Packing Outside the Comfort Zone

I don’t consider myself an over-packer. But when I showed up for an eight-day trip in a country (Jordan) and region (the Middle East) I’ve never been to with a bag twice the size of the ten other travel writers in my group, I figured I still had a few things to learn. Here’s what I didn’t need, what I could have used, and what I’m happy I didn’t leave home without.

Excess Baggage 

  1. High heels: After a day of hiking through nature reserves and ancient ruins, my feet wanted nothing to do with a pair of pointy, four-inch black heels. The pair of bronze flats I brought were much better suited for going out at night — and provided a welcome break from my sneakers.
  2. Laptop AND iPad: With a jam-packed itinerary, I spent less than an hour a day screen-gazing. Looking back I wish I had bought an iPad Camera Connection kit so I could have downloaded my photos onto my iPad each night…and left my heavy laptop at home.
  3. Hair straightener: Not once did I take the time to straighten my wavy hair. I barely took ten minutes to use the hotel blow dryer in the morning. Next time I’m sticking with a brush, a few bobby pins, and three hair elastics.

Woulda, Coulda, Shouldas

  1. Sealed shoes: I thought I had comfortable footwear covered with my Asics and steel blue Converse. But it soon became clear that I had underestimated desert sand, and its uncanny ability to find its way into the smallest holes and crevices. The next time I travel to a country where I know I’m going to hike, I’ll be taking sealed shoes along with me.
  2. All-in-one converter/adapter with a USB port: In the not-so-distant past, international travelers had to buy a converter and an adapter. As I learned from my traveling companions, there are now all-in-one options that include a USB port for charging mobile devices.
  3. Washcloth: I was surprised to find that not a single hotel offered washcloths (including two American chains). A fast-drying towel (like the Trekr Travel Washcloth) would have come in handy as I went through my nightly ritual of scrubbing a thin layer of dust off my skin.

Trip-Saving Surprises

Me sporting my trip-saving skirt and bag. (Photo by Mike Richard at
  1. 100% cotton maxi skirt: It occurred to me that I might be crazy taking an off-white skirt to a place where I’d be confronting several varieties of dirt, but this flowing, anti-wrinkle number protected my legs from the sun while respecting the country’s conservative dress code. It worked at the beach, on a boat, in the city, and could be dressed up for a nice dinner out. Plus, I could soak it, hang it over the shower rod, and it was good to go the next morning.
  2. Cross-body bag with pockets: I bought this lightweight, $15 bag at Target. The two slip pockets in front were perfect for my water bottle and notebook; my hat, windbreaker, scarf, SLR camera, extra lens, and shopping buys fit in the main compartment; and the zip pocket provided a safe place for my passport and cash. For those of you who are less than enthused about backpacks (for reason related to security, style, or comfort), a bag like this is a great way to go.
  3. Extras: I thought I was going overboard by packing enough toiletries and medicine to last me two weeks, but my travel companions were happy I brought extras: Tissues for bathrooms with no toilet paper, Pepto tablets when someone was having a hard time adjusting to the country’s cuisine, and ibuprofen after a long day hiking (or a long night enjoying a few beers).

Do you have a must-bring recommendation for outside-the-box travel? Share your tips in the comments section below.


  1. […] Im Intelligent Travel Blog von National Geographic gibt Carolyn Fox praxisnahe Tipps zu leichtem Packen, was dabei sein sollte, und auf was sie im Rückblick nach einer Kurztour in Jordanien auch gut hätte verzichten können. Ich finde so hands-on-experience immer nützlich für die eigene Planung. – Packing Outside the Comfort Zone […]

  2. […] year I went on an extended trip through the deserts of Jordan and learned all about packing outside my comfort zone. This summer I faced a new travel challenge: how to pack for a diving expedition on the Great […]

  3. Vivienne
    Bangalore, India
    June 25, 2013, 6:19 am

    I never travel without a couple of plastic S-hooks. Great when you need extra hanging space, keeps my bags off the ground and helpful in dubious bathrooms. Also, giant safety pins (used to be used for Babies’ nappies!) for emergency repairs. Ziplock bags are also great for laundry of small items, especially when the facilities are less than optimal. I wash and rub inside a sealed ziplock with water and a dash of shampoo, open,drain and rinse in the same way. Then hang on the S-hook!

  4. Traveler 67
    Vancouver, BC
    December 4, 2012, 3:22 am

    How could I forget – I always bring a sarong/kikoy for the beach and super absorbent towel for the shower/bathroom… and DO NOT mix them up!

  5. Traveler 67
    Vancouver, BC
    December 4, 2012, 3:20 am

    After traveling all over the world, I rely on ziploc bags, my headlamp and a small bag with 3 items: a bottle of sanitizer, some TP and a small pack of travel wipes (ones you can use on your face).

    Ziplocs are great to help keep your gear organized in your bag; keeps your gear dry if your bag sits on the tarmack or the top of a bus for a long period of time in the rain; wet towels; dirty shoes; etc

    My headlamp is essential! I carry it in my day bag incase we end up in a cave or dark tunnel; walking to the bathroom late at night; power outage; when you drop something under your seat in a plane/bus/train without a lot of light; reading lamp late at night etc.

    When traveling in developing countries especially, wipes for when you’re really dusty or dirty, then sanitizer to get kill the germs and of course TP! TP is good for runny noses, bloody noses, tears and of course when toilets are all out (as I do not like to ‘drip dry’, no matter where I am. I also bring an extra ziploc for the dirty paper)

  6. Cheryl Steele
    Seattle, WA
    November 13, 2012, 10:28 am

    About face washcloths. ..I don’t like the feel of microfiber clothes. Next trip I plan on buying bulk washcloths from Costco and taking one for each hotel (14 day trip to Turkey stayed in 5 places, cloths packed in a ziplock should not take much space) and then leaving them behind. I plan to use the microfiber cloth to wipe off dusty shoes.

  7. Rita V.
    July 7, 2012, 9:37 am

    i always pack an ACE bandage, because in my family, you just might need one! And my new favorite thing is a blister prevention stick that we found in Rome when my rookie traveler if a brother in law decided that a 10 day trip would be the perfect time to break in a new pair of shoes!! He already had a huge blister by the time we found the stick, but I bought it anyway. For me. 

  8. Kelly
    Toronto, Canada
    June 20, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I always, always, ALWAYS, bring a pack of Gravol (that’s Dramamine to the US folks) when I travel: it’s meant for motion sickness, but works wonders for the after affects of too much drink. Also, it doubles as a sleeping pill — very helpful for when you absolutely must sleep on long flights or bus trips.

  9. […] Im Intelligent Travel Blog von National Geographic gibt Carolyn Fox praxisnahe Tipps zu leichtem Packen, was dabei sein sollte, und auf was sie im Rückblick nach einer Kurztour in Jordanien auch gut hätte verzichten können. Ich finde so hands-on-experience immer nützlich für die eigene Planung. – Packing Outside the Comfort Zone […]

  10. corkescrews
    May 18, 2012, 2:13 am

    plus the malong dries really quickly too!

  11. corkescrews
    May 18, 2012, 2:13 am

    I always bring a malong, which is kinda like a sarong, I guess. (Except in the Philippines, a malong is a tube of cloth while a sarong is just a flat piece). I keep it tied to my backpack and use it on the plane as a blanket or a pillow, and when I land it’s all of what Kristine listed above, plus I’ve a couple of nicer-patterned well-made ones that I’ve used as dresses.

  12. Theresa
    South Korea
    May 17, 2012, 12:53 pm

    My favorite item that I brought for my 6 months in Korea was a travel spice kit that I bought at Chapters before leaving home. It was a life saver when it came to cooking because I couldn’t read the packages at the grocery store to buy simple things like parsley, cinnamon, or ginger.
    I would also suggest leaving hairdryers at home. They don’t work well with the wattage in Asia and ended up blowing a fuse and breaking the dryer!
    Agree with leaving heels behind! I did not wear them, not even once, but I did use my comfy hiking sneakers every day! :)

  13. Leyla Giray Alyanak
    May 14, 2012, 2:59 pm

    I had to laugh at the off-white skirt… I used a Tilley below-the-knee off-white skirt for 12 months across some of the rougher parts of Africa, on trucks, in canoes… and I still have it and no, it somehow didn’t show the dirt (still a major mystery to me)!

  14. Nina
    May 13, 2012, 11:17 pm

    I always pack a cardigan for the sudden coolness or rather breezy wind, cheap flip-flops for when it rains heavily and navigate thru a bit of flash floods without ruining my nice footwear, sneakers, hat for the central overhead aircon in the planes (especially if travelling at night), a large lightweight (waterproof if possible) zip-up day bag, plenty of tissues & wetwipes.

  15. Kristine K. Stevens
    May 13, 2012, 2:13 pm

    I bring a sarong that works as a towel, post-shower or beach wrap, shawl, light cover (instead of a blanket), privacy screen, and source of familiar comfort.

  16. Emma
    May 13, 2012, 1:06 pm

    There are 2 seemingly irrelevant things we never travel without;
    Duck tape and ziplock bags.

    Duck fixes ANYTHING (we’ve used it for baggage straps, waterproofing and even fixing a bra strap that broke at a really inconvinient time and place).
    Ziplock bags can be used to keep things safe and dry, documents, electronics, cash, etc. They’re also useful for mixing up some snacks if you’re about to head out to somewhere off the beaten track.

  17. Susan Foster
    Portland, Oregon
    May 11, 2012, 10:46 pm

    Next time you are packing, please contact me and I will happily share packing info with you for your trip. As a packing expert/author/frequent traveler, I could have easily made your trip with one small carry-on bag and I am a fashionista (no, I would not pack those heels!) It’s great that your skirt and bag worked, but there are also better options.