The perfect souvenir

A while ago I was visiting the site GoThreeTwentyFour. It was created by Stephanie and her goal is to visit all 324 (now 325) countries on the Travellers’ Century Club list.

In one of her blog posts, she recounts how she was in Cyprus on the beach where the mythical Greek goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea. Stephanie’s first thought was to take one of the small, smooth stones as a souvenir but she did not. It was one of her biggest regrets about her visit to Cyprus. It was this experience that got her thinking about the traits of the “perfect souvenir.”

Stephanie indicates that a souvenir should have at least four of the following characteristics.

  • Useful – You need to use the item you purchase. Eat the candies. Display the artwork.
  • Collectible – Consider purchasing the same or similar item in every location but make sure you are clear on how to develop the collection.
  • Personal – This should be something you identify with on a personal level, not just a fridge magnet with your name on it.
  • Local – There should be something about the item that you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Connective – The item should be a reminder of the place and the people you met along the way.
  • Practical – It should be affordable and easy to take back home.
  • Unique – Don’t shop at the same chain stores as you have at home. Get something that has its own story.
  • Quality – Make sure the souvenir is durable enough for you to enjoy for a long time.

These tips can be applied when you’re buying souvenirs for friends and family too.

Stephanie says a rock from the beach in Cyprus would have had at least five of the characteristics of a perfect souvenir. She feels that the important characteristics for a souvenir might be different for each trip and different people might give the qualities varying degrees of importance.

Here is a quote from Stephanie, an idea that we at Unclutterer approve of:

“The goal is to skip buying something that will be a waste of money and recognize when you totally need to grab the rock on the beach.”

We would like to thank Stephanie for allowing us to share her infographic with our readers. Please visit her site, GoThreeTwentyFour for more details on the “Perfect Souvenir.”

 

perfect souvenir

Every day carry: weekend getaway

phone watch wipesI’m packing for a weekend getaway as I type this, which has inspired me to write an “Every Day Carry” (EDC) tech guide for weekend getaways. You don’t need to carry a lot in order to be prepared for a weekend away. In fact, pocket clutter is real and should be avoided. My “getaway” EDC varies a little from what’s typically on me, but not by much. Let’s take a look.

Mophie Juice Pack

I use my phone frequently when I’m away, particularly to find directions and taking pictures. That puts a hit on the battery, especially when a map app is receiving GPS data. For that matter, I always have a Mophie Juice Pack charged and ready to go. The Juice Pack is an iPhone case with a built-in battery. When my phone’s battery hits 20%, I flick on the Juice Pack and it’s back at 100% in no time.

iPhone

This goes with out saying, but the pocket computer called “iPhone” is completely essential. From finding directions and taking photos to calling hotels, restaurants and family, it’s my go-to gadget.

Apple Watch

My Apple Watch isn’t as essential as my iPhone, but it’s maturing into the useful accessory that Apple wants it to be (the same can be said of most smart watches). My favorite feature, however, really shines when I’m in a new place: walking directions. The first step, of course, is to get your destination’s address onto the Apple Watch. There are several ways to do this, and the fastest are these:

  1. Ask Siri for directions. The virtual personal assistant will automatically open Apple Maps with the directions ready to go.
  2. Start on Apple Maps on your iPhone. The app will automatically sync with Apple Watch.
  3. After you’ve entered the information on the iPhone app, open the watch app to view the directions.

Following a route Once you’re ready to get moving, just tap Start. The Watch will guide you along, via clever use of Apple’s Taptic Engine:

  1. A series of 12 taps means turn right at the next intersection.
  2. Three pairs of two taps mean turn left.
  3. A steady vibration means you’re at the last direction change.
  4. A more urgent vibration (which I call “the freakout”) indicates your arrival at your destination.

Imagine walking from, say, the train station to a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. You’ve got a bag in your hand and a million things on your mind, like check-in, getting settled and whatever brought you there in the first place. Now you can walk with your eyes front and your head up. Perhaps you’ll even note a few landmarks along the way, to make the return stroll easier.

Ursa Major face wipes

I used a face wipe from Ursa Major for the first time a few years ago. I was in NYC visiting family. After a sweaty day of walking through Manhattan, I was given one of these to use.

It was amazing.

The wipe is cool, smells great and not greasy at all. It evaporates quickly and let’s me “wash my face,” if you will, when I can’t do so properly. It seems like a small thing but I really like these things.

That’s the gear I carry when I’m away. It’s a short list, but all very useful. Do you have a special EDC for certain situations? Let me know.

Organizing summer with a professional organizer

“Disorganization is a delayed decision.”

That was the most valuable quote and pervasive theme of my conversation with Heidi Solomon, the woman behind P.O.S.H., or Professional Organizing Systems by Heidi. Now 10 years into her organization business, Heidi took some time to sit with me to discuss best practices and creating a summer organization system that will last well beyond the warm weather.

After a little New Englander bonding (Heidi is in Boston), I asked about her definition of an organized person. “A big part of [being organized] is deciding where does something go, do I actually need it, etc. early and often. But truly, the systems you employ are irrelevant.”

“I’m an organized person” means life can erupt and not cause an immense amount of stress to reset your space.

Summer is starting, so we discussed strategies for being organized after coming home from a vacation or a trip. When you already have established locations for all the things you own, unpacking and returning to normal can be accomplished in a couple of hours, as opposed to living with suitcases for a few days.

My summer kicks off for real on Wednesday, as that’s when my kids will be out of school. The end of the school year, Heidi says, is a perfect time to evaluate the systems you’ve got in place. “Kids’ interests and developmental and physical changes are rapid. A system that worked six months ago might be breaking down as these changes occur. Take this time to look at what’s working and what isn’t. Are there clothes that no longer fit? A play area or toys that are no longer appropriate/receiving attention?”

“Plan along the natural calendar schedule of the school year,” she advises. “In August, set aside a day or two to go through belongings and identify what’s no longer relevant. As the year progresses, for example, they outgrow boots or hats. Have a bin that’s a destination for these things — again, we’re back to making decisions early. Christmas and summer are also great opportunities for a check-in.”

To me, summer means using a lot of towels. We live on a lake and that means the back porch is continually draped with towels. And bottles of sunscreen. Plus a few swim masks, beach toys…you get the idea. For many, summer introduces a unique mass of stuff. How, I asked, can we create a system for “summer stuff” that will last beyond August 31? She said it starts with what’s available to you.

“If you have a closet that can accommodate these things in clear, labeled containers, great,” she told me. “If not, a door hanger works so well. Put the kids’ stuff at the lower level. That way everyone can just grab and go (and replace!) with ease.” Why clear containers? To help the young ones see what goes where.

“For many of the younger set,” Heidi said, “items are out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Simply being told the sunscreen goes on the back of the door might not be as effective as it would with an adult. Using clear storage lets them see what is where, and fosters recall of where it goes when not in use.”

As far as creating a sustainable system that will work for everyone, a little conversation goes a long way. “Not everyone organizes in the same way. It’s based on the way you learn, which is, in part, a function of how you process information. Ensure [to use] each ‘user’s’ preferences and learning style. Kids are often visual learners, so the see-through containers help them.”

With a little thought, frequent re-evaluation and consideration for everyone in your organizing system, you can get through the busy summer — or any season — with solutions that work effectively. Big thanks to Heidi for taking time to chat with me.

Things everyone should own (or not)

How many times have you seen lists like this: Top 10 Kitchen Tools Everyone Should Own? This particular list included a kitchen thermometer — which is something I happen to own, but soon will not. As I reviewed the list I realized I just don’t cook the types of things that require a kitchen thermometer, so it’s just clutter to me.

And that’s the problem with lists like this. Everyone’s work and home lives, and the items needed to support those lives, are unique. If you use “things everyone needs” lists as ideas and suggestions, that’s fine. But no one should feel the need to buy something just because it’s on such a list.

I often see long must-have lists when it comes to baby stuff. NewParent has a checklist that illustrates the problem of taking such lists as requirements. Changing table? Not everyone has room for that, or finds it useful. Some parents are perfectly happy to use a changing pad on a dresser top (or other surface) and a diaper caddy of some sort. Fifteen baby hangers? Not everyone is going to hang up the baby clothes.

Diaper bag? Some parents rely on them (and appreciate that most are spill-proof inside) but others find them to be useless. Many parents get by fine with backpacks, duffle bags, or similar items they already own.

The Minimalist Mom wrote about a great way to avoid baby and little-kid clutter: “We had playdates at each others homes and let the babies try each others toys, exersaucers, bouncy chairs, etc.” If her child loved something from a friend’s house, she could then go get one (if she wanted to) knowing it would be a success, rather than something the child ignored.

Travel must-have lists often amuse me because I’ve done a fair amount of travel without ever carrying many of the items listed. Travel + Leisure has a list of 23 carry-on must-haves, and I would never carry at least five of them:

  • Eye mask and ear plugs: I never need these to sleep. I may have trouble sleeping on a plane, but that’s because of comfort issues, not sound and light.
  • Extra ear buds: I find ear buds uncomfortable. I take headphones or nothing, depending on the situation.
  • Travel document holder: I keep critical items (passport, etc.) in a money belt.
  • Luggage strap: I just have no need for this. My luggage zipper is fine, and I can readily identify my luggage without a strap.
  • Binder clips: This would be pure clutter to me.

This doesn’t mean these are bad suggestions — they just don’t fit my personal travel style and needs.

Lists of must-haves may remind you of things that really would be useful, but they may also include items that would be a total mismatch for your personal situation. Use them wisely and they won’t lead to clutter.

Avoiding the clutter of free stuff

When you stay at a hotel, you’ll usually be provided with toiletries that are free for you to take along: shampoo, shower gel, hand lotion, etc. However, some people seem to feel compelled to take these at every hotel they visit, and they wind up with huge unused stashes at home.

It makes sense to take the toiletries under specific circumstances:

  • You didn’t open them, and there’s a charity you support that needs such things. And you’ll be able to drop off donations in the near future.
  • You used them, and you really like them. You want to use the remainder and maybe order more — or just enjoy an extra bit of luxury. I rarely take hotel toiletries, but this happened to me on my last stay.
  • You used them, and they were just okay, but there’s enough left that you hate to see the partially used bottles go to waste. You’ll take them home and use them yourself or you’ll give them away using Freecycle or some other organization that accepts open bottles.

That last one can be problematic — will you really use those toiletries or pass them along? Or will they just sit in a cupboard for years? If you already have a collection of such bottles, it’s a good sign that perhaps you should just leave these new ones behind.

Other things you might take if you will use them (or donate them) include sewing kits, note pads, and pens. But this advice from Mikey Rox on Money Crashers seemed odd to me:

While I don’t personally need to shine my shoes, I can still use that small shoeshine kit as a stocking stuffer or to add to a grown-up Easter basket.

I don’t know anyone who would want to get a hotel’s shoeshine kit in a Christmas stocking — but if you do, and you have a place in your home to accumulate stocking stuffers, then taking the kit might make sense. It certainly fits within the list of consumables that hotels expect you to use or take.

If you happen to take long-haul flights or fly in business or first class, you may get an amenity kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, eyeshades, etc. If you get this on an outbound flight and don’t want to haul unwanted amenities around for the rest of your trip, you might decline to take the kit so things don’t go to waste. But if you want just some of the amenities, there’s often no great option — you either toss the things you don’t want or you let them clutter up your bags until you get home to donate the items you won’t use.

If you do decide you want the hotel toiletries, remember to take time to ensure they won’t leak during the rest of your trip and cause a huge mess. It would be a shame to have a freebie ruin something like your luggage, your clothes, or your electronics.

Five things to keep in your car

A few years ago we published an article about keeping your car organized. We stand by that advice, but want to expand on it. Instead of just ways to keep your car organized, consider these five things you might wish to keep in the car. Some will keep you organized, others keep you on the road, while one item may be able to save your life.

First aid kit

First aid kits are fairly inexpensive and readily available. If you don’t want one that is premade, consider a DIY setup. Get ahold of something like a fishing tackle box and fill it with items the Red Cross recommends.

It’s not a bad idea to take CPR/first aid classes, either.

A window smasher

Unless you’re a Hollywood action hero, the glass used in car windows is very hard to break. Keep a window smasher in the glove box or center console. Find one with a built-in seatbelt cutter, like one by LifeHammer or GOOACC. Again, make sure it’s stored within reach of the driver’s seat (it’s useless in the trunk) and that all potential drivers know how to use it.

Emergency road assistance kit

Breaking down is always a bummer, but if you do it’s nice to be prepared. A good kit from AAA includes a flashlight, batteries, booster cables, and more. Toss in a blanket in case you break down in cold weather and some road flares and you’re good. Also, ensure your car has a charger for your phone, because for some reason trouble loves to happen just as your cell phone battery dies.

Bonus item: If you have room in the trunk of your car, a portable floor jack is a useful device. They are so much faster, effective, and easier to operate than the flimsy jacks that ship with most cars.

Shoe organizer

To keep items off seats and the car floor, consider hooking a small shoe organizer over the back of the front passenger’s seat to hold snacks, water, maps, tissues, napkins, or whatever else you regularly store in the cab of your car.

The manual

If you’re like me, you gave your car’s manual a look on the day you brought your car home, tossed it in the glove box, and erased its existence from your mind entirely. It’s really full of useful stuff like how to connect your Bluetooth devices, what the light on the dashboard means, and which kind of oil to use — all advice that can save you time and energy in the future.

Now, these things are bulky and heavy, so keep that in mind. Still, if you can make it work, do it. They’re awesome.

Now that your car is tidy, add the essentials and happy motoring.

What’s in your pocket?

Long before Samuel L. Jackson asked about the contents of your pocket, I started to document what I kept in my pockets each day. Since then, many people have taken up the practice, including myth buster Adam Savage. And, if you’re a curious person, learning what other people carry can be interesting.

What I carry

Today I’m looking back on what I used to carry in 2007, in 2010, and now in 2016. I’m glad to say that I’ve trimmed things down a bit, but not completely. First, let’s look at what I had on me in 2007.

Back then, I carried a Moleskine notebook, an original iPhone with headphones, a Pilot G2 pen, a wallet, keys, and a 512MB flash drive. The flash drive is especially hilarious today, not only because it had a capacity of 512MB, but because I schlepped it around in the first place. Today, with nearly ubiquitous internet and cloud services like Dropbox, I simply don’t need the flash drive anymore.

Field Notes Brand notebook, and the original iPhone became an iPhone 4. I ditched the earbuds because I only listen to the audio while in the car. The wallet and keys are exactly the same (minus Chewbacca), though the wallet contains fewer “Bonus Club” type cards than it used to.

Drafts, which accepts dictated notes via my Apple Watch. When you get over the embarrassment of talking to your arm in public, you realize how amazingly fast it is to say, “Remind me to buy milk” to the Apple Watch, knowing that your words will be transcribed to a note-taking app on the iPhone. I love it.

A newer model iPhone has replaced what I was using in 2010 and my wallet has become a bit smaller. I’m very pleased that I’ve gotten rid of the store loyalty cards, as they’re a hassle. Finally, Yoda has replaced Chewbacca. Noticed that, you did.

Where I carry it

What’s even more important than what I carry is where I carry it. Each item goes in the same pocket every single time. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Left front pants pocket
  3. Keys: Left front pants pocket

There other rules. I have a billfold wallet that folds in half. It always goes into my pocket with the “hinge” if you will facing up toward the sky. That’s because if I put it in with the hinge facing down, I’ll inevitably put the keys “inside” the wallet, so that I can’t pull it from my pocket without taking the keys with it.

The rules change if I’m wearing a coat:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Jacket inside pocket
  3. Keys: Right breast pocket

Moving the keys is important here, as a bulky coat typically makes it harder to get into jeans pockets, so the wallet and keys — the items I access most often — are made more accessible.

Why go through all this nonsense? Because when you know where things are, you save huge amounts of time. For me, it extends beyond my pockets. For example, when I park the car at the grocery store, I always park in the side lot to the far left of the store. When at the drug store, I park at the end near the dumpster. I never have to wander the lot wondering where my car is because I make parking in the same spot a habit.

What do you carry and where do you carry it? If you haven’t ever thought about your choices, maybe spend a few days taking notice of what you need and when you need it, and then streamline the process. Doing so will certainly help you save time and effort in the future.

Organize your favorite destinations with Rego

I really like to travel. Whether it’s a week exploring Paris or a free afternoon in a neighboring town, I’m game for it. It’s such fun to see new things, meet new people, and discover new treasures to visit or experience again and again. Years ago, I recorded my travels with Gowalla, the now-defunct location-based social network that let you record your trips while turing it into a bit of a game.

Today, I use Rego by Makalu Interactive and have for years. It’s a simple app designed to let you note the places you’ve been, as well as spots you hope to visit someday. It’s not a social network — though sharing options do exist — but more a personal, private database. To me, that’s a big plus.

Looks

Rego is simple and straightforward. (Tour the app.) Up top you see a map depicting your current location; below, a list of your favorite places. You can “pull” the map over the list for a larger, distraction-free view. Your current location is noted by a blue dot, while points of interest you’ve previously noted appear as yellow dots.

As for the list of spots, tap any one to view its details, including notes you’ve written, any collections it belongs to, GPS coordinates, date added, and more. There’s even an option to discover nearby places, further adding to Rego’s usefulness.

Use

What I like about this app: Rego is a list for me. There’s no liking, sharing, thumbs up, or comments to post out of obligation because someone you knew 25 years ago said something about a pizza place you both visited in the ’80s. Instead, Rego is a list of places I love at home and abroad.

I can share if I want to, but… I don’t. Instead, I add a spot by traveling to it, tapping the “+” icon in the upper right and tapping Save.

Once that’s done, a new screen is created for that spot. From here I can add a note, snap a photo, and read an inspirational quote. It’s all quite easy.

Collections keep things tidy. You can create as many collections as you like (Restaurants, Sentimental Spots, Beautiful Views, etc.) and add a spot to any one with a tap. And yes, a spot can be in more than one category, like “Sentimental Spots” and “Restaurants.”

Rego also lets you add spots you hope to visit, or aren’t currently occupying. To do so, pinch the map to zoom out. You’ll notice a target icon appears. Move that to the location you’re after and then create a new spot as described above. It isn’t entirely accurate, but I’ve been assured that you’ll be able to add spots via address in a future update.

Conclusion

Rego is quite nice. It’s easy to whip out and record your travels, and just as useful when browsing or searching for new places to visit (pull down on the list of saved spots to reveal the search field). You can also opt to open any spot in a maps app, like Apple’s Maps or Google Maps for iPhone. Now you’re a tap away from travel directions.

Minimalist packing for a weekend trip

As I write this, I’m on a bus making its way from New York City to Boston. I managed the whole thing — booking, clothing, toiletries, navigation, and recording memories — with a tiny backpack and no paper. A little planning and minimal equipment allowed me to enjoy a stress-free weekend away without clutter.

Packing

I’m a huge fan of rolling my clothes when packing. It saves a decent amount of space in almost any bag. Since I was attending an event in New York, I rolled up two black shirts, one pair of dark jeans, and something for bed. (Why two dark shirts? To avoid having a single point of failure.)

Next, I tossed in my pre-packed Dopp kit. Having one of these ready to go at all times is so helpful.

Digital

My smartphone (an iPhone) was my best digital friend on this trip. In the days before I left, I took several steps to get it ready.

I purchased my bus tickets and opted for digital delivery. After getting the QR Code that would be my ticket via email, I saved the QR code to Evernote (so I could access it online or from the Evernote app) and took a screenshot of each ticket, which I saved to my phone’s photo album. Again, I made sure the ticket information was in three places (email, Evernote, photo album) to account for the possibility that one of those storage solutions wouldn’t work.

Next, I opened my Maps app, found the places I intended to visit and marked them as favorites (saving them as points of interest in my navigation app). Again, this saved huge amounts of time later and eliminated that awkward moment of standing in the middle of a sidewalk, trying to find something. Plus, when I needed to travel from venue A to venue B, I didn’t have to search or type in an addresses. A simple tap was all I needed.

When I travel like this, I depend on my smartphone a lot. In fact, its battery is not ready for what I’ve got planned for it. Therefore, an external battery case is a must. These can be expensive depending on the make and model of your phone. If you travel often, it’s an investment that’s totally worth it. Mine adds a full charge to my iPhone, which means I can let the phone’s battery drop to 10 percent, switch on the external battery case and get it back up to 100 percent. I highly recommend these types of cases.

I also brought a set of headphones, my iPhone charger cable, and an AC adapter for the USB charger cable. Everything fits in a lightweight backpack that was simple to store on the bus and left my hands free when I was walking around wearing it.

Planning for your next trip well in advance of when you leave, identifying the bare minimum of what you need, and packing with a mind toward efficiency will go a long way in keeping your trip uncluttered and well organized. Good luck on your next adventure.

Mobile apps for smart, organized travel

A good vacation, like so many other things in life, will be more successful with ample planning. If you have one, your smartphone is more than up to the task of helping you in this area. There are smartphone apps that can help you back up important information about your trip, pack your things in an orderly way, and finally find tickets for a plane, a train, or bus if you plans change mid-journey.

Perform a backup

This next bit of advice isn’t about an app, but it is vitally important for organized traveling: before you leave for vacation (or on a trip for work), back up your smartphone. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do so while you’re away, and possible that your phone could be lost, stolen, or damaged on the road. While most mobile app purchases can be replaced for free, your pictures, home videos, and certain app data cannot. Performing a backup before you leave means you’ll be able to perform a clean restoration, if necessary, when you return home. Refer to your device’s instructions for making a backup.

It’s also a good idea to export your contacts to a separate file (like a .csv to your desktop or the cloud), just to be safe. For example, the utility called Easy Backup (free) can export your iPhone contacts as a .csv (.csv stands for comma separated value and is easily read by Excel).

Create a packing list

Few things are as satisfying as scratching something off a list. Your smartphone lets you ditch the pencil and create an electronic list to use on the go. There are many list apps available, and I encourage you to conduct a search with the terms “List” and “Packing.”

I’m a fan of the Kayak app (free, and pictured above) because in addition to booking transportation and hotels, Kayak lets you create shopping and packing lists. Its approach is unique: list templates are populated with items you might take on one of several types of trips, family, business, romantic and general. It has pre-populated lists and you can create your own lists. Erin is fond of PackingPro ($3), which is good because it allows different groups of lists and is sharable for families.

Make travel arrangements

Flights
I’ll admit I love finding and tracking flights with my smartphone. I can remember the hours I used to spend on the phone and even in front of my computer trying to find a flight. Not to mention scrambling to find my gate and read the information displays at the airport. Now I do all of it with the pocket-sized computer I keep in my pocket.

Again, I primarily use Kayak to look for air travel. The app polls several top travel sites and airlines for flights that match your criteria. The results can be filtered by airline, number of stops, airport, price and duration. You can also sort by cost, duration and departure time (leaving soonest). You can use the app even if you booked your flight with another site.

Individual airlines have apps, too, which may be helpful to you if you are a loyalty member on a specific carrier. A little research before you purchase your tickets can let you know if booking through the airline’s app will get you a better price.

Land travel

Of course, traveling doesn’t always mean flying. I often travel between Boston and New York City by train. Once again, the smartphone replaces time spent at a desk or on the phone with several handy apps. For train travel, I use the Amtrack app (Free), which allows you to
buy tickets, track a train, browse schedules, share your status with waiting family and friends, and more. Some stations in the US are even testing paperless check-in with smartphone customers through the app.

Bus travel is a little less organized right now, so it’s best to do a Google search to find all the carriers in the area where you’ll be visiting and then find their specific apps. Many have mobile apps as robust as the Amtrack one. Same goes for hired cars (like Uber and Lyft), local taxi services, and metropolitan bus and subway systems.

How to be a tidy, organized house guest

As I write this post, I’m visiting my parents in sunny Florida. It’s nice to be here just as the air at my Massachusetts home is starting to dip in the 50s at night. As I sit here in my makeshift bedroom, I’m considering how I make myself a tidy houseguest who’s likely to be asked to return. (Granted, they are my parents so they’re likely to ask me back, but I was thinking more in a general sense.) The following are ways to keep your life from overtaking that of your host when you travel.

Prepare a Dopp kit

“Dopp kit” is a fancy way of saying “bag of toiletries.” I keep it stocked with travel-sized, airline-friendly products at all times. That way, it’s ready to go when I am. Inside I’ll pack the usuals:

  1. Toothpaste
  2. Toothbrush
  3. Shampoo
  4. Mouthwash
  5. Deodorant
  6. Disposable razor
  7. Shaving cream

I also include items you might not expect. Specifically, things I might need that my host might not have on hand. Rather then trouble them with a request or even a drive to the drug store, I keep these things on hand:

  1. Tissues
  2. Mini sewing kit
  3. Eyeglasses repair kit
  4. Earplugs (you never know when you’ll be bunking with an Olympic-class snorer)
  5. Lip balm
  6. Sunscreen

All of these items are available in travel sizes and will easy fit inside a nice bag.

Charger cables

I always pack the cables and wall chargers I need, so I don’t end up begging to use someone else’s. If you travel often, acquire a second set of your usual cables so your travel bag is always ready to go and you won’t have to worry about forgetting to pack what you need.

Bring a small gift

This is more of a manners item than an organizing tip, but a small host gift is always appreciated, especially when it’s useful. The gift need not be anything extravagant, but a small thank-you for the hospitality your hosts are showing you is always a good idea.

Aside from items I bring, there are a few things I always do when staying in someone’s home.

Keep your sleeping area neat

In addition to being polite, being organized during your stay also helps you when it’s time to head home. You’re less likely to leave something at a host’s home when you’re tidy than when things are strewn about. Keep your toiletries in your bag and not sprawled across the sink, make your bed every morning and strip the sheets just before you leave, put all your dirty clothes in a hamper or laundry bag, etc. Be sure to give yourself a full hour to pack up when leaving someone’s home, even if you only need 15 or 20 minutes. The extra time will keep you from rushing and allow you to take care of everything you need to do.

Becoming a more organized traveler

Years ago, I read some travel planning advice that suggested that you pretend your trip begins three days before it actually does and have everything ready to go ahead of time. That allows you to relax during the final three days, so you begin your trip feeling good.

I’ve always liked this idea, but I’ve come nowhere near following the suggestion. I’ve always wound up doing way too much in the last three days before a vacation, so I started out a bit stressed and definitely sleep deprived.

This year, before my vacation, I resolved to finally follow that old advice, more or less. I didn’t mind having some things left to do in the last few days, as long as they weren’t overwhelming. But I made sure I did the following things ahead of time:

Anything that absolutely had to get done
When I thought about my looming pre-vacation tasks, I realized many of them were actually optional — I’d like to get them done, but it was okay if I didn’t. But there were also a number of must-do items: I had to pay my bills, renew my driver’s license, and meet my commitments to clients. So I took care of all of those items before the last three days.

Another thing that had to be done was a review of my packing list to determine if there was anything I needed to buy either in person or online. And I needed to review my pre-travel checklist of tasks to be done, to make sure I was remembering everything.

Anything involving an appointment or shopping more than 10 minutes from home
I live in a coastal community with a limited number of stores and services — I need to drive at least 20 minutes for many things. Traffic can sometimes be horrible, turning those 20 minutes into 40 minutes or more. To minimize last-minute stress, I wanted to avoid making that drive in the last three days. So I had a haircut scheduled before then, and I had lunch with a dear friend on the fourth day before I left.

Anything involving an online purchase
I made sure that all the important packages arrived before the last three days, so I wasn’t fretting about whether or not they would reach me in time. Those handkerchiefs I wanted to take with me got ordered with time to spare, as did a couple more of my favorite T-shirts and the gift I took for the people I visited.

I was okay with leaving other things until the last three days, though, such as the following:

  • Stocking up on cat food, which I buy locally, and updating the cat care instructions for my cat sitter
  • Getting a current computer backup into my safe deposit box
  • Loading up my tablet with e-books to read on the trip
  • Packing my bags, using my existing packing list
  • Doing some final housecleaning

So how did this work out? It definitely made the last three days less stressful. It also ensured I had some breathing space for when things went wrong, like when my printer stopped working. Because my last three days weren’t tightly scheduled, I had time to handle the unexpected.