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Months before Mike and I left on our study tour of Israel, we polled friends who have traveled there recently.

“What are you really thankful you had along?” we asked. “Anything you wish you had taken?”

Their advice and our subsequent experience applies to international travel in general, so here in no particular order are M&M’s Top Ten Travel Tips:

10. Passport holder.

Years ago, my friend Marge gave me a slim black leather case (pictured below) that is the perfect size for the essentials you absolutely do not want to lose. Mine has four pockets for my cellphone, credit cards/medical ID, currency and, of course, passport. While traveling I sling it around my neck; at the hotel it easily slips into the safe.

9. Water bottle/carabiner

Other than in the winter or rainy season, Israel has a hot, dry climate. We were comfortable there even in late May, but it’s vital to stay hydrated. Bottled water is easily procurable but we’d rather save our shekels for other things. Carry a Nalgene bottle in your backpack or on a strap (as our guide did), or clipped to your belt loop with a carabiner.

8. Backpack/messenger bag

And speaking of backpack, you already knew you need one, right? When you’re away from your lodgings and on and off a bus all day, you need a hands-free place to stash a light sweater, sunbrella (wish I’d had one of these), notebook and pen, hat, camera and snacks.

Mike borrowed this striped one and I carried the small black citypack, but be aware that backpacks can be problematic in a crowded place. Due to security concerns you are better off in some venues without a bulky pack. Backpacks

I wish instead I’d taken a small messenger bag like our guide used. Slung over his neck and one shoulder, Yoni could easily reach into his bag for essentials and never had to be concerned about pickpockets coming up from behind.

7. Trail Mix

Breakfasts and dinners were included in our tour, but most lunches were on our own. We enjoyed midday meals of shawarma (shaved chicken roasted on a spit) and falafel (the ubiquitous fried ground chickpeas in pita bread that are the Middle Eastern equivalent of our hamburgers).

With the huge Israeli buffets that began and ended each day, though, we didn’t need much at lunch most days. A roll with some dried fruit and trail mix purchased and zipped into individual sandwich bags before we left was just right.

6. Practical Shoes

You already know this, but just a reminder: forget fashion. Go for comfort. And don’t purchase your shoes just before your trip. Break them in for a month or two first.

A coworker suggested closed-toe Keen sandals that I ordered from REI. They were perfect! And since they were waterproof as well, I could wade through Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem without changing shoes.


5. Pantyliners

Guys, this tip is for you too. Have you ever tried to change into fresh clothes in an airplane lavatory? Exactly.

Pick up a bag of these before you leave (30 for a buck at the dollar store), and make use of them for overnight travel when you hit the ground running upon arrival.

4. Clothes

Set out what you think you’ll need a week before your trip. Eliminate half. No one cares if you wear the same stuff multiple times. Take a clothesline and use the shampoo the hotel provides to refresh your wear.

(Another tip: many holy sites require “holy wear,” which means arms covered to the elbow and legs to the knees. I kept a shawl in my citypack along with a long lightweight reversible skirt, which was also much cooler than slacks.)

3. Hanging Toiletry Kit

I got mine from LL Bean before we left and loved having everything in one place. Travel sizes are easy to get from the dollar store or Target. Leave the full-size stuff at home (except for sunscreen – you’ll need it!)

2. Sound Machine

Mike and I have always liked to take a small sound machine (ours is from Brookstone) when we travel to maximize our opp for a good night’s sleep despite city noises. With the advent of smartphones and iPads, though, leave it at home and download a white noise app instead.

1. Currency Converters – plural!

Everyone knows you need one for international travel, but if you’re taking a laptop and cellphone along, you’ll need at least two.

So what I have forgotten or failed to mention? Please share your best travel tips too!