"These are 26 of the smallest, lightest, toughest, and most invaluable mission tools I've ever used. With 40+ trips to Guatemala under our belts, we've tried them all, and these are the best. Just get 'em - you won't regret it." - Shawn Smith, Director
Scroll down for more products and Shawn's reviews and Pro Tips for each
Our mission Crew Members ask me all the time, "What should I bring to Guatemala?". In addition to the our recommended Packing list for the mission, I thought I would share with you some specific products that I use all the time, and highly recommend. They're truly awesome, and will make your trip better, I promise! And even if you don't buy the exact same ones, at least it will give you an idea of what to look for.
Why take my recommendations? Well…since 1994, I've carried a backpack on my shoulder, and run several businesses from it. I've flown over 750,000 miles all over the world and driven countless miles thru nearly every state in the U.S. as a full-time touring musician, keynote speaker, and missionary.
I've also flown to Guatemala over 40 times since 2006 leading over 1,200 volunteers from the U.S. on our missions. I've spent half my life trying to find the best, smallest, lightest, most efficient, and most affordable tools to travel with. Sincerely, this is the list I always wish someone would have shared with me 10 yrs ago.
Plus, by clicking the links below and purchasing thru Amazon, they will send us a small commission. As a volunteer missionary, those pennies really help. Also, if you have any other shopping to do before the mission, please go to our mission home page, and click thru the Amazon banner in the upper right-hand side, then shop and buy. Every time you do, Amazon sends us a little love. Same price for you, and it helps us a LOT. Please share the link with your family and friends!
Finally, whenever possible, I've chosen items available for Amazon Prime, which includes free 2nd day shipping (so you can receive them just in time for the mission). If you're not familiar with Amazon Prime, let me tell you, it's amazing. It costs $99/yr, and will give you FREE 2nd day shipping on ANY PRODUCT that is eligible for Amazon Prime (which is a ton of them!)
PLUS, you get thousands of movies that you can stream instantly. It's really an amazing deal. As frequent fliers, only home for days at a time, Damaris and I love the free 2nd Day shipping Amazon Prime. And Amazon always has the best selection and prices. I prefer to shop locally, and especially support small businesses. However, if you can't find something quickly, and reasonably-priced locally, buy Amazon.
Here's my top recommendations of things to bring with you to Guatemala...
Pros - only 8 lbs, crushable, really tough, great wheels and handle, stands up, max size allowed by airlines (62 linear inches), water-proof bottom, zippers not on top & bottom corners, doesn't look expensive (not a theft risk), can pack from top or flip open, end handles, 10 yr warranty. I own 9 of these for mission work and concert touring. I've tried every suitcase out there - these are the best.
Cons - top is NOT water-proof (see Pro Tip under raincoats below for a work-around), crushable (careful if you have anything fragile), a little pricey, but not compared to other quality, full-size bags. Plus, remember: 10 yr warranty.
Pro Tip - Buy this version, NOT the cheaper one with straps on bottom - this is way tougher - I have them both. For a little more $, get the red one - easier to spot on the carousel. Also, when packing these bags in a min-van or hybrid, pack them vertically/standing up. You can get six in the back of a mini-van, and still see out the back window!
Pros - Really cheap, super lightweight - only 2.5 lbs, easy-glide roller-blade wheels, crushable, detachable strap, nearly max airline size (58.4 linear inches of 62" allowable),
Cons - Cheap, won't last more than a few trips, NOT water-proof, no extended handle, NOT eligible for Amazon Prime.
Pro Tip - Use this to bring donations to Guatemala, then crush it and put it in your other checked luggage on the way home, to avoid the extra $40 checked luggage fee. Or just leave it as a donation. You might also find this bag at your local WalMart for the same price, or less (when you factor shipping)
Pros - A must for weighing checked luggage at home, or away; super lightweight, small, temperature guage.
Cons - Small - sometimes difficult to hold w/2 hands when weighing something 45+ pounds.
Pro Tip - Keep this in your backpack, so you can retrieve it quickly at the airport if you need to double-check a weight, or do some last-minute packing.
Pros - Really tough, super lightweight- only 2.2 lbs, crushable, max size for putting under airline seat, tough zippers, fits a TON of stuff in lots of pockets, tough top grab-handle, shock-absorbing shoulder straps, air-flow back padding keeps you back cool, protection pocket for laptop, metal grommets on front help to slide under airline seat, sits upright AND bottom is really tough AND water-proof (unlike cheaper version of this pack). I've had 2 of these over 8 yrs - over 300k miles with each one - they're the best.
Cons - Pricey (but worth-it for the quality), holds a lap-top (which we ask you to please NOT bring to Guatemala), but good for the rest of your life!
Pro Tip - Put your passport, boarding pass, customs form, meds, camera/smartphone, earbuds, earplugs, and eye visor in small top pocket next to grab-handle for easy access. It holds more than you think! Also, put water bottle in mesh pocket on one side, and power-bars, energy powder, and extra airline napkins and peanuts on the other side.
Pros - Really tough, super lightweight, water-proof, translucent so you can see what's in them without opening, multiple colors and sizes. This is my favorite find of the year - I've used all sizes for over a dozen trips so far, and they still look new! Amazon Prime eligible, PLUS FREE return shipping if you're not satisfied!
Cons - Sincerely, I haven't found one yet. Maybe a little pricey compared to zip-locs, but I'm telling you, these are WAY better, tougher, and will last you forever.
Pro Tip - Awesome for books, power cables, smartphone and camera accessories, toiletries (remember under 3 oz each), meds, makeup, small purse, snacks. Pack these in your backpack, and if you need to take anything out for security or to fit your crammed-full back-pack under the seat in front of you, these sacs make it fast and easy to pack & unpack.
Pros - Guatemala is noisy, and the sun comes up at 6:30am every morning, year-round, and mission work is exhausting - you will need your rest. Plus, you'll want to catch a nap sometime, and sleep on your flights. My best tools for sleeping thru the night in Guatemala is eye and ear protection. Lots of sleep studies show that blocking noise gives you better REM sleep, and blocking light produces melatonine, the sleep hormone. I use all of these, and they really work. Plus, they're all Amazon Prime eligible, AND 100% customer satisfaction guaranteed/warranties for each.
Cons - You can probably find a cheaper mask locally, but this is a top seller for a reason. Takes some getting used to using these - practice before you come.
Pro Tip - If you're bringing a smartphone or iPod Touch to take photos during the mission (no internet access at the hotel, fyi), download some audio books, podcasts, and/or relaxing sleep music before you come. I actually use these MEElectronics headphones to listen to podcasts to go to sleep because they are high-quality, and super low-profile - I can sleep on my side, and keep them in my ears without even feeling them. Plus, they're silicon tips and plastic-coated, but flexible cable; super easy to clean, and they really block out most of the sound, but I can hear enough in case of an emergency.
Pros - We recommend leaving your iPhone at home since there's no internet access, and it's a theft risk. However, if you MUST bring yours (for photos/video, alarm, flashlight), get this case. Best cover to deter theft in developing countries - super discreet - looks and feels like a small New Testament leather book, no need for screen protector, doubles as wallet, tough - even when dropped, shoot photos w/o taking camera out, elegant, feels awesome in the hand, leather gets smoother and softer with more use, iPhone pops out pretty easily if necessary.
Cons - A little pricey, heavier and bulkier than some cases, top corner by camera can get worn/break, sometimes driver's license doesn't "slip right out" as advertised - sticks a little, and flap doesn't latch shut (although after some use, naturally stays closed)
Pro Tip - Always put in your pocket bottom-side first to prevent camera-side corner from loosening/breaking. I've had this for 2 yrs, and top camera corner bent and broke because I didn't follow this tip. But I loved it so much, bought a 2nd case, 3 months before I plan to buy a new iPhone 6. Best case I've ever had, and most soulful iPhone case on the market.
Pros - Bottle - Wide mouth, DOESN'T LEAK, cheap, tough, loop cap for easy loosening and attaching a carabiner to, steel bottle will not break, is BPA free, and keeps water cooler naturally than a plastic bottle, Bars - These have 10g of protein which keeps you satisfied longer (most have 5), they're cheap, crushable, water-proof, taste great, not too 'heavy', plus contain dark chocolate for anti-oxidents. Powder - Tiny, water-proof, true gatorade formula (w/electrolytes), which not all powders have, with 50% less calories - only 50 calories /5 g carbs/packet.
Cons - Bottle - Bottom can get dinged up if dropped causing bottle not to stand upright as easily. I always buy 2 at a time to quickly swap out if this happens. Bars & Powder - Usually need to buy in bulk.
Pro Tip - 25-27 oz thin design fits better in backpack mesh pockets and cup-holders. Put energy packets in water bottle when traveling, and on mission worksite. Stuff 2-3 protein bars in side mesh pocket of backpack when traveling or heading out to mission site.
Pros - It rains nearly EVERY AFTERNOON in Guatemala. You will NEED rain gear. These are all lightweight, waterproof, and are true raincoats with an attached hood, that also cover your bum. Much more practical than an umbrella or ball cap.
Cons - Pricey, but again, they really work. NOTE: I have NOT owned this Columbia coat, but it has all the features of my Lands End raincoat that has been discontinued, and I have had several Columbia products, and they rock.
Pro Tip - Pack your raincoat last, and cover your clothes or donations inside your checked or carry-on luggage. Checked luggage often gets wet, and most bags are not truly water-proof. This will save you a day of drying them out when you arrive in Guatemala .
Pros - Warm, tough, thin enough to wear under raincoat, lightweight, full-zip that keeps your neck warm, super-high quality, zippered pockets to keep valuables safe, lots of colors. Shirt - super lightweight, moisture wicking, crushable, no-ironing needed, polo with a collar looks more formal than a t-shirt in conservative indigenous communities that we serve. I'm always embarrassed wearing a t-shirt, when all of the men wear dress shirts. This shirt always feels appropriate. Multiple colors.
Cons - Pricey in beginning, but again, high-quality that will last for years.
Pro Tip - Wear the fleece on the plane. Plane cabins are often kept cold - zip up to keep your neck warm. I put my passport and boarding pass in right pocket, and iPhone and earbuds in left. I always keep pockets zippered so nothing falls out. Another great polo shirt is the Kirkland Signature Seris Golf Polo - only sold at Costco seasonally.
Pros - Water-proof, super-lightweight, cheap, warm, awesome safeTstep non-skid grip (perfect for wet cobblestone streets in Antigua), slip-on (perfect for airports), dressy enough for church but tough enough for construction worksites, same shoes recommended for employees by restaurants like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn, etc.
Cons - Amazon doesn't sell them. I've bought mine at Payless.
Pro Tip - I've been wearing these for 4 yrs now. It's my new dress shoe, and it's all I wear in Guatemala. I take out the insole, and put Dr. Scholls Work insoles inside them (see below).
Pros - Super soft, tough moosehide, crushable, lightweight, super-thin but awesome cushion, breathable, high-quality construction.
Cons - Not water-proof, can't really wear them outside - inside use only. Mine are dark brown, but I don't see them online anywhere.
Pro Tip - I've had mine for over 10 yrs, and I wear them every day in the house, and at the hotel in Guatemala. Because it rains everyday in Guatemala from May-Oct, I take off my wet shoes, leave them at the door, and put on my moccasins, just like Mr. Rogers.
Pros - Tough, water-proof, sits a little taller so keeps feet dry in puddles & mud, more stylish than standard crocs, washable.
Cons - Not super-breathable, feet can stink if the crocs are not washed regularly (same with the feet!), bumpy inside bottom. Also, NOT Amazon Prime eligible.
Pro Tip - Put Dr. Scholls Work insoles inside them (see below), and wash a couple of times/week with pine-sol to keep the stink down. There are dozens of crocs, and they all work well in the mission field. These are great because they don't have holes for the water to get in. Damaris has tried many crocs, but these are her go-to favorites (hers are sky-blue).
Pros - Tough, cheap, and they really work - especially if you're standing on concrete, cobblestones, and tile all day, like we are when in Guatemala. They provide that extra-support to be on your feet all day.
Cons - Only last about a year or so, if you use them every day. Again, for me, worth every penny.
Pro Tip - If you're ever going to Disney World (or on a mission trip), buy a pair of new ones, take out the insoles of your shoes, and replace them with these babies. I got this tip from a VIP Guide to Disney Parks, TourGuideMike.com (this guy knows how to save your feet). I've done this for the past 5 missions (and once at Disney), and I'm a believer. I also use them with my Chuck Taylor's on stage in concert.