The most important thing to pack for international travel

Robin Benzle passes out toys to school children in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

A small mountain village in Ecuador. There were a dozen young boys in the dirt street, playing baseball with a stick and a rock. I opened my backpack and started tossing out Cleveland Indians baseballs. The shock, the grins, the gratitude, were priceless. 

A fancy restaurant in Paris (Le Coupe-Chou). It was close to Halloween, now being celebrated in France. Our waiter was exceptional, not only for his service, but for his charm and dry sense of humor. I gave him a cleverly embroidered Halloween dish towel with English words. It was as though we handed him a gold brick. We saw him the next day on the street and he took us to a small café and bought us a brandy. 

To me, the most important thing you can take on an international trip is gifts for good people you meet along the way. Here are some other suggestions: 

  • T-shirts. For fancy places, or third-world countries. I once packed an entire suitcase with T-shirts of all sizes I had purchased (and washed) from a thrift store. We took them to Nicaragua and passed them out to everyone from banana farmers to street children. That guy in Rome also loved his Cavaliers shirt.
  • Mini-bottles of American whiskey. Lots of foreigners are infatuated with cowboys. Now, I know of smiling people from Belgium to Belize who have tasted it and daydreamed of The Wild West.
  • Cool pens. Pretty ones, clever ones, or ones with logos, people of all ages always like a pen from America.
  • Food. Small jars of sea salt from the Pacific Ocean, Ohio maple syrup, dry-rub steak herbs, crab boil, hot sauces, bubble gum (there are now a group of children in a remote village in India who know what it is. They were stunned when I blew a bubble and learned very quickly how to do it. I imagined them sticking it on their bedposts for years to come).
  • Toys for kids. Little girls from Cape Town to Cancun will love little dolls. Sports cards and mini cars for boys, little plastic Disney characters for all.

All these pack easily, and it leaves a little extra room for things you buy on your journey. Most of all, you are now an unofficial ambassador to the United States of America.

Robin hosts the food and travel website,  

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Volume 2, Issue 10, Posted 12:43 PM, 05.14.2010