By Sun Lee Chang
Northwest Asian Weekly
I’m no millionaire. So my little family and I limit vacations that require travel by plane, and our travels overseas are even less frequent. After having recovered sufficiently from our most recent family trip to Asia, with our young children and my in-laws in tow, I knew I had to write a reminder to myself of what to do and, even more important, what to avoid the next time around. Chances are, by the time we fly out to some exotic locale or even the same one again in a couple years, I will forget the lessons that are fresh in my mind right now. So this is a tip sheet for travel to Taiwan (but can also apply to any other destination), but also a reminder to my hopefully less-harried, future self: Souvenirs for close friends, family, and co-workers. I confess, I spend an inordinate amount of time feeling guilty for taking an actual vacation. Somehow, bringing folks back home some souvenirs seems to help. I have found that some of the best souvenir shopping happens at the airport on our way home. I have found the best sweet treats (packaged perfectly) and little trinkets while waiting for our flight back home. You just have to schedule enough time at the airport, after check-in and security, to look around at leisure. A big plus is that it is often duty-free (tax free) shopping and you get that little sticker on the bag, which means less scrutiny by customs. The biggest plus is that you don’t waste your precious vacation time when you should be relaxing, seeing the sights, or generally enjoying yourself.
Packing cubes make organizing a snap! If you are the “mom” of the household, then you will thank yourself for using packing cubes. I happened to stumble upon a blog about them when I was scrounging around at the last minute for a helpful packing list to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. After some quick searching on Amazon.com, I found a fairly inexpensive set of three medium eBags, which I ordered and tested on the trip. It made packing for my two little girls and myself so easy. I just put the clothes for each person in their own little eBag, then put all three in a bigger suitcase that I checked in at the airport. When I got to the hotel, it made finding clothes and putting them away a breeze. I wish I had ordered another set of three, so that I would have something for odds and ends, dirty laundry, and a pack for my husband. So worth it!
If you aren’t sure about the weather, even if the destination is supposed to be sunny and warm most of the year, pack a light windbreaker. It took the place of a sweater or a hoodie, and was easy to wash off if it became dirty. Best of all, it took so little room in my backpack.
Wear shoes that come off easily in the airport. I cannot stress this enough. I invested in some quality Birkenstock sandals and am glad I did. Between walking through security at the airport, making sure I had all my bags, and walking around with my young toddler on my hip, I was so happy to have some comfortable shoes that were
easy to put on and take off.
Sometimes, they do have some good food at the airport. This is especially true in Taipei, Taiwan. However, I forgot that I needed to walk further into the airport to find it. Don’t stop at the first place you see that offers food. Explore a little to find the hidden treasure.
Arrange for transportation to your hotel. After a long flight with your family, especially if you are traveling with young children or elderly family members, who wants to look for a taxi or bus? My husband emailed our hotel a couple of weeks before our trip and they arranged for a nice minivan to pick us up. The driver held one of those cute little signs with my name on it. It didn’t cost much more than an airport shuttle or a couple of taxi cabs (for six people and lots of luggage), and it impressed my in-laws that we were so prepared and organized.
Check ahead to see if your cell phone plan allows you to roam internationally without additional charge. I am a child of the modern age and I am never without my cell phone. We chose a plan that allowed a reasonable amount of roaming internationally without an additional charge. Before you head overseas, check ahead about your plan or you might get a huge surprise on your next cell phone bill.
Never leave your passport in the hotel room, in your luggage, or with a friend. I am close to paranoid about this one. My brother, who is a seasoned traveler, recently had his laptop, business equipment, and passport stolen, when a friend was watching it for the evening. Just another lesson that no one is immune for following safety tips abroad.
Keep your kids awake before a long flight. They wanted to sleep, but I did whatever I could to keep them awake. The end result was that they slept for several hours on the flight itself. If you have little ones, hoping that they don’t have a meltdown on the flight is a major stressor. Big bonus — if they sleep on the plane, that means you can get a little rest, too!
Pack or buy some collapsible large bags that fold flat. This is great if you buy some bigger items that don’t fit in your suitcase. You can check in more luggage, or if you need a cover for something like a folding stroller. If you don’t end up using it, it won’t take up much room. It can be a lifesaver if you get a tear in your luggage and need a last minute cover to keep it together for the flight (like we did)!
Sun Lee Chang can be reached at email@example.com.