Contents of a Travel Bag

From the fall of 2007 through the summer of 2008, I lived and taught English in Marseille, France.  As France’s second largest city, it has a bit of a bad reputation amongst European tourists. Europeans on holiday pass along the Mediterranean from Aix-en-Provence to Cassis to Antibes to Cannes and to Nice, conveniently skipping over Marseille. I will forever defend Marseille as a breathtaking and real city, bathed in eternal sunshine and warm, dry air, but that’s not what this article is about today. It was while I was living in Marseille and traveling during the many vacations I was allotted as an English teacher that I learned an underappreciated craft of great value:  which items to keep in my bag at all times while traveling.

I owe all I know in terms of travel bags to my dear friend Sara. As a fellow English language assistant in Marseille, we became very close over the course of the school year and were able to travel together quite a bit. Whereas I often carried a small purse packed without much thought, she always had whatever I was missing, even if I didn’t realize I needed it.  This list is a tribute to her. I still think of her every time I cross off the items on my checklist before heading to the airport for another flight. Here are a few useful pieces to keep with you in addition to money and identification:

  • I’ll start with some basics:  Pack of tissues, mints/ gum, aspirin, sunscreen, sunglasses, lotion

  • Pen and small notebook. This is imperative. Write down directions, phone numbers of people you meet, ideas to journal about later, places you visited that day, things to Google back at the hostel… this is one thing to make sure you have at all times

  • Baby wipes. It’s amazing how many times you find yourself without toilet paper (or a toilet). Enough said.

  • Hand sanitizer. Keep those germs at bay! Use whenever a sink is not readily available.

  • Water bottle. It seems like an unnecessarily large object to lug around sometimes, but oh-so worth it. You need to stay hydrated while traveling.

  • Band-aids. No matter how comfortable your shoes may seem, you’re bound to get blisters eventually and will be grateful you had enough foresight to throw a few in your bag.

  • Copy of your passport. Leave the real deal somewhere safe at your host family’s house or at your residence. It never hurts to be prepared in a foreign country.

  • Small map. For many cities, you can find small, book-like maps containing subway/bus/tram lines and very detailed maps of each neighborhood in the city. After learning how to use it, you can’t really get lost, yet you don’t draw attention to yourself as a tourist by pulling out a huge map. You can find these maps for larger cities in bookstores.

  • Extra memory card and battery for your digital camera. There’s nothing worse than missing out on brilliant photo ops because your battery’s dead or you don’t have any more space.

Travel, whether it’s exploring the city you’re living in or hopping a plane to another destination, should be about being prepared yet spontaneous.  If you take just a couple minutes to think about the items that you throw into your bag before heading out for the day, you can make the experience more enjoyable and avoid losing time by having to run home/back to the hostel because you forgot something.

By Christine Koprowski