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Your Turn: Packing 411 for Birders


Alan says hello to a Takahē in New Zealand. Photo © Rob DeLine.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate packing for a trip. I’m a chronic procrastinator in this area, so having a list of things to take (and knowing what to expect at the airport) makes the process go much more smoothly. That’s precisely what Alan Knue offers us in the current issue of A Birder’s Guide to Travel with his article, “Packing 411 for Birders”.

Although Alan’s article focuses on tips for air travel, even those who are preparing for a land-or water-based trip will find much useful information. And I should note that I’ve traveled (and roomed) with Alan on more than one international trip, so I know first hand what a whiz he is when it comes to packing!

At the end of Alan’s article (which you can read here), he invites you to share your own packing tips and travel experiences below, in the comments at the ABA Blog. We hope to hear from you!

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • Rick Wright

    This is a great article, Alan; thank you for writing it.

    I’ve only once had trouble trying to carry my tripod on rather than checking it, but ever since then I’ve carried with me a printout from the TSA’s “Can I bring my…” site (

    One important thing to remember is that the spare bolts, wing nuts, washers, and tiny screwdrivers that many of us carry inside the tripod’s center post can make it look unsettlingly like a pipe bomb.

    I think most birders already know to bring along a supply of plastic sacks and twist ties. The best are “handle-tie” types in the usual “kitchen” size. Not only are they very useful for all the purposes Alan notes, but as a good friend taught me, a pair can function remarkably well as impromptu waders at unexpected or unexpectedly deep water crossings.

    • AJ Knue

      Good tip, Rick- I think it is a great idea to bring a printout from the TSA website you mentioned above to help same time and frustration should one encounter an inexperienced TSA officer. And always ask for a supervisor when you know you are in the right.
      Yes, those tripod spare parts can look suspicious, so be prepared to show and explain what they are when asked.

  • birdladync

    I am collecting a group of clothing that is just for my birdwatching so it is much easier to pack.Keep it all in one place so it is gab and go. I also keep a toiletry bag packed for those rare sighting moments where you want to grab and go.

    • Michael Retter

      That’s a great idea. I just started doing the same thing.

    • AJ Knue

      Definitely a great tip and something I do as well- I have all of my Permethrin-treated and other travel clothing in one drawer all rolled up and ready to be placed into my travel bag. It’s great to have a large part of what I plan to bring in the way of clothing all ready to go.

  • Erik Bruder

    Really nice article. I have a set of checklists I use whether it is business or personal travel, by air or by car, and if I’m staying in hotels, hostels, or less civilized accommodations.
    A few more items come to mind:
    1. A small outlet adapter for those hotel rooms with insufficient outlets.
    2. A compact multi-tool in the carry-on.
    3. A sewing kit and a few extra buttons. Mine has a few needles pre-threaded with a few feet of thread on each and is smaller than a deck of cards. Great for quick repairs.
    4. A money belt or pouch.
    5. Travel washcloths, either the plastic type or those compressed tablet towels. Many places outside of the US (and few within) don’t provide washcloths in the rooms.
    6. A plastic knife, spoon, and fork. That quick stop at the grocery for some fruit and yogurt is much nicer if you aren’t slurping from the cup. TSA has never looked twice at them.
    7. If you can’t do without your phone and social media access while out of the country, get a short-term international roaming plan for your phone. Don’t forget data. You don’t want to get socked with the giant bill when you get home.
    8. A golf pencil. Pens can fail. A small pencil is nice back-up.
    Finally, don’t forget to call your credit card company if you are heading out of the US. Let them know the dates and countries. Getting that fixed on the road can be challenging.

    • AJ Knue

      Great additions. I think there might be a need for a short follow-up article to include the ideas and additions from these comments!

    • Marion

      Re: travel washcloths, my favorites are a) a microfiber kitchen washcloth (3M makes them) that helps exfoliate and dries in a snap, and b) as an alternative, Handi Wipes Multi-Use Reusable Cloths dry even faster but don’t have a texture to help scrub stubborn dirt. Both pack featherweight when dry.

  • Michael Retter

    ABA member Roy John submitted the following comments via email:

    “I really enjoyed the Birder’s Guide to Travel – great stuff. In particular the article on Packing 411 by Alan Knue was fascinating. We take a few trips every year (four in 2013) so it was very useful to read his suggestions.

    I have five additional items on my packing list. All are very small and have proven valuable at times. In order of importance they are:-

    1 Crazy glue. Our local dollar stores sell four 1 gm tubes in a small pill container for a dollar. These are ideal for travelers. Not only do I use them as glue, but as band aids for cuts and broken nails. I have used some glue on every trip for ten years and I once ran out of my four gram supply.

    2 Duct tape. I roll about three metres around a 2 cm cardboard tube. Used on about half my trips.

    3 Telephone wire. I take about five metres and use it on a third of my trips. I even used it to repair my spectacles in the Antarctic once.

    4. Airplane wire. I have two metres with small loops at each end. I use this to anchor my locked luggage to a pipe etc. to stop grab-and-run theft in questionable hotels. In one provincial airport where we had problems with people trying to walk off with cases, I wired everybody’s bag together.

    5. Two-mm nylon rope and 10 metres long. I have used this primarily to hang out clothes (the telephone wire helps with anchoring this rope). I have used this on ten percent of trips.

    All of these items will fit in a single-sandwich box. I never leave home without them.”

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