I think I’m just beginning to get smart when it comes to travel. At the end of last year I went away to the UK for just over a week. Admittedly I was staying with family, and in one place, and where English is spoken, and with access to a washing machine, and with ‘everyday shops’ closeby …. so all in all it was not really a test of my new found amazing travel and packing skills. But nevertheless, having read 2 Summers’ post “8 top tips on how to be a terrible traveler’, I thought I would be ultra-smug with “How to be a great traveler – my top 14 tips”. Yeah double-smug … not even 8 tips!! So here goes:
- I avoid one large suitcase. Nowhere it seems is without a challenge of stairs (however small) and they are often steep. Two smaller cases BOTH with wheels obviously (one being my carry-on) are so much easier to manage rather than one that just tips the scales at 23.5kg. Plus my handbag is always a cross-body one with a long strap .. with zipped outer compartment for travel docs. Two suitcases, two hands. I warned this would out-smug all smugness … but now I’m on a rol!
2. As soon as I return from a trip, even if my travel calendar is empty for the rest of my life, I refill all my little duplicate travel bottles of lotions and potions and keep them in my travel toiletry bag all ready for my next trip. Finding last minute that I have insufficient shampoo to decant from the big bottle (ie more than 100ml) is not exactly a crisis in the world scheme of things. And if there is indeed lots of shampoo in the big bottle, it is time-consuming and helluva irritating slowly guiding sluggish gloops of thickish liquid into a narrow necked bottle. These gloops always seems to sit in the neck of the small bottle until I bash the bottle several times on the vanity, at which stage what I’ve just poured in comes out again in an indignant slurpy burp and I start all over again vowing to be patient this time.
3. I avoid the hysterical reconstitution of a purse or wallet after travelling (having removed all local cards etc) as I keep an old purse especially for travel. Any left-over foreign currency stays in it, as does my spare medical aid card, Oyster card and even the Gautrain card. When I counted EIGHT Gautrain cards some time ago, I thought it was time for a bit of discipline.
4. I keep all my travel goodies in one place – a clear box from Wespack does the trick. International plugs, suitcase padlock, travel pillow, fold up umbrella, travel wallet, torch, spare glasses – are all in one place. Plus at least one kikoi …. it has saved me so often … from polyester duvet covers; from frozen shoulder on an icily air-conditioned plane; as a beach towel; and even a bath towel on one occasion.
5. While I’m a big believer in putting things out in advance, for me it’s disastrous to actually pack too early. I forget what I’ve packed, second guess myself, panic, and then start throwing random things in last minute “just in case”.
6. I keep a special bag for electronic stuff: chargers, international plugs and cables … although last trip I forgot my power pack. So note to self – put a post-it in the bag as a reminder to pack last minute things in daily use at home.
7. The best trick of all – some huge zip-lock bags. One for each type of clothing: T-shirts; leggings; long pants; etc etc. Vacuum pack and label. Avoids all rummaging around in cupboards and suitcase trying to distinguish the black T-shirt from the black pants from the black skirt from the black leggings from the black evening top from the black puffer bodywarmer. Plus of course the endless refolding and re-‘packing’ that a good rummage causes! Vacuum packing saves oodles of space and, if you are one of those disciplined people who unpacks meticulously at your destination it makes unpacking is a breeze. I’m usually too excited by my new surroundings to unpack, then too tired, and by the time this all begins to wear off, it’s time for the return trip home! But when I have traveled spending only a night or two in one place, labelled ziplocks for different clothing items have been invaluable even if they all stay in the suitcase.
8. Everybody always says take layers of clothing. But for me there is usually a fatal flaw, as, by”layers”, they usually mean warm undergarments. For somebody who overheats even in chilly far northern climes, I need to disrobe from the outside inwards not the other way round. So for me it’s a longish puffer coat and a puffer body-warmer. Most mainstream galleries, museums and eateries are heated and if they aren’t … I keep my coat on!
9. I keep paper copies of all travel papers and documents. My sons think I am a dinosaur but phones can die and internet access can be as stubborn as Manon’s donkey.
10. But we all need a backup so I have a digital file on my phone with all my travel documents.
11. For me there are 7 essentials for the plane – a pillow, a bottle of water, face cream, a book, a sleeping pill and a scarf/kikoi. Many people I know watch Netflix that they have downloaded on their Ipads, but I am a sucker for fiddling with the movie options on the plane … I’ve always found something that has kept me engrossed, even if I can’t read the titles or any text that scrolls upwards at the end of the movie!
12. And the seventh ‘plane essential’ … all “ablution” stuff kept in a small bag in my handbag at my feet … no trying to scrabble in my carry-on in the overhead compartment to beat the morning queue at the toilets.
13. Everybody has his/her own solution for phone arrangements while away. Mine is to leave my SIM card in a spare phone at the guesthouse with staff; get a local SIM for time in South Africa on departure and on arrival back home; get a local SIM card in the country I am visiting with data so that if I cannot connect to wi-fi I can still use data to access emails and What’s App. Of course, like all technology, when it works it is a dream …. But eish! When it doesn’t it’s a frigging nightmare!
14. And dare I say it .. endless lists. All my life I have been the Queen of Lists! Lists of what I need to pack for this time; lists when I am away of what I need to remember for next time! Lists of lists!
But just in case you think I might overdose on smugness …
- I went to Russia in 2019 when there were rainy windy squally days of 12 degrees …. and I had forgotten to pack a rain coat. And we all know what an umbrella does in squalls when the wind keeps changing direction. Enough said … 2 Summers I bet you packed a rain jacket!
- I was well into reading”Red Notice” on my way to said country above when I realized that it was not so smart to try and enter the Bare Chested Rider’s state given the subtitle of the book … so had to leave it behind. Sad – as it was an excellent read (subsequently finished back home with a borrowed copy).
- On presenting the tickets at the counter for our final flight several years ago after travelling through northern India, I asked for seats next to each other for myself and my travel buddy. With the standard enigmatic Indian head wobble, she said “no”. Somewhat indignantly I said “Why not, we are very early”. She said … with well-disguised smugness …. that it was not possible as we were travelling on different planes. [I was going on to Delhi and my travel buddy back to Johannebsurg].