BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE
8 Common Vacations: the Surprising Things You'll Need (and the Things You Won't)
Your standard packing checklist will only get you so far. From theme parks to weekend getaways to cruising, we’ll show you what specific items to pack—and what to leave at home—for eight common vacation types. You might be surprised by what we’ve uncovered!
Bring: Ready-to-eat snacks
Every good penny pincher knows to pack his own snacks when visiting a pricey theme park. But remember: not all foods are the same when it comes to theme park policy. Although Disney World allows you to bring in outside food, state law prohibits employees from "storing, preparing, cooking, or reheating any food" brought in by guests. That means everything must be completely ready to eat—no instant oatmeal or Easy Mac! (Universal Resort has a similar policy.) Another item you'll have to provide yourself at Disney: chewing gum. Walt reportedly hated the goopy stuff and banned its sale within the parks. Draconian? Your shoes won't think so.
Leave at home: A first-aid kit
It's tempting to over-prepare for an emergency, but the House of Mouse and other major amusement parks have you covered when it comes to basic health issues. Each Disney theme park has first-aid stations staffed by certified nurses who are equipped to fix minor scrapes and internal ailments. You'll find a wide array of free products, from Tylenol to Tums to bandages, in addition to blood pressure checking stations. Universal Resort, Six Flags, and Cedar Point offer similar first-aid stations at their parks, so there's no need to fill up your pack with pills you may end up not even needing.
BRING: Eco-friendly sunscreen
Chances are, you won't forget sunscreen on your beach vacation. But you may need to do a little research ahead of time to make sure you're bringing precisely the right kind of lotion. Chemicals in your sunscreen can have a negative effect on fragile coral reef ecosystems, and some Mexican eco-parks, including Xel-Há and Xcaret, are protecting them by banning sunscreens that contain certain compounds. Before crossing the border, look for lotions that are light on the questionable chemicals, such as paraben, cinnamate, and benzophenone. Opt instead for eco-conscious brands like Burt's Bees (burtsbees.com, $18) and Tropical Seas (tropicalseas.com, from $4.50).
Leave at home: Charitable donations (unless you've planned ahead)
Many American travelers hope to turn their trip abroad into an opportunity to help out; a popular plan is to bring clothing to donate to a local orphanage or charity. But know before you go: According to the U.S. Department of State, Mexico's customs regulations prohibit the importation of used goods, including all textiles. So that pile of clothing you're intending to hand out in Tijuana might not make it south of the border. Donations of medicine and other items are allowed, but they must be approved and arranged in advance with Mexico's customs department. You can still do good—just arrange it beforehand instead of hoping for negligent border patrol officials.
Bring: Tablet toothpaste, bar shampoo, and stick deodorant
On a short trip with no checked baggage, there's no time to waste on the TSA. If you're traveling light with just a carry-on, avoid the 3-1-1 liquid policy (3.4 ounce bottles or less, one-quart sized plastic bag, one bag per passenger) altogether and fly dry. Stock up on TSA-friendly alternatives to liquid products, like Lush's Toothy Tabs (lushusa.com, from $4), foaming toothpaste stand-ins that come in a variety of flavors, and J.R. Liggett's bar shampoos (jrliggett.com, $7), which are detergent-free and come with a range of supplements for hair health. Finally, remember to pack a reliable solid deodorant—gels and aerosols are subject to the TSA's 3.4-ounce rule, but the stick stuff isn't.
Leave at home: Gel shoe inserts
The TSA is more concerned about planted bombs than plantar warts. Like any other type of gel, shoe cushions fall under the TSA's regulations—good luck finding inserts that weigh in under 3.4 ounces. Instead, invest in a pair of comfy travel shoes, or skirt the TSA's regulations by using plastic or memory-foam insoles instead. Wondering what else passes the TSA test? Take advantage of the agency's Can I Bring? online search engine to inquire about every kind of carry-on, from alcohol (3.4 ounces or less, please) to Zippos (one per guest).
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