Let's start by explaining a few things about the weekly travel tips the Travel section has been publishing since early July. At our request, readers have been sending them to us regularly; in the past several weeks we've received more than 400 e-mails, faxes and postcards detailing your road-tested tips that will help fellow travelers cope with life in motion. But, when dangling the bait -- a handsome Washington Post Travel section T-shirt bearing the slogan "I'm a Great Tipper" -- we also said, right there in the fine print, that we'd choose winners based on the tip's "novelty and utility."
And that's the problem. Frankly, we didn't anticipate that so many of the useful tips we received would be so common -- or that so many of the novel tips we got would be so strange.
And so each week we've dug deeply into the recent submissions, sifting through dozens of bits of travel advice in search of the few gems that are both remarkably useful and remarkably original. We've found some doozies. Need to cross a busy street in Moscow? Shadow a lady with a baby stroller. Need to dry your bathing suit overnight? Spin it dry on your ceiling fan. Load your dirty clothes in a water-and-soap-filled bucket in the trunk, drive all day and let the car's motion do the agitation. Don't keep a journal; send yourself a postcard each day and relive your trip as the cards reach you later, once you're home. Novel stuff. Useful stuff. And, yes, sometimes, strange stuff.
Problem is, by publishing only the tips that are both useful and novel, we've had to ignore a massive and valuable bounty: a whole lot of travel tips that are useful but well-known -- or at least so well-known that at least 10 people submitted versions of the tip to us. Here we make amends, by publishing tips that have been submitted so frequently they can't possibly be considered novel -- but are so potentially useful that we wanted to put them into print, where everyone can share them. Sorry, the folks who submitted these tips won't be receiving T-shirts. First, we wanted to stick by our tough but fair utility/novelty standard for T-shirts. Secondly, in deference to our weekly winners, we didn't want to send the value of the Travel section T-shirts currently in circulation plummeting by flooding the market like some batty tin-hat dictator printing worthless currency.
So here's a tip: Read -- and adopt -- the following hints, confident that they are recommended by dozens of your fellow travelers. And should you come across any additional travel tips -- those that are both wonderfully useful and remarkably original -- well, send 'em along. We still have plenty of T-shirts to give away.
1. Ziploc Bags: The Universal Solution. When versions of this tip began to multiply suspiciously in our e-mail box, we first thought we were victims of a campaign by people with deep investments in the resealable plastic bag industry. (Indeed, the first week we published tips we awarded one to a woman who used them to store soiled baby clothes.) But eventually we got so many renditions from so many different quarters we decided it had to be legit. The tip: Use resealable plastic bags (i.e., Ziploc bags and other brands) for, well, practically everything. Their virtues: You can see what's in them, they keep things separate, and they stay shut. One tipster loads them with small gifts to "grease the skids" of travel, then on the way home uses them to pack souvenirs. A mom from Bowie sends her kids to camp with each day's outfit sealed in a separate gallon-size bag. A veteran traveler from Virginia packs virtually everything in Ziplocs: tiny baggies for earrings, larger ones for matching accessories, gallon bags for entire outfits, from underwear and stockings to color-coordinated scarves. Others use them to contain liquids, organize cosmetics or store wet swimsuits. Our tip: Head to Price-CostCo, stock up and party!
2. Reduce wrinkles -- without surgery. Ever wonder why dry cleaners continue to use those delicate, fluttery plastic bags, despite the grave danger they pose to small children and pets? So did we. Until the tips started to pour in. Our readers report that the bags have a nearly miraculous ability to shield their contents from wrinkles -- even when you remove them from your dry-cleaning order, place them over clothing you're taking on your trip and squish it into your artlessly overpacked suitcase. One reader claims the trick will even keep linen wrinkle-free. Tipsters claim best results if each garment is swaddled in its own bag.
3. Copy Rights. Make copies of your passport, visa, tickets and other important travel documents. We know, we know: "Duh." But an utterly unscientific poll of people we know suggested plenty of folks don't take even this level of precaution against The Traveler's Worst Nightmare. Our most organized tipster recommends you keep a copy of your documents in each one of your traveling bags -- and leave one copy at home with someone reachable by phone. But others just recommended you keep a copy of the documents for your travel belt or your suitcase, to prevent disaster and expedite replacement if your wallet and/or carry-on grows legs. Some readers recommend adding a photocopy of your driver's license and -- nice touch -- a list of phone numbers to call if your credit cards disappear.
4. Going to Europe? Bring your own washcloth. Numerous readers wrote to warn fellow travelers to the Continent to bring their own washcloths, as many European accommodations don't offer them. (A few correspondents went on to discuss what this may imply about the hygiene of our European brothers and sisters, but we don't have to get into that here.) One tipster always brings a vividly colored washrag, so as not to lose it amid the bedclothes and other linen. Others say to bring an old hand towel cut into fours, and don't bother bringing the pieces back.
5. Make your look-alike bag look different. Another item from the Duh file: To make your suitcases easy to spot on the baggage carousel, wrap a colorful ribbon around the handle. Some of our tipsters have gone extreme -- marking each bag with, say, a huge X of Day-Glo orange and green tape. They claim this discourages thieves, who won't swipe something so distinctive. It may also discourage your relatives and friends from offering to carry your bags -- a small price to pay, perhaps, for increased safety and more certainty at the carousel.
6. Automate your postcard duties. How? Travel with a set of gummed labels, printed via computer, featuring the names and addresses of people you want to send a postcard to. This will indeed make it easier, and perhaps more likely, that you'll stay in touch with loved ones. It may also make your loved ones feel, well, like names on a mailing list. So make sure the stuff you write on the card is personalized.
7. If you plan to do some shopping on the road, pack an empty bag. Inside your otherwise loaded suitcase, that is. Best choice for non-fragile items: One of those big, athletic-equipment-style duffel bags. They fold up small on the way there, and offer enormous capacity on the way back. If you buy fragile stuff, pack it in your hard-sided pullman and use your duffel for dirty clothes.
8. Travel with a disposable wardrobe. The first week we started publishing travel tips, we put a version of this gem into print, awarding a T-shirt to an amateur baseball player who traveled to Europe each year and left behind his old underwear. Since then we've received dozens of iterations: People recommending travel in out-of-style clothes (making you less of a crime target, too), or in socks with tiny holes, spent tennis shoes, stained T-shirts, etc. Some suggest donating the items, once worn on a hard day of traveling, to overseas equivalents of the Salvation Army. And one correspondent -- we promise we're not making this up -- says that when he prepares for a trip he turns his old T-shirts into "throw-away dickies," removing the arms and just using the collar and shoulder part of the shirt under a sweater.
Too bad we got so many versions of that tip. That guy can really use a new T-shirt. For information on how to submit travel tips, see the box in Worldwise on Page 3.