How does a geek plan for 3 weeks in 4 countries with a small bag & a laptop?

July 23, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Traveling with just a laptop and a stick The headline’s not meant to sound exotic.  The surprise for me was how much I’ve relied on technology and the web to plan the trip I’m now on.  I want to share some quick tips that have been surprisingly effective.

If you plan to travel domestically or abroad, I hope this will save you some money and help you travel lighter…while still staying connected (if you’d like). If you have other tips to share, I’d enjoy them, too!

Over the next 3 weeks I’ll be abroad.  I’m writing now from Keflavik, Iceland.  On Monday I’ll head to Barcelona, Spain.  That Friday takes me to Bangkok, Thailand.  And I’ll finish the week in Kowloon, Hong Kong.  The temperature gets hotter in each place and I’ll have some work to do, but this is mostly for fun.  Exact info are on DopplrIf you’re in any of these places at the same time, drop me an email and let’s get together!

I’m not going to pretend I’m the most well-versed world-traveler.  It’s been a while since I’ve visited Europe and I’ve never been to Asia (well, does Israel really count?).  So I needed to hit the web.  The following are resources and tips that were not readily apparent to me when I first started.  I hope they’ll help you!

Organizing With a Custom Map

Sample Google My Map For various destination I’ve made maps (some to share with others, some for just myself) that outline where I’ll be staying and where I’d like to visit…so as to get a feel for the transportation requirements.  I highly recommend creating a Google “My Map” in Google Maps by visiting and clicking the My Maps tab.  Then click Create New Map.

Search for a destination and then right click it and choose Add a placemark.  For more information on using custom maps in Google, visit the official user guide.

Finding Which Sites to Use

Maybe I’m exaggerating, but there appear to be tens of thousands of travel sites, and all of them are vying for a top ranking on Google.  So I skipped Google when looking for sites to use.  Many of my searches instead started on, so I could see, for instance, which hostel website was most popular.

Getting the Right Flights

After some research with, talking to friends, and using some of my old favorites, here are some tips for getting the right flights and spending a little less in the process.

  • – where I always start for flight searches.  Their multi-city and filters are simply amazing
  • EasyJet & RyanAir – so this isn’t news to most people, but it’s how a lot of people travel within Europe for crazy cheap (less than $50 for many flights)
  • Microsoft’s Farecast is a great place to learn whether or not you should buy your tickets now, especially for domestic flights
  • FlyerTalk’s Mileage Run Deals is THE place for fares that really are incredible deals.  Check here often!
  • Elizabeth Terrell highly recommended I visit this site about cheap travel abroad
  • Having knowledge of the major airline alliances is essential for frequent flier programs.  This way you can ensure that you’re always accumulating miles for the airline of your choice (since each of these groups has reciprocity with each other).  This is also helpful to know when you get errors trying to buy flights that don’t “have reciprocity”
    • Star Alliance includes Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, bmi, EgyptAir, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, SWISS, TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, US Airways, as well as regional airlines Adria Airways, and Blue1
    • SkyTeam includes Aeroflot, AeroMexico, Air France, AirEuropa, Alitalia, China Southern, Continental Airlines, Copa Airlines, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air and Northwest Airlines

Choosing a Place to Stay

I’m not going to throw out some panacea for a cheap hotel.  But here are some sites that might alter your approach for finding a place to stay…

  • Check your Facebook networks to see if you might have any friends in the area you could crash with (or at least hang out with) while in town
  • Dopplr is a good site for seeing if other friends are traveling to those destinations at the same time as you
  • Hostelworld is a good place for inexpensive hostels and hotels…and is a bit less expensive than the results you’d find on, say, Expedia (which I also used)
  • If you’re really trying to travel on the cheap, check out CouchSurfing or the recently launched AirBed & Breakfast

Deciding What to Pack

  • Kow Loon weather Flickr.  I went to Flickr and searched for each city I planned to visit (this is an example).  Then I clicked on the link for “Most Recent.”  This showed me a snapshot for how locals/tourists dressed in various circumstances
  •  If you type in the city you plan to visit and then choose a period of time in the future, they’ll tell you the historical highs, lows, and other information

General Stuff to Pack

I’m not listing everything, just the stuff I chose after some time/thought/energy was expended.  I assume you can figure out to grab Woolite packs for washing your clothes, taking something that’ll wake you up, ear plugs, locks, etc.  The only real goal for me was that I could fit everything (including my laptop) into one carry-on size bag

  • Tim Ferriss’ Guide to traveling the world in 10lbs or less was very helpful.  Though I’m a little skeptical of the tiny towel I bought at his recommendation…  The best purchase so far has been my tiny Marmot windshirt.  (Take your pick they’re all tiny and warm.)  I also have enjoyed my Kiva bag
  • At REI, I bought more nylon/polyester stuff than you could bat a stick at.  I chose this backpack (medium gray), Ex Officio underwear and pants, as well as a nylon dress shirt, some Teva flip flops, etc.  This alone paid for my lifetime REI membership (via the discount)
  • Where would I be without Zappos?  I was very happy to find a super light pair of shoes with which I could get in my morning runs and still wear with jeans/nylon pants

Geek Stuff to Pack

My laptop bag from WaterfrieldYour needs may vary from mine, but I plan to do some serious work on the road, since I have to help keep people moving at work.  Here were my picks.

  • Extra, brand-new laptop battery
  • Extra camera battery
  • Clipping my Kiva bag (above) to my tiny day bag, which is just a WaterField laptop sleeve
  • A power converter, of course. I went with this Belkin one
  • Quad-band, unlocked phone.  A good place to find one is on eBay and this site (which I attempted to use but they canceled my order, so don’t order there at the last minute).  I ended up borrowing a friend’s unlocked T-Mobile Dash, which I wanted since it has ActiveSync and thus also doubles as a calendar/contacts/task list.  Turns out T-Mobile will unlock phones you’ve had for a little while.
  • SIM card for each area – for phone or SMS.  I ended up going with one of Telestial’s passport cards, but if you want to be organized before you arrive somewhere they have a huge list of SIM cards to purchase in advance here.  (I found this on, where it had been quite popular)
  • USB charge cables for my iPod and phone
  • Plantronics Foldable Skype headset.  It’s a bit chunky and there are probably better models for portability…but the quality has been fantastic
  • And if you’re curious, though you likely aren’t buying these just for a trip, I took a small wide-angle Canon point-and-shoot and a 12” Dell XPS laptop.  (photos so far are here)

I’m going to write a follow-up piece to this about the software and tricks for traveling abroad (in the next week).  For instance, AwayFind has helped a lot and I plan to explain how.  You can subscribe via RSS or email to stay in the loop.

Got any other tips for planning a long trip abroad?

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23 Responses to “How does a geek plan for 3 weeks in 4 countries with a small bag & a laptop?”

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  1. Jake

    I just booked a multi-country round the world trip myself.. I have to agree that the Kayak interface is the best I’ve seen, but I’ve been able to get much better prices by going to specialist travel agents.. My personal favourite is Flight Centre, but I hear Trailfinders is good as well.

    I ran across this site yesterday during my searching: which lists recent prices for flights just about anywhere.

  2. Jared Goralnick

    Jake, these are are awesome sites! You’re so much more versed than me with this stuff, and I much appreciate the insight. One of these days I hope our paths will cross when on the road :-)

  3. Hillel Glazer

    Great suggestions, as always, Jared!

    A few other practices I’ve found helpful as well (as I peer around my current hotel room):

    - Most airlines allow at least 1 carry-on + 1 personal item onto the aircraft. Certain items are not counted (in my experience) such as body-conforming bags such as “butt packs” (what’s a better term?) and bandoleer-style bags. Either are great for carrying your wallet, cash, passport, tickets, pocket camera, and music player as well as additional items like a book to read and writing objects. Typically, if an airline person gives you a hard time, you can simply toss the “extra” object into something else you’re carrying and problem solved. But having it strapped to your body makes it great for easy access as well as for going through security.

    - When traveling abroad, don’t bother with exchanging currency at the bank or other exchange services. Use your ATM/Debit card in nearly any bank’s ATM machine. You may have fees but they are typically far less than the service fee you will pay from a bank or other service provider and the exchange rate can be more accurate. (Check with your bank first about fees! My bank that refunds to me any fees charged by other banks.) Another currency “trick” is to over-pay a credit card shortly before you depart. Many credit card companies will carry an overpayment balance for a full billing cycle and won’t apply the balance to your charges until the end of the billing cycle. As soon as you arrive in your foreign location, take a “cash advance” on your card. This will often immediately deduct from your outstanding balance. Again, check with your credit card company. Some handle credit balances and cash advances differently to where this “trick” is worthless.

    - If you’re staying in a nicer hotel, investigate their “breakfast included option”. Especially these days where the US$ is in the tank, this option can be very worth the price. Also, the important thing to investigate is what exactly comes with the breakfast add-on. Sometimes it’s pathetic, but often it can be MUCH MORE than breakfast. One recent visit in Europe left me kicking myself for not opting for the breakfast option. Not only was the breakfast far superior to that even served in the conference or hotel restaurant, but it wasn’t just breakfast. The add-on included a better room as well as 24/7 food and beverage service so you could also have lunch, snacks, and make a light dinner from the fare.

    - Pack an empty duffel bag. Some airlines are very strict on weight limits of checked bags. You might find yourself hand-carrying more than you planned or checking an extra bag to lighten the load. It’s also helpful for when you accumulate souvenirs and other things but find that you didn’t plan for it when sizing your primary suitcase.

    - Pack a few empty 1-qt Zip-lock type bags. Useful for many reasons. Not the least of which is the liquid restriction on flights in/from/to the USA. Also, handy when you’re traveling with something you’re worried might leak.

    - We hear a lot about packing prescription drugs. Duh. Well, for many of us that’s not an issue. Pack your favorite over-the-counter drugs! In some countries you can’t get decent doses of (or any) Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) without a prescription and just forget about “Excedrin” or “DayQuil”.

    - Have a back-up plan to your “world phone”. These days we’ve become so accustomed to stuff “just working” and to being easily connected, that we hop on planes to go 6400km away without the ability to test whether our great phone idea will work. A simple back-up plan is to get a virtual phone card for where you are going. Tons available online, many cost little to nothing to get and you get your account#, PIN, and localized toll-free access numbers instantly. (For what it’s worth, I’ve had multiple successes and great service with “world phone” SIM cards at:

    That’s enough for now. Have a great trip Jared!!!!

  4. Hillel Glazer

    One more really important tip:

    Take a lightweight power strip with at least 3 outlets. You can plug all your domestic stuff into it, and then simply plug the one end into your adapter or converter which goes into the wall.

    Many of today’s power chargers can handle power input from 110V to 240V. All they need is an adapter to get the plug into the wall outlet.

    I (thankfully) no longer own a single item that needs to step the power up or down so that it doesn’t fry my gadgets. In other words, nothing needs power “converting” or “transforming” any more. It only needs adaptation of the plug end to fit into the wall.

    One note however: although some gadgets’ power chargers will work on lower voltage, the object itself may not be getting the power it needs to charge. This is a tough situation to address if you’re (for example) coming to the US where 110/115V is the standard and your gadget expects 220/240V to charge.

  5. Emily

    Wow, sounds like a great trip!! I am jealous, but hope you are enjoying your vacation around the world :-) I will definitely keep this info for future reference, in case I end up traveling abroad anytime soon…

  6. Larry Norder

    Great tips on this topic!
    Here are a few of mine gleaned from several years of 250K+ business travel.

    Sleep is the most important commodity – sleeping on the plane is one of the best uses of that international travel time. Find something that works for you – for me it was Melatonin which you can get at any pharmacy or natural products store (like the Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods). You can’t get this without a prescription in Europe so stock up in the states. If Melatonin doesn’t work than a mild prescription sleep aid such as Ambion should be available from your physician. As always consult with your physician.

    If you can get a good several hours sleep on the plane, then the flight goes faster, and you’ll feel better when you arrive. I have also found that the Homeopahtic Product, “No Jet-Lag” really helps ( and its available in the US

    I’ve switched to an ASUS EeePC subnotebook as my travel machine and use a Kindle for my reading material, and in a pinch the Kindle can be used to surf the web, get your RSS feeds and check your email. I have not used it in EU yet, so not sure how it works there, but it certainly does a great job anywhere in the US.

    In my “MacGwyver Kit” I carry a roll of athletic tape, two 300 min international calling cards, several wire-ties (great for securing broken zips and temporary locks), a 2GB USB stick,a pair kids round nosed safety scissors ( i have not had any problem getting these through security, several 1QT zip lock freezer baggies, a mini Sharpie permanent marker – great for writing on the athletic tape, a mini usb hub since most of my devices can be charged from a USB port and finally a universal sink drain stopper for stopping up those leaky sinks so you can wash your clothes (especially those 4 countries in 2 weeks, 1 pair underwear)

    Best Regards,

  7. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks so much for the tips, Hillel and Larry! And thanks for the warm wishes, Emily :-)

    I’ve tried to keep it light by charging everything USB other than the laptop…and though I’ve had good luck thusfar with my SIM card and Skype, I should probably grab a universal calling card just in case.

    Also good points on the USB thumb-drive. I brought an 8gb that I keep separate from my laptop, just in case. I can also back up stuff to my camera’s card. As an fyi, I’ve been flickr’ing all my photos every day, but that routine will soon get hard to keep up when I don’t have the same level of internet access.

    Thanks again for all the good advice. I’ll have to think about sleeping on that upcoming Asia flight. I was thinking of doing an insane amount of work for most of it…

  8. Minjae

    I’m about to go on a similar path – 3 countries in 3 weeks – this fall, so this is super helpful!! Hope you have a great time!

  9. Sonia Simone

    This brings back fond memories, one year I did a four-week trip to Moscow, London and rural England. In April, so the weather kept switching on me, although “soggy” was fairly consistent. But it wasn’t the physical climate that was tricky so much as the cultural one–the boots you really want for stomping around the fens are not exactly socially comfortable in sleek London.

    One day soon I’ll get back to spending time in faraway places, thanks for the little vicarious jolt in the meantime. :)

  10. Jesse Thomas

    great post Jared!

    I always make google maps for my trips, and ive also found that in the process you discover other peoples personal maps. That reminds me of when I first started using that you can stumble upon great treasures of personally sorted data.

    I also save under a tag in for each place I travel, and also a tag for “world travel”. that tag I then use as a tag for my blog posts about the relating trip, and then also my flickr images and videos..


    and then for all the other random stuff I have a file for links.

    I also use Chowhound for food advice anywhere on the planet. and ive started to like Yelp. and also tripadvisor isnt horrible.

    I also would recommend using for cross referencing those great deals on kayak so you can get the ultimate deal, a direct flight for cheap $ that has the most legroom, at the most convenient time for you.

    One thing that I find annoying when I travel is that I cant search facebook by location? I cant search Las Vegas, and find my friends that are there?

    nytimes does a great 36 hours in a city article for every major destination in the world and ive found this to be very useful! and of course the great anthony bourdain shows on itunes are great, and you cant beat rick steves for advice in the more traditional locations. my personal traveling tip for finding good food, is to use your eyes and nose and when you see a line of people and something smells good, or something is frying.. thats a good sign.. go there! and if you see a food stall in some random part of the world where you dont speak their language and they dont speak yours… and someone is ordering something, check out what they are ordering and if you see a food stall with a line.. go closer for an inspection. another exotic food tip is if you are unsure about what you are ordering, sometimes getting smaller portions of a variety of things can be smart.. when trying new things, definitely be bold, but be smart and dont waste food.
    I used this particular article as my guide in beijing, and did everything on the list at the times the gave and it worked perfectly. I even stayed at the hotel they recommended and was really happy about the whole thing.

    @hillel yeah ATMs are the way to go.. but you should never rely on credit alone!! bad mistake. always bring a stack of cash with you and keep it in that super secret spot in your bag. getting money wired in a foreign place is a pain and takes a minimum of a couple working days. ive also had credit cards cancel my card because I didn’t tell them i was traveling and had to have them send me a new card.. which of course took a week.. imagine the position you are in if you lose a credit card.. you cant get a hotel reservation? its crazy.. we are so dependent on it.

  11. Cool

    Great resource. I’ve did a similar path about 3 years ago – awesome!

  12. Kim from CA

    Try for flights… quick & easy. Nice infos and tips. I’m very interested in getting great infos like these.

  13. David

    I am now the proud owner of the small laptop bag pictured above. Thank you Jared!

  14. Bobby Boyd

    Lol hahaha…great tips man!

  15. Smiley3112

    instead of a laptop i packed smaller by taking my iphone with me. just got it from last month…now i don’t go annnywhere without it. it has everything!

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