In a few days I'll be heading to Vietnam on a two-week excursion with my cousin. Planning to travel somewhere halfway across the world can be tricky, so I thought I'd chronicle my process for this trip.
Because I decided to take this trip rather quickly, my first order of business was to determine if I needed a visa to visit Vietnam and then to understand what the process was to obtain it. A former client of mine, VisaCentral, makes it really easy for travelers to find out whether or not they need a visa for their destination countries. If they do, those travelers can decide to use VisaCentral services to obtain the visa or they can choose to work directly with the embassy for their destination country. In this case, I chose the latter. I did find the Vietnamese Embassy website a bit confusing when it came to visa requirements, however, so I exchanged a few clarifying emails with embassy staff to ensure that my visa application would be accepted and processed in a timely manner.
My second step was to collect all of the important information about the country that I was going to need. I downloaded the Lonely Planet guidebook for Southeast Asia and read the entire section on Vietnam, highlighting and bookmarking the passages that I would likely want to reference again later. I also read all of the relevant information provided by the State Department and CDC and saved the most helpful bits (like embassy contact information and medical facilities) to Evernote so that I would be able to access it again once in the country. Finally, I registered my trip with the STEP program ensure that the US government would know I was in Vietnam if some sort of crisis were to occur.
We're keeping our itinerary purposefully vague since things never seem to go quite as planned when traveling in a foreign country, anyway. We've opted not to book any accommodations in advance to give us the most flexibility once we are on the ground in the country. That said, I do hope to make it to at least the following cities:
- Halong Bay / Halong City
- Hoi An
- Saigon (Ho Chi Min City)
I've made notes in my guidebook about what sights sound interesting and what types of transportation are best suited to get between cities so that I can reference those notes quite a bit once in Vietnam.
Current temperatures in Vietnam ranges from 40F in the north to nearly 90F in the south, which means I'm packing for two extremes and everything that falls between. Right now, my total pack weight is around 18 pounds which sounds like a lot, but is about the weight I usually carry to do an overnight backpacking trip in the woods.
- REI Women's Lookout 40 Backpack
Three years ago I traveled to India with only a day pack. Last year I traveled to Central America with a backpack that was busting at the seems. This time around, I think I've finally found the right balance: everything's in and ready to go, and I'm only about two-thirds full, meaning there will be plenty of room for souvenirs!
- Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Essential Messenger Bag
I like to bring along a separate purse so that I don't always have to lug around my backpack. This purse (despite its name, it is most definitely not a messenger bag) has a number of anti-theft features including a cut-proof strap, locking zippers, and RFID-blocking technology.
- Outdoor Research 35L Dry Sack
I usually line my pack with a trash bag to prevent my valuables from rain damage but I've been consistently frustrated with how trash bags tend to get stuck in the zippers of my pack, so I've decided to use an extra-large dry sack for this trip instead.
- Outdoor Research Ultralight 8L Z-Compression Sack
This sack is great for clothing and outerwear — it allows me to compress down bulky items to make additional space in my pack.
- Sea-to-Summit Travelling Light 2L, .6L, and .3L Mini Stuff Sack Set
The 2L stuff sack is holding my socks, underwear, and swimsuit. The smaller stuff sacks are holding some gadgets and their charging cables.
- REI 3-1-1 Air Travel Liquids Bag
I usually use a Ziploc bag to hold my travel-sized liquids, but that bag almost always rips at some point during my trip. I've been looking for a lightweight alternative for quite a while and finally stumbled upon this one.
- Case Logic DSLR Day Holster
Since I'm only bringing one lens, I've decided to opt for a lightweight camera case for my DSLR instead of an entirely separate camera bag so that I can save space and weight in my pack.
- MasterLock 646D Luggage Lock
Normally I wouldn't deal with a luggage lock, but since I'm traveling with a fairly new camera that's too large to fit in my purse, I've opted for a small lock for the zippers on the main compartment of my backpack.
- Apple iPhone 5 (with protective case and charging cable)
My iPhone will serve so many purposes on this trip: occasional camera, guidebook, GPS, flashlight, currency converter, Vietnamese-English dictionary, map, journal, and lifeline to the Internet. I've also saved all my trip details and paperwork offline in a combination of the Google Drive, Personal, and Evernote apps, so even without an Internet connection I should always have access to important information.
- Sony A3000 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens (with neck strap, extra battery, and charging cable)
I'm a newcomer to the DSLR world and this trip will give me a lot of practice! I'm bringing along an extra battery so I'm never caught with a camera that doesn't work.
- SDHC Memory Cards
I have two memory cards for this trip and together they total 20GB of memory. At the standard image size for my camera (17MP), they will hold roughly 4,000 photos, and even more if I decrease the size of the images.
- Amazon Kindle Touch (with protective case)
For long periods of reading (which tend to happen when traveling), I prefer a screen larger than my iPhone. I like traveling with my Kindle over my iPad because it is smaller, lighter, and easier on the eyes. No need to bring the charging cable because it uses the same cord as my camera.
- Apple iPod Classic 160GB (with protective case, headphones, and charging cable)
Even years after its retirement by Apple, I am still obsessed with my iPod Classic. It holds several weeks worth of music, podcasts, iTunesU lectures, and movies that are great for listening to during travel or while trying to fall asleep with noisy surroundings.
- Jawbone Up24 (with charging cable)
I'm all about the "connected self" and the Jawbone Up24 is an always-on fitness tracker that I wear everyday. Hopefully I'll get my 10,000 steps in every day while away!
- PowerAdd Pilot X3 Portable Battery Pack
Finding free outlets when traveling is always tough. This battery pack provides convenient on-the-go charging for my electronics and will full charge an iPhone three times.
- MAXAH Surge Protector All-in-One Universal Worldwide Travel Wall Charger
My research tells me that Vietnam has three different types of outlets throughout the country, so I'm hoping this "universal" converter will keep me covered no matter where I am.
- Sea-to-Summit 100% Premium Silk Travel Liner
Since I'm not booking accommodations in advance (and because you never know what you're going to get in other countries), this travel liner provides an extra layer of protection against bugs if I end up staying somewhere that feels kind of icky. To be even more safe, I also sprayed this liner with permethrin before packing it.
- Packtowl Ultralight Soft Texture Towel
This towel is full-size, fast-drying, weighs only three ounces, and folds into the size of a washcloth.
- Swiss+Tech Utili-Key 6-in-1 Key Ring Multi-Function Tool
A very practical stocking stuffer from last Christmas, this is super handy, lightweight tool that stays on my key ring. It can be used as a bottle opener, flat screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, micro-screwdriver, straight-blade knife and serrated-blade knife.
Clothing and Accessories
- Two C9 by Champion Seamless Racerback Bras
The C9 Seamless Racerback is my favorite sports bra. It's comfortable, fast-drying, and maintains a decent shape under any type of clothes.
- Three Pairs ExOfficio Underwear
ExOfficio's tagline says that you only need one pair of underwear for six weeks of travel. Ha! That said, the big selling point for me is the bacteria-resistant and fast-drying material. I'm bringing three pairs and will continually wash-wear-swap throughout the trip.
- Keen Zing Ultralight Low-Cut Socks
From everything I've read about merino wool, it seems to be the best way to travel light, but given the expense of products made from merino wool, I'm taking a toe-in-the-water approach and starting with a pair of socks.
- Two Pairs "Performance" Socks
These are standard, moisture-wicking athletic socks. They'll be part of my wash-wear-swap routine as well.
- Swim Suit
Vietnam has so much more coastline than I realized. Hopefully we'll get to check out at least one of the beaches while there.
- Women's "Performance" Tank Top
An inexpensive, moisture-wicking top for hot days.
- Two Women's "Performance" T-Shirts
These are fast-drying athletic tops that will likely be worn during physical activities for long days of travel.
- Terramar Helix V-Neck Shirt
This shirt is moisture-wicking with UPF25. The V-neck makes it look nicer than my other "performance" tops.
- Cold Gear Long-Sleeved Tee
This top will serve as a heavier-weight base layer for cold nights.
- Columbia Sportswear Long Sleeve Saturday Trail II Shirt
This top is a lot nicer looking than the array of athletic-type clothing I'm bringing, but is still made of moisture-wicking material and has UPF30 protection.
- Lole Women's Harbour Shorts
I almost bought these shorts for my trip to Central America last year, but decided not to due to their cost. I was super excited to find them on clearance this year for nearly half their original price. They are made of a moisture-wicking material and can be worn with either a six-inch or three-inch inseam depending on your preference.
- Athletic Shorts
I'm bringing one basic pair of athletic shorts that I'll likely wear for physical activities, sleeping, and/or long travel days.
- "Performance" Leggings
These leggings will be a moisture-wicking base layer for any nights spent in mountain towns.
- Royal Robbins Discovery Pant
These pants are a contemporary-cut travel dungaree that is both fast-drying and wrinkle resistant. They're fairly lightweight, so if I'm out on cold nights, I'll likely wear my leggings underneath.
- Merrell Women's Ellsworth Dress
This is a very cute dress made from moisture-wicking material. It includes UPF50+ protection and will be great for days spent near the southern coast.
- Women's "Performance" Jacket
This is an easy, light layer for cool mornings or evenings.
- Columbia Sportswear Granite Tors Titanium Jacket
I don't think this jacket is in production any longer, but it is my go-to rain coat. It also makes a good wind-breaking outer layer in cool weather. The entire jacket conveniently stuffs into the left pocket making it easy to pack.
- REI Women's Co-op Down Jacket
I bought this coat specifically for this trip because of its weight-to-warmth ratio. It's 650-fill down and weights about eight ounces. It's very compressible which is important when traveling with only a backpack.
- Fleece Ear Warmer
I'm not sure if I'll need this item or not, but bringing it just in case since its so tiny and light.
- Ball Cap
On long stretches of travel without access to a shower, sometimes the best option is just to cover up the second-day hair.
- The NorthFace Women's E-Tip Gloves
These lightweight gloves have served me quite well. I love that I can use all of my electronics without ever having to take them off.
- RayBan Aviator Sunglasses
These sunglasses are the only pair I've ever spent more than $10 on, but I love them.
- Nike Women's Downshifter 5 Sneakers
The Nike Downshifter is a solid casual sneaker that also works well for athletic activities. It will likely be what I wear most of the trip.
- Crocs Duet Flip Flops
These flip flops are lightweight and fast-drying. They'll be good for beach days and also work well as shower shoes, if I need those.
Safety and First Aid
- Hand Sanitizer
Staple item. My bottle is as big as TSA will let it be.
- Ben's 30% Deet Tick & Insect Repellent
I'm hoping to get to visit at least one Vietnamese national park and I'm trying to avoid as many bites as I can from jungle bugs.
- SPF30 Sunscreen
Five years ago I wouldn't have seen this as an essential item. But now I'm old and I actually care about my skin.
Blisters. I always get blisters.
- Daily Prescriptions
I take a number prescriptions daily to prevent migraine headaches, so I'll be taking enough of them along with me to cover my two-week trip, plus a few extra days in case we encounter any problems traveling back to the US. I have copies of all of my receipts, bottle labels, and drug information saved to Evernote in case they need to be referenced for any reason while abroad.
- Pain Reliever and Anti-Diarrheal Medicine
I've packed some pain relievers for headaches and back aches. The anti-diarrheal... that's just one of the less glamorous parts of traveling abroad.
Cipro is the mother of all antibiotics. If you get sick in a foreign country, you'll want this stuff nearby. If you're traveling abroad, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription. Just ask Ken Seals.
- Dr. Bronner's Organic Soap
This multi-purpose liquid soap will be used as shampoo, soap, and laundry detergent when washing clothes in the sink and/or shower.
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste
I usually use an electric toothbrush, but no need to tote that halfway around the world. Going old-school this time around and sticking with a classic toothbrush.
The dentist swears by flossing, and floss can conveniently used for any number of other purposes as well.
When traveling to India several years ago, I decided to forgo the conditioner to save weight in my pack. Big mistake. Exact quote from a travel buddy: "I think this is the worst I've ever seen you look."
- Hair Gel
Oh the joys of having curly hair. See comments under "conditioner."
Not because I'm glamorous. See comments under "conditioner."
If I plan to shave my legs at any point (which I do), lotion is imperative for post-shower skin hydration.
- Schick Quattro Razor
A razor is another item wherein I intentionally carry more weight than I probably have to. I despise plastic, disposable razors. I don't care how light they are.
Helpful for splinters, blisters, and hangnails.
- Neutrogena Shine-Control Blotting Sheets
As an alternative to lugging around face wash, I like Neutrogena's Shine-Control Blotting Sheets because they are very lightweight and super effective for cleaning the oil off of your face.
- Mascara, Eyeliner, and Eyeshadow
I probably won't wear makeup most of the time I'm there, so just bringing a few things.
- Chapstick and Lip Gloss
I'm avid Carmex user. It goes wherever I go.
One more step in trying to tame the mane.
- Ponytails, Bobby Pins, and Hair Clip
Still more items to control the mop on my head. For most of my trip I'll likely don my token "birds nest" -- a sloppy bun right on top of my head.
- Toilet Paper
Access to toilet paper can be hit or miss depending on where you are in the world, so I keep a little bit in a Ziploc bag in my purse in case I ever need it.
- Passport (with visa)
Probably the most important thing I packed. I also saved an encrypted copy of this document to Personal in case my original gets stolen or misplaced.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
There are no foreign transaction fees with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, making it the ideal travel companion for an international trip. This card also has great travel rewards as well.
- Simple Debit Card
Simple doesn't assess any extra fees when withdrawing funds from a foreign ATM.
- Drivers License
My drivers license is a back up form of identification to my passport.
- $250 Cash
I usually divide my cash up in various places between my purse and my backpack so that if I ever were to fall victim to pickpocketing that only a portion of my money would be lost.
I hate not having a pen to fill out customs forms on the airplane.
- Car Key
Don't have a choice on this one if I want my car to still be in the airport parking lot when I get back.
- Deck of Cards
On my last couple of trips abroad, my friends and I enjoyed sitting around playing cards every so often as a way to relax from sightseeing.