On-the-Road Travel Tips (part 5)

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 30 of the August 2020 issue.
The magnificent Havana Cathedral (La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana) in Cathedral Square — Cuba. Photo by Randy Keck

When hatching the idea of asking readers to submit On-the-Road Travel Tips — which apply to anything that makes your travel experience work better for you while actually traveling — little did I realize that we would shortly be thrust into the reality of a pandemic. Hopefully, it won’t be long before conditions will have progressed toward normalization on most fronts, including travel. Meanwhile, we all have learned new lessons about the value of sharing experiences without in-person contact.

Here is this month’s batch of Travel Tips submitted by readers (with my own comments added, where appropriate). It’s part five in this series, which is continuing thanks to the advice and ideas that everyone is sending. If you can share something, please write in (limit, 125 words per submission; see contact info below).

Rosemary Stafford (Pleasant Hill, CA) — On the zipper divider inside my suitcase, I attach copies of my flights and the name, address and phone number of whomever I will visit or of my hotel, cruise ship or whatever, along with my ID and home address and phone. 

On the ID tags outside of my suitcase, I put my flight information and the address of where I am going. If my suitcase goes missing, I expect it to reach me eventually, not to be sent to my home.

• When traveling in Central Africa or in Asia, I pack a knife, a peeler, a package of dried milk powder and a fork and spoon.

• Big safety pins are quick aids for rips, a broken strap or handle or a lost button.

For mending torn clothes or a suitcase, I take 2-inch clear tape instead of duct tape. It’s not so obvious when used.

Good ID suggestions, Rosemary. Such simple precautions can prevent a world of hurt should a bag stray from its intended itinerary. — RK

Mary K. Taylor (Rockport, TX ) — When I travel, I take two wallets. One is my regular wallet, with cards for medical, dental, etc., plus some credit cards and money. This wallet is kept secure in a cruise cabin vault or, if I’m on a tour, in the suitcase or vault. I activate one credit card and my debit card by informing the issuing companies I will be traveling. All the other cards are not yet activated for travel.

The other wallet is small and holds a few bills and my credit card and driver’s license. It’s zippered, allowing me to attach it by a ring to my soft, over-the-shoulder Rick Steves pack, stashing it inside. The wallet is never unattached, and I simply open a zippered pouch on the pack and flip out the wallet to use a card or money.

In the shoulder pack, I also carry a photocopy of my passport, with the real thing secured elsewhere.

Mary, thanks for sharing the protective lengths travelers can go to if sufficiently motivated. — RK

Susan Hayes (Corvallis, OR) — For years, when traveling internationally, I have taken about $100 in small US bills (20s, 10s, 5s and 1s), just in case. I usually returned home with most of them. However, when my husband and I crossed Europe by river in summer 2019, making multiple stops in six countries, they turned out to be useful.

We spent two weeks in the Eurozone, so I also had coins and bills in euros. The stash was unspent until we left the Eurozone and entered Hungary, then Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. Larger purchases could be made using a credit card, but I paid for a drink at a Starbucks in Budapest with euros (a bill larger than necessary), getting forints back in change.

In Belgrade, a 20-dollar bill exchanged at a currency exchange gave us dinars for our few hours there.

At an artists’ colony along the Danube in Romania, I wished to purchase a small weaving for 22 but couldn’t use a credit card because the internet connection was down. A 20-euro bill plus $1 did the trick.

It’s always a good idea to carry some small bills in US dollars or euros. — RK

David Martens (Clearwater, FL) — I have found that prescription pills many times come in containers that are way too large for the number of pills that are in them. Thus, when traveling, I put the required number of pills for my trip, along with a few extras, into small, lightweight, plastic cosmetic-sample bottles.

My wife gets these at cosmetic counters such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. They’re about the diameter of a quarter and about half an inch high. They’re easily carried and stored in my suitcase.

Who knew?! The key to this would be insuring failsafe labeling. — RK

Susan Jerrick (Portland, OR) — Has anyone mentioned safety pins yet? Small ones to pin scarves invisibly in place, medium ones for emergency repairs of clothes, and large ones to hold room curtains tightly closed. It’s absolutely amazing how often I’ve needed the large ones, even in very good hotels.

Susan, you have motivated me to increase the supply of safety pins in my travel ditty bag. You’re absolutely right; there are never enough large safety pins when you need them. — RK

Bethany Graves (Willard, MO) — My parents traveled extensively when I was growing up, and my father was a dentist. One item that saved them more than once was braces wax. The small and easily packed square case was retrieved in the event of a broken crown or tooth. The damaged tooth was covered with the wax, and one could still eat while keeping the area free from debris, hopefully resulting in limited pain plus a finished vacation.

• Another item I always travel with is a butterfly hair clamp. I can use it to put my hair up or to hold curtains closed or as a clamp to dry a light item of clothing or as a potato chip bag clip. I once used it to hold a broken purse together!

Talking about being prepared for anything! Bethany’s braces wax tip could only originate from a dental insider. Selfishly, my immediate thought was if I had this in my travel ditty bag and someone cracked or chipped a tooth while I was leading a group tour, I could instantly produce braces wax, and — Wow — would everyone be impressed! — RK

Phil Warner (Eugene, OR) — When walking in the countryside or even in a village or city, I sometimes encounter barking or threatening dogs. Long ago, I learned a trick from someone on a Latin America discussion group: pick up a rock and pretend to wind up and get ready to throw it. (Of course, I would never throw the rock.)

One hundred percent of the time, this has stopped dogs in their tracks, usually silencing them, and many times they have turned around and walked away. The trick has worked in all countries I’ve visited.

While in Mérida, Mexico, recently, a dog darted out from an open door. It was barking and followed me, continuing to get closer. I pretended to scoop up a rock and wind up. Like magic, the dog stopped barking and retreated to its home.

I am happy you are batting 1.000, Phil, at least so far. I usually carry doggie treats with me, which can be used in the situations you describe, though sometimes the dog has no interest in an unfamiliar treat cast in its direction. In most cases, the dog is simply doing its job, of course. I wonder if other readers have strategies for dealing with an aggressive dog while walking. — RK

Contact Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350, randykeck@yahoo.com.

Sometimes travelers have commented on the number of one-ounce hand-sanitizer containers that I have clipped, via carabiners, to my travel backpack. Typically, it’s three. I also always have one or two clipped to my ultralight HEXIN day pack. Depending on the activity, I sometimes attach yet another one-ounce container to one of my belt loops. The bottom line is that I never have to search for hand sanitizer. I have immediate access without needing to forage in a pocket. In light of the times we’re now facing, maybe more travelers will pick up this habit. — Randy Keck