bag differentiates it that much further.

Security note: Locking your suitcase is a good safety precaution except when you are en route. Be sure that officials can get into your bags easily to avoid lock breakage and bag damage.

3. Start your packing, preferably several days prior to departure.

Decide what you can send through as checked baggage, and what you want to carry on with you.

Carry on luggage should contain medicine and a back up clothing, pajamas and minimum toiletries, in case your other suitcase is lost; you could be without it for several days. In addition, your glasses, travel documents, reading materials, snacks and such should all fit comfortably in your carry on or in your hand bag.

Over packing is easy to do, often the downfall of even the most seasoned travelers. The obvious rules about wash and wear clothing, dark colors, comfortable and sturdy shoes apply. But since you are already planning an adventure, take it one step further by doing things you might not normally do that will also lighten your load.

Fall in love with a few outfits, and bring just those along. Leave your shaving gear, make up and perfume at home (it's liberating!). Start wearing scarves or hats so you can forget about your hair.

Bring just one exercise ensemble, and see just how smelly it can get (or, learn how to wash your shorts in the sink with a bar of soap)! Instead of dragging your laptop along, visit Internet cafes. You get the idea.

The toiletries that you do bring along present their own opportunities. Be sure to pack all liquids, like shampoos and lotions, in a zip lock baggie to protect your clothing in the likely event of spillage.

Pack shoes in plastic bags (one shoe per bag) to keep other items clean and dry. These bags often come in handy for other things later, like wet bathing suites. Layer your suitcase with plastic dry cleaning bags to minimize wrinkling.

If you plan to bring back more than you are taking, pack a collapsible bag in your checked suitcase so you have something in which to put your souvenirs. If you plan to carry that on for your return trip, be sure that you start out with fewer than the maximum hand baggage.

Security note: Safety measures require handlers to be able to identify all contents. Use clear totes and baggies for your personals to avoid irritating manhandling of your belongings.

4. Collect your travel documents.

Do you need an updated valid photo ID, passport or travel visa? You will always need a photo ID, and if you are traveling outside the US, you will need at least one of the other documents.

If you are not sure, go to the passport services and information page at
the State Department website, http://travel.state.gov/passport_services.html.

Passport Fees are $85.00 ($55.00 passport fee + $30.00 execution fee, which must be paid separately). The renewal fee is $55.00, and expedited service costs $60.00 + shipping to and from the agency.

It is recommended that you allow 6 weeks to receive your passport under normal circumstances, and 2 weeks for expedited service.

If you think you may need a visa, a good starting point is http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html.

However, you should always double check with your destination country's embassy as well. Their websites and addresses can also be found from this web location, which is also a good source of information for travel warnings, health data, exchange rates and so on.

Security note: The theft or loss of your tickets, documents or money can be a disaster, and it happens all the time, all over the world. While en route, be sure that you carry copies of everything separately from your originals, but not in your checked baggage.

Once you land, keep these copies in your hotel's safe or otherwise out of harm's way. Entrust a second set of copies with a friend or family member at home who could fax them to you in a hurry.


Continue to Part 2 of the Organized Traveler



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Jill Ellen Shankar
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