luggageWe just returned from a two week trip to France and Ireland. If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I love to shop while traveling. I’m all about finding unique, locally made items to bring home that will make the memories of the trip a concrete part of my home and my life.

There are some places where I just know I’m going to hit the mother lode. Hawaii was one of those places. Ireland was definitely another. I knew before I went that I would like find many treasures that would appeal to me and I was right. Finding the treasures is the fun part. Getting them home safely takes some thought and planning.

Ship Your Shopping

One of the first rules of travel shopping is to have the store ship your items when possible. This is especially true when buying breakables – they wrap it properly and it’s insured. You don’t have to worry about how it will fare in your luggage. In Ireland, shipping ended up being free at a few places and at others it was the same amount as our VAT (sales tax) refund. In fact, one clerk told us shipping to the US was cheaper than to the EU. If I’m not buying something fragile or not buying a lot at one store, we bring the items home ourselves.

Shipping Revelation

As my purchases began to pile up, we realized we just weren’t going to have enough space in our luggage. We stopped at a Mailboxes, Etc. in Ireland, intending to ship some items home. The cheapest rate was 380 Euros, which is about $500. Yikes. Definitely more than the value of what I’d bought. We came to the realization that it made far more sense to buy an additional suitcase (50 Euros=$66) and pay the $100 airline fee for an extra bag. In the future I will likely do this again. It made the most sense.

Tips from the Packing Master

There is a clear division of labor in this family. I do the shopping and my husband does the packing. The man is a genius. I brought home many breakable items. Not a single thing was damaged this trip because he is so careful. Here are his secrets:

Bring bubble wrap with you. It’s light and adds no weight to your luggage on the way there. It is essential for bringing home delicate items. Layer sheets of it in your luggage.

Never throw anything out. This was a lesson well-learned when somehow in Puerto Rico a necklace my son bought for his girlfriend disappeared. We think it got thrown out in the bag it came in since it was light. So the rule following that debacle was that my husband brings home every single bag. He uses them as additional wrapping materials or layers them along the bottom and top of the suitcase (when the suitcase is lying down since this is the way they are stacked by the airline) to provide additional cushioning.

Make a bubble. My husband uses clothing to completely surround the items he is packing. Fragile items are wrapped in bubble wrap then cushioned in the center of this clothing bubble. Nothing fragile is near an outside edge of a suitcase.

Use double zipper bags. After last year’s Italy trip when one of my daughter’s bottles of limoncello burst in the suitcase, the rule is that anything liquid must be double bagged in a zipper bag. This year she brought olive oil and jelly home from her study abroad session in Croatia. The olive oil leaked, but it was double bagged so we were fine. My husband also recommends tightening screw caps to make sure they are sealed and wrapping tape around the cap if possible.

Use boxes. If the item you buy comes in a box, use it. It is tempting to think it is just taking up space in your luggage, but it provides stability and prevents crushing. He uses socks and underwear for extra padding inside the box if needed.

– Get cardboard for art. I always buy inexpensive prints or a small piece of original artwork that depicts the place we visited, but getting unframed art home is a challenge. My husband asks for cardboard at the store and layers the art between the layers of cardboard, which he then tapes together.

Toss to make space. If your suitcase is too full or over the airline’s weight restrictions, throw out things like shampoo, contact lens solution, shaving cream, etc which you can easily replace when you get home. At the end of your trip, these bottles are likely nearly empty anyhow, so it’s not that much of a loss. I also leave my travel guide books behind in the hotel room since they are quite heavy. A shirt I brought on this trip snagged on a fence and tore – that got left in the hotel room as well since it was not repairable, so why bring it home?

– Bring a tote bag. I have a big fabric Vera Bradley style overnight bag that weighs almost nothing and completely flattens. We always bring this in a suitcase as an emergency carry on. Sometimes you may think you are fine with space and weight only to weigh your bag the night before your flight and discover you have a problem. This tote is perfect for this emergency. I stuff my purse or wallet in my regular carry on and bring this bag for my two pieces of on board luggage. We also often use this tote to manually carry items we are very concerned about. I’ve carried framed art work, pottery, and glass home in this bag. Pad it well with bubble wrap and clothes and place it in under your seat if possible. If it has to go above you, carefully wedge it between the wall and another carry on of your own, so no one else can shove something up there and damage your items.

We just returned from a two week trip to France and Ireland. If you’re familiar with this blog, you know that I love to shop while traveling. I’m all about finding unique, locally made items to bring home that will make the memories of the trip a concrete part of my home and my life. … Read more

We’re taking our second trip to Europe this summer. We’ve traveled to Alaska, Hawaii, several spots in the Caribbean and lots of destinations in the US and Canada in the 23 years we’ve been married, so I’ve learned how to prepare. I start planning for a trip months in advance and I start making a pile of things to take about a month before we go. Over the years, I’ve learned some things to make traveling easier, so I thought I would share them.

Preparation Is Everything

My biggest challenge is that I like to be over-prepared. If left to my own devices, I would love to bring lots of clothes to choose from, but I’ve had to learn to pare that inclination back due to airline restrictions (SOMEDAY, I tell myself we will take a long roadtrip and I will be able to bring anything I want!). What I will not pare back on is my other “just in case” items, particularly medicine and supplements. Someone is always getting sick on a trip in our family and so I try to be prepared for whatever might happen. I bring Nyquil, Uristat, Neosporin, bandages, swimmer’s ear drops, antacids, eye allergy drops, several types of allergy meds, ginger, chamomile, zinc, Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, arthritis Tylenol, Benadryl, Immodium, stool softeners, decongestants, Afterbite, anti-chafing gel, Blister Block, yeast infection meds, elderberry, migraine meds, inhalers, quick-fix repair kit for a lost filling, not to mention prescriptions and supplements that people in the family take regularly. You thought I was kidding about being over-prepared? We have used every single one of the items on this list on some trip at some point.

Airplane Supplies

Some of the travel size items I buy

I carefully pack my carry-on for planes. We now own 4 inflatable pillows, so each person gets their own to carry. We used to bring regular neck pillows, but they take up your entire carry-on. I have a lightweight blanket I pack that rolls up to almost nothing, and I always wear a sweater or jacket, no matter how warm it is since someone is always cold on an airplane. I bring two eye masks (everyone always says they don’t want them, then they ask if they can use mine, so I bring an extra). For long overnight flights, I pack disposable toothbrushes. I wear contacts and need a small bottle of multi-purpose solution and a lens case. A small hairbrush is also necessary for overnight flights. Other must-haves for airplane travel:

  • cards
  • gum
  • headset (and an extra because I’ve had them break en route)
  • book/magazine (for times when electronic devices must be off but other than that, I now have all my reading on my e-reader)
  • e-reader/tablet
  • lotion
  • hand sanitizer
  • water bottle (bought at the airport)
  • portable snacks (I usually fill snack-size bags with various crackers and snacks)
  • fruit that is easy to eat like apples or grapes
  • one set of luggage keys

When my kids were little I always brought a new toy or book for each of them and I also had one stashed for the flight home (which is always the hardest because everyone is tired and there is no excitement about where you are going).

We bring all prescriptions in the carry-on, as well as all glasses and sunglasses.

Everyone either wears or brings a pair of socks to wear through security and to wear on the plane if we want to take our shoes off.

My daughter and I have little travel jewelry cases that go in our carry-ons. I do not bring anything expensive for fear of it being lost (flashback to a missing earring in a Florida hotel room: we made the maids empty their vacuum cleaner bags! It eventually turned up in the crease of a chair, but never again!).


Since someone always gets sick, I am always thinking about what I can do to prevent it (a losing battle, but I do try). I bring a tub of wet sanitizing wipes and try to remember to wipe down airplane armrests and trays. I also get them out when we get to our hotel and wipe the TV remote, door handles, faucets, toilet seat, nightstand, lamp switch and other surfaces (and honestly it is hard to remember to do this because when we get there we want to either collapse or unpack immediately).

I carry a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse. I have several of these TSA-approved sized bottles. At home, I buy a large bottle of hand sanitizer and use it to refill the little bottles. I have one small bottle on my person at all times and keep the extra bottles in my suitcase. When we are in restaurants, we order, then once we have handed the menus back (which have been touched by countless other people), we all use hand sanitizer.

The Purse

I found this cross-body bag last summer and have used it on several trips. I like it because it has slots for credit cards and money, so I don’t need a wallet. It has several different pockets so I can keep things organized. The purse always contains:

  • money and credit cards
  • one travel size Kleenex packet (extras in the suitcase)
  • hand sanitizer
  • lip balm
  • a pen
  • paper
  • my phone
  • a small roll-on sunscreen
  • several individual packets of wet wipes (that I bring home from restaurants)
  • Tide To Go stick
  • reading glasses (there are some menus I just cannot read at this point!)
  • one set of luggage keys

I also have a small zippered pouch that is my on-the-go medical kit which contains a few bandaids and a few doses of medication/supplements/prescriptions that will be needed in the course of a day.

When my kids were younger, I carried paper toilet seat covers and I will again carry those on our trip this year, since it sounds like some bathrooms may be questionable.

the medicine bag


We have super lightweight suitcases for travel (so I can stuff as much as possible in them and still be under the weight limits!) Our suitcases have photocopies of our passports and itinerary.

I pack one small umbrella per person no matter where we are going.

I pack a large fabric tote so that if I buy a lot on the trip, I can carry it home in this onto the plane.

I have a small sewing kit and small travel packets of laundry detergent.

All of the medical supplies are packed in one zipper case. I prefer to bring things like vitamins and supplements in individual zipper bags, but I usually end up with the bottles because I don’t want there to be any question about what they are. I put all these bottles together into zipper bags so I can easily locate them.

All toiletries are double bagged in large zipper bags (double bagging is key – single bagging has led to leakage). And I bring lots of extra bags just in case.

My husband has a tiny (credit card-sized) wallet-tool that has a knife, screwdriver, and

Go Tube bottles (leaky old hard plastic bottle on the far left)

other handy items that we put in the suitcase (it can’t go through security).

We have a handheld luggage scale that has saved us many a time because we are able to distribute things among bags so they come in under weight.

We use TSA approved locks on our suitcases. We have plastic pull twists packed for the instances in which a lock is removed and then not replaced (this has happened a few times). We have bright pink name tags that have only our name and cell phone number on them (country code first if we are traveling abroad).


We get all of our clothes and toiletries out at home when packing, and then we pack some of each into each suitcase, so if one suitcase goes missing we won’t have one person with no clothes. Everyone will have something to wear.

When my kids were babies, toddlers and preschoolers, I packed complete outfits for them in zipper bags for each day – it made it very easy to get everyone dressed.

I bring one dress (that can be dressed up or down) and one pair of pants (I usually wear black yoga pants on the plane for this purpose – in a pinch they can be paired with a top and look like regular black pants) and one long-sleeve sweater (also worn on the plane) when we travel in the summer or to warm destinations. I try to bring clothes that can be mixed and matched. Shoes are a big deal for me. No matter how broken in they are, I always end up with sore feet, so I’ve got to have several pair I can rotate among.

If we will be going any place dressy, my husband wears his all-purpose khakis (that are also used for casual wear) and has one dress shirt, tie and sportcoat ready. My son brings khakis and a polo shirt for dress.

I like to bring a kitchen-sized garbage bag for dirty clothes.


I buy travel size of anything I can find. Yes, it costs more, but it saves space and weight and you have the added benefit of being able to toss it when you use it up. I also purchased Go Tubes that are refillable travel-size bottles that do not leak. They really and truly do not leak. I looked for years and always had those little hard plastic bottles with screw-on caps and they ALWAYS leaked. These are fantastic and allow me to create my own travel size version of anything I need.

Other Items

We have two metal water bottles that are in a sling, so you can carry them over your shoulder or cross-body. We go back and forth on the bottles. Last summer when we went to the southwest, we packed them and did use them a lot when we were out exploring off-road sites. We have found them to be inconvenient in cities though, where it is easier to buy water when you need it and toss the bottle than to always be carrying this around.

We have brought a backpack as a carry-on and then used it in cities during trips. This was useful when we were carrying guidebooks, kids’ snacks, and more around. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t bring a guidebook (I’ll write more about my trip planning in another post) and we don’t have little kids who melt down if they can’t have a snack immediately, so we’ve stopped doing this.

For this trip to Europe we’ve bought money belts to wear under our clothes. We’ll carry passports, credit cards, cash and other valuables in them.

Plug converters are a must in Europe and we will bring several. We also purchased a dual voltage flat iron for my daughter. When we were in the UK, hers kept blowing the fuse in the apartment we rented. We didn’t realize you need dual voltage for it to work abroad.

What I Do Not Bring

I do not bring:

  • travel iron (I’m not a stickler about wrinkles and if there is a problem, I hang the item in the bathroom and turn the shower on hot for a while and it steams the wrinkles out)
  • travel alarm clock (we use cell phones)
  • heels
  • any piece of luggage smaller than the largest size suitcase allowed (even if we are going for a few days, it allows me space for an extra outfit or to buy something)
  • those toiletry kits that hang on the back of a door (they take up a lot of space and I usually just end up with everything on the vanity anyhow. If the vanity is tiny, it goes on the bathroom floor)
  • packing cubes (they just take up more space and weight)
  • power strips (these did not seem to work in the UK – they required too much power)

We’re taking our second trip to Europe this summer. We’ve traveled to Alaska, Hawaii, several spots in the Caribbean and lots of destinations in the US and Canada in the 23 years we’ve been married, so I’ve learned how to prepare. I start planning for a trip months in advance and I start making a … Read more