This should be a book. And I need to do a lot more travelling before handing out “travel tips”.
None-the-less, while sitting bored witless at one of the most boring airports gracing this fine earth, I felt inspired to share some hard-earned wisdom.
I’m yet to visit a country that doesn’t sell toothpaste. I haven’t touched down in every country on earth, but according to Been, I’ve visited nine per cent of our blue-green planet. Regardless, I feel confident no matter where I am, I don’t need a lifetime’s supply of toothpaste. Nor do I need large quantities of the following:
- shampoo & conditioner
- toiletries in general
They sell these things everywhere. You don’t need to speak Swahili to identify a tube of toothpaste or a box of tampons. Pointing and enthusiastic waving is a universal language. Trust me. Your hand luggage is far better weighed down with emergency chocolate supplies. Just restock your toiletries as you go.
Speaking of hand luggage, this requires important consideration. No matter how convenient it may seem to get on the plane with nothing but a boarding pass, if your luggage doesn’t land with you, that boarding pass is pretty fucking useless in your new destination. Perhaps we all learn this the hard way, but I’ll try and save you the distress of spending 36 hours in San Francisco with no clean underwear, make-up, or a phone charger.
First rule of hand luggage, invest in good hand luggage.
If you’re traveling on more than one airline, establish the smallest permitted size of said luggage. Don’t think, Hallelujah! Between Llubljana and Dubrovnik I can take 10 kilos! No – between Mexico and Sao Paolo it’s six, so that’s the maximum – for your whole trip. Choose a bag that’s comfy FOR YOU – and has various carrying modes, because you’ll spend a lot of time carting it around.
I started with my favourite duffel bag but it wasn’t practical and was easy to overfill so I purchased this instead, which works a treat – it’s a backpack with carry handles and shoulder strap options. Fits neatly into overhead compartments (note – these differ enormously between airlines, and some put wheeled carry-on luggage into the hold regardless). It weighs a mere 800 grams. There are better, lighter, quality options out there. Do your research. Invest wisely.
Now the important bit – what to put in hand luggage.
- Essential paperwork – passport, tickets, cash, cards, medical records drivers licence. Paper’s heavy – pack essentials, photograph the rest.
- Clothes – honestly, pack a change of clothes. You’ll be sorry if you don’t. Just one light change is all you need.
- Spare underwear, a complete change. Swimwear that doubles as bra and knickers is particularly handy if a) you’re going somewhere you might want to swim, and b) you need a bra as well as knickers (most men don’t need bras – do they?)
- Glasses. Not the drinking kind. If you can’t see your boarding pass and you’re not legal to drive without glasses, take all of them with you – including your sunnies.
- Toiletries and medications you can’t live without for 48 hours. If it’s possible to last 48 hours without mascara, squirrel it into your checked-in luggage. It’s not for me to say what you can survive without for two days, but be brutal. And practical.
- Entertainment stuff – laptop, iPad, book, vibrator, whatever-floats-your-boat. Not all of those obviously. You’ll be sitting on your butt bored witless for hours on end in airport lounges so you’ll want something. Choose wisely. This stuff tends to be heavy.
- Cords, cables and international converters for your entertaining hand luggage. The rest of your electronic bits and bobs can be checked-in. But there’s no point putting your iPad into hand luggage if the battery goes flat on the plane and you can’t charge it until your checked in arrives. Which may or may not greet you at the other end.
- While I don’t personally own a set of travel luggage scales, I have every intention of purchasing some. There are lots on the market. This set weigh just 0.06kg and seem worth it for relieving the stress of knowing you’re not over the limit. Besides, they’ll fit in your pocket and won’t need to be weighed with the hand luggage.
- Which brings me to my last point. Assume your hand luggage will be weighed and measured then pack accordingly. But be a bit clever too. Nobody checks your pockets or underpants. You can put small (not dangerous) items in there. Wear your heavy stuff. Don’t board the plane in your cutest bikini and pack your winter coat and boots – that’s just impractical. On so many levels.
The rules of hand luggage apply for checked in luggage – less is more.
There is a lovely soul I know who may – or may not – read this blog, who once traveled to Europe for three weeks with no less than six pairs of leggings. Six! Why?! I don’t even own six pairs?! I must remember to give her the name of a wonderful counselor I know…
When traveling, you can wash clothes. It’s not an onerous task. Really it isn’t. You shower every day – right? Stomp on your underwear in the shower and hey presto, clean underwear! Want it to dry a little faster? Wrap wet items in your towel (after you’ve dried yourself) and twist the towel at both ends until the water doth leak out no more. Now you have merely damp underwear. I promise you that by tomorrow when you pack again it will be dry – or near enough. If in doubt, give it a bit of an iron.
The volume of clothing you pack is not dependent on how long you’re away for, as how frequently you’re moving house. If you spend a week at a time in an airbnb it’s easy – constant access to a washing machine. If you move to a different locale every day it’s more complicated and you may find yourself periodically donning slightly damp underwear. Consider it a special moment.
Personally I prefer option one – stay in one location for a long period of time, get to know the local eateries and great coffee, unpack, wash, do lots of day trips, explore, and just plain enjoy the place. It’s nowhere near as exhausting! There’s so much time wasted every time you move to another location. The travel part of traveling is the unfun bit.
Apparently there’s a golden packing rule – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Five tops, four bottoms, three dresses, three shoes, two bags, two bikinis, one hat, watch & sunnies. Being an older wiser person I’d trim even more. Five tops, four bottoms, three shoes, two dresses, one swimsuit (separates – they double as spare bra and knickers – I like that versatility!) Hat, watch and sunnies go without saying. As does the bag. Also make sure every item goes with everything else and that you can layer up or down, and dress up or down. That’s all you need. Honestly. Let all your luggage weigh under 15kg and you will thank yourself 1000 times over.
You will need twice as much money and half as much luggage as you originally thought.
The money runs out and the luggage gets in the way. So seriously – think carefully when packing. You won’t regret finding an extra $1000 in your account, but you will regret coming home with three pairs of shoes that weighed three kilos and you never wore them. You’re not travelling overseas to be a fashion icon. Are you?! Travel for the joy of learning and loving other people and places and cultures and I promise you don’t need six pairs of leggings or four large tubes of toothpaste to do it. Really truly.