The Other Things We Pack Part 1: Health, Safety, and Personal Items/Toiletries

Although he has nothing to do with health or safety, Little Guy will of course be traveling along with me again for good fortune, but this time he’ll have a companion: Big Brother, who’s older and slightly heavier than Little Guy. I’ve had BB since 1982, and both Inu Hariko came from the same shop in Tokyo.

Our travel luggage consists of two large rolling duffel bags, two rolling hard-sided carry-on bags, a backpack for Brett, and a large canvas tote for me. Between all of it, we are able to (and have to) pack all the things we need for clothing ourselves year-round, and ensuring a comfortable stay no matter where we go.

I’ve divided the non-clothing items we carry into two parts because there are lots of “other things” we carry. Almost all are small but necessary, to us anyway. Some items make our stays more comfortable and organized, others mean we don’t have to purchase something new at our destination, and others are things to get us started until we can find or replenish with local items and goods. Some miscellaneous items go along to make our temporary lodgings feel a little more like “home.”

All of these “other” things can be tucked into our suitcases or carry-ons without taking up much room. We try whenever possible to choose things we can share (like shampoo or vitamins, for example) rather than having one product for Brett, another for me. We will start out with a few big containers purchased at Costco (vitamins; pain relief), but those will eventually get swapped out for smaller packages that we purchase along the way. Those big bottles from Costco are very cost efficient, but some of the most difficult things to pack and we’re always glad when they run out.

This week’s post covers items we are packing for health and safety, and our personal toiletries:

Health & safety: Last go-around we carried way, way too many of some of these items, and not enough of others. For some reason, for example, we didn’t take any cold relief medicine, and we found it was quite difficult to find overseas when we needed it. We’ve also learned that we don’t need to carry much to get started because most things can be found locally (cold relief and antacids being the exception).

  • Prescription medications
  • Hydrocortisone cream; Lotrimin (for bug bites and other itchy things)
  • Anti-bacterial cream (i.e. Neosporin)
  • Bandaids; Leukotape (for cuts and blisters)
  • OTC products (antacids, pain relief, cold medication, anti-diarrheal, motion sickness)
  • Vitamins

Personal items/toiletries: We try to keep these as minimal as possible to start out, and we buy and replace as needed wherever we are. Bars of solid shampoo and conditioner work great and are big space savers and last longer than travel sizes of shampoo and conditioner. Products that come in tubes are preferred to other types of containers as they are the easiest to pack and cut down on waste. We found American-style washcloths difficult to locate when we were in Europe last time and swore to never travel again without our own supply. There’s also no makeup on the list as I no longer wear any other than lipstick so it’s one less thing for me to pack.

  • Mouthwash/toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Solid shampoo and conditioner bars
  • Curl cream (Laura)
  • Body lotion (Laura)
  • Facial moisturizer with sunscreen/night cream (Laura)
  • Shaving cream (Brett)
  • Razors (Henry’s + blades for Brett; disposables for me)
  • Washcloths
  • Manicure kit
  • Extra pairs of glasses

The above lists are fairly basic, but we’re mostly only bringing enough to get us started, and with only a few items travel sized, things like the mouthwash and toothpaste that we can later purchase at our destinations. We aim to shop local whenever possible.

Next week I’ll list the electronics we’re bringing, and some other items we started out not carrying but learned along the way were a good idea to have, just in case.


16 thoughts on “The Other Things We Pack Part 1: Health, Safety, and Personal Items/Toiletries

  1. I’m packing for a couple weeks in the UK, and my “American meds” for colds and such are top of list. I got caught out in Paris without a good decongestant and the flight back was h*ll. My DD has also realized that nothing over there is quite as effective as what we have here, so I’m hauling some for her as well. Since I only do carryon, it’s a challenge weight wise and space wise to include everything I’d like to carry, but I have an old Patagonia MLC softside that holds an AMAZING amount and a great tote from my working days that holds the rest. So far. (fingers crossed). I don’t look forward to the long trek in arrivals at Heathrow, but the suitcase usually weighs less coming home. (No coffee this time!) 🙃


    1. I can’t remember why we didn’t travel without cold medication before (other than we rarely if ever use it here) but it turned out to be a big mistake. We got sick in Rome, and then sicker in Lisbon, and ended up at a pharmacist there who gave us throat lozenges that did nothing for our incredibly stuffy heads and runny noses. It was miserable. So, lesson learned.

      Interestingly though, we found all sorts of U.S. name brands for medication in New Zealand and Australia. But, we’d have to rely on a pharmacist in the UK and France so we will be packing enough to get us started. We are also packing coffee to get us started, although it appears our home in Strasbourg has a Nespresso machine (insert happy face here).

      The logistics of any airport are the worst part of any travel. Brett and I both refuse to go through Barrajas Airport in Madrid ever again, for any reason. Heathrow paled in comparison to that nightmare of an airport. Bordeaux was pretty awful as well.


  2. You can easily get antacids in the UK – any branch of Boots (look out for their 3 for 2 offers when you are there) and also in supermarkets. In a lot of countries in Europe, things like Panodol and indeed antacids can only be purchased from the pharmacy. I’m not sure what the difference is between an American washcloth and what in the UK would be called a flannel, but they are easily found. Cold/flu remedies in my experience are not available so easily in the parts of Europe I lived in, but you can easily find Lemsip in any UK supermarket or pharmacy. I think people become used to certain medications or remedies – the Danes swear by Trio for example as a pain remedy!


    1. When we were in the UK last time, it was following a long stay in the U.S. so we were well equipped and never had to search for anything other than paper coffee filters – those were difficult to find (a Tesco Superstore carried them, thank goodness). Anyway, I loved going into Boots and will have to do a thorough search in one this time to scout out what’s available. Once we’re in Japan we can access the commissary and exchange for American OTC products and we’ll stock up again.

      Cold remedies are the one thing we are concerned about this time. We rarely get colds, but what *a pharmacist* gave us in Lisbon was so ineffective it was laughable.

      We initially wanted/needed washcloths when we were in Strasbourg, and searched everywhere and all we could find were some very heavy terrycloth mitts – very unwieldy. A good American washcloth is about 6 in (15.25 cm) and made of mid-weight terrycloth, and we could find nothing like that while we were in Europe. We carried our own washcloths after that, one’s we picked up during our summer in Portland, so never checked in the UK, but then accidentally left those washcloths behind when we were back in Portland for the holidays because our hosts provided plenty of them! So, we’ll be carrying them again – we use them daily and they’re very handy. I am going to look in the UK though to see if a flannel is the same thing.


  3. I remember trying to buy some antacid in France. The pharmacist couldn’t speak English and my French didn’t extend to medical terms. But we got there with miming and “noises”. I can, and have, asked for paracetamol. I think you’re allowed some compounds or drugs OTC that other countries only allow on script. Though some are behind the counter and can get by request to the pharmacist. We can no longer buy some cold medicine without providing ID because of ice production from pseudoephedrine. We’ve also had codeine more carefully controlled.

    So what’s an American washcloth?

    We pack tea bags. And Mr S packs his mug. What we miss in Europe is a toaster. But that’s too big to pack.


    1. This sounds like our experience buying cold medication in Lisbon! She spoke some English, but it was still tough going and a lot of sign language for a while.

      I found OTC products easy to find in Australia, and recognized many brands. We didn’t really need to buy anything while we were there, but went to a pharmacy when I broke my toe for leukotape and checked out product then. We found American cold medication and Immodium A/D in New Zealand in the supermarket!

      An American washcloth is a 6″ (15.25 cm) square of mid-weight terry cloth. Its very useful for face washing, showers, etc. without being bulky. We’re bringing the six we have now along with us this next time.

      We’re bringing mugs and coffee. We were going to bring our little waffle maker, but ultimately decided against it. It will go into storage. There’s a post coming up next week about other non-clothing items we’re bringing along (learned through trial and error).


  4. OK, to me, an American washcloth is a square of terrycloth about 6-8 inches on each side, used at the sink, shower, or bath. Hotels provide one per person, per day. Tell me about a flannel, now. Same thing? Here, flannel is a very soft cotton that is used for winter shirts or pajamas.


    1. I am mystified as well by what a flannel is. It is actually made from flannel? In Japan, washcloths are used that are made from gauze! They work, but it’s not the same.


  5. I’ve never been away for as long as you will be, but whenever I travel overseas I always bring cold medication, Tylenol, and my OTC allergy meds because I don’t want to not be feeling well and have to try to figure out what the equivalent meds would be in a different country–and end up getting the wrong thing. The large bottles from Costco are great, but like you said, they take up a lot of room and can be heavy. I guess you could divide them up into smaller bottles and be sure you label them so you don’t forget what they are. I had a situation once where I brought a liquid allergy medication and it ended up getting cracked and spilled all over, but good thing I had packed it inside a ziplock bag and also inside a large plastic container so the mess was contained. I would bring things like Neosporin and Band-Aids because they don’t weigh much. And I always bring another pair of glasses, even if it’s an older prescription, because that would be better than nothing.


    1. Some of the happiest days during our travels were the ones where we could toss the big Costco bottles! They were such a pain to pack, and took up precious room. Big mistake before was Brett and I each carrying our own bottle of stuff; this time we are using the same products more so we have less to carry.

      Everything that can possibly break or crack goes in a ziplock back inside our suitcase, sometimes double wrapped. I don’t think any bottles are going this time; tubes are easier to pack and take up less room, and there’s less waste as well.

      I’m getting new glasses next month; the pair I’m wearing now will be kept to go along as my backup pair. We traveled with one pair last time which was not very smart!


  6. Always surprising what you can and can’t buy OTC in other countries. While in Oxford a few years ago, I needed to replenish our supply of Pepto-Bismol. It was “behind the counter” and required a pharmacist consult to purchase. And it was also expensive! (Btw, I love my washcloths and always travel with them.)


    1. It was, and is. One of the reasons we like to start out with a good assortment of OTC medication (not too much though) is that if you need it you often don’t have time to go looking for it, figure out how to get it, or even if what you get will work or be what you were expecting. We unfortunately learned that lesson in Lisbon and lost two full days suffering from colds with no relief (except aspirin, throat lozenges, and lots and lots of tissues).

      Washcloths are so useful – don’t leave home without them!


  7. We stayed at a lovely AirBnB in Kenya and were surprised to find no washcloths and no top sheets. Apparently these items are not commonly used there. We managed without the top sheets, but made a beeline to a grocery store that also carried some other household items and got a couple wash cloths. Lesson learned!


    1. We use a duvet and have not had a top sheet for ages so that wouldn’t faze me, but the washcloth thing – we looked so many places in Strasbourg and were mystified that we couldn’t find them . . . anywhere. So, now we pack our own! Dishcloths were another items that were often not provided, so we also carry microfiber clothes for wiping up and other cleaning chores.


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