The 9 Items a Food Lover Always Needs to Pack

Anna Brones

Do you travel to eat?

There’s nothing better than exploring a new culture through the lens of food, be it crepes on a street corner or ordering an unknown item at the market. But any self-respecting food-lover should travel well prepared, and there are a few key items you should always have in your luggage. Here’s the essential packing list for anyone that’s ready to eat their way through wherever they’re traveling.

1. Reusable bag

Come well prepared for market shopping. You have to have something to put all that local produce in.

2. Ground coffee + coffee filter

Rule number one of traveling: never, ever, ever be without coffee. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a hotel or hostel with mediocre coffee options, so bring your own. MSR makes a cool reusable filter that fits right into your mug, so all you have to get your hands on is some hot water.3. Tea bags

Another good item to add to your “just in case of an emergency” collection are tea bags. This way you’ll always be able to brew a mug after a long day out on the town.

4. Reusable containers

When you’re headed out for a long day of exploring, it’s smart to take some provisions with you, and a good reusable container will keep all your food in one spot. I find they are particularly helpful for carrying fruit, protecting it from bouncing around in your backpack. The MC2 from Innate is perfect, as the silicone lid doubles as a bowl.

5. Corkscrew/bottle opener

Particularly if you’re in a country known for wine, you’ll want a corkscrew opener on hand, and the same goes for bottle openers in beer loving countries. This way you can buy a few libations at a market or grocery store and do your own local tasting. Just remember to put it in your checked luggage, or if you’re traveling light with carry-on only, snag one upon arrival.

6. Knife

Whether you’re slicing off fresh cheese from a French market, cutting into artisan salami in Italy or slicing a mango in Thailand, a knife will serve you well. A classic is the good ole Opinel. Just be sure it’s packed in your checked luggage.

7. Tea towel

Tea towels can do wonders for impromptu picnics, giving you a small tablecloth that you can spread out wherever you’re sitting, keeping your food items off the ground.

8. Notebook

Note down where you ate, what you ate and everything in between. A small journal is perfect for tracking all of your culinary experiences and keeps you from saying “what was the name of that cute hole-in-the-wall?” a few years later. Coffee, beer, wine or whiskey lover? Consider the 33 Books series which has specific journals for each drink.

9. Spork

If you’re eating on the go, a reusable spork is indispensable. It keeps you from having to waste a bunch of flimsy plastic forks (that never feel good in your mouth anyway) and you’re always ready to eat, be it airport food or street food. I prefer a metal one, like the titanium one from SnowPeak, because you don’t have to worry about it breaking in your bag.

Not Quite Legal Souvenirs

Food seized at Washington Dulles
USDA /Ken Hammond

Somewhere in a small town in an unnamed country is the complete skull of a crocodile and a small box of teeth that belong to that skull. The crocodile, who wasn’t using her teeth anymore, was not supposed to make this trip but did so anyway, without a passport, packed in the insulation of T-shirts stained with the red dust of the Australian Outback. The person who checked this partial crocodile knew there’d be some risk of having the bones and teeth seized at the border. Plus, hey, it was free, scooped up at a swampy turn out somewhere. No money changed hands in the acquisition of the croc skull.

What was to lose? Seizure at the border, a protestation of ignorance and slap on the wrist. “Sir, you can not import animal bones without proper documentation.” “I had NO idea, I am sorry, yes, of course, take it.”

It’s a risk. And make no mistake. You may very well be breaking the law. Travelers take it on because what’s the worst that can happen? Well, a lot. Best case? You’ll have your goods seized or maybe get tagged with an expensive fine. Consider yourself lucky if that’s the case.

Here are a handful of questionable souvenirs that seasoned anonymous travelers decided they’d try to get through customs.

Three kilos of flour: “…for culinary purity. When my friend asked me to bring corn flour, I didn’t think much about it, and then suddenly I found myself with two big bags of white powder in my checked luggage. Not only was I bringing in an unlabeled agricultural product, but it resembled something else entirely.”

The USDA allows you to bring in baking mixes and the like, but requirements are that it’s commercially packaged and properly labeled. Certainly, flour won’t set off the drug sniffer dogs, but explaining those bags of white powder isn’t something you want to find yourself doing in any airport.

Ten pounds of cheese: Cheese is tricky. Hard cheese is okay, soft cheese isn’t, and the USDA guidelines on what a hard cheese is or isn’t aren’t exactly clear – they say “like Parmesan or cheddar.” Brie is probably out, as is Camembert, but what about a blue cheese? Unlcear. Good luck.

Italian olives: “They are officially not okay to bring back, but I found some that were vacuum packed and decided to give it a go. I listed foodstuff on my customs form, and when the officer asked what kind I started off with all the things that I knew it was okay to bring back (wine, hard cheese, olive oil, etc.). By the time I mentioned the olives he had already tuned me out.”

It’s fresh fruit and veg where the trouble lies, packaged, processed products are less likely to raise eyebrows. But if you don’t declare your fruit or veg, it could potentially set you back a $300 fine, plus, oops, there go your olives.

Various kinds of meat: “I packed the salami wrapped in socks and tucked inside my shoes, and sailed past saying not one word.” Meat products are strictly regulated, with a mind towards preventing the spread of disease. Multiple travelers fessed up to squirreling all kinds of fancy product past the border, not just salami, but pate, rillette, prosciutto and more.

Bones, bones, more bones: “A llama vertebrae.” (Taste in souvenirs does vary.) The crocodile skull. A handful of seashells. Ivory and tortoise shells are especially tricky and require special documentation to prove their antiquity. This stuff is all governed by Fish and Wildlife in the US and, in some cases, can only come in through certain airports. To complicate things, there are additional guidelines for “Individuals Wishing to Import Non-Human Primate Trophies, Skins or Skulls” meaning should do your homework before tossing that monkey brain bucket into your bag.

Antiquities of any kind: “I snitched a tiny black and white marble mosaic tile from a heap that looked destined for Ostia Antica’s dump. I feel guilty, but 30 years on still love cradling in my palm something an ancient Roman once touched. It’s like holding hands across time.” Stolen cultural artifacts – that’s a big one.

There’s a useful page of information on the US Customs and Border Patrol site, including a Know Before You Go sheet that will send you into a rabbit warren of other places. What about that machete – is it legal? Probably, but you won’t get it past security in your carry-on. Plus, security, that’s a whole different can of worms.

Worms, by the way, will never make it past customs. Don’t even try.

A Travel Essential For Women: The Little Black Dress

Even though the seasons are shifting to spring, I’m still dressing in wool. I’ve said before that I’m crazy for the newer merinos; they’re not just for long underwear anymore. And because they’re made of natural fibers, they breath well making them surprisingly versatile for those transitional seasons. It’s a little counter-intuitive to think that wool is okay in warmer temps, but the lighter fabrics work well for winter, spring and fall, and I’ve worn my merino skirt in summer, too, because it’s got so little weight to it.

For my spring travels, I’m packing the M2 dress by Nau. It’s a drape-y, flattering boat neck, three quarter sleeve piece that shakes out nicely after it’s been crumpled up in your bag. You can dress it up with whatever shiny extras your packing – a pashmina (because you always have one with you, right?), or some sparkly flats, or a pair of cute tights, or just wear it with sandals and go casual. A pleat at the hip gives it a little bit of swish, so even though it’s “just” a black dress, it’s got a bit of style.

The M2 is the medium weight merino so it provides some warmth if you’re wearing it in chillier places (or overly air-conditioned restaurants. I throw all my merino in the washing machine, have done for years, and it’s washed up just fine – but it’s best to keep it out of the dryer, it lasts longer that way and has less risk of shrinking.

I’m a lazy dresser and I don’t like to pack single use only items. I’m also a sucker for anything that makes me look stylish but feels like something I could wear on a long-haul flight. You might be thinking it’s a little late in the season for buying wool, but depending on where your travels take you, it might not be, plus, off-season pricing applies to clothing, too. Get your little black three-season dress directly from Nau; it’s on sale as I type this.

[Photo: Nau]

Adventure Safari Brings Easy Way To Give Back

safari

Traveling almost anywhere around the world, we see people in need. Many struggle to survive in endangered areas or in a place where an earthquake, tsunami or another natural disaster has occurred. But those in need can be located at stops along our way in the Caribbean, South America, Europe or some other areas too. In the past, it has been hard not to feel the need to help, but often more difficult to know what we can do with the limited time and resources we bring when traveling. Then we found Pack For A Purpose (PFAP), a non-profit organization that lets us give back in a very meaningful way.

Eleven years ago, during their first trip to Africa, Scott and Rebecca Rothney learned that while they were each limited to 40 pounds of luggage on safari, their airline had an allowance of 100 pounds of checked luggage, plus a 40-pound carry-on.

To make a long story short, the Georgia couple asked themselves, with an attitude typical of their Southern hospitality, “Why not take advantage of that unused weight and bring along supplies that will fulfill some need?” They noted how it wouldn’t cost fliers anything to ship and that they could be doing some good. With this in mind, the two launched Pack For A Purpose.

“In making plans for a second trip, we looked into visiting a school near the lodge we would visit in Botswana,” says Rothney. “We contacted our safari company, Wilderness Safaris, to see if we could determine any specific needs of that school. Armed with that information, we were able to deliver 140 pounds (64 kg) of school supplies, including soccer balls, to the school.”

%Gallery-180487%Building on that experience but making it easy by asking travelers to pack just five pounds (2.27 kg) of various supplies, the idea was to involve everyone who wanted to add value to their trip by participating.

travelers give backTo make it even easier, the destinations travelers might visit are organized on the PFAP website by continent, then by country, resort, lodging or tour. Travelers who are considering a land vacation or going on a cruise that stops in Jamaica, for example, will find 18 different properties listed where supplies can be dropped off.

The idea worked. In the first three years of operation, PFAP has been instrumental in delivering over 17,000 pounds of supplies.

Making even more sense of the PFAP plan, Rothney said “We don’t look at it as ‘charity’. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’ and showing our appreciation for the wonderful experience we have in these places we visit,” in a telephone interview with Gadling.

Think about that for a minute: can you spare five pounds worth of space in luggage?

Pack For A Purpose
points out that five pounds translates to:

  • 400 Pencils, or
  • 5 deflated soccer balls with an inflation device, or
  • A stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and 500 bandages.

All are much-needed supplies at a variety of locations around the world.

Check this video with Rebecca Rothney explaining what Pack For A Purpose is all about:



[Images – Pack For A Purpose]

Tales Of A Reluctant Unpacker

There are two kinds of travelers in the world – those who unpack promptly after a trip, and those who can’t bring themselves to do so.

I fall into the latter category. More times than not, I am unpacking my suitcase in order to pack for my next trip. Apparently, I’m not alone, because when I asked friends about this on Facebook, I got more unpacking procrastination stories than replies from the tidy.

It’s a conundrum, because whenever I’m on a trip, I unpack my suitcase as soon as I arrive, even if I’m only staying for two nights. Things that need to be hung up immediately are placed in the closet, or put on hangers in the bathroom if a light steam is required. I create an accessories drawer, a T-shirt drawer and one for sweaters. Then I put my empty suitcase in a corner, or in the closet.

My parents were strict unpackers. As soon as we got in the door after a vacation, my parents toted the American Touristers upstairs. “Give me your laundry,” my mother would say, and woosh! Down the chute it would go. Sometimes, she would start a load that very night, and I’d fall asleep to the sounds of the washing machine.

Perhaps that’s one reason why I am in no rush now to get at my suitcase, although I’m getting a little old for parental rebellion.

I’ve decided there are some practical and some psychological reasons why I leave my battered Tumi on the dining room floor as long as possible.

  1. As long as you haven’t unpacked, the trip is still underway. One of my friends cited this thought. I love the idea that an unpacked suitcase keeps you in Paris, or New Orleans or Borneo. The unopened suitcase is like the Pandora’s Box of memories. Keep it zipped, and they stay with you. Open the lid, and they’ll fly away.
  2. I don’t need what’s in there. Usually, when I travel, it’s for business or a specific type of place. As a writer who works from home, I’m not wearing power clothes every day. And, since I try to pack light, I usually have extra versions of my travel wardrobe waiting when I get home. Likewise, I use travel sizes of my shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc., so the full-size editions are on the bathroom shelf.
  3. It means work. Unpacking means doing laundry, or taking clothes to the dry cleaners, or at the very least, hanging things up. If I’m jetlagged, or just tired from a long road trip like the one I took down South this summer, I don’t have the energy to deal with it right away. Also, I’ve usually done laundry to get ready for my trip, and there’s not enough for a full load when I get home, so I like to wait until there is. (Hey, we’re talking excuses here; I’m not saying this is logical.)
  4. If I don’t unpack, I don’t make a mess. I admit it: in my younger days, I was a devotee of the floor-drobe, i.e. things left in piles on the floor. Now, I don’t have that much space, so it’s a dresser-drobe, and I have gotten much, much better at being organized. (I promise!) Given that, a packed suitcase is the ultimate in organization. Nothing is lying about.

Of course, there are instances where I do unpack immediately, at least partially. I generally pack my makeup bag and my eyeglasses last, and I usually need both of those within a day of arrival, so those come out right away.

I also try to reverse pack when I leave, and put dirty clothes and dry cleaning on top, as well as the plastic bag with my wet swimsuit, if I have one. That spurs me to at least deal with that layer. I put a dry cleaning bag or another divider between the mussed and clean clothes, so I’ll know when to pause my unpacking.

And, I unpack any presents or food that are in the bag, although I prefer that those go in my carry on. Lastly, if I know I have a short turnaround between trips, I’ll usually do a fast unpack and repack before too much time passes.

But when you visit my house, don’t be surprised if you see books, travel posters and a black rolling bag stashed in the corner. Consider it decor.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user NiH]